Tribute to Tim of my Table ~ Timothy Keller (1950-2023).
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!
O National Cathedral of Ghana: My Hopes and Fears Have Met in Thee.
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.”
THE PRESENCE ~ Part 3 (of 3)
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.
Black History Month | Africa Leads the World
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.
Church in a Century of COVIDic Captivity | Epistle 4
GOD IS AT WORK; LET’S GET TO WORK!
By Julius Duah Coomson
The end product of any masterpiece can hardly be imagined in the midst of the scanty scaffolding on site, seemingly aimless paint strokes on a canvas or meandering strands of textile. But for faith in the genius of the master craftsman one would even pay them no mind; yet just you wait and see!
The events of life can sometimes be like a piece of tapestry. When viewed from the back, it appears like random pieces of thread woven aimlessly together without a design. It is only when viewed from the front that we see the design intended. The COVID-19 situation is no different. Since the world was plagued with the coronavirus pandemic, people have asked me various questions. Some have wondered if God sent this pandemic. Others are at a loss as to why God allowed it. Still, some others are asking why God is not responding to our prayers to stop it. We have a lot of why questions which may never get answered on this side of eternity. However, there is one thing we can be sure about and it is that God is at work even in the midst of this dark situation for His REDEMPTIVE PURPOSES. The reason we can be sure about this is because we have both the promise and examples of scripture to back this.
“FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO”
First, The Promises of Scripture: In Romans 8:28, the apostle Paul tells us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purposes.” That is to say, our God works sovereignly in ALL THINGS (good and bad) to bring ultimate good (conformity to Christ; v.29) for His people. This is the promise of Scripture and we can be sure it is true about our present situation. God is at work but often it is only in retrospect that we see that the divine hands have always been working even in the messy situations of life. Even though we may not see His hands, we can trust His heart.
“LOOK AND LIVE”
Second, Examples in Scripture: Not only do we have the promise of God to assure us, but we also have the examples in scripture to encourage us that God is at work even in the darkest of situations to manifest the most glorious of lights. An example of such a situation is the story of the early Church in Acts 8:1-5. The passage can be considered in two main parts:
1. Human Authorities Determined to Silence the Gospel
Verse 1 of Acts 8 begins, “On that day a great persecution broke out against the Church in Jerusalem”. This leads us to ask “on which day?” The answer to this question takes us back to the previous chapter which records the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Now, Acts 6 describes Stephen as a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit (v.5), full of grace, power, performed great signs and wonders (v.8), was full of wisdom, and persuasively defended the Gospel (v.10). However, when Stephen was lied about, arrested, condemned and stoned, God did not prevent Stephen from dying. Not only did God allow Stephen to die but He also allowed His church to be persecuted. Acts 8:1-3 describes the persecution as great (v.1a), a persecution that scattered the church (v.1b), and a persecution that nearly destroyed the church (v.3). We are not told why God allowed Stephen to die and for persecution to scatter His church, but we learn that God worked to advance His redemptive purpose in the midst of it, which brings me to my second point.
2. God’s Sovereignly advanced the Gospel the Evil Intended
In the minds of the Sanhedrin and the Chief priests, they were quenching the fire of the church by persecuting it but what they eventually did was to spread the fire of the gospel to other places like Samaria (v.5), Cyprus, and Antioch (Acts 11:19-22). They thought they had made the members of the church refugees but little did they know that they were unleashing an army of missionaries for the gospel. It was those who were scattered that “preached the gospel wherever they went” (Acts 8:4). How is it possible that the evil intent of the Sanhedrin resulted in the advancement of the very gospel they wanted to terminate? It was only because God’s hand was with those persecuted, which caused the evil they were going through to serve His redemptive purpose. We read in Acts 11:21 that God’s hand was with them and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. Out of a great persecution came a great harvest of souls because God’s hand was at work. Hallelujah!!
Only our God can cause dark situations like these to result in salvation. He is the same God who worked through the wicked schemes of Joseph’s brothers to save the lives of both Jews and Gentiles during the famine in the days of Joseph. Because of God’s sovereign hand, Joseph could say “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Gen. 50:20).
The ultimate example of this is how God used the darkest event in the history of the world; the crucifixion of the righteous, unblemished Son of God-the Lord Jesus Christ to accomplish salvation for the world (Acts 4:27-28). Friends, the God of the Bible is a specialist in working out His redemptive purposes through the dark events of life. Therefore, we can be sure that even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, God is working to advance His redemptive purposes.
“WHAT SHALL WE SAY TO THESE THINGS?”
