AFRICA: ANARCHY, ANTICHRISTS AND AWAKENING [PART 2]

[For definitions of anarchy, antichrists and awakening, please browse through Part 1]

Having given definitions and examples of anarchy in Africa, antichrists and awakening, and having made one practical observation in the light thereof, let me make a few more…

  • Over a life-time I have come to the conclusion that our arch-enemy always over-reaches himself, so ego-centric and greedy is he. The best example of this is the cross, where satan imagined he had conquered when all the time God had conquered in the greatest conquest of all ages. I ask:  is it not possible that the extremism and militance of ISIS  ‘et al’ may force moderate Muslims to soften their stance toward other world religions and the Christian faith? E.g. in chatting with believers who regularly visit Iran, I have been told of a wave of younger people (especially) who have become disillusioned with Islam and turned to Christ for salvation. There is a fast-growing underground house church movement wherein these new believers worship and commune. Another example, from my own country:  just a few days ago a fifteen-year-old Muslim girl, groomed by ISIS on social media, managed to secretly board a plane in Cape Town ‘to join ISIS.’ This caused outrage, even among Muslims, leading to much press coverage, radio debates, etc. In fact just yesterday the SA Muslim Judicial Council resolved to curb the influence of ISIS and expressed serious concern about the exploitation of Muslim youth. [In lighter vein, recently two believers and I visited a Muslim spice shop that keeps 36 litre pots used in our township soup kitchens. I don’t know if we ‘looked like Christians’ but the veiled women seemed over-anxious to assure us that they mixed spices for church groups right across the city and added, ”After all, we are all one!” As we made our way out of the shop they ran after us with a packet of delicious, freshly-made samoosas as if to emphasise the point – God bless them!]
  • While it would be totally inappropriate of me as one not facing physical persecution or possible martyrdom somewhere in Africa to sermonise about the necessity of compassion toward our persecutors, it would be amiss not to underline, from the Scriptures, the importance of demonstrating love (‘agape’) toward our enemies. Coming back to 1 John, the apostle, having warned the churches of Asia Minor not to succumb to false prophets, points his readers to God’s great love for us in Christ and the need to love our fellow-believers and indeed all people (4:7ff). It was surely the demonstration of this ‘practical observable love’ (Francis Schaeffer) that brought many to faith in Christ in the 1st and succeeding centuries.
  • Knowing myself, I would probably not easily be found in the front-line when it comes to persecution and martyrdom! Those early Church believers knew what it might cost them in Roman-occupied Palestine – violence and uprisings were common and threats to the state were ruthlessly put down. Many at first thought that Jesus had come to overthrow the oppressor, only to find their Messiah himself crucified. Their lesser dreams had to make way for the risky way of the cross. In a wonderful Passion meditation, Canon Patrick Augustine, who has spent decades with persecuted believers in places such as Pakistan, calls us to ‘the Cruciform Life.’ For believers, the cross is not optional, isn’t a difficult relative, some trial or sickness or disability.“‘The cross is a choice. We take up our cross when we walk in Christ’s steps and embrace his life [personal note:  on the basis of Rom. 6!], which means extending ourselves in difficult circumstances for the sake of the gospel. At times, that may mean lifting high the cross of Christ in the public square. At other times, it may mean embracing weakness instead of power.’ Canon Augustine quotes a Pakistani believer, “the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have told us to leave or be killed. Instead we wash their wounds and provide them tender care in our hospitals when they are injured. We are not leaving. We are continuing to serve, to carry his cross, and to follow Jesus by loving those who hate us.” ‘Wow!’  
  • We all can begin somewhere, in the smallest of ways, through the indwelling Christ. Some years ago, through a series of circumstances, God brought a young Muslim man into our family circle. We entertained him in our home, he cooked breyani for us, etc. About three years ago he invited us for a holiday in a Muslim B&B in his town, and we got to love the Muslim staff over those few days. On our departure, while we were dishing out hugs and before thinking it through, I asked if I could pray God’s blessing on all of us – no one objected (perhaps they were so taken by surprise) and so there on the road-side we asked the living God to bless us all in his grace. The young man has since married and they have a lovely little girl – whenever we pass by, we are showered with respect, love and hospitality. We certainly haven’t ‘got it all together,’ but let us always act with humility and kindness toward those who differ from us. [Last year my wife and I toured Israel, and were visibly reminded of the cruel Crusader invasions of the Holy Land ‘in the name of the Cross.’ We think of the apostle Paul, a deeply religious person who viciously persecuted Christians ‘in the name of God’ – we all know how the story ended]
  • Let’s remember to consistently intercede for God’s people in Africa, indeed across the globe. A few years ago I wrote a simple little blog, ‘Four Prayers for Africa.’ It’s popularity has amazed me to this day – some are praying those prayers on a regular basis. Maybe you would find it helpful too. Two days ago I wrote to a fellow-blogger in Kenya, Patrick Maina (patrickmaina2), to assure him of our prayers for his nation in these days, and enquire about his own feelings in the face of the Garissa University tragedy. I quote his response, ‘We need the prayers of the saints both as a country and as the church here, that we’d keep the faith amidst the happenings and that the hand of evil would be stayed. Concerning my feelings, the predominant ones are that of sadness, and helplessness.’ He writes further of ‘unanswered questions in his conversations with the Lord.’ He thanks us for our concern and urges us to keep praying!

