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.