We first met on a table near the Table Mountain; I hope we meet again, in eternity, at a wedding table on a holy mountain.
In an emerging leader-affirming move, typical of The Lausanne Movement, my 32-year old self was appointed a table head at the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa. Imagine that. This was a gathering of the crème de la crème of Christian leaders from around the world, even described by some as “the most representative gathering of Christian leaders in the 2,000 year history of the Christian movement” (Christianity Today).
Each table had about half a dozen members. One of mine was Tim Keller. At the time, I had no clue who he was and quite frankly, couldn’t be bothered. Everyone was somebody. He wasn’t always at the table and even when he was there, he wasn’t quite there.
The Congress was over and everyone received their beautiful certificates of participation. Tim wasn’t there. Again. Apparently he had left back to the United States earlier. So I decided to travel back to Canada with his certificate, do an internet search of his whereabouts and mail his certificate to him in the States.
THAT is when I found out to my shock what a tall figure of a man this was! I eventually did get to speak with a staff and mail his memento to the right address (I would hope) in New York City. Rev. Dr. Tim Keller, founder and lifelong pastor of the 5,000-member Redeemer Presbyterian Church, was über brilliant and very deep—in head and heart. So deep that he had decided not to write any book till he was in his fifties. “Writing a book in your 50s will go twice as fast and be twice as good as if you try the same book in your 30s. It’s just good stewardship to wait,” he told The Gospel Coalition, which he was co-founder and Vice President of.
The other dimension I admired most about Keller was how ambidextrous he was in elucidating the gospel and engaging the culture, simultaneously! Stupendous! That, to me, was epitomized in his invitation to speak on his obviously Christian worldview book, ‘The Meaning of Marriage,’ at Google in Silicon Valley. Check out his presentation and responses to their questions and comments. Dr. Keller mentored many, near and far, in-person, in spirit and via media. Those around the world who were directly mentored through his Redeemer City to City should count themselves fortunate, blessed. I just spotted on Facebook a touching tribute from a pastor friend of mine from Brazil who recently planted a church in Rome, inspired and equipped by Rev. Keller.
As a latter day follower of Tim on Twitter, I admired the way he vulnerably yet resolvedly faced his imminent death, having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer since 2020, a sequel to his 2002 thyroid cancer battle. All the while incarnationally demonstrating ‘The Meaning of Marriage’ through the dynamics with his wife of nearly 50 years, Kathy Kristy. Tim transitioned into glory on Friday the nineteenth (of May), 2023.
Dr. Tim Keller’s influence on the church and the world for Christ is deep and wide. I hope we share a table, again, at the grand, imminent marriage feast of the Lamb in eternity. Till then, Rest in Peace, champ! #Maranatha!
In the interest of full disclosure, first of all I am a Bible-believing, Jesus-following, Spirit-filled African Christian. Secondly, at the time of writing, I have no membership of any political party—just a citizen who passionately loves his motherland and has served both major political parties when called upon. Finally, I comment on the National Cathedral of Ghana matter primarily as a missiologist and leadership scholar. These thoughts were largely shared on the Cit FM/TV current affairs programme The Big Issue on 21st January, 2022. The crux of my submission, that the project be halted and audited, was also carried on Citi News Room here.
THE THING THAT I FEARED HAS HAPPENED
My first article on the proposed National Cathedral of Ghana in August 2018 was entitled in a manner that exposed the battle that raged within me upon hearing the president of the Republic of Ghana announce his vision to put up a national cathedral. It was an inquiring heading: “National Cathedral: Vulgar or Virtuous Venture?
In it, I confessed “my unwholly holy initial thoughts, honest-to-God,” sharing my initial skepticism about the project, mainly concerned about it being a mere political scheme to siphon monies, only with a nice religious façade. Secondly, I questioned the prudence of it amidst the poverty and sheer lack of basic infrastructure and public services in a developing country (NB. This was before Covid would hit and make everything that was bad, worse). Thirdly, I was wary of the perilous path of Europe where centuries old grand cathedrals now only stand as emblems of a once-upon-a-time vibrant Christendom while the faith itself is dying today, precipitously. Even then, one need not cross the oceans to note the dangers of religious opulence over pragmatic faith. Just look next door, right across the Ghana border to the near-white elephant of the Notre Dame de La Paix in Yamoussoukro, whose proposed community-impacting hospital as an attachment to assuage the papacy’s guilty conscience is till yet to see the light of day, thirty-two years later.
As I studied the cathedral proposal further, especially as an African missiologist, its merits rose above my cynicism and mounting hopes tamed my fears to the extent that I was willing to give the project a chance, even my support. In fact, not only was I present at the foundation stone-laying, I wrote a cogent trilogy about how even the president might not be fully aware of the extent to which Almighty God may be using him to accomplish His glorious purposes in and through Africa, especially considering this unique moment in history where the once derided “dark continent” now has more Christians than any other continent and will double that lead by 2050, with more Christ followers than the next two continents (Latin America and Europe) combined! In fact, a summary of the trilogy even made its way into the Cathedral’s published magazine.
Over the last couple of years since then, I have found my faith in the project on a slippery slope back to where it first began, with supposed scandal after seeming scandal and allegation upon allegation that rival the corporate sins of the Arthur Andersons and Enrons at the turn of this century (if not making them pale in comparison), that do not befit an edifice for the King of kings. The opacity in the project’s financial dealings, including estimated project costs, eye brow-raising fund transfers and amorphous government seed money, make nonsense of the God who is light, in whom there is no darkness at all. The purpose of this rejoinder is not to dive into each of the smudges and spots on the project but to put on record that while I have enumerated prior at least a dozen reasons this could be a virtuous project, like ‘the greatest man in the East’, for me too, “the thing I greatly feared has come upon me” (see Job 3:25-26). I seek to document for posterity my revised position on the National Cathedral of Ghana for not only are my values being violated, the very faith in whose name this edifice is being erected is endangered.
NOODLED & NUANCED
This cathedral matter is a very nuanced one and thus requires the highest levels of leadership competence, care and character to navigate it. What do I mean? Four things. First of all, the president is not a king; he cannot just pronounce edicts, fiats and decrees at an enlightened citizenship. Secondly, we don’t live in a theocracy, but in a fairly vibrant democracy (although admittedly we are a pseudo secular state with our national anthem and pledge referring to ‘God’). Thirdly, private-public partnerships can be a tricky dance. And finally let’s face it, things are hard socioeconomically right now!
