This update is related to the God’s Design for the Church in Africa campaign.
Who Are You Following?
Who are you following right now? In other words, who is the person making the most impact on how you think and live and act? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a follower is someone who “follows the opinions or teachings of another” or “imitates another.”1 Take Cristiano Ronaldo, for example: he is ranked #1 on the list of “Top Ten Most Followed Instagram Accounts” in 2023, with over 595 million “followers.”2 Clearly, a lot of people are following his opinions and teachings!
No matter how much we might try to convince ourselves that we live in a “you do you” culture, we’re all heavily influenced by what we read and watch, and who we spend time with.
José Neto, a bookstore owner in Angola, recently articulated that what we see in this “follower” culture is what we ought to be doing as followers of Christ: “A real Christian disciple of Jesus Christ follows his teaching.” Many people “follow” Cristiano Ronaldo on his Instagram account, but it’s doubtful that each of those “followers” read all of his posts, listen to each one of his interviews, and model their lives after him—in other words, are they really following him?
Likewise, there are many “followers” of Jesus in Angola—José estimates that around 85% claim to be Christians—but only 20-25% of the population daily follow Christ and his teaching to us through his Word. Part of the challenge for Angolans is their limited access to theologically sound resources, books and Bibles included. Neto became a believer himself through reading a book that clearly and accurately laid out the message of the gospel.
This is why, when Neto finally had the opportunity to get his PhD from a school in Portugal, he left it all behind in favor of saving a local Christian bookstore. Since then, the Spirit has changed countless lives through his ministry of providing theologically sound resources throughout the country.
Serving Angola through the Ministry of Books
“If one book can change my life, they can change other people’s lives too.” This is the purpose behind Neto’s ministry with Livraria Barquinho, a Christian bookstore located in Luanda, Angola. Originally started by Swiss missionaries, Neto was impacted by the ministry of this bookstore throughout much of his life. So, the day he got the call that this beloved bookstore was being forced to close, he packed his bags and returned to Luanda to take over its management, leaving his PhD hopes and dreams back in Portugal.
Prior to going to school to get his PhD, Neto had been very actively involved in his church, serving as a deacon and elder at various times, along with other church commitments. Though he didn’t have proper schooling, he explains that “I . . . studied through reading. So if someone asks me where I studied my theology, I say that it was through reading.”
He left behind those PhD dreams because he has seen the grim picture for Angolan Christians seeking theologically sound resources in Portuguese. “The problem here in Angola . . . is that for all the books we have to pay fees. Fees to the government, fees for the transportation, fees for this, that, or the other.” All these fees quickly add up so that oftentimes theologically sound books never make it to Angola in the first place.
Neto’s ministry, as he serves believers throughout the country, is to develop relationships with publishers like Crossway who can help to provide these resources at lower costs. And as a result, Angolans can purchase books and Bibles for a more reasonable price, resulting in more people being offered the chance to read the good news and become true followers of Jesus.
Changing Lives through the Distribution of Books
Books change lives. They changed José Neto’s life, and they’re changing the lives of millions of others, including pastors and ministry leaders throughout Angola who have received a copy of God’s Design for the Church through a recent Crossway global ministry project.
Writing for the African pastor or church leader, author Conrad Mbewe shares biblical insights and challenges his readers to lead their churches and ministries in accordance with the Bible’s commands. One of the topics Mbewe addresses is the role of leaders in the church. Through his experiences, Neto has seen a need for change in this area: “[Angolan churches] have a large hierarchy of leadership in their congregations. There are many steps in positions of leadership between the church members and the leadership of the church.”
This structure of leadership is much different from what Mbewe exhorts through the balance of leadership between the pastor and his elders. Neto meets with a group of pastors several times per year to discuss the content of the books they have been reading recently. In their next meeting they will share how God's Design for the Church has impacted their lives as followers of Christ, as well as how they have been sharing what they learned in their church and ministry contexts.
“Mbewe really wrote this book to the African people—the way he wrote the book is such that someone like myself as an African living here in Angola can understand what he’s sharing very well.” Because of the impact Neto sees through this book, he hopes to soon print additional copies of the Portuguese version to distribute after finishing the distribution of the 600 copies he received as part of the Crossway project.
Offering Angolans the Chance to Follow Jesus
Nine years ago, José Neto made the life-changing decision to leave behind his hopes and dreams of completing his PhD program. As a follower of Christ who has been transformed through the reading of theologically sound resources, his heart’s desire is to provide the opportunity to influence others with more resources that lay out the truth of the gospel.
Neto’s bookstore ministry is growing by the day. Currently his bookstore has two branches, and he frequently receives requests to establish bookstores in additional locations. Believers like Neto have realized that following Christ means being led by his teaching. And to be led by his teaching requires access to Bibles and theologically sound books. More Angolans every day are following Jesus and being impacted by the resources they’re engaging with. Who are you following?
Please pray for the Lord to provide a new, cheaper location for the main bookstore so that the prices of books might be kept to a minimum.
Please pray for the Lord to guide José Neto and his team as they consider the many requests to open bookstores in other provinces throughout the country. Pray that they would follow God’s guidance in choosing an additional location.
- “Follower”, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, accessed July 14, 2023, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/follower.
- “The 10 most followed Instagram accounts in the world in 2023,” Forbes India, July 12, 2023, https://www.forbesindia.com/article/explainers/most-followed-instagram-accounts-world/85649/1.