For New Covenant Missions executive director Erik Laursen, overseeing 150 churches in Ethiopia and traveling to Africa six times a year is similar in many ways to the job he left behind to begin working with missionary groups.
“It was very similar, as strange as this is going to sound, to managing a restaurant,” said Laursen, who previously managed the Spokane Melting Pot. “I mean, you got so many types of people that come in and out of working in a restaurant. It was just that magnified to a larger extent because most of my job roles were managing our nationals on the ground in the various African countries.”
For the past three years, Laursen has worked with New Covenant in the Coeur d’Alene area and is focused on growing the resources and reach of the nonprofit to achieve more completed projects in Ethiopia and Kenya.
New Covenant works to recruit church planting families in Ethiopia that Laursen and others help to train. The newly trained families then establish a church within an impoverished community that the family either comes from or knows.
“Our main mission is to plant churches because once the church is planted then we have a home base where we can do things out of it like medical missions, fresh water projects, or community health trainings, or build an orphanage,” Laursen said.
“We just do our best to recruit the right people and once we find them we come alongside them and do our best to empower them without necessarily enabling them,” Laursen said.
Laursen himself was drawn to missionary work after finding himself “at a crossroads in life.”
“Both my wife and I really felt that season of change was coming and that we had been called by God to get involved with the mission,” Laursen said.
After meeting friends who had lived and served in Ethiopia, Laursen said he and his family felt a “burn for Ethiopia” and “knew that we were being called to something bigger in life.” Despite having no prior missionary experience, Laursen and his family moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to volunteer with Every Home for Christ. Eventually, the organization hired Laursen to supervise projects and 37 offices throughout Africa.
“It was absolutely a miracle to some extent,” Laursen said. “Me and my wife both knew that we were called into missions, that’s what God was leading us to. So, to just go on steps of faith because neither of us had experience in (mission work).”
Laursen and his family then moved back to the Coeur d’Alene area to be closer to family and became involved with New Covenant.
“Africa as a whole has really been a calling and a transition in our life from restaurant fondue – slinging cheese – to working on the continent of Africa with a primary focus on Ethiopia,” Laursen said.
New Covenant began its work in Ethiopia and has recently expanded into Kenya. As executive director, Laursen travels to both countries multiple times a year to support the churches and train possible church planters.
During a recent Sunday in Nairobi, Kenya, Laursen said he was able to witness one of the most “incredible” cultural differences between Africans and Americans.
“I went to church and preached at 10 a.m. and when I was done preaching they were still preaching and dancing for like an hour,” Laursen said. “We had some lunch, had a little bit of a break, then we started all over again with an evening service. There’s so much of a focus on community and relationships in the African culture that there’s no place they’d rather be than somewhere they can all be socializing together and just kind of hanging out.”
Laursen said he has been able to translate and share his experiences and the goals of New Covenant best through photography and film. He was encouraged to document his trips while at Every Home for Christ and now uses the images to remember his trips and share the stories with churches in the Spokane area and potential donors.
“Once I bring stuff back and show it to people – tell the story to people – and you see the look on their faces, there’s just no comparison,” Laursen said. “I can sit in dialogue with somebody over coffee and tell them what’s happening, but if I don’t have photos or videos a lot of it just kind of flies over their head.”
Laursen said photography has become a hobby that he also gets paid for and is now one of his favorite parts about traveling.
“The landscapes are beautiful, the people are beautiful,” Laursen said.
Laursen filmed and photographed the 1,000 patients treated as well as the mix of Spokane and Ethiopian volunteers during New Covenant’s first medical mission in Ethiopia in May 2015. Laursen said that after four days he had so much footage he felt he could create a documentary of the trip.
“It’s a powerful way to tell the story when you have footage of the ground and narration and music,” Laursen said. “People can really make an emotional connection to it.”
“The Least of These,” the short documentary Laursen compiled from the trip is available for viewing on YouTube (search for “The Least of These” and New Covenant). It won awards at the Los Angeles Film Festival and the Hollywood Independent Documentary Film Festival.
Laursen said the film captures the “amazing experience” of providing medical service day-to-day in Ethiopia along with translating the danger and risks both missionaries and civilizations face in the region.
“It’s intense, but at the same time you really see God do incredible things and see joy on the people,” Laursen said.
Laursen said the next medical mission is planned for May with annual trips expected thereafter. New Covenant hopes to expand their efforts further in Ethiopia, Kenya and move into western African countries by the end of next year, he added.
“The goals are endless,” Laursen said. “Africa is a huge continent and there’s a lot of people with a lot of needs there. We have a lot of connections with people that are ready for us to come and work with them. It’s just a matter of timing and resources really.”
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