As if all of this is not enough, the president in particular hasn’t shown the kind of great leadership in casting vision (constantly, compellingly, creatively) and galvanizing the people from the grassroots. To make matters worse, the government itself has lost the trust of the Ghanaian people with its economic mismanagement, real and imagined, poor emotional intelligence in matters like this and poor consultation culture–from this cathedral issue through the recent e-levy saga and even current Domestic Debt Exchange debacle.
Then the process itself has been fraught with paucity of information and poor communication, poor governance (really governance 101), low accountability and too much opacity. In fact, in my frustration the other day while preaching on an Ephesians chapter five text about leading and living in the light I bellowed, “Stop the Cathedral in the name of the Lord!”
Don’t get me wrong. There are pluses about this project. Many. Between my initial article and the subsequent trilogy you will easily find a dozen cogent reasons why this could be a virtuous venture, including how the cathedral is more than a building (although the Africanization of it, its tourist attractions and income generation nature per se are all something to write about). The fact that the cathedral has a mandate to be a convenor of national conversation and debate warms my heart.
If the government had kept to its initial promise of providing “just the land” and only “seed capital,” I’ll be at peace. It is for the body of Christ to build this cathedral to the glory of the LORD, but considering the nature of Christianity in our Ghanaian public sphere and the prime place of faith for the African this is a nuanced matter. Any good government would have a keen interest in this matter, hence the sense in situating the NCG in the country’s capital city’s ceremonial core to provide “the missing link” (words of the architect) as a final piece of a national puzzle. Apparently, the other national pieces are all already in place: the people’s place (international conference centre, national sports stadium), the people’s representatives’ place (parliament building and State House), the peoples’ heroes’ place honouring the dead (Osu cemetery and adjoining military cemetery).
Granted, it isn’t everyone who is able to appreciate that we are a building a nation here; not just an eclectic collection of utilitarian infrastructure. That’s how come although we still have children learning under trees we still have national stadia and presidential edifices like Jubilee House and Peduase Lodge. To build or not to build this cathedral is really a nuanced and noodled matter that requires a certain high level leadership that I, honestly, haven’t seen on the horizon.
THIS ISN’T A ZERO SUM GAME
As a missiolgist, I believe that even the president does not fully know or understand the magnitude and implications of his vision. His initial vision may have been personal but vision is often progressive and it is possible He is being used by the Sovereign God in ways the man himself cannot fully comprehend, let alone the masses crying out against this vis-à-vis the impoverished state of the state. In order not to repeat the dozen or so cogent reasons why this project can be worthwhile, I will strongly encourage you to take a look at trilogy 1, the second part and the final installation, all from March 2020.
GOING FORWARD: SEVEN STEPS
1. STOP! STOP! STOP!
This may very much sound and look like the ‘STOP WORK’ in red paint on uncompleted building projects by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) yet, I see red flags all over this project that require concomitant red paint markings all over it too. This is not from the AMA this time. Just “we the [Ghanaian] people” saying, “STOP WORK!”
Secondly, let us get any of the so-called ‘Big Four’ global auditing firms in the country to do a thorough audit of the NCG secretariat, board of trustees and other associated names like JNS Talent etc.
Sometimes those AMA signs not only read, “Stop Work” but continue with “Produce Permit.” I would say for this cathedral project, in conjunction with step one, let us also “Stop Work and Produce Audit.” The result of the audit will help clarify our next steps—if even this project should continue at all, and if it should, how.
3. CALL FOR CONVERSATIONS AND DEBATE
Let us on purpose have a broader conversation and debate of the best minds and hearts for the way forward. “In the multitude of counselors there is safety,” said the wisest man that ever lived. And this is a sagacious king who could’ve easily ignored the counsel of others. Interestingly, he put up the most magnificent temple in the whole world in his day, for YHWH. Even Africans like the Queen of Sheba travelled long distances to come and see. If we want to see the reverse today, others come from elsewhere to behold the magnificence of the NCG, then we had better consider wise, broad-based consultation.
In my humble opinion, this government has been unbelievably militaristic; so non-consultative! Yet the thing is that even if people do not agree, they will support the project, or at least not be as antagonistic, because they have been seen (recognized) and heard. Conversations and debate will cause the significant groundswell needed for such a massive national venture with international ramifications.
4. GIVE OURSELVES TIME
If from the pause, audit, conversations and debates it becomes apparent that this project should continue, then we must give ourselves time. This cathedral doesn’t have to be built by 2024 and ready for a January 2025 swearing-in. That is precisely part of the problem with this project: the fact that the president is in a hurry to put this up while he is in office.
While a sense of urgency is good, undue pressure because of time crunches leads to many mistakes and often unethical behaviour, no matter how hitherto virtuous one’s cause. For example, this strange exchange of over two million Ghana Cedis between a whole national project and a private individual’s company obviously happened because apparently the project couldn’t wait for government funds to clear (this issue is under investigation, and rightly so). Besides, things are über hot in the economy right now, Ghana’s caught up in a socioeconomic inferno. It is wisdom to let both the times and tempers cool off.
If this is truly a national cathedral and not H.E. Nana Akufo-Addo’s pet project, then it should stand the test of time by traversing other administrations—perhaps two or even three terms down the line, including opposition parties—and be owned by all and sundry. If is by the good people of Ghana it for the glory of Almighty God, then we are not in a hurry. When we are not in a hurry we can think properly, do things appropriately, follow due process… Time is money and time will save us a lot of money—and a multitude mistakes.
5. TRANSPARENCY! TRANSPARENCY! TRANSPARENCY!
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5, NIV). Even some corporations have more transparency and better governance than the current supposedly religious project. Anathema! If this is truly an edifice to the Most High God then there cannot be even a hint of inappropriateness and misappropriation. As it stands now, not only has there been too much darkness and opacity surrounding a building that is to be a Lighthouse for the nations; too many allegations and suspected scandals that even some ordinary government projects cannot rival.
My mind goes to another cathedral project’ in ancient times where it was said, “They did not require an accounting from those to whom they gave the money to pay the workers, because they acted with complete honesty” (2 Kings 12:15, emphasis mine). I’m afraid we cannot say this of the NCG people or process so far.
6. LET GOD’S PEOPLE BUILD GOD’S BUILDING
The government of Ghana has done more than enough, giving the land. And way more seed than was my impression at the start of the project. If this sanctuary is really for the LORD then let’s let the Body of Christ in the country build it. And yes, we can! Christians have literally put up thousands of edifices strewn across the length and breadth of the country, ‘from Gambaga to Accra, from Wiawso to Keta.’ Let the Church do this for the glory of Almighty God. We thank the generous government of Ghana for the head start but no more government/tax-payers’ funds, please.
