Time to go again by Charlie King
I have left the farm behind, and headed back for another iteration of our program of taking the training to the field – aka Trinity Bible Institute. For this trip I will begin in Kapchorwa, with a visit to our Kirwoko Study Center, as well as KTR “Trinity” radio FM 94.1, Kaserem Christian Health Clinic, and two primary schools – Ebenezeer and Branch. The first we are directly and solely responsible for, the others are all enterprises that were either begun by TCWM, or are close to our heart. In addition, there are many churches in Kapchorwa region for which we pray, along with leaders and congregants. It’s our home in Uganda, and where we have raised our Ebenezer.
Our subject for this iteration is ethics . . . and in particular Christian ethics, and even more particularly African Christian Ethics. In subsequent emails I will try to unpack what that means here—is there a separate ethic for Christians in Africa than there is for Christians in America? Is there indeed a universal Christian ethic, and if so, are we teaching it? Well, to cut to the chase, we are using as our chief resource for this week the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) and the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s commentaries and proofs on that. Other sources include a great series of lessons on this topic from Third Millennium by John Frame, writings by RC Sproul, and a great book on the topic from an African point of view titled rather simply African Christian Ethics by Samuel Kunhiyop. Kunhiyop tends to follow a contemporary problem/solution format, which makes for interesting reading, particularly when he discusses the very real problem of African Christians not relinquishing their grasp on witchcraft. I’ll probably get to that later as it opens the door to a critique of how Western missionaries have presented the gospel, and Western culpability (to some degree) for the prevalence of the prosperity gospel.
On this trip I’ll be joined by Rich Young, a retired but not really retired Army chaplain, as well as a number of stalwart pilgrims from Uganda and Rwanda. I’ll introduce them as we go on our way. And of course our brother, and man-whom-we-cannot-do-without, Kabugo James, will be keeping watch on us throughout, along with Lazarus our driver, who, more than anyone else, has kept us alive for many a mile.
I will follow the training to four places on this trip – two locations in the north, in the Acholi tribal area, once depredated by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, but now stable at last and growing quickly. The north has often been at odds with the tribes and groups of the south, but that is another story. We will have five day TBI iteration in Gulu, and I will also make a two day visit to a place called Kitgum, where one of our brothers in this work has started a small theological school. Following our time in the north, Rich, James, Lazarus, and I will head to western Uganda, to Kasese, in the foothills of the Rwenzwori Mountains (romantically nick-named the Mountains of the Moon by Ptolemy about 2000 years ago), after which Rich must head home, and James and I will continue on to Kigali, Rwanda and I’ll finish up there. Pastor Pete will be coming over to teach in the last two sessions – in Kenya, and finally in Kapchorwa. Pete and I will meet briefly in Kampala in order to attend a board meeting of the African board of TCWM, after which I’ll head home for Ben and Sarah’s wedding.
So, why all this training? Well, we used to be focused on building churches, until we realized that we were building churches for which pastors did not exist – and paying the price for that. Our organization, TCWM, is now about the training of men and women who in God’s time must take over the job of discipling the next generation of African Christians, because those Christians will be the future leaders of global Christianity. We are by no means alone in this work, rather we are adding to a great effort, about which more may follow.
Here’s the background in a nutshell. The center of Christendom has shifted throughout the centuries; beginning in Jerusalem, moving to east to Syria, then south to North Africa, west to Constantinople, and eventually Rome, it continued to shift its center, and its cultural appearance. Andrew Walls wrote this about twenty years ago when few took him seriously: “It is nothing less than a complete change in the centre of gravity of Christianity, so that the heartlands of the Church are no longer in Europe, decreasingly in North America, but in Latin America, in certain parts of Asia, and most important for our present purposes, in Africa.” What was once a vibrant North African faith became in time a Northern European one, and eventually a North American one. And now, it is shifting again, to the Global South — and in particular to Africa.
I attach a graph from the Pew Forum – it charts the reported religiosity of a nation against its predicted population growth. Now, this is very much of a generalization, I realize, but note what is consistent here – the nations that are expected to have the greater population growth are the nations in which religion is valued most highly. Not surprisingly then, we see, in the upper right quadrant, the African nations, and in the lower left are such paragons of virtue as China, the nation which made it a matter of public policy to abort as many babies as possible.
Now some, you might say, could read in this that the problem is population expansion, and therefore we should get all fired up about bringing modern technology and reproductive health to poor black Africa, and work to lift it to Western levels of progressive technology. Well, don’t worry; there are plenty of progressive missionaries working in Africa fired up with zeal to do just that. Embarrassed to be teaching the Gospel, they default to mercy missions alone. While there is nothing wrong with better roads and clean water at all—they are certainly needed— they’re not the sum of the Gospel. On the other hand, we might look at this chart and wonder who is going to disciple all those African Christians? (By 2060, the Pew Forum estimates, in another report, that the majority of all Christians in the world will be African). The answer is that they will have to do it themselves because, in case you didn’t notice, the Christian lamp is going out in the West. But there are too few trained teachers. And this is the problem – the very people who are going to be the center of Christianity are also in the grip of a theological famine. Will they survive spiritually?
Which brings me back to the point of all this. We go to teach. Not just because Matthew 28:19 says we are to do so, but because we need a strong African church to take the leadership role of global Christianity. It comes down to this for me: if my great grand- children are to know Christ, I would not be surprised if it were an African missionary who leads them some day in the not so far future. I know plenty of African teachers and pastors who can do so with skill and eloquence, but there are not enough.
I’ll keep you posted on our work – but please remember that these posts are just short bursts from a world in which the contest for the Gospel is fought every day, without respite, by our African brothers and sisters. Alongside that battle they also fight for the physical and intellectual well-being of one another. They seek the security, health and comfort we so much take for granted. While our training program costs a great deal, and every penny you are able to donate is greatly treasured, I do not want to neglect mention of the mercy missions in which we are also involved. If you have a heart for a rural maternity clinic, or a Christian radio station, or primary education, please donate through TCMW, or send me a note for more info, particularly on how you can help.
Cheers and blessings,