We left off last week sharing about all the things I had come to learn from our Kenyan partner churches. You may recall that the main parts of that learning experience were their unity in Christ expressed in worship, care for one another and their care for the community at large. I was also very much moved by their sense of joy as expressed to the Lord and to one another. I found it an exhilarating challenge as to how we will become a people in the Union that reflect some of those very strong commitments in Christ that our Kenyan brothers and sisters continue to experience—a profound sense of worship, commitment to church planting, clarity about social justice and equally concerned that people come to faith and mature in the faith. Above all, I know that the Lord wishes many of us (those who do not already share in God’s joy) to re-discover the joy of the Lord in our lives. May we, like Nehemiah, experience daily ‘that the joy of the Lord is our strength’.
As I share with you some of these deeply encouraging things let me comment on some of my concerns. Africa has become the funding darling of so many in the last few years. There has been much comment on the desperate plight of countless people in this painful continent. So much need and yet so many challenges to meeting that need. What can a single denomination do in the face of such difficulties such as war, drought, injustice and privation? I found myself thrown back on one great declaration that my humanity found its unity with my African brothers and sisters because we were united in a common Lord. I found that my humour (many of my friends would agree here) and my everyday life illustrations made no sense whatsoever to my Kenyan friends. I constantly wondered how to bridge the gap between us and marveled at how others like the Stelcks were able to do so. There was one wonderful moment that stood out to me. I was trying to illustrate how we need to keep being filled by the presence of God with an illustration from Billy Graham. I cupped my hands together and had a student pour water into them. I could not contain the liquid and consequently leaked water all over the classroom. “I need God’s constant infilling,” I announced, “because I leak”. We all laughed together in our common recognition of God’s provision for us in our common need. I came away with concerns that I need to know more about the dilemmas of cross-cultural language and the concerns I had around the issues of money, dependency, social justice and sharing both the faith and love in Christ. I embarked on some reading that I want to share with you.
Before my trip I began to read “The End of Poverty” by the Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs. I am reading it in a sort of community with those from every political and economic stripe. Its thesis it that we need to help those in the global economy who are showing signs of improvement and help them to do even better. Sachs has the support of those from the left like Stephen Lewis and those from the right like the British magazine “The Economist”. The second book that I am plowing through is John Reader’s award-winning book “Africa: A Biography of the Continent”. Its title needs no explanation except that it is an exceptional read and explains much of the background of African challenges. I am also reading “Britain’s Gulag” by Harvard historian Caroline Elkins which is an inflammatory book on the end of empire in Kenya. (I am finding as a person born in Britain that I am both fascinated and challenged.) Finally, I wish to recommend the biblical and radically hopeful book “Good News About Injustice” by Gary Haugen which my wife Kerry pointed out to me in a bookshop at Holy Trinity Brompton two weeks ago. Haugen suggests that we are fairly adept at sharing our faith with people and even competent at feeding many who are hungry but that we have a long way to go in changing the structures and patterns that hurt people in the first place. Haugen is the head of International Justice Mission and told a story that moved me in its simple forcefulness. It is a story that reminds me that when I ask God to feed the hungry he is more often than not asking me to take what he has given me and feed those in need on his behalf. I will share the story without comment save to say that it is a story that I am greatly chastened by.
“A preacher asked me (and the rest of the congregation) to consider a scene that has stayed with me ever since. He asked us to recall the story of the feeding of the five thousand. The disciples brought complaints about the hungry multitudes to Jesus and he responded by compassionately blessing bits of food from a boy’s lunch of five loaves and two fishes. Then he gave them to the disciples and the disciples gave them to the people. They ate and all were satisfied (Matthew 14:19). The speaker asked us to imagine a scenario in which the disciples kept thanking Jesus for all the bread and fish – without passing them along to the people. He asked us to imagine the disciples starting to be overwhelmed by the piles of multiplying loaves and fishes surrounding them, yelling out to Jesus, ”thank you , thank you, thank you”—all the while never passing along the food to the people. And then beneath the mounting piles of food, the disciples could even be heard complaining to Jesus that he wasn’t doing anything about the hungry multitude.”
– “Good News About Injustice” by Gary Haugen
Lord save us from our own blindness and lead us to faithful and fruitful places in You and Your world.