Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What makes Global South Christians tick?

I would not normally link to Anglican Mainstream, but they do have a good article by Bishop Ben Kwashi of Nigeria, which has 70 million people. Readers can go to the site for the full article, but I'm just going to quote the parts that I think give a snapshot into what makes GS Christians, Nigerians in particular, tick. This guy is co-ordinating bishop of CANA, which is a conservative Anglican ministry in the US started by Nigeria. As such, his lack of vitriol about homosexuality, especially in comparison to his Primate, may be instructive.

Where are we now?

Today therefore we have in Nigeria a growing Anglican Church in a country whose population is growing even faster! That means that it is a predominantly young population. The youth form the majority in our churches. At a point the average age of the Plateau State was calculated to be as low as 22 years.

In comparison with the west we have a young church, young in its existence and young in its membership.

We have a church which in parts of the country is persecuted, suffering and not free to build structures or buy land.

We have a church which is facing the growth and incursion of Islam.

We have a church which is struggling with poverty, societal corruption and political uncertainties.

We have a church which is still struggling with inherited colonial mindsets concerning power, ability and trust.

We have a church which draws its membership from very many different tribal and racial groups, many of which have fought each other in the past, and now have to learn to live and grow together.

But above all, we have a church where faith is vital, real and the motivating power behind life and worship. It is a faith worth living for and a faith worth dying for – and thousands have so died. The very possibility of persecution makes a difference, and lessens complacency. Please do not think that we have all the answers or that every single church is alert, alive and kicking – sadly that is not so! The vision is beginning to fade especially in some of the older churches, and that situation must be rectified before they fall into the sleep of death, and before mission degenerates into maintenance. But overall there is a fire and a passion which is burning, and we must fan that fire until it catches light over the whole country – and all over the world.

The burning concern for mission is at the heart of what it means for us to be Anglican. We are therefore training and sending missionaries further and further afield, for example reaching into the nooks and crannies of the north of Nigeria and from there over the border into Liger, Cameroun, and even Kazakistan, with some missionaries working from their diocese, some through the Church of Nigeria Missionary Society. CNMS is the heart-beat of Anglican work in Nigeria and beyond. For many years we have had a Nigerian chaplain working with students in London: Cyril Okorocha, Ken Okeke, Jacob Ajetinobe and now Ben Enwuchola. The Rt Rev Abiodun Olaoye is a missionary Bishop working in the Congo; the Rt Rev Simon Mutum is working with the nomadic mission in the North of Nigeria; the Rt Rev Martyn Minns is in America. These bishops are all bishops of the Church of Nigeria, consecrated along with others in Nigeria, but sent by the church to work in other areas or countries, just as in earlier years, English bishops came to work alongside us here. We in our turn are glad to welcome long term mission partners as well as short term visitors to live and work in Nigeria.

Where are we going?

In the world today there is much suffering, darkness, evil and death. The one and only power which can overcome this and transform individuals, communities and nations is the power of the gospel. The gospel is not a static, established tradition but a living powerful force with the ability to transform in ways which even pass the hopes and expectations of those who carry and plant the initial seed.

The gospel is all about the Kingdom. At the start of his ministry, Jesus set out his agenda by quoting from the prophet Isaiah: the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. (Lk 4.18-19).

There are huge social concerns to be met in Africa: the poor, the widows, orphans, refugees, homeless, HIV/AIDS patients and their families and so much more, but caring for these is a result of an overriding vision for the Kingdom and for mission. If any one of these works of compassion becomes and end in itself, then we are back in the potentially dangerous situation of Acts 6: “Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.” (Acts 6:1).

Caring for the widows had given rise to grumbling, complaints and backbiting which not only resurrected what we might refer to as tribal or nationalistic sentiments and prejudices, but which actually threatened to hinder the spread of the gospel. The attention of the church was being turned inwards upon itself, rather than looking outwards to the world and to its call and mission. The apostles quickly realised that this was a trick of the devil, and they at once set in motion a godly plan of action which took care of all the aggrieved parties and which set the apostles free to preach, to teach and to continue this mission.

Today in Africa one of the biggest social concerns is HIV/AIDS which still claims hundreds of lives each year. The church has therefore set up specialist ministries to teach, to care for and to support patients, families and communities, leaving other pastors free to concentrate on other aspects of mission and ministry. All ordinands are trained in HIV/AIDS counselling at our seminary and we are aware that we have pastors and workers who are HIV positive, but the prime focus of the church is not on HIV/AIDS. It is on preaching the gospel in word and in living (of which caring for those who suffer is an example).

In Nigeria homosexuality is not such a big issue as poverty, diseases, corruption, political stability and HIV/AIDS, nor by the way is homosexuality a major cause of HIV infection which is much more likely to be spread by heterosexual intercourse. Amongst ordinary church members, there is surprise and some bewilderment that homosexuality should be the cause of so much trouble and they cannot see why it should have assumed such prime importance that it threatens to stop the growth and mission of the church. They wonder why it could not be dealt with, yes in truth and honesty, but with love and compassion, in such a way that the overriding purpose, vision and reason for the existence of the church is not lost, but continues apace.

It is the gospel which has brought us education, health care, and so much more, but above all, it is the gospel which has brought life, light and hope in darkness – for this world and the next. We therefore are not prepared to compromise or trade this gospel for anything at all – not even for our physical lives. The gospel, as Paul describes it in Romans 1 16-17 is the power of God; it is universal, and it is a faith venture.

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