• Loving Africa, Literally

    I have reached the end of my first day here in Kabwe, Zambia. I am in Zambia for 3 days teaching and sharing fellowship at Operation Mobilization’s (OM) Love Africa Missions Conference. My connection with OM goes back to my seminary days in London in 1990 where I was invited to Love Europe. I met Wibke, my wife, at one such conference and OM has been firmly implanted on my heart since that time!

    This is my first contact with OM Africa and I have to say I have been incredibly impressed by the leadership I have met. To help you understand why I want to introduce some words from a Second Century man named Aristides. Around A.D. 125 Aristides delivered an Apology (speech, defense) for when Hadrian visited Athens. This speech has been cited by Jerome, Eusebius and is apparently the work of note behind the teachings of the great Christian leader, Justin Martyr (under Justin’s leadership the church grew exponentially). In his speech Aristides addressed  the religion of the Barbarians, Greeks, Jews and Christians. His conclusion was that the humility and generosity of Christians mark them out as true and trustworthy.

    He said:

    [Christians] imitate God by the philanthropy which prevails among them; for they have compassion on the poor, and they release the captives, and bury the dead, and do such things as these, which are acceptable before God and well-pleasing also to men, — which (customs) they have received from their forefathers.

    I love that. Christians marked themselves out through the way they  responded creatively to the prevailing social problems. Apparently the poverty rate back then was at least 60% across the empire and the largely agrarian economy is said to have grown little more than 1% per year. In other words, poverty was widespread making creativity essential.

    What I have witnessed today is Christian philanthropy in its finest form. The wisdom of building apartments to rent  so that the proceeds can  fund two Christian elementary schools is a creative response to stopping the cycle of poverty. There are many creative  plans in the making all of which will transform this African region into a training and missionary sending Oasis. It is impressive. Yes money is being invested in infrastructure but only that which is necessary to reach 350 communities by 2025, 150 of which will be unreached people groups. This is the kind of vision that is worthy of investment in and of itself but add to this the long-term sustainability of the projects and it really is a response of social entrepreneurs of the greatest Christian kind.

    What touched me more dramatically, however , was the sacrificial lifestyles of the leaders. Today I heard story after story of leaders who have literally sold all of their clothes so that missionaries could be sent out on to the mission field. These same leaders had very large families because they had adopted orphan after orphan. Many families regularly go without food for days – they call it fasting! – so that those with no food can be fed.

    What I saw today reminds me of another section of Aristides’ Apology. Aristides wrote:

    And he, who has, gives to him who has not, without boasting. And when they see a stranger, they take him in to their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother; for they do not call them brethren after the flesh, but brethren after the spirit and in God. And whenever one of their poor passes from the world, each one of them according to his ability gives heed to him and carefully sees to his burial. And if they hear that one of their number is imprisoned or afflicted on account of the name of their Messiah, all of them anxiously minister to his necessity, and if it is possible to redeem him they set him free. And if there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they have no spare food, they fast two or three days in order to supply to the needy their lack of food. They observe the precepts of their Messiah with much care, living justly and soberly as the Lord their God commanded them. Every morning and every hour they give thanks and praise to God for His loving-kindnesses toward them; and for their food and their drink they offer thanksgiving to Him. And if any righteous man among them passes from the world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God; and they escort his body as if he were setting out from one place to another near. And when a child has been born to one of them, they give thanks to God; and if moreover it happen to die in childhood, they give thanks to God the more, as for one who has passed through the world without sins. And further if they see that any one of them dies in his ungodliness or in his sins, for him they grieve bitterly, and sorrow as for one who goes to meet his doom.

    Remember, these are words of a man written at around A.D. 125. Viewed through the lenses of the adopted children running around with biological children, Aristides’ words are reenacted right before my eyes. These are leaders who truly Love Africa, literally. Through their actions the words of the Apostle Paul come to mind:

    For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack (2 Cor. 8:13-15).

    I am here to teach the Scriptures but today I am the one who is blessed to see the Scriptures I will teach lived out before my very eyes. All I can honestly hope to do is commend their sacrificial generosity and pray that all over the world the example of these believers will become the experience of millions more.

    Blessed and challenged to be here.

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