Let God’s people be able to say, like in Nehemiah’s day, “The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build.” Whenever God gives a vision, He also makes the provision. But if this venture isn’t of God, then we are on our own; it will be hard.
For a number of great cathedrals that have been built, people have felt so privileged to be a part of the history-making that they have voluntarily given, not just of their substance but of their very selves. Carpenters, masons and other artisans and professionals have offered their services for free, and not the case of exorbitant amounts being paid to the current architect and others. In my opinion, the celebrated architect should feel so privileged to do this for God and country that he does this gratis! You tell me how much we paid the designers of our national flag and presidential stool; or composers of our national anthem and pledge.
7. WORK AS PASSIONATELY ABOUT OUR ‘SOFTWARE’ AS WE ARE ABOUT THIS ‘HARDWARE’
By software I mean our values, our paradigms and attitudes etc. The nation is so full of poor work ethic, corruption, filth (environmental and figurative), incompetence, dishonesty, lack of integrity etc. yet we want to build a magnificent cathedral for God. There is so much grievous poverty in the lives of the majority yet we want to put up this ceremonial and celebratory infrastructure at a cost of $400 million in the heart of Accra. The scriptures are replete with what God requires of us, first and foremost, and it is not so much physical buildings as that our spiritual, social, mental and emotional states reflect His glory; also, that our physical bodies will be hallowed as His temple. So as we are excited about the hardware (physical building of a cathedral), o how I pray that we are equally excited to work on our values, attitudes, morality, ethics, true selves, true faith and integrity. We also ought to disciple our sectors and systems of Ghanaian society so that these reflect a people that believe in a righteous and excellent God, the Most High.
Despite the bold vision of the NCG, we haven’t as a people or leadership displayed the kind of competence (eg. vision casting, convincing communication, broad consultation), character (eg. transparency, accountability) and compassion (eg. sensitivity to the present economic plight of the Ghanaian people) that a project of this magnitude demands.
I believe if we took the above seven steps, that should put us in good stead and hopefully lessen the painful memories and bitter aftertaste that this project would otherwise bring us. I do not believe the NCG is an entirely vile venture; but neither will it be entirely virtuous without great leadership in its purpose and process. Repentance and restitution must take place where the audit finds wrong and the best way forward forged as a body politic. The virtues in the idea of a national cathedral can be redeemed and the dead and near-buried hope and glory resurrected. This project can still bring God glory and bestow blessing on not just Ghana but the nations of the world if we would be quick to vanquish the evils that crouch at the foundation and front steps of this edifice. But for now, both my hopes and fears of these past six or so years have come to a head in this embattled National Cathedral of Ghana project.
It was heart-warming to find that a couple of the National Cathedral’s Board of Trustees members, namely Archbishop Nicholas Duncan-Williams and Rev. Eastwood Anaba, reiterated my January 21 call above to ‘stop work and produce audit’ barely two days later, January 23, 2023. It was soon followed by a formal press release by the chair of the Board, Rev. Prof. Opoku Onyinah the next day, following a January 23, 2023 Board of Trustees meeting at which they agreed to engage Deloitte, one of the Big Four accounting firms in the world, to carry out an audit.
The hope expressed in the final paragraph of the said press release is mine too: “It is the hope and trust of the Board of the National Cathedral of Ghana that once these nagging issues are satisfactorily dealt with, the public interest and confidence in the project would be restored and rekindled to enable the citizenry to contribute generously to complete the Cathedral to the glory of God.”
I just arrived at my room in Cape Town after three flights from Accra to Nairobi, Nairobi to Johannesburg and Jo’burg to Cape Town. A question on my mind as l flew here far above sea level, sometimes as high as 38,000 feet, has been, “How high is your leadership lid?”
THE FIRST OF THE IRREFUTABLE LAWS OF LEADERSHIP
Of course you know what a lid is, the cover of a container. How high your lid is determines the quality of the leadership that you provide for those you lead. I learnt this a long time ago, some 20-25 years ago from John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. It was the very first of the principles of leadership he espoused in that bestseller and my life has never been the same since.
As John challenged me then from the written word—and many years later in-person—I must always endeavour to lift my leadership lid because no family, organization, church, community or country would ever grow past their leader. The leader is the lid over those (s)he leads. Sometimes when training leaders I ask, “are you a leader or ‘lidder’? because a leader is literally the lid on the progress and prosperity of their constituency. In a sense, every leader is a lidder; the question is “how high?”
IMAGINE THIS PRESIDENTIAL LID
You probably have heard me tell the story of a certain African president that a group of us, Maxwell certified leaders, were trying to connect in-person to John C. Maxwell for a national transformation process and programme. This president had never heard of John. In all probability, he hadn’t read any other contemporary leadership experts but hopefully he has digested at the very minimum some of the leadership classics like Plato’s, ‘The Republic’. It is a scary thought that this African nation—and by extension every family, organization, corporation, community, church etc. within her—would be constrained by the tightness of this head of state’s lid. I almost added, “through no fault of theirs,” but I guess they voted him into power.
HOW TO LIFT YOURS
While we educate a new generation that should be too enlightened to allow such tight lidders to lead African nations in the next decade, let me ask you, let’s get personal: how high is your lid? We forget, many of us (or we might even not know), that leadership is not just caught, it must be taught. And that’s why I love the opportunity, come October 07, for us all to be part of a life-altering, lid-lifting Live2Lead virtual experience with local faculty and global ones beaming all the way from Atlanta, Georgia.
We are gunning for 2,000 leaders—from emerging (youth) leaders, through leaders in the establishment (i.e. government/public sector leaders) to established leaders in the private sector, including executives from the corporate space. We will be taught in word and deed by powerful speakers and shakers like John C. Maxwell himself, two Patricks (Lencioni of the USA and Awuah of Ghana) and a Patricia (CEO of Vodafone, Ghana).
RAISE THE ROOF!
One of the most powerful discoveries in psychology over the last generation has been that people can learn and grow and change! So wherever your lid is today, if you learn to lead better you provide more room for those you lead. John will be the first to tell you that “your capacity determines your impact.”
Perhaps, some of the conflicts you are experiencing right now in your organization, church or wherever you lead is because your lid is too low and so people keep hitting it. And there is going to be continued tension and banging (conflict) till at some either you leave the stage or your people take their exit. As you have probably heard it said, people join organizations but they leave people (managers/leaders). It’s time to make room, lift your lid, raise the roof!