And so, convinced that God is at work in the midst of our present dark situation, what should our response be? There are three things I would want us to consider. We need to (3Rs):
1. REMIND: ourselves in the midst of this pandemic that, we who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ have what it takes to give people eternal safety far beyond what sanitizers and spatial distancing can accomplish. We need to remind ourselves that not everyone will contract this virus or die from it. However, everyone will spend eternity somewhere and that is a far bigger issue. As believers in Christ, we have the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes. What we have is able to save the souls of people and give them life beyond this life. This is very important to remind ourselves of. If someone found the cure to the coronavirus and did not share with others, we will say they are wicked. How much more wicked should he/she be considered who ignores sharing the gospel, which can give people everlasting life.
2. RECOGNIZE: that this time of history is a unique opportunity the Lord has put us in so that we can advance the gospel. In these times, many people are asking questions and looking for answers. If we don’t provide true biblical answers, people will take the false ideas being circulated as true. Let’s not forget that nature abhors vacuum and that evil thrives where good people do nothing. Who knows but that we are in Christ for such a time as this? Therefore, recognize the gospel opportunity this pandemic affords.
3. REACH OUT: It is not enough to have the Good News. It must be shared! That is the essence of good news. The Good News is no good news one second after people slip into a Christ-less eternity. Not only must we work hard to ensure we are safe, we must work harder to ensure that people are saved. We can’t be passive about this! We should reach out in good deeds; meeting people’s physical needs. We ought to reach out to people in prayer; praying for the salvation of their souls. We must reach out with the Gospel that Jesus saves and provides Life after this life. Who can you share the good news with? We have shared sanitizers, nose masks, food items and our wealth. Now, it is time to share the Good News.
DO YOU KNOW THE WAY?
Before you attempt to reach out to others with the Good News, you will need to first answer the question of your own relationship with Jesus. Do you have a personal relationship with Him? If you don’t, you can invite Him into your life by praying the prayer below in faith:
Dear Lord Jesus, I acknowledge that I am a sinner but also that you are a great Saviour. I invite you into my life to save me from my sins and to be my Lord. Let the Holy Spirit take residence in me and help me to live the rest of my life for your Glory. Amen.
Rev. Julius D. Coomson is a pastor with the Legon Interdenominational Church, at the University of Ghana. He holds a Master’s degree from Wheaton. His passion is to see the lost saved and the saved discipled to become committed followers of Christ. Julius lives in Accra with his lovely wife Mawuena and their beautiful daughter Gracey.
COVIDic Times: AN EASTER CELEBRATION WITH A DIFFERENCE!
Dr. Susie Ubomba-Jaswa
In a matter of a few shorts weeks COVID-19 has totally changed life as we know it in virtually every nation on the globe? What on earth is going on in the world? Is Someone trying to get our attention? Will we heed?
A month ago very few, if any, persons in the world would have imagined or expected this very bizzare, complex, unpleasant global melt down. Within a matter of weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has essentially changed the health, social, religious, economic, etc. landscape of every nation in the world for the worst.
Previous scarcely used words such as corona, virus, mask, sanitizer, social distancing, self isolation, quarantine, etc. are now on the lips of young and old; rural and urban. Who can even dare mention the current and future positive effects (individuals and organisations that are making and will make millions from the sale of masks, sanitizers, vaccines, all types of supplies, medications, etc.) of this grave pandemic? But clearly the disastrous negative impacts are affecting every individual of the world’s almost 8 billion persons. Even babies born today sadly will not receive the hundred percent joy their parents and relations would ordinarily have welcomed them with. Why? Because the fear and uncertainties at the back of their minds will consciously or otherwise erode some of that happiness. How sad!!!
Naturally the question we are all asking is: what on earth is going on in the world; how come a virus invisible to the naked eye has such a devastating crippling effect on the world with the speed at which people are getting infected and dying? Expectedly a wide range of causes or sources of the infections continue to be spewed all around the world. Thanks to electronic media they move, like the virus, with wild fire.
Whilst the experts are disseminating information about the scientific source and current knowledge of the epidemiology of COVID-19 we are also confronted with tons of messages, videos, pictures, etc. that may be scientific; or not so scientific; half-truths; propaganda, hoax, fake news; etc. Let me try and roughly categorise some of the circulating electronic materials I have read or glanced through:
- Direct plague from God to punish the world: sin is multiplying. Similar to Noah and the Flood; Sodom and Gomorrah; Pharaoh and the Egyptians; Moses and the snakes; numerous plagues mentioned in the Bible.
- The apocalypse: Antichrist; one world religion; second coming of Christ; end of the world.
- Virus transmission: animal to human – from bats, cats, rats, etc.; human to human.
- Laboratory experiments: the effects of scientific experiments horribly gone wrong.
- Biological weapon: deliberate creation of a mild or aggressive biological weapon aimed at specific groups or whole world population.
