My translator asked the question of our audience after my first session. In a room of 60 Malawian overseers, about 50 hands went up. Each of them had responsibility for between 6 and 30 churches but very few had learned even a basic doctrine of God.
In May I travelled with Ian Milmine, my boss, to Malawi and Kenya, preaching the gospel and training pastors. It was a tremendous opportunity and I’d be keen to go back, especially for the chance to support African ministers. As one professor of theology in Kenya told me, few of his students – most of which are ordained ministers – could actually articulate the gospel. In a country where 80% claim to go to church, the preaching they hear is a steady diet of ‘holiness teaching’ with a heck of a lot of altar calls thrown in.
As an evangelist I must have prayed with hundreds of people to become Christians on our trip. But at times it felt like Luther’s experience of climbing the “Scala Sancta” steps in Rome. It was years before Luther’s conversion and as he said the Lord’s Prayer on each step, he thought he was earning time off purgatory for his relatives. But when he got to the top he proclaimed “who knows whether it is so.” I have to admit the same statement crossed my mind when scores of folk indicated “decisions for Christ” – Who knows whether it is so?
It worked like this: whenever I finished a talk, the host of the meeting would either invite a response himself or ask me to do so. Hands were raised, people stood up or came forwards, dozens would repeat a ‘prayer of commitment’. Yet it seemed obvious to me that they’d ‘given their lives to Jesus’ many times before.
One evening at a university I decided to preach very strongly that “the gospel is not our life given to Jesus but His life given to us.” After hammering that point for 45 minutes the host of the meeting got up and – I kid you not – asked “If you want to give your life to Jesus now, please raise your hand.” I found myself in the strange position of praying that no-one would. And no-one did! Never have I been so sure that the word was received as when no-one “made a response”!
While I was dubious about the constant push for “mass conversions”, seed was sown and people rejoiced to hear the good news. There was often a response to the word of liberation and joy, very different from the forced response of ‘the altar call’. Anyway... rant over.
In addition to our preaching, Ian and I had separate opportunities to lead hotel staff to Christ in the course of our trip. These one-on-one opportunities were wonderful gifts from God. There is undeniably a spiritual openness in Africa that reveals the darkness of the West all the more!
This is an extract from my most recent prayer letter. If you'd like to receive my prayer letter, please email me: glenscrivener at gmail dot com.
7 thoughts on “A brief reflection on my trip to Africa”
"Yet it seemed obvious to me that they’d ‘given their lives to Jesus’ many times before."
I think it's a White Horse Inn host that has this testimony that growing up in an American megachurch that he did this, and was even baptised (which was something to do for God, or to show, rather than something done by Christ to you) as a new Christian about 5 times - including a couple of times at the same church!
Africa gets ragged on because its Christianity is "a mile wide, but an inch deep", but from the lack of teaching on the Trinity to the lack of understanding of the gospel being Jesus-for-us not us-for-Jesus, everything you said there could be said about Britain, or America for all our academicness.
Praise the Father that you had the opportunity to tell those church leaders of his Son's work for us, sending the Spirit to work the soil and water the seeds you planted!
You're absolutely right Si - none of this is unique to Africa at all. It's just that *everything's* more "in your face" there, so it strikes you more starkly.
This is the problem of global evangelicalism. As Diarmaid McCulloch said recently, our whole movement can be summed up as "man's choice for God." Theologically that's backwards. Practically speaking, it's spot on.
Thanks for sharing Glen! "The gospel is not our life given to Jesus but His life given to us" Praise God for this!
Hi Si - love your comment as well! I agree, you can say this about Philippines as well.
I'm no expert but my experience in Zimbabwe and Ghana resonate with what you've shared of your experience in Malawi, Glen. There's tons of cultural stuff going on too of course, but I'm glad the fact remains that we can speak the Gospel to them, and they can certainly speak the Gospel to us. I don't know what God's up to, but I do love Him and trust Him.
Similar experiences here in Kenya. Praise God for your opportunities to teach and train and proclaim Glen and particularly those hotel staff. In terms of the consecration emphasis it seems that a lot of it can be traced back to the Keswick influence on the East African Revival (http://missionsforum.wordpress.com/2010/03/11/festo-kivengere-keswick-theology-matures-in-east-africa/).
Helpful link, thank you Andy. I should say I was also very encouraged by the professor of theology at Great Lakes University, Kisumu - a very gospel hearted man who seems to be doing a great job of training there. Is that anywhere near you?
I haven't heard of that institution - must check it out - really encouraging.