I have been part of things l left because the lid was too low. It just wasn’t life giving and l know people have also left my leadership when my lid was low because it was just too tight. Learn to lead. Each one of us can learn to lead better. Blow off the lid so that all of a sudden the people under your leadership feel this space and freedom because you lifted your lid and now they can breathe and create and innovate and… live again.
Join us at Live2Lead Ghana 2022, on October 7, and let’s all learn to lead better so that the people following our leadership can live better. If leading is your purpose on earth—that you live2lead—then you might as well as learn2lead, and do it well. As Donewell Insurance puts it, “If it must be done, it must be done well.” If we must lead, then we must lead well. Let’s blow off some lids and see our constituents blessed beyond measure, growing great and strong.
Right outside my hotel room window is the breathtaking view of the majestic, towering Table Mountain at 3,500 feet above sea level with no real ‘peak’ per se. No lid! So in the meantime, while you contemplate your lid, I will enjoy Cape Town on your behalf.
Register and join LivetoLead here.
Do you know the story about the wealthy arts collector and his son? Eventually when both died the man willed all of his wealth—unbeknownst to the other wealthy art connoisseurs and museums who were eyeing his stuff—to whoever bought the ‘unimpressive’ but deeply precious painting of his son. Usually, this story is told in an evangelistic sense for people to consider Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord—“whoever takes the Son, gets it all”—yet this is the same Son who said, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate [THE PRESENCE] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). Friend, whoever takes the Spirit, THE PRESENCE, into 2022, gets it all.
THE PAINTING is like THE PRESENCE
Everything you need is in THE PRESENCE; just like every painting the connoisseurs wanted was in that one painting of the son. Moses knew, that everything he and the Israelites would ever need was in THE PRESENCE. And so when God said “I’m not going with you guys any longer,” Moses retorted without skipping a beat, “then we’re not going!”
1Then the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ 2I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 3Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.” (Exodus 3)
As I said in the beginning, many people wouldn’t mind such a deal at all, just like heaven without God! If getting to the Promised Land was guaranteed, with an angel to boot, what’s the problem if it’s ‘only that’ God isn’t coming along for the ride? At the various Watch Night/Cross Over services around the world, I dare say that for the majority of people as long as were assured of the promises of God, angelic guidance and protection, prosperity of what to eat and wear and spend (milk and honey) in 2022, who cares about THE PRESENCE?!
12Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ 13If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.” 14The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
15 Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
The company you need is in THE PRESENCE, favour is in THE PRESENCE, pleasure is in THE PRESENCE, rest is in THE PRESENCE, distinction is in THE PRESENCE. We’ve all been raised to think how sad it was that Moses never entered the Promised Land. Are you sure? What if I told you he did? What if the Promised Land is God Himself? I’ll leave you to wrestle with that for a bit.
SO WHAT? FOLLOW THE CLOUD
I hope I’ve been able to convince you that EVERYTHING you need for 2022 is in THE PRESENCE of the LORD; all you’ll EVER WANT is in THE PRESENCE. Do you then now have the faith to pray, “Dear God, all I need for the New Year is YOU! so All I want for New Year, is YOU!”
Remember, s(h)e who takes the Spirit, THE PRESENCE, gets everything! Lord, LEAD! LORD, your presence or nothing! Will you follow the crowd or the CLOUD? Using ‘CLOUD’ as an a acronym, here’s how to practicalize this message and maximize THE PRESENCE in 2022: Cultivate, (Be) Led, Obey, Unwind, Discern.
1. CULTIVATE— Cultivate THE PRESENCE
This year, learn to stop at set times (also spontaneously) during the dam, calm your spirit (breathe in and out deeply) and centre yourself by being conscious of your breathing and God’s presence, saying, for example (with breathing in), “Lord, “I breathe in your Spirit…” and as you exhale, “I breathe out my stress or anger.”
Incidentally, on the very 31st January, prior to traveling to preach this message in the evening, my wife and I were going to look at a piece of property and burst a tyre. She had to continue alone in an Uber. Initially I was getting upset, wondering whether this was an attack on 31st or whatever… Then the Spirit reminded me of this very message. I stopped, calmed down, centred myself, cultivating THE PRESENCE.
2. LED— Be Led by the PRESENCE
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God…” (Rom 8:14). Let the Lord lead in 2022. Listen & be led.
3. OBEY—Obey the promptings of THE PRESENCE
What more is there to say?
4. UNWIND—Relax, Lounge, Chill and build intimacy with God
Mark Thibodeaux describes four stages of praying, or relating to THE PRESENCE. By unwind I mean the fourth; not the first three.
o Talking at God—This is simply parroting prayers, whether recited ones like “Bless me, Lord, for what we’re about to receive we thank thee O Lord” or the kind of mindless speaking in tongues
o Talking to God—We become more comfortable finding our own words to speak to God, rather than readymade prayers but still “give me, give me, give me more, Lord.”
o Listening to God—This is when we begin to enjoy a two-way relationship with him.
o Being with God—A final stage is where “finally, we simply enjoy being in the presence of God—who loves us. This is far more important than any particular activity we might do with Him [or for Him]. His presence makes all of life fulfilling.”
5. DISCERN—Scripture says we should not be foolish and act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants us to do, understudy God’s moves and waves and will. Moses said, “show me your ways” as He asked for God’s presence and glory. My favourite definition of discernment is Ruth Haley Barton’s: “the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and the activity of God—both in the ordinary moments and in the larger decisions of our lives.”
Let’s thank God for every time you experienced THE PRESENCE in 2021. Confess your eagerness to have stuff and success in 2022 but not necessarily HIM! Let’s pray for a life that follows the CLOUD in 2022. If you’re serious about THE PRESENCE, tell God, in the words of Don Moen’s classic:
If Your presence doesn’t go with us
Lord we don’t want to leave this place
Lord we need You near
As we go from here
To lead us by Your love and grace
May Your presence fill us every day
May Your Spirit lead the way
Lord to You we call
Let Your glory fall
And may Your presence go with us
If we have found favor in Your sight
Show us Your ways O Lord
Cause we want to know You
And live in Your light
For all of our days
Show us Your ways
We have our hopes
And we have our dreams
But we cannot go
Where You will not lead
Lord to You we call
Let Your glory fall
And may Your presence go with us
Rest assured, we have a guaranteed general, guide, guard, giver and glory for 2022, the “Captain of Israel’s Host,” THE PRESENCE.
