Operation Sunrise Africa – a Model of Leading With Questions!

My Cru Colleague and dear friend, Bekele Shanko has been “Leading With Questions” throughout his career!  He recently shared his life story in his book “Never Alone – from Ethiopian Village to Global Leader.”

In his book he shares an incredible campaign that he led in 2002 called “Sunrise Africa.”  How Bekele led this campaign is indeed a model of Leading With Questions!

This was a vision of incredible magnitude to reach 50 million people with the gospel in 50 major cities in 50 days in 23 countries in Africa.  The cities stretched from Cape Town, South Africa, to Asmara, Eritrea, and from Windhoek, Namibia, to Port Louis, Mauritius. The rallying cry of the vision, which became known as “Operation Sunrise Africa” or simply “Operation Sunrise,” was simple: Help accelerate evangelism, discipleship and missions in Southern and Eastern Africa through a 50-50-50 strategy.

The vision of Operation Sunrise Africa was inspired by a Bible verse: “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.” Malachi 4:2

How Bekele led this effort is so contrary to how most leaders would carry out their Vision.  Most would develop a detailed plan of what they would want everyone to do and then would pull together groups of people to tell them exactly what they would need to do if they wanted to be involved in this campaign.

But this is not what Bekele did!  Instead Bekele led with questions at every level.  In his book, Bekele shares 3 sets of questions that he used to lead this campaign that resulted in giving ownership to all involved:

  • The first set was for his personal team
  • Second set was for a group of 250 Christian leaders from the 23 African countries
  • Third set was for every local committee.

Bekele started with his team –taking them on a three-day prayer and planning retreat.  As he prepared to facilitate the planning time, he created seven discussion questions to guide the process.

  • The first question concerned identifying major opportunities and challenges within our organization, our nations, the church in Africa and the continent as a whole. We looked at the socioeconomic, cultural and political environment of Africa vis-à-vis the depth and impact of Christianity in the continent. Through the process, we realized that some of the greatest challenges in Africa included poor leadership, poverty, the spread of HIV/AIDS, civil wars, corruption, mismanagement of resources and a lack of quality education.
  • The second question we considered had to do with the church’s possible response to these challenges. We were convinced that many of Africa’s problems could be solved if those of us who identify ourselves as Christians were living in obedience to the Word of God. This is so because the Bible teaches us to be men and women of character and integrity, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, to promote peace and justice, and to care for the poor and the oppressed.
  • The third question in our planning process examined expanding the vision beyond our organization, and strategies for doing so. Therefore, we asked, “How can we partner with churches and mission organizations?” As a result, the vision grew from “our organization inviting others to join” to “the body of Christ working together for the glory of God.” Accordingly, we started listing the names of influential individuals, church denominations, mission organizations, and even governmental and nongovernmental agencies who could partner in this endeavor.
  • The fourth question pointed us to strategies and resource mobilization. We listed both available strategies and potential ones. But more importantly, we agreed to empower people to be creative and to design strategies that were relevant in their context. As to the mobilization of material and financial resources, we developed a list of potential contributors (and contributing groups) both within Africa and elsewhere. The average budget to reach a city was $160,000, for a total of $8 million. And we believed that most of the resources to reach a given city would be available within that same city. However, it would take leaders with conviction, passion and creativity to unearth those resources.
  • The fifth question led us to potential challenges and possible responses. The potential problems included persecution, inadequate financial resources, a shortage of leaders, lack of unity in the Christian community, poor planning, and lack of preparation to preserve and cultivate the fruit of the campaign.
  • The sixth question helped us clarify expectations and set standards of measurements. We approved the list of the 50 largest cities in the region, which were home to about 50 million people at the time. We also set some essential goals, including what to measure, significant activities, a timeline and quality control processes.
  • The seventh and the last question concerned possible organizational structures and division of responsibilities. Accordingly, we developed a structure that included major task forces such as project direction, prayer, fund development, operations, students, business, government, church mobilization and the media. However, we left the responsibilities of detailed planning and formation of task forces and ministry teams to the national and city leaders. Through the group brainstorming process, we were able to gather the unique contributions of team members, create a shared vision, and visualize the magnitude and potential impact of the entire project.

Next Bekele invited 250 Christian leaders from the 23 countries where Bekele and other leaders shared their compelling vision.

