Faith in the Midst of Adversity

Janet Holden
Janet Holden

The Holden family has lived and worked among the people of Lubango, the capital city of the southern Huila province of Angola for over 30 years. They have focused on training and teaching emerging leaders to be examples of Jesus’ love to those around them.

Jim and Janet’s journey with the Navigators began in Vancouver in the late 1970s and early 1980s at Simon Fraser University where they facilitated the 2:7 Series discipleship study. This study focuses on cultivating leaders in local communities and churches and strengthening their walks with God. In 1984, they were given the opportunity to go to Angola with an organization called Serving in Mission to do church leadership training.

Jim, Janet
Janet and Jim Holden

After 20 years of serving with SIM they transitioned back to the Navigators to do marketplace ministry by mentoring business professionals. In the course of their work, they saw that these professionals needed to learn English. To address this, they started an English language institute, which currently has 450 students registered and an excellent teaching reputation to match.

Not only was the institute succeeding, but so were the various Bible studies and parenting classes the Holdens were running on the side. The relationships they were cultivating continued to grow deeper.

In 2010, the unexpected happened: Jim died of malaria after not receiving the proper dose of medication. Continuing the work without him has not been easy for Janet and the family, but it has provided the opportunity for young leaders to step in and help fill the void.

One of these leaders is Jim and Janet’s youngest son Jonathan, whose move into leadership started with a serious fall off a mountain cliff while doing some extreme sports. God used this experience to get his attention and help Jonathan understand he had a mission for him – one more important than climbing cliffs. Janet says she has seen a real change in Jonathan since this experience. “God has given him a real burden for the lost, a real ability to communicate in such a way that people listen to him and the ability to minister among them. It seems to flow out of him.”

Another up-and-coming leader is Antonio, who works as an aide for the governor. He’s also been ministering to the young people and running a Bible study. One day Jonathan met up with Antonio and challenged him to have the 10 young men in his Bible study go out and begin their own Bible studies.

This past May Antonio phoned Jonathan to tell him that each of those 10 guys are now running Bible studies of their own with 10 others. Instead of only 10, now there are 100 young people studying the Bible and 10 new young leaders!

Janet, Jonathan, Cara
Cara Johnston, Janet Holden and Jonathan Holden at The Navigators’ Whistler 2014 national leadership conference

As Janet continued to pray for ministry leaders, Cara Johnston, a nursing graduate of Queen’s University and student leader in the Navigator ministry, connected with the Holdens. Soon after, she embarked on a seven-week trip to Angola to work with them and their ministry. Her experiences from this trip convinced her this was where God wanted her, so she began a two-year term and is now renewing for another two years.

Cara says the success of the Holdens’ ministry is due in large part to their longevity in Angola and the relationships they’ve developed over the years. Much of her focus has been meeting with individuals she’s connected with through the Holdens’ work. “It’s through the connections and relationships that the Holdens have made in their life and ministry that I’m able to connect spiritually with people. From the credibility of their ministry, people trust me to open themselves up and share spiritually.”

Overlooking Lubango
Lubango from above

Through ministries like the Holdens’, we’re seeing new, young leaders emerging out of the Angolan woodwork who are eager for God to use them in the lives of others. They’re making themselves available to God by investing in those around them so that the message of Jesus and his Kingdom is not only spoken about, but also lived out.

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