The butterfly effect

In 1972 the meteorologist Edward Lorenz presented a paper at a scientific convention titled “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” Based on careful mathematical calculations, he proved that the way weather conditions turn out depends on the sometimes minuscule factors influencing it in the initial stages. This came to be known as the ‘Butterfly Effect’ – a very small change in initial conditions can create a significantly different outcome. The concept is not new and can be found in fields varying from civil engineering to quantum physics to video games. It is a theme often found in novels and films.

The Bible authors applied the ‘butterfly effect’ very skillfully in telling the story of God’s journey with his people – very small changes in initial conditions created significantly different outcomes, or, in other words: “What if..?”.

“The woman saw that the tree had fruit that was good to eat, nice to look at, and desirable for making someone wise. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it…” (Gen 3:6)

“Judah asked his brothers, ‘What will we gain by killing our brother and covering up his death? Let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites’…” (Gen 37:26-27)

“Pharaoh’s daughter opened the basket, looked at the baby, and saw it was a boy. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him…” (Ex 2:6)

“But God warned the wise men in a dream not to go back to Herod. So they went home to their own country a different way.” (Matt 2:12)

We cannot change the world. We cannot equip the whole Christian community. We cannot reach all children with the love of God. What we can do, however, is to ‘flap a wing that might eventually bring about a tornado’. We therefore try to do those small things we are capable of in the right places and at the right times with the right partners.

Read further and see how, with the help of the Lord, many small wing flaps created tornado’s across the world.


From here into the world

After almost 28 years of existence, Petra Institute remains a small organisation, situated outside a reasonably small town (White River), in a rural area of Mpu-malanga. Yet, our footprint lies far and wide over Africa, The Middle East, through to South East Asia.  Being small does not prevent you from dreaming big and doing big, because nothing is impossible for God and He makes the impossible possible for us. Because of that, we have many ‘butterfly effect’ stories.  As the African proverb goes, “The man who beats the drum, doesn’t know how far the sound goes.”


A tornado of reconcilliation

The Muslim community of a town in Ghana did an unheard-of thing – they invited the pastor of the local Pentecostal Church to speak at the funeral of one of their religious leaders. After years of animosity, this was a remarkable gesture, a tornado in the town – and it all started because of the flap of a butterfly’s wings: a year before Lenda and Johan Müller insisted on sitting at the same table and eating the same food served to the participants of a training course in children’s ministry in Accra, instead of being served separately! The full story should be told by Pastor Isaiah Katakyin of the COP, Ghana, but in short: When Pastor Isaiah saw his teachers walking the talk, humbling themselves and living out the relationships they were teaching in class, his fixed hierarchical ideas of leadership were seriously ‘disrupted’. He decided to embrace this radical innovation and discard the judgmental, distant pastor he used to be. The result was a new, relational family, a new, relational parish and a new, relational town.

But how did Lenda and Johan end up in Accra in the first place? The flap of a butterfly’s wings, of course – 15 years before Fanie Richter and Laetitia Bull were manning a table at a mission expo in the World Trade Centre in the East Rand when a pastor from Ghana came to talk and also asked to receive our newsletter in future. (See ‘A chance meeting at an exibition’)

This has always been Petra Institute’s philosophy: to bring about small changes by gently disrupting fixed ideas. As a result, we have multiple stories from all over the world of the butterfly effect in children’s ministry. Our current focus on cross-age (inter-generational) ministry seems to be even more disruptive, and we expect the results to be even more far-reaching.

To enhance the butterfly effect, we invest the bulk of our time and energy in processes to create and sustain multiplication. This means the equipment of facilitators who can train and/or lead others in children’s ministry and eventually train other trainers. We use two terms: tutors, referring to facilitators of basic courses (Entering the World of Children, Help Children Grow in Spiritual Maturity, Entering the world of Families, Walking with Wounded Children, A Church where Children are Welcome – Developing an Intergenerational Church) and mentors, leaders who are tutors but also able to manage and guide  churches and  organisations in focusing on children, do advocacy on behalf of children, and train tutors.