PS, since early yesterday morning, I have felt particularly burdened about reaching our millions of young people here in SA and Africa. I have often mentioned that approx. 80% of our world is poor and young. The traditional approach of our traditional churches (‘be seen but not heard,’ or, ‘we have to entertain to evangelise’) no longer works (at least not deeply) – most aren’t ‘attending church’ anyway. I believe we need to build authentic and unconditional relationships with young people wherever we can, more by what we are than by what we say. They must feel free to share any question with us. Community is key. We need to really ‘hear’ them, and by our lifestyle and love point them to Jesus.

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AFRICA: ANARCHY, ANTICHRISTS AND AWAKENING [PART 1]

While anarchy (absence of government, disorder, confusion) abounds the world over, Africa is having its share [comfy Westerners should perhaps recall the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, speaking as a minister of the Gospel, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere… Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly’].

For the purposes of this blog, let me mention mainly two extremist Islamic movements that recently have been particularly guilty of anarchy in Africa, viz. Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria and Al Shabaab in Kenya, fighting out of Somalia. Regarding the latter I have before me many newspaper clippings describing something of this horror story. One, reading ‘Piles of bodies, pools of blood’ (Weekend Post, 04/05/15) tells of piles of bodies and pools of blood running down the corridors of the Kenyan Garissa University. In all 147 students were executed. Survivors described how ‘laughing gunmen’ taunted the victims amid scenes of total carnage. Miraculously three women, covered head to toe in blood because of the bleeding corpses lying on top of them, escaped unharmed. Gunmen had screamed out in Swahili, ‘We have come to kill… now swim in the blood!’

Of course one cannot but be struck by the violently ‘anti-Christian’ stance of Boko Haram in Nigeria, specifically targetting Christian churches and educational institutions. One can only admire the Christian leaders who are trying to preach reconciliation in that awful scenario.

Just a few weeks ago, in the coastal Libyan city of Sirte, masked ISIS gunmen went from room to room in a residential compound checking ID’s and separating Muslims from Christians. Twenty one Egyptian Coptic Christians, identified by a small cross tattoo on the inner wrist, were summarily executed on a beach and the bloody spectacle sent into the world.

Al Shabaab’s attack on Kenyan students deliberately targeted a hall where Christians had gathered for early morning prayers. Before you think I am starting an anti-Muslim smear campaign, let me assure you that I am not. Sadly many Western Christians may stop reading at this point – I beg of you, just hang in there with me especially if you confess the name of Christ as Lord.

