Home > Our World > News > News Archives by Date > News Archive 2008 > February 2008 > News - February 2008
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.

Roland Rink says Africa Upper Room
aims to help every African spend
time with God daily.

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.

“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 networks.

Africa Upper Room partners with ministry organizations such as Salty Print in Cape Town, where 'The Upper Room' devotional's increased circulation
has created jobs.

“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 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 operations.

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 newsdesk@umcom.org.  

Related Article

Zulu broadcast brings Upper Room devotional to new audience

Devotional celebrates 70 years of connecting people, God

Prayer guide focuses on people with serious illnesses

Africa Upper Room responds to continent's resource needs


Africa Upper Room Ministries

Upper Room

Upper Room International Ministries

United Methodist Board of Discipleship

Ask Now

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.


*InfoServ ( about ) is a ministry of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add this address to your list of approved senders.

Would you like to ask any questions about this story?ASK US NOW

Original text