- Depopulation weapon: deliberate attempt to reduce world population – fertility and destruction of marriage and family life are not too effective hence through morbidity and mortality. For eugenics and environmental reasons.
- Economic: money making; deliberate creation of a disease in order to provide necessary supplies – medical, equipment, etc.
- Technology: creation, testing and use of advanced technologies – complexities of radiation from devices especially 5G and its link to economic, political world power; the reign of artificial intelligence and its impact on the different aspects of human life; insertion of micro chip in humans. Using pandemic as smoke screen.
Where is the truth in all these? The bottom-line is whilst waiting for the truth, if ever we will know it, they are all instilling confusion, anxiety, fear, hopelessness in individuals and governments. In unison we do agree that there is a worldwide disaster. Yes, indeed a world war without guns, bombs and ammunitions and our common enemy, seriously, is a VIRUS!? It is comforting to note that generally people are adhering to the suggested and compulsory measures as individuals and groups to contain and reduce the spread of COVID-19. We salute the health and other workers – paid and voluntary who are at the forefront caring for patients and managing those who succumb to the disease. Very heartbreaking.
Whether COVID-19 is a plague from God, the end of the world or a man-made catastrophe with distressing effects, a theme that is echoing in personal conversations and variety of electronic messages is that God is speaking; He is trying to get the attention of human beings. Hence in addition to all the numerous beneficial pieces of information we are being reminded of or we are learning from for the first time, I think we should learn some spiritual lessons from and during these perilous times.
Personally I find it fascinating that this global Lockdown is peaking around the time of the christian festival – Easter. Unlike Christmas, Easter tends to produce a solemn, gloomy, sad, mourning ambiance. We all know that the sights of a corpse and the associated settings such as a coffin are heart-shattering. We buried a very good friend of mine a couple of weeks ago!!! And most of us are watching the frightful pictures from China, Iran, Italy, Spain, USA, etc. of the devastation of COVID-19 (even TV reporters tend to give warning to the faint hearted).
We are in the Easter week where we remember Palm Sunday, the Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, granted, Easter is not celebrated in all countries of the world but for those that do, the celebration of Easter 2020 will be a shocker to all!! Unprecedented in the lifetime of many of us. There will be no physical church services (imagine the empty chapels, cathedrals, auditoriums, tents, parks, etc.); no religious fun fares, parades, retreats, camps, conventions, etc.; no pilgrimages to national and international holy sites; no trooping of visitors particularly to Jerusalem or Rome.
In trying to make sense of it all perhaps as individuals we should also make Easter 2020 unique for ourselves. For many of us we have never read, on our own, at a sitting, the whole Easter story – the last weeks of Jesus on earth. We tend to read pieces on our own and most often from church. Let’s take the challenge – open the Bible and read the passages on the last weeks of Jesus from the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). For those who do not have personal Bibles, you can Google well known versions such as New International Version, from the internet. After all we have lots of time during this lockdown to do some long readings.
I am encouraging us to do this because first, the lockdown has literally forced us to have ample time now. We often indicate we do not have enough time. Secondly, this is an opportunity to read the Easter story on our own, for our self and from the source rather than listening to and reading pieces from other people – religious or otherwise.
We are all asking questions. Even children (at their own level) are conscious of the abnormal situation we live in and are asking questions or reacting to it in their own way. As adults we tend to feel confused, anxious and scared about the present and more so the future. But we are acutely aware that there are more questions than answers bouncing around especially from electronic media. Therefore, my third reason is that this period provides us with some quietness to pause and ponder about serious issues in our lives and fill our minds with some refreshing and trustworthy information from the Bible.
MANY WALKS OF LIFE BUT ONE WAY TO LIFE
Thanks to people like Thomas who do not keep their doubts and uncertainties to themselves but ask questions they genuinely need answers on. For it was in response to Thomas’ question in John 14:5 – “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” that Jesus made one of his profound statements in John 14:6 – “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. It is worth noting that Jesus did not say I am the only way trying to caution that there may be possible ways. No! By saying I am the Way, He implied that if you are interested in going to the Father (God), then come through me. If you want to know the truth, then listen to me. And if you are interested in being alive then follow Me.
Why did Jesus call Himself the Way, the Truth and the Life in relation to God? Jesus did that because He is the Saviour (meaning of the name Jesus). His purpose of coming to be born and live on planet earth is to save mankind from what happened with the Devil, Eve, Adam and God’s punishment of death in the Garden of Eden. Why does mankind need a saviour if nothing evil has happened to them? God’s hatred of evil is manifested throughout the Bible with all types of associated punishment. Jesus’ life and teachings highlighted not only the love of God but also the reality of evil (sin – disobedience to God and obedience to the Devil) and its consequences.
