“How God’s Kingdom works — small beginnings, unlikely sources, invisible activity, irresistible growth that is the Petros Network story.”– Pastor Ray Noah, Founder of Petros Network
Small beginnings for Petros Network…
In 1988 Dr. Charles Blair, Senior Pastor of Calvary Temple, invited Pastor Ray and Linda Noah to join his staff in Denver, Colorado as Executive Pastor. (1988-1996) During that time an Ethiopian community led by Endashaw Kelkele was invited to launch a “church plant” inside of Calvary Temple and held a national service in the small chapel. In 1991, under Dr. Charles Blair’s leadership, the Blair Foundation launched a leadership training effort in partnership with the Evangelical Church Fellowship of Ethiopia to raise up and equip young, in-country pastors. By 1996, 300 Ethiopian missionary church planters had been launched to plant churches in unreached villages across Ethiopia. By 2002 this small group of courageous men and women had multiplied their churches to over 800 churches. Today you can still find these original leaders serving faithfully in leadership positions throughout Ethiopia, representing the first seeds of church planting in that country, and setting the stage to inspire the birth of Petros Network.
Listen to the Petros Network Story as told by Pastor Ray Noah at Brooklyn Tabernacle Church, New York
The story continues…
In 2001, Dr. Blair was 84-years-old when he received a request from a Christian president of one of Ethiopia’s nine federal regions. This leader asked Charles if he would sponsor 1000 church plants in his region within the next two years while the doors were open under his presidency. In that region were 3000 villages, and the president envisioned that 1000 churches planted could quickly reproduce at least two additional churches and his region could be won for Jesus. Although Charles was growing older and lacked adequate resources to plant that large number of churches, he couldn’t shake the president’s request. So he agreed to plant those 1000 churches!
On the return flight to America, Dr. Blair was suddenly overcome with doubt. He cried, “How in the world could an old man with no money plant 1000 churches.” So he began to write a letter to the president rescinding his agreement, explaining all the reasons why he couldn’t help and all the things he didn’t possess to do the job. However, somewhere in the air between Ethiopia and Denver, God spoke and said, “Charles, don’t tell me what you don’t have—just use what you have.” Charles said, “Lord, all I’ve got at this point in my life are friends.” And the Lord said, “Then tell your friends—and watch what I do.”
After Charles arrived home, one of the “friends” he first contacted was his now-former associate, Pastor Ray Noah, who was then pastoring a church in California. (2001-2008) Charles told him about the vision. Pastor Ray honestly thought this was the case of an “old man dreaming dreams, “ but he couldn’t help but be impressed that this “old man” was still in the game, dreaming dreams and swinging for the fences.
As Charles asked him what he thought of this idea, Pastor Ray responded, “Absolutely this is a great idea. You should go for it!” And with that Charles responded, “If it is such a great idea, will you help me?”
Pastor Ray had just unwittingly taken hold of a vision and calling he didn’t know was being passed, and together began to strategize how to plant 1000 more churches in unreached villages in a remote region of Ethiopia without any money. Staying true to God’s voice, they called 100 of their “friends” to hear about this vision.
After hearing the plan, 99 of the 100 said “yes” to the call. From there, they sent word to 2300 donors and the necessary finances began to come in. In two years, starting from scratch, nearly $2 million was raised and 1000 churches were planted. Between 2003 and 2007, that number grew to 1642 churches, and thousands of new converts who had never heard the name of Jesus were brought into those churches. An Ethiopian government census stated that in 2003 there were 5.4% Christians in the region, but that percentage had grown to 13.5% by 2007. A veritable revival had been set loose!
By the end of 2006, Pastor Charles was 87 and his health was growing poor. Because of his illness, he was no longer able to travel internationally or share the vision for continued church planting in Ethiopia. The ministry was struggling and Pastor Ray Noah stepped in to lead the vision and took over the financial burden of the Ethiopian offices and ministry. In 2008 Pastor Ray Noah accepted a pastorate at Portland Christian Center. The church wholeheartedly embraced the church planting vision, and even though Pastor Blair had now passed away, a new group of believers in Portland, Oregon were named as stewards of the vision.*
At the same time in Ethiopia, God was stirring a leader:
Pastor Bekele Gudeta, one of Dr. Charles Blair’s original 300 church planters, planted his church in a small unreached village. There were not any known believers in the village at the time, but this faithful leader grew his congregation to 25 new believers. At the time, the town was ruled by a powerful witch doctor, who was hostile toward this growing young church. He gathered an army of 400 to fight against the 25 new believers. Sadly, 9 new believers died in the conflict, 300 cattle belonging to the new believers were stolen, and all-out persecution began.
