Looking up

In 1910, as the leading architects of Christian mission around the world gathered in Edinburgh to craft a global plan for world mission in the twentieth century, they were informed that, though the prospects for mission in most of the world were excellent, there was no hope for Africa. Islam was too strong. It was growing too fast. By the end of the century, Africa would be a completely Muslim continent.1 Confronted