It is important to mention that when God drove away Adam and Eve from Eden, He did not take away from them all the blessings He had showered upon them whilst they lived there. They also went away with whatever they gained from eating fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. On top of these they came out with the Death punishment, as a result of obeying the Devil, hanging on them. Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that Jesus’ mission is to bring us back to the Father by DYING for us.
In Jesus we are reminded of what took place in Eden, as well as the provision God made available in order for us to come back to him. To prove the truth that God still loves mankind and has provided forgiveness for us through Jesus’ dying on the Cross, God gave His life back by RAISING Him from the dead. Since God did not take away human beings’ ability to choose, Jesus declares in the well known verses, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world (mankind was already condemned in Eden), but to save the world through Him” (John 3:16&17).
The Easter story makes good sense of Jesus’ claim that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The way back to the Father; the truth regarding sin and its consequences, provision of forgiveness through Jesus’ death; and the life He gave through His resurrection that indeed we were created to live forever with the Father. This is the Good News of God, the Gospel, that has over the centuries been shared and received globally by many from all walks of life. The spread and acceptance of the salvation of Jesus Christ is unstoppable all over the world. Likewise, the indifference towards and rejection of who Jesus is and His purpose of coming into the world also persist.
BRINGING IT HOME
From your deepest thoughts are you able to genuinely answer the question – which camp do you belong to? Referring to John 3:16 are you in the Eternal Life group or the Perish group? Praise the Lord if you are in the first group. Jesus’ teachings encourage those who choose Him to continue travelling on the Narrow way because at the end of it is Life (Heaven). On the other hand, those who do not choose Him (i.e. are indifferent or reject Him) are on the Broad way that leads to Destruction (Hell). One of the unique characteristics that runs through Jesus’ teaching on salvation is the fact that He always deals with two groups of people – this binary approach makes His teaching clear and not ambiguous. There is no sitting on the fence. You are either His follower or you are not. Why only two groups? Because Adam and Eve put all of us on the Broad way. Acceptance of Jesus takes us from the Broad way to the Narrow one.
In case you are not on the Narrow way, know that it is not late to leave the Broad way and join us on the Narrow way. The Easter message is that on Good Friday, Jesus died on the Cross to pay for our sin (disobedience to God) so that we can go back to God. He proved it on Easter Sunday through His resurrection from the dead that indeed there is forgiveness available for those who want to come back to the Father. One of the comforting sayings of Jesus is Luke 5:32 – “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” God the Father and Jesus Christ have played their part. As a person, I have to play my part by accepting the offer they give me – Jesus, the Way back to God.
Sometimes we wish that the Father will force all human beings to come to Him through the salvation He has provided in His Son. But that is not the case. He wants us to freely come to Him just as we are. He is waiting. The invitation is open until a person dies. So where do you want to spend life after your physical death – with the Father or with the Devil? Once again Jesus does not leave us guessing. He clearly teaches that Hell was created for the Devil and those who choose to obey and follow him.
The arrival of COVID-19 has shaken the world and vividly revealed how precarious our existence can be. Interestingly, Jesus extensively taught about the temporary nature of life on earth not only for individuals but for the whole of creation. He also taught about His second coming and the end of the world. And even though He did not give a date of His return or the end of the world His teachings provide several signs and pointers and tend to be intricately woven together and often referred to as the Apocalypse. The suddenness, the destruction and the sheer global impact of COVID-19 on all aspects of our daily lives have awakened up humanity.
Despite the uncertainties brought about by this pandemic, one thing we are assured of is that Jesus’ invitation still stands. His voice is not locked down. And the celebration of Easter (without all the relevant and not so relevant associated rituals) is once again reminding us of the demonstration of God’s love in calling us to leave the Broad way that leads to Hell and come to Him through the salvation He has provided in Jesus.
For those who have believed in Jesus and accepted Him as our Lord and Saviour, He is encouraging us to continue trusting in Him because He is the Truth. We should not let the fear of the unknown future – persecutions, pandemics, wars (physical, biological chemical, spiritual, etc.), new world order, one world religion, artificial intelligent god and church, negative effects of technology, increase of evil, rule of the Antichrist, Jesus’ second return, end of the world, etc. – overwhelm us and derail us from travelling on the Narrow way. We have chosen Eternal Life with the Father which Jesus explains to Martha and us in John 11:25&26, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will live, even though he dies”.
May we have a refreshing time with Jesus as we journey with Him to the Cross and up from the Grave to bring us Eternal Life.
The author holds a PhD degree in Medical Demography. She taught Demography, Research Methodology and Statistics in universities in Ghana and South Africa. She also worked for the South African civil service as a director in Health and Vital Statistics where she retired from. She is married with adult children and grand children. Susie committed her life to Jesus Christ as a teenager through the ministry of Scripture Union, Ghana.