The government sent soldiers to fight the 400-strong opposition. In the 3-day war that followed, many more people died. The witch doctor, wanting to kill the leader of this upstart congregation, assumed that he must be a very big man—both in size and influence, for who else could command such influence and authority to have the government fight for him. He never suspected the 22-year-old dressed very casually right under his nose. Pastor Bekele’s supporters kept his identity hidden, knowing the witch doctor was trying to find and kill him. Ultimately, the government quelled the uprising, and the 300 cattle were returned. As punishment, the witch doctor was forced to feed 100 government soldiers for 3 months. All the while, the small church was growing, adding new converts day by day.
A year later, the church members were walking by the witch doctor’s home. They were singing as they walked, but stopped to inquire as to the commotion surrounding his home. “What happened?” they asked. “The witch doctor just died!” was the response. That was the beginning of an even bigger revival, through which 48 more churches have now been planted from that one church! The witch doctor was never replaced.
In 1996, Pastor Bekele, at 26 years of age, moved to another unreached village in the Jeldu District called Gojo. Before bringing the first 6 converts to Christ, Pastor Bekele faced harsh persecution, even being stoned at one point. However, the number of believers was multiplying in Gojo and other churches were forming. Likewise, the persecution had all but disappeared. In 2009 Pastor Bekele, full of faith, contacted Petros Network’s National Director at the time, Alayu Kebede, and asked him to send an email to Pastor Ray Noah saying, “Will you help me plant 250 churches in the Oromia region.” When Pastor Ray Noah received Pastor Bekele’s email he knew this was a calling from God.
God has a plan for Petros Network…
Within that very week, Pastor Ray Noah was having coffee with a member of his church and began telling him about Pastor Bekele’s request. Unknown to Pastor Ray, the gentleman had some means and called him later that day, “I will support planting 125 churches if you can come up with funding for another 125 churches.” God had placed a vision in the heart of an Ethiopian pastor, who wrote a US Pastor, who shared a burden with another brother along with several US/Canadian churches, and Petros Network’s church planting movement was poised for God-ordained growth.
When Pastor Ray Noah moved his family to take over the pastorate of Portland Christian Center in 2008, he did so under the agreement the church would join in supporting the Ethiopian Church planting vision of Petros Network. And, they did it with enthusiasm! Portland Christian Center has personally sponsored well over 400 of the 3000 church plants in Ethiopia, Uganda, and South Sudan.
Since 2010, Petros Network has planted more than 3000 churches. Church planters report over 2.5 million Africans have heard the gospel for the first time, and over 400,000 people have responded to the message to follow Christ and join the local church. Redemptive Lift efforts have followed the church plants. Through Petros Network, and the local indigenous church, a training center, a guest house, two primary schools (Ethiopia and Uganda), and over 1000 physical church buildings have been built. Water has been advanced in the city of Gojo, a model farm is being developed, 50 acres of land is being harvested, medical and dental clinics have been launched, five widow’s homes have been built, and The TESFA Project was initiated to provide micro-grants, meaningful work, training, and support for widows and orphans. The TESFA Center was built in 2017 and includes a medical clinic that focuses on women’s issues and special needs children. Truly, Petros Network has demonstrated the local church, when at its best, is the hope of the world.
In the spring of 2013, Petros Network formed a key partnership with Pastor Kirk Yamaguchi and the Canyon View Vineyard Church to advance into South Sudan. The results have been miraculous, similar to what’s been happening in Ethiopia over the past decade, showing the power of expanding the Kingdom of God through Jesus’ example of Word and Deed. In addition to South Sudan, Petros Network has also moved into Uganda and Kenya and is investigating other unreached people groups.
What has been the strategy for growth? The same strategy God gave to us when we began — go tell your friends and see what I (God) will do! Today we are grateful for the unity of the church and strategic partners unifying across denominational lines in the US, Canada, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Uganda for Kingdom Impact.
Soli Deo Gloria! For the Glory of God Alone!
* The Blair Foundation still exists today and is led by Dr. Charles Blair’s grandson, Marrles Moore