Leighton Ford Mentoring

Leighton Ford Mentoring Tree


I first entered the Lausanne Committee as a representative of the “younger generation” of leaders. Some of my previous encounters with international Christian leadership had not been very positive, and so I went to my first gatherings with some apprehension. Meeting Leighton burned into my heart the challenge of being kingdom seekers rather than empire builders. He talked about this a lot and also modelled it in the way he interacted with us. Actually my memories of the Lausanne Committee are that this was a group of kingdom seekers under Leighton’s leadership.

My first real encounter with Leighton was at Amsterdam 83, the Billy Graham Conference for Itinerant Evangelists. This was the first major international conference at which I spoke, and Leighton was the Programme Chairman. At the end of the conference I was struggling with my responses to the terribly sensual images I was being exposed to in the liberal European environment. I was going for a walk to be with the Lord and found that Leighton was also going for a walk at the same time. He asked whether we could walk together. I was shocked that this famous man would want to walk with me!

That was one of the most memorable walks that I, a regular walker, have had. I talked about my struggles and got good hints from him which I have followed ever since. I also talked about preaching and about some of my weaknesses in evangelistic preaching. I guess my Methodist theological orientation resulted in my placing too much weight on the responsibility of the preacher especially in inviting people to respond to the message of the gospel. During our walk the Presbyterian Leighton gave me a good dose of teaching on the importance trusting in the sovereignty of God during evangelistic preaching. This helped gradually to take away the terror I felt when giving an invitation to people to respond to the gospel message. I learned to trust in the sovereign God to do his work. And I believe he has done his work in bringing people to Christ through my preaching over the years.

The contacts with Leighton grew as I got involved in the planning for the Lausanne Younger Leaders’ Conference, Singapore ’87. I travelled with Leighton trying to raise funds for the event. The event was a direct result of Leighton’s vision to equip younger leaders with a kingdom vision. That particular involvement was one of the most fulfilling experiences I have had in international ministry. We had glorious fellowship as a committee and, after so many years, the warmth of love we experienced is still kindled the moment we meet another member of the committee. The way that conference impacted some of today’s key international Christian leaders is a wonderful story in itself.

But for me the biggest impact of Singapore ’87 was through a decision the delegates from Sri Lanka made to organise an Urbana-like Missionary Conference in Sri Lanka. The aim was to place before the church the challenge of reaching the unreached in Sri Lanka. We called it the Navodaya or Navodayam Conference. Navodaya in Sinhala and Navodayam in Tamil mean “the dawn of a new era.” The message of the conference was that the church is entering a new era when, after four decades of decline following national independence from the British Empire, we are going to see Christians taking the gospel to the ends of nation. This is what happened in Sri Lanka. A new era did dawn, and the church has grown remarkably with a witness for Christ being seen in all the districts of Sri Lanka which were previously untouched by the gospel.

It is generally recognised that the Navodaya Conference of 1988, and two subsequent Navodaya conferences, have played a great role in helping in the dawning of this new era in the church. In keeping with Leighton’s vision of kingdom-seeking and not empire-building, we disbanded the Navodaya Committee when we felt that the churches had taken the ball and were running with fulfilling the task of reaching the unreached.

Ajith Fernando,
National Director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka since 1976.