|Africa Upper Room director guides growing ministry|
Street people in Cape Town, South Africa, hold copies of
‘Prayers for Encouragement,’ a devotional for people with HIV/AIDS and
other serious illnesses. The booklets are provided through Africa Upper
Room Ministries. UMNS photos by Kami L. Rice.
By Kami L. Rice*
Feb. 8, 2008 | JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (UMNS)
If Roland Rink were to draw a caricature of himself, he would sketch a mangy lion protecting those around him.
Except for the mangy part, he’s identified himself aptly, though the lion would have to be a gentle one.
Rink is the managing director for Africa Upper Room Ministries, an arm
of Upper Room Ministries headquartered in Eikenhof, South Africa, just
outside Johannesburg. The vision for Africa Upper Room is no less than
helping every African spend time with God daily.
Roland Rink says Africa Upper Room
aims to help every African spend
time with God daily.
“The dream has not got smaller. The dream is just expanding,” Rink said. “We’ve got the whole of Africa as our constituency.”
Established in January 2002, Africa Upper Room coordinates printing and distribution for African editions of The Upper Room daily devotional and other Upper Room resources.
Africa Upper Room represents a new model for international ministry in
several key ways, according to Dale Waymack, the ministry’s Nashville,
Tenn.,-based Africa region coordinator. Those include “coordinating
editorial, production, fulfillment and distribution components of an
African publishing system on the continent and … providing a means for
drawing people together throughout the continent—creating synergy—for
those with similar passions.”
This project will outlast all of us,” Rink said. “That’s why it’s really
critical that the foundations we lay now will last the test of time.
That means one thing: discerning the will of God.”
Growing up poor
Born in 1951 in Johannesburg, Rink grew up poor. He hated poverty,
but it gave him “a sense of appreciation for whatever we had. It also
taught me to be innovative. We can take whatever we’ve got and make
something new with it just by listening to God.”
Rink graduated from college as a telecommunications engineer but found
his niche in sales. Sales is about listening to people’s problems and
solving them with the products you’re selling, he explained.
Eventually, his work in telecommunications caused his “cup to run over,”
he said. He became financially independent, with all debt paid off.
This independence came at a price, though, and in late 1998 Rink’s
doctor diagnosed him with mild depression. By 1999, the doctor told Rink
to leave his job.
“This is what God planned for my life before I was a twinkle in my mother’s eye.”
– Roland Rink
During the 1990s, Rink was living on two parallel roads: the workaholic,
frenetic life of a salesperson and a track of growing spirituality. The
second road introduced him to the Upper Room during his second Walk to
Emmaus, a spiritual retreat experience. Through his lay leadership role
with Walk to Emmaus, he was invited to be the African representative for
the Walk to Emmaus International Steering Committee.
The committee met in Nashville, where Upper Room and its parent agency,
the Board of Discipleship, are based. During his first visit in 1994,
Rink discovered an “Aladdin’s cave of resources” at the Upper Room that
could help clergy in his country.
By the time he received his doctor’s ultimatum, Rink had noticed a
growing number of shelves committed to Christian literature in local
stores. Knowing the resources available in Nashville, he wrote a
business plan that included the contextualization and translation of
those resources for the 550 million people living in sub-Saharan Africa.
His business plan sparked the interest of Upper Room staff, and
discussions began in mid-2000. The Rev. Stephen Bryant, world editor and
publisher of Upper Room Ministries, Waymack and others at the Upper
Room had been focusing increasingly on the need to serve Africa. By
2002, Africa Upper Room was born.
Building an audience
In its first year, Africa Upper Room printed 6,000 copies of The Upper Room
devotional and established translation teams in Angola and the
Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2007, Africa Upper Room printed 146,000
copies of the devotional in Portuguese, English and Arabic. A Kiswahili
radio edition will soon join French and Zulu broadcasts. The number of
Upper Room books sold by Africa Upper Room in 2007 was double the
previous year’s sales. Additionally, 1 million copies of Prayers for Encouragement,
a devotional for people suffering from HIV/AIDS and other serious
illnesses, have been printed and distributed through Africa Upper Room
“What (these numbers) really depict is the hunger of Africans for good
resources,” Rink said. “It’s an easy sell because it’s high quality.”
Africa Upper Room partners with ministry organizations such
as Salty Print in Cape Town, where 'The Upper Room' devotional's
has created jobs.
Africa Upper Room is also challenging the paradigm of “here come the
Americans with buckets of money,” he added. “We’re proving that Africans
can and will pay for things.”
“For far too long,” Waymack said, “we have operated off the assumption
that people in developing countries cannot pay for magazines and books
that support the spiritual life. We’ve been challenged by church leaders
who say, ‘If a person can afford a Coca-Cola, which only quenches a
momentary thirst, they can afford The Upper Room, which lasts
much longer.’ Even if a person can only offer a fraction of what a
magazine or book costs, by making a financial contribution they
recognize value and worth not only for The Upper Room magazine but self-worth for themselves.”
‘What God planned’
Africa Upper Room has developed partnerships with ministry
organizations such as Salty Print in Cape Town and Come Back Ministries
in Soweto. “By generating more and more copies to print, we’ve actually
created jobs, which is what it’s all about,” Rink said. Those jobs are
being created with Salty Print and the team that helps market and
distribute Africa Upper Room resources.
Come Back Ministries meets wide-ranging needs in the Soweto community
and looks to Africa Upper Room for spiritual resources. In further
partnership, Come Back Ministries is building a skills development
center on the grounds of Anathoth, Africa Upper Room’s base of
Rink has no regrets over leaving his former lucrative career.
“I wake up every morning with a sense of prevenient grace. This is what
God planned for my life before I was a twinkle in my mother’s eye,” he
said. “I’m merely a tool in the hands of the Lord. That’s how I see it.”
*Rice is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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