17When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle. … 20After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. 21By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. 22Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. (Exodus 13)
THE PRESENCE FROM EGYPT
God will not necessarily lead you through the shortest routes in 2022 but the best routes, according to His good, pleasing and perfect will. God was Israel’s captain as they exited Egypt to possess the Promised Land. A captain is a commanding officer of a ship, someone in command or a leader of a group (like a football team). This captainship is clearly captured in phrases like “God did not lead them…” (v. 17); “So God led the people…” (v. 18); “By day the LORD went ahead of them… to guide them” (v. 21); “…in front of the people” (v. 22).
And they were many, an estimated 2 million of them! It is no wonder they are described as a host (like stars or a vast army). A host is “a multitude or great number of persons or things.” God was the General, Guard & GPS of this ginormous group, host!
THE PRESENCE IN ENGLAND
It is this amazing story in Exodus 13 that captured the imagination of Charles Wesley (1707-1777), the brother of the founder of Methodism (John Wesley) to pen those words in 1762 (the original words are in bold, my brief commentary is in italics):
Captain of Israel’s host, and Guide
Of all who seek the land above,
The same God who was Captain of the Israelites exiting Egypt to the Promised Land called Canaan is the Guide of those of us who eventually want to exit Earth to the Promised Land above we call Heaven;
He can be the General of those of us exiting 2021 and wanting to enter the Promised Land called 2022. For he is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Beneath Thy shadow we abide,
The cloud of Thy protecting love;
The shadow, cloud, pillar of fire—these are all metaphors of THE PRESENCE.
Will you abide (John 15) in THE PRESENCE for intimacy (love), protection, provision, piloting (guidance), production (fruitfulness)…
Our strength, Thy grace, our rule, Thy Word;
Jesus Himself says, “my grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in your weakness in 2022” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
What laws or constitution or playbook will you live by in 2022? How about the Basic Information Before Leaving Earth (Bible), which itself is already saturated with THE PRESENCE?
Our end, the glory of the Lord.
Is God’s glory the purpose and end goal of your life or your own idea of what is cool and successful? God’s own glory is God’s mission!
It is no greatness if it brings God no glory!
A WORD ABOUT GOD’S GLORY IN UNEXPECTED PLACES & WAYS
God’s glory can show up in ways and places that are strange to the human mind. Think about it: one day in John 9, “As [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God [or the glory of God] might be displayed in him.” But blindness?!
How about when Jesus says to Peter (John 21), “Very truly I tell you [Jesus says to Peter], when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” A death that glorifies God? Come on! JUST FOLLOW THE PRESENCE.
THE PRESENCE is powerful; even in the valley of the shadow of death, according to twenty-third Psalm, I fear no evil for you are with me (THE PRESENCE). In Genesis 39, “…while Joseph was there in the prison, 21the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” THE PRESENCE in prison; glory through prison. Unstoppable God; unboundable PRESENCE!
BACK TO EXODUS
We’re told in the ninth chapter of the book of Numbers that:
17Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. 18At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. 19When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord’s order and did not set out. 20Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. 21Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. 22Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. 23At the Lord’s command [captain of the host!] they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out. They obeyed the Lord’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses.
The second verse of Wesley’s hymn continues…
By Thine unerring Spirit led,
We shall not in the desert stray
THE PRESENCE makes no mistakes—He is the omniscient (all-knowing) One to steer us aright from missing our way yet if we sin and stubbornly deviate He also is the gracious omniponent (all-powerful) One to, like a GPD does, re-route us, even if it takes 40 years in the wilderness! Re-calculating… Re-calculating…
We shan’t be lost in 2022, amen!
Just move when God moves; stop when He does; stay when he stays.
We shall not full direction need
It was reprinted in A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodists (1780), where John Wesley altered this line 3 of verse 2 from, ‘The light of man’s direction need’ to ‘We shall not full direction need’.
Nor miss our providential way;
Just as He gives us our daily bread, let us look to Him for daily direction. There is no grace for tomorrow; only today. We don’t need the full direction! Sometimes we don’t even need direction in our heads or hearts; he just orders our steps, like Simeon!
As far from danger as from fear,
While Love, almighty Love, is near.
God is Love, and the Bible says “perfect love drives out fear.” Fear and God cannot co-exist. In 2022, God will keep us far from danger just as He will keep us far from fear, as long as THE PRESENCE is near!
Hallelujah! Finally, in Part 3, we’ll end with Moses’ craving of THE PRESENCE and why we should too–abiding angels and promised properties, even flowing milk and honey, just won’t do. I share five practical tips on maximizing THE PRESENCE.
Years ago, there was a very wealthy man who, with his devoted young son, shared a passion for art collecting. Together they traveled around the world, adding only the finest art treasures to their collection. Priceless works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet and many others adorned the walls of the family estate. The widowed, elder man looked on with satisfaction as his only child became an experienced art collector. The son’s trained eye and sharp business mind caused his father to beam with pride as they dealt with art collectors around the world.
As winter approached, war engulfed the nation, and the young man left to serve his country. After only a few short weeks, his father received a telegram. His beloved son was missing in action. The art collector anxiously awaited more news, fearing he would never see his son again. Within days, his fears were confirmed. The young man had died while rushing a fellow soldier to a medic.
Distraught and lonely, the old man faced the upcoming Christmas holidays with anguish and sadness. The joy of the season, a season that he and his son had so looked forward to, would visit his house no longer. On Christmas morning, a knock on the door awakened the depressed old man. As he walked to the door, the masterpieces of art on the walls only reminded him that his son was not coming home.
As he opened the door, he was greeted by a soldier with a large package in his hand. He introduced himself to the man by saying, “I was a friend of your son. I was the one he was rescuing when he died. May I come in for a few moments? I have something to show you.” As the two began to talk, the soldier told of how the man’s son had told everyone of his, not to mention his father’s, love of fine art. “I’m an artist,” said the soldier, “and I want to give you this.” As the old man unwrapped the package, the paper gave way to reveal a portrait of the son.
Though the world would never consider it the work of a genius, the painting featured the young man’s face in striking detail. Overcome with emotion, the man thanked the soldier, promising to hang the picture over the fireplace.