The participants deliberated in small groups on the content of the conference and answered five questions — questions designed to help participants not only understand, refine and own the vision but also commit themselves and their resources toward its fulfillment.

Here are the 5 questions:

  1. What do you think of the vision? A question of conviction, necessary to create ownership of the vision.
  2. How would you refine this vision? A question of involvement, necessary to give opportunities for leaders to shape the vision.
  3. What potential challenges do you anticipate? A question of problem-solving, necessary to prepare leaders to solve problems in their cities.
  4. What contributions can you and your organization make toward fulfilling this vision? A question of commitment, necessary to mobilize resources.
  5. What critical next steps would you take in your country or city? A question of action, necessary to help leaders begin developing plans.

Through small group discussions and reflections at the plenary sessions, the participants suggested additional ideas and strategies, developed guiding principles for partnerships, identified possible challenges as well as preventive measures, and committed to mobilize necessary resources from their organizations and cities. Answering those five questions became a common practice in all the subsequent planning meetings in every country and city.

At the end of the conference, everyone felt a great excitement, unity and commitment to do whatever necessary to implement the vision in all the cities.

In each of the 50 cities, steering committees established at least 10 major task forces and hundreds of sub-task forces.

Leaders and organizations with similar interests or emphases formed a task force and developed their own plans and budgets. To help guide their planning process, task forces were given a template with 10 questions:

  1. What are our responsibilities?
  2. How do we accomplish our responsibilities?
  3. How should we ensure the sustainability and long-term growth of the results?
  4. What resources are available?
  5. What additional resources do we need?
  6. How should we mobilize the needed resources?
  7. Who should do what?
  8. What sub-task forces do we need to establish and why?
  9. What is the timeline for each activity?
  10. How do we measure our progress?


During the campaign, about half a million Christians were trained and mobilized, and as mentioned earlier, 10,000 people helped give leadership to 2,000 task forces. Over 250 executive outreach dinners and luncheons were organized to reach professionals, diplomats, and business and government executives. Over 400 leaders from Africa and around the world participated as speakers at those events. More than 2,000 people and multiple churches from outside Africa got involved,56 including the United States, Canada, South Korea, Brazil, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and several European countries. The Jesus Film Project from the United States provided language translations, film prints, DVDs and equipment necessary to show the “JESUS” film. They raised more than $8 million with about 70 percent raised locally from the cities. God promised the Israelites through the prophet Malachi, “The Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness.” God fulfilled this promise as well. Generous partners, primarily from the United States, brought their financial offerings in righteousness and partnered in various cities.

The amazing campaign of the 50 days came to an end on August 19, 2002, and Bekele and his team started gathering reports. In almost every aspect they had surpassed our goals. For example, they had hoped to reach 50 million people with the gospel, but our follow-up reports totaled 64.5 million people, with 1.72 million people praying to invite Jesus into their life. Several cities not included in the original list of 50 joined the campaign, and our teams showed the “JESUS” film more than 8,000 times. In some of the cities, they saw decision rates ranging from 50 percent (in Zomba, Malawi) to 86 percent (in Eldoret, Kenya). Truly, the harvest was ripe in Africa. In addition to numerical results, they received hundreds of stories of faith and courage, sacrificial giving, leadership development, and the power of unity. Many lives were changed, and Christians became effective in sharing the gospel because they were trained.

Although you might never be leading a campaign to transform an entire continent, the multiple examples of how Bekele led with questions at every level of Operation Sunrise Africa can be used by all of us to give ownership to everyone involved at every level of your organization!

Bekele Shanko is the Vice President for Global Church Movements for Cru.  Bekele also serves as President of the Global Alliance for Church Multiplication (GACX), a global network of church-planting organizations, which he helped to launch in 2011 and is also the President of the Global Academy for Transformational Leadership (GATL), which he founded in 2008.

What I have shared here is just a small part of the incredible story of Bekele’s life – which he shares in his book, “Never Alone – from Ethiopian Village to Global Leader.”   Click HERE to order you book today!

Bob Tiede


Bob has been on the staff of Cru for 52 years. He currently serves on the U.S. Leadership Development Team and is passionate about seeing leaders grow and multiply their effectiveness. Bob and his wife, Sherry, live in Plano, TX and are blessed with 4 incredible children and 8 remarkable grandchildren.


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