Saturday, February 28, 2009

Need A Reason To Endure Persecution?

Countless souls are coming to Christ in Africa. Accoriding to Professor Phillip Jenkins, there are now more than 360 million believers in Africa today, at least in name. This is compared to 10 million in 1900. Remarkably, this growth is in spite of persecution that would horrify most of us in the US if the mainstream media so dared to report it. Malawi is a shining example of how the blood of the martyrs becomes the seed of the church. In 1859, David Livingstone became the first Christian ever to set foot in this country, and the Gospel began to go forth. However, in 1870, Islamists also entered the region, kidnapping Malawians and selling them into slavery. The oppression that ensued was devastating, as people were forever torn from their families and loved ones (for more on the embarrassing legacy of Arab-Islam in this region of the world, read The Legacy of Arab-Islam in Africa by, John Alembillah Azumah).

Yet, in spite of the ongoing oppression that followed, Christians now make up over 80 % of the population in Malawi. This is without any government church ever being established. If anyone questions this work of God they would do well to read the following words, which were written by a British journalist, who also happens to be an avowed Atheist, “Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.” These are the words of Matthew Parris, taken from an article he recently wrote in the UK Times (
Considering the societal transformation that Christianity is bringing about in Malawi, he went on to say, "Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset." It is remarkable that Africa is now bringing the Gospel to us in the godless West; if only through statements like this. To understand why an Atheist such as Parris would praise the very philosophy he claims to reject, we need to understand where he is coming from. Parris was born in Malawi and grew up being well aware of the social ills that have crippled this nation. Then, he returns after many years spent in the UK to find that many of these ills are being cured, not through Western wealth; but instead, through the good news of Jesus Christ.

To many of us in the West, Christianity does not seem like a pragmatic, practical idea in the short-term because people view it as encouraging delayed gratification for the long-term. However, in the long-term, it becomes known to be the only idea that works. Think about it for a moment; if there is no afterlife, and the short-term is all there is, eventually the crushing drive for instant, short-term gratification will drive us to spend any capital left to us by our forebears. But it won't stop there! It will also drive us to recklessly spend the inheritance of our children, and children's children. We see this as birthrates continue to decline in the West; any desire to save for future generations also declines. Once our resources are gone and the bankruptcy of our self-centered vision is exposed, God's Word is proven true, especially when it teaches "the borrower is servant to the lender" (Proverbs 22:7).

At the end of the day, a God-centered reality will become seen as what works. Those who have languished under the devastating effects of AIDS in Africa can teach us a lot about the emptiness of a culture bent on self-gratification to the detriment of the up and coming generation. The West, unfortunately, in its self-intoxicated stupor has not yet awakened to this reality. King David, however, understood the long-term success of the Judeo-Christian ethic when he sang: "Put not your trust in princes, Nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; In that very day his thoughts perish. Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in Jehovah his God: Who made heaven and earth, The sea, and all that in them is; Who keepeth truth for ever; Who executeth justice for the oppressed; Who giveth food to the hungry. Jehovah looseth the prisoners" (Psalm 146:3-6). Parris' humble words are an example of how the shining witness of Christians in Africa is now seen by many abroad. It is an example of how the Gospel not only presents a God who executes justice for oppressed individuals, but who also brings justice to entire tribes, tongues and nations (Revelation 5:9).