A few hours later, after the soldier had departed, the old man set about his task. True to his word, the painting went well above the fireplace, pushing aside thousands of dollars of paintings. And then the man sat in his chair and spent Christmas gazing at the gift he had been given. During the days and weeks that followed, the man realized that even though his son was no longer with him, the boy’s life would live on because of those he had touched. He would soon learn that his son had rescued dozens of wounded soldiers before a bullet stilled his caring heart.
As the stories of his son’s gallantry continued to reach him, fatherly pride and satisfaction began to ease the grief. The painting of his son soon became his most prized possession, far eclipsing any interest in the pieces for which museums around the world clamored. He told his neighbors it was the greatest gift he had ever received.
The following spring, the old man became ill and passed away. The art world was in anticipation! Unmindful of the story of the man’s only son, but in his honor, those paintings would be sold at an auction. According to the will of the old man, all of the art works would be auctioned on Christmas day, the day he had received his greatest gift. The day soon arrived and art collectors from around the world gathered to bid on some of the world’s most spectacular paintings. Dreams would be fulfilled this day; greatness would be achieved as many claim “I have the greatest collection.”
The auction began with a painting that was not on any museum’s list. It was the painting of the man’s son. The auctioneer asked for an opening bid. The room was silent.
“Who will open the bidding with $100?” he asked.
Minutes passed. No one spoke. From the back of the room came, “Who cares about that painting? It’s just a picture of his son. Let’s forget it and go on to the good stuff.”
More voices echoed in agreement. “No, we have to sell this one first,” replied the auctioneer. “Now, who will take the son?”
Finally, a friend of the old man spoke, “Will you take ten dollars for the painting? That’s all I have. I knew the boy, so I’d like to have it.”
“I have ten dollars. Will anyone go higher?” called the auctioneer.
After more silence, the auctioneer said, “Going once, going twice. Gone.” The gavel fell, cheers filled the room and someone exclaimed, “Now we can get on with it and we can bid on these treasures!”
The auctioneer looked at the audience and announced the auction was over. Stunned disbelief quieted the room. Someone spoke up and asked, “What do you mean it’s over? We didn’t come here for a picture of some old guy’s son. What about all of these paintings? There are millions of dollars of art here! I demand that you explain what’s going on here!” The auctioneer replied, “It’s very simple. According to the will of the father, whoever takes the son…gets it all.”
Puts things into perspective doesn’t it? Just as those art collectors discovered on that Christmas Day, the message is still the same: the love of a Father, a Father whose greatest joy came from His Son, who went away and gave His life rescuing others. And because of that Father’s love, whoever takes the Son, gets it all.
As I prayerfully pondered how best to enter 2022 personally as well as what to share with a church plant on the Akuapem mountains (in the Eastern Region of Ghana) that had invited me as guest preacher for their Watch Night service, THE PRESENCE became overwhelming clear.
WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR 2022?
Take a pause and sincerely answer the question: What do I want for 2022? How about THE PRESENCE as a present? Yes, God is everywhere (omnipresent) so why does He say where two or three are gathered in His name He is present, among them? God can choose to concentrate His presence in a person or place, and that is what I mean by THE PRESENCE. My aim is to show that everything you need for 2022 is in THE PRESENCE of the LORD; all you’ll ever want is in THE PRESENCE. At the end of this, my prayer is that like the Mariah Carey song, “All I want for Christmas is you,” you’ll leave here saying, “Dear God, all I need for the New Year is YOU!” so “All I want for the New Year, is YOU!”
HEAVEN CAN BE HELL
Four years ago, when I was still president of ISMCanada, I led a team to organize our biennial staff conference for most of our 100 staff from coast to coast to come to McGill University in Montreal, on the east coast of Canada. One of the devotional speakers I arranged to exhort the conference attendees was a young pastor (he’s a white African from Zimbabwe) from the Peoples Church of Montreal. Pastor Chris asked a question that I would like to repeat: HOW MANY OF YOU WOULD STILL LOVE TO BE IN HEAVEN EVEN IF GOD WASN’T THERE? My own response revealed my heart and I was shocked. I realized to my utter shock and shame, I didn’t really mind being in Heaven—the golden streets, tree of life, worship music, peace, no more sickness, sweat or tears…—even if God was absent.
But really, WHAT IS HEAVEN WITHOUT GOD? Heaven without God is hell! Samuel Rutherford put it this way, “O my Lord Jesus Christ, if I could be in heaven without thee, it would be a hell; and if I could be in hell, and have thee still, it would be a heaven to me, for thou art all the heaven I want.” Teresa of Avila said, “Wherever God is, there is heaven.” And for John Milton, “Thy presence makes our paradise, and where thou art is heaven.” Simply put, God’s presence is paradise.
Now, let me ask you: WOULD STILL LOVE TO ENTER 2022 EVEN IF GOD WASN’T THERE? 2022 without God is hell. Yet even Covid in 2022 with God is heaven. Everything you need is in the Presence of Yahweh; is it protection, provision, guidance, favour, promotion, strength…? It’s in all in THE PRESENCE. For many of us, we don’t mind having this stuff without God coming along! We want his hand but not his face; we want his stuff but not him. That is a tragedy of our times; an error!
This last Christmas season, I was really challenged by the Spirit-led life of Simeon in Luke 2. He was a righteous and devout man in Jerusalem who Joseph and Mary met when the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, and they took Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. Interestingly, my main text for this message, Exodus 13, begins by explaining that what was written in the Law of the Lord—“Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”—was part of the Exodus story as God killed all the firstborns of Egypt and spared the Israelites’.
Simeon was no special person per se—not a priest, prophet, pharisee, politician—just an ordinary guy who thought right, acted right, was in right and intimate relationship with the LORD and devoted to Him. He was waiting for the promised Jewish Messiah (“the consolation of Israel,” they would say) and the Holy Spirit was on him [THE PRESENCE]. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Someone reading this needs revelation in 2022; it’s in THE PRESENCE.
Just check out at the intimacy in THE PRESENCE—such a deep thing that thousands of generations had waited for in faith, and God chooses to promise this sight to simple Simeon! It reminds me of Abraham’s intimacy with the LORD to the extent that God said, before he would rain judgment on Sodom & Gomorrah, “shall I hide what I’m about to do from Abraham].
Moved by the Spirit [THE PRESENCE compels, propels], he went into the temple courts right when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required. Indeed, the steps of the righteous are ordered by THE PRESENCE]. Simeon took him in his arms [may you too take hold of and take delivery of God’s promises in 2022 by THE PRESENCE] and praised God [there is praise in THE PRESENCE], saying some amazing things which made Mary and Joseph “marvel” (v. 33), including prophesying some incredible things like the crucifixion, all of which could only have been revelation. Such is the life of an individual in THE PRESENCE.