The fact is that ‘antichrists’ have dogged the footsteps of Jesus’ followers from the earliest days. The elderly apostle John, writing toward the end of the 1st century AD, had witnessed the ‘antichrist’ of Imperial Rome and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. In his pastoral letters, 1-3 John, he specifically challenges the antichrist of Gnosticism which denied that God’s Son had truly come in the flesh. He explains it in I Jn. 4:3, ‘Everyone who refuses to confess faith in Jesus (divine and human:  see context) has nothing in common with God. This is the spirit of the antichrist that you heard was coming. Well, here it is, sooner than you thought!’ (MSG)

Before John, the apostle Paul had warned the young churches of the massive battle against evil on hand. His warning is spelt out most clearly in his Letter to the Ephesian Church, Eph. 6:10-20. For me J.B. Phillips’s paraphrase hits the nail on the head:  v.12ff, ‘For our fight is not against any physical enemy:  it is against organisations and powers that are spiritual. We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil. Therefore you must wear the full armour of God that you may be able to resist evil in its day of power, and that even when you have fought to a standstill you may still stand your ground.’ Certainly in Africa, if as a believer we don’t understand these things, we shall never survive the battle. I could relate many an experience in this connection.

Africa is also not a stranger to powerful spiritual and moral awakening.

  • Particularly relevant is the ‘East African revival of Ruanda,’ beautifully described by Patricia St. John in her book Breath of Life. It started in the 1920’s among believers and two missionaries in the tiny nations of Rwanda and Burundi. It brought healing and renewal to these nations caught up in appalling famine and disease, vicious civil war, persecution and martyrdom. This awakening birthed Bishop Festo Kivengere (1919-1988), an Ugandan Anglican leader nick-named ‘the Billy Graham of Africa.’ He played a huge role in a later Christian revival in S.W. Uganda, but had to flee in 1973 to neighbouring Kenya in fear of his life after speaking out against the madman dictator Idi Amin. He later authored I Love Idi Amin, emphasising the necessity for forgiveness toward those who have wronged us and love of those who persecute us.
  • Currently there are reports of a remarkable work of the Spirit among the Muslims of Algeria. It is reported that thousands of Muslims are converting to Christ, and the Church is growing rapidly in depth and number.
  • One of my personal spiritual heroes is Andrew Murray, the Scottish Dutch Reformed minister who witnessed a transforming awakening during the 1860’s in the Western Cape. It started with a young teen girl praying in a prayer meeting in the town of Worcester. Households and farming communities were transformed. One of the results was an amazing missions thrust over many decades into Africa, including Malawi. Hospitals and schools were established – in fact my wife’s forbears were among the early South African missionaries serving in that country – a school still bears the name of ‘Robert Blake Secondary,’ named after one of her forbears. It was my privilege some years ago to visit some of these places touched by the revival, and experience a personal touch from the Spirit that I have not forgotten to this day.
  • Many South Africans will recall the name of Nicholas Benghu of the Assemblies of God movement, whose preaching brought thousands to Christ over many years, transforming violent gangsters and violence-ridden townships to wholeness in Christ.
  • Michael Cassidy, founder of African Enterprise, evangelist to the cities of Africa and reconciler in strife-torn countries from South Africa to Northern Ireland, has correctly pointed out that some African revivals have not sufficiently been characterised by societal change, as for example in the Wesleyan revivals of 18th century England. Christian zeal, on its own, is not enough. The Church must transform society as salt and light.

Now some general observations

  • What God has done in times past, he can do again! As pointed out in my blog The Spreading Flame, I am in total agreement with my brothers engaged in organic church (read up Fundile Mahala’s amazing story of what God is doing in the townships of Cape Town), who believe that God may want to work differently this time:  not through some great personality or revivalist but through ordinary people who have encountered Christ and the power of his Kingdom. This grass-roots awakening will be characterised by little flames, here and there, eventually combining into a spreading flame into Africa and beyond. Festo Kivengere (see above) had a favourite story:  “One day a little girl sat watching her mother working in the kitchen. She asked her mummy, ‘What does God do all day long?’ For a while the mother was stumped, but then she said, ‘Darling, I’ll tell you what God does all day long. He spends his whole day mending broken things.'” You can make the application for yourself and your faith community!

In my remaining observations (Part 2) I hope to bring further encouragement and direction for our journey in this topsy-turvy (but much-loved) continent of ours, and for fellow-saints in other parts of the world in similar need of the Good News of Jesus and its transforming power.