In Part 2, I share about the remarkable Israelites-in-the-desert example of THE PRESENCE, so well-summarized in the following famous two-stanza Wesleyan hymn:
Captain of Israel’s host, and Guide
Of all who seek the land above,
Beneath Thy shadow we abide,
The cloud of Thy protecting love;
Our strength, Thy grace, our rule, Thy Word;
Our end, the glory of the Lord.
By Thine unerring Spirit led,
We shall not in the desert stray
We shall not full direction need
Nor miss our providential way;
As far from danger as from fear,
While Love, almighty Love, is near.
Find Part 2 here.
Recently I received an email (partly screenshot above) announcing my nomination to receive an honorary doctorate degree. It is is possible that I would have felt more flattered and been more tempted to go after this fake degree from these fictitious institutions had I not already been a “Dr.” (medical). Coming from a family in which my grandfather was an emeritus professor and where my mother and father-in-law are PhDs in history and economics respectively, these titles don’t exactly faze us. Yet those who offer them know they are toying with very powerful human emotions, motivations and identity issues at the core of our being and have made a good business of it. As my best friend said when I forwarded the said email to him, “this has nothing to do with you; it has everything to do with business.”
Some however, including many Christian leaders, have taken the bait and gotten decorated with very dubious degrees and titles. Recently, there was a huge brouhaha over a popular Ghanaian musician based in London who was alleged to have amassed three degrees, including a PhD, within four months! Perhaps if he had even shut up, none of this would’ve become an issue of investigation and castigation setting social media abuzz but he was flaunting it and ‘praising God’ for the fake feat. The desire to flaunt it itself reveals the very identity and emotional challenges he might have that perhaps led to him to go for those inauthentic accolades in the first place.
The above picture of Sonnie, whose giftedness is unquestionable but his academic credentials are, was uploaded by himself on social media touting his feat. I have met Sonnie. He is a fine young man and anointed. But I can also tell you he is far from perfect; just like you and me. Speaking of Sonnie and musicology, incidentally, my grandfather was a celebrated ethnomusicologist. His work earned him many accolades including several honorary doctorates but he never used the title “Dr.” because although he had done enough original research work to deserve ten doctorates he never really formally pursued a PhD per se. Interestingly, he shot straight from ‘mister’ to ‘professor’ and was ’emeritus professor’ for the last three decades or so of his life.
This degree brouhaha touches on at least three issues: identity, purpose and authenticity.
There was once a programme organized by a friend of mine. The MC got on stage and introduced a certain pastor to come up and offer a prayer. He inadvertently introduced him, with no malice, as Mr. XYZ. XYZ comes up, grabs the mic and makes a correction, “I’m not Mister, I’m Pastor.” That wasn’t all; it gets worse. Later he clears his throat and amends his correction saying something like, “In fact, I’m not Pastor, I am Reverend.” Ahem. Wow! What a shock, what a shame.
But lest I come across as holier than thou, remember I told you that the people offering fake degrees know exactly what they are massaging in us: the ego. I can tell you that as a medical doctor myself there are many times when people address me in speech or in writing as ‘Mr.’ and I have a natural gut reaction to get offended, said in my head something like “do you know who you’re talking to?” and yearned to correct them. There’s a part of me that even justifies it thus: “mehn, but you earned it.” That, my friend, is not the authentic self.
We need not, and indeed should not, root our identity in external things like what we wear, how much we earn, what degrees or title(s) we have acquired. Anything that man can give you, man can take away. Let’s not root our identity in any such thing. And you would think that supposed men and women of God would know better and root their identity in nothing less than Christ himself.
You may have ‘more degrees than a thermometer’ and still not accomplish your God-given purpose. There are some without degrees at all and yet have made much more impact in the world than those with many letters behind their names. Your purpose in life determines the vehicles and tools you need to use. It’s strange to make the acquisition of vehicles and tools our primary objective when one hasn’t first sat down to evaluate if that is what they need to get done the job they came on earth to accomplish. It’s about dreams, not diplomas and degrees.
Did you read about the recent brouhaha over the apparent insistence of Jill Biden, wife of the current U.S. president, to be called “Dr” ? It’s really been going on for at least a decade now: “Hi, I’m Jill. Jill Biden. But please, call me Dr. Biden.” The December 2020 op-ed by Joseph Epstein in the Wall Street Journal implored Jill Biden to “think about dropping the honorific, which feels fraudulent, even comic.” Personally, I think the essence of what Epstein was trying to say became lost in what became an embroilment in sexism. The real question should be: does being ‘Dr.’ make Jill a better educator (that she’s been for decades) or not? Everything else is secondary; even tertiary.
This degree saga leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to authentic leadership. It speaks to the core of authenticity. Authentic leaders have:
- nothing to prove–a matter of humility (not try to project self worth)
- nothing to hide–a question of integrity (no playing of games but totally transparent)
- nothing to lose–a matter of simplicity (not strive for social image or popularity).
As you might have noticed, humility, integrity and simplicity as an acronym spell HIS. This is particularly instructive to Christian leaders. Those of us at the Third Lausanne Congress on world Evangelization in Cape Town in 2010 were passionately exhorted by theologian Chris Wright to be God’s saints, Christ’s people, HIS people of humility, integrity and simplicity.
NOT SO WITH YOU
Again, especially for Christian leaders, the primary power base of an authentic (wo)man of God is spiritual power—not positional or personal power. Others may go that route but Jesus was very clear to his followers who would be leaders: “not so with you.” In May 2020, I wrote quite extensively on that here. We need to lead different. This issue just won’t go away until Christians really chose to be H.I.S. people.
In light of the recent brouhaha about fake degrees, Friends, BE WARNED. Don’t allow your ego to be stroked and stoked, making your false self acquiesce to receiving fake degrees from fictitious institutions. If you want a degree, go to school and study for one! In any case, one doesn’t necessarily need a degree to succeed in life! Hopefully your going for a diploma or degree would only be because you have observed It will a good vehicle or tool towards your dream. Again, the thing is: You can have ‘more degrees than a thermometer’ and still not fulfill your God-given purpose in life.
I have a mentor who likes to say, “the thing about titles is that if you’re good you don’t need them; if you’re not they won’t help you.” Heaven help us!
There is no talk of Black History without faith, especially the Christian faith. PBS recently released a fascinating Henry Louis Gates Jr. documentary on the Black Church. What some dubious people tried to oppress and suppress black people with became the very thing that liberated us and is now giving us a global leading edge.
Africa is the most Christian continent in the world today. The year 2018 was the first in history where there were more Christians in Africa than on any other continent in the entire world! (Johnson 2018) THIS IS A BIG DEAL!—this is a one-thousand year record held by Europe that has been broken by Africa in our lifetime. That makes me super excited about Black History Month this year because history is being made right now. As you read this, a number of continental Africans and those of African descent in the diaspora have synergized to birth a new network known as Send Africa to promote further faith formation among ‘unreached people groups’ around the world.
At the formal launch of this Send Africa Network online on February 24-25 during this 2021 Black History Month, my Kenyan friend, Sam Ngugi, and I will be launching a ground-breaking book entitled Africa to the Rest to celebrate this huge feat of Africa becoming a leading global force of faith to the rest of the world. This book is to “celebrate this momentous occasion in world history that has been inadequately highlighted by mainstream missions and missions. It traces some of God’s goodness to Africa in the Bible and throughout history until now to make clear that Africa and Africans have been central to God’s missional purposes; not an afterthought.” You may register for the Send Africa Summit here.
CAPTURED & DISTORTED HISTORY
Of course Africa features in the Bible from start to finish. There were actually two black guys (among the five) that played hands on the apostle Paul and commissioned him on his missionary journeys (Acts 13). Africa is the cradle of monasteries and ecumenicsm. The term Trinity came from Tertullian the Tunisian. St. Augustine was from Algeria, and not a European as we were made to believe growing up in Africa.
As Sam and I state in our book, “People consider Christianity as the white man’s religion to oppress the African due to the last 500 years of Euro-American missionary activity mixed with colonialism without realizing that the first 500 years A.D., Africa was so synonymous with Christianity that one of the most common terms for Christians in Arabic sources is afariqa–indicating a significant degree to which “Christian” and “African” were synonymous concepts (Merrills 2004, 303).”
In fact, the subtitle of our book is “from mission field to mission force (again)“ because Africa(ns) as a mission force first impacted Europe with the Gospel! That notion that Africa first evangelized Europe is the essence of Thomas Oden’s book titled How Africa Shaped the European Mind. “My core hypothesis,” Oden himself says, “is that much intellectual history flowed south to north: from Mumidia to Sicily to France and Italy. It flowed from the Nile to the Euphrates and the Danube. It flowed from Pelusium to Gaza to Cappadocia. …There is ample evidence available that the seeds of African orthodoxy have been lifted by high winds to distant northern climes. Only much later have they returned to Africa in a Western guise.”
Only a century ago, at a world missionary conference in Edinburgh, not only was there no continental African there as a delegate, we were described as “heathen” in need of being saved. Today there are more Anglicans in Kenya than in England. At the time, the continent had 9 million Christians while Europe was home to 406 million. Today, Africa has over 630 million Christians, a clear 30 million more than Latin America in second place with Europe in third place with 571 million Christians. And it’s not a nine-day wonder, for by 2050 (Deo volente), there will likely be more Christians in Africa (1.25 billion) than in the next two continents combined! (Johnson 2018)
It is good to know that Africa leads the world in something. There are churches that began in Africa and are in 198 countries now. The largest congregations in Europe are pastored by Africans, like Sunday Adelaja’s in Kieve, Ukraine. The most multinational congregation in the world—108 nationalities—was founded by and pastored by my good friend and mentor in Vancouver, Canada, Dr. Sam Owusu. I could give you a list of about 10 global mission organizations–including the Navigators, SIM, Langham Partners and SIL–currently led by Africans!
Why is all this important? For many reasons but three will suffice for now. First, black people have been part and parcel, even central, to the purpose and mission of God unlike others have tried to make us think. We are equally made in the image and likeness of God as anyone else. We ought to rejoice and while not bragging about ourselves, ‘make our boast in the LORD.’
Secondly, the Christian faith is authentically African. As one scholar put it, Christianity is a beggar looking for clothes in whatever culture it goes into. The fact that it was captured by Europeans and Americans and tailored as a tool of oppression of blacks in slavery, colonialism etc. is simply not right (not the authentic Christian faith) and doesn’t make the faith the preserve of the white man either.
Finally, the business world and other sectors in Africa that are trying to make a mark on the world stage could learn a thing or two from the African Church that leads the world in faith today, hands down.
THE FUTURE HAS COME
I come from a long and rich family history of black (hi)story tellers. My grandfather was an emeritus professor of ethnomusicology and my mother is a professor of history with a specialization in the slave trade. I feel privileged to take my turn to tell stories of African leadership, and in this particular case, leadership in faith, church and missiology.
The assassinated Congolese nationalist leader, luminary and first Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Patrice Lumumba, must be smiling in his grave that the day he prophesied is here: “The day will come when history will speak. But it will not be the history which will be taught in Brussels, Paris, Washington or the United Nations… Africa will write its own history and in both north and south it will be a history of glory and dignity.” The day has come!
For those of no faith and saying to themselves “who cares if Africa is the most Christian continent?” because we’re yet to see it tell on our socioeconomic indicators or the millennium development goals, just you wait. Works soon follow faith. Unless it’s not true faith; because faith without works is dead.
Johnson, Todd M., Gina A. Zurlo, Albert W. Hickman, and Peter F. Crossing. “Christianity 2018: More African Christians and Counting Martyrs.” International Bulletin of Mission Research 42, no. 1 (January 2018): 20. doi:10.1177/2396939317739833.
Merrills, A. (Ed.). (2004). Vandals, Romans and Berbers: New Perspectives on Late Antique North Africa (1st ed.). Routledge, 303. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315235127
Oden, Thomas. 2007. How Africa Shaped the European Mind, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, p.71.
Perbi, Yaw & Sam Ngugi. 2021. Africa to the Rest: from mission field to mission force (again). Forthcoming. Xulon Press.
Carmen Bernos de Gasztold has a collection of poems called The Creature’s Choir which I just ordered (something I should’ve 3-4 years ago!). In it, she puts prayers in the mouths of animals and birds. Bob Fryling, in his book The Leadership Ellipse: Shaping How We Lead by Who We Are, first brought my attention to the peacock’s cry.
This beautiful bird proudly describes its external beauty, while humbly mourning its discordant cry and mournful heart:
“Lord, let a day come,
a heavenly day,
when my inner and outer selves
will be reconciled in perfect harmony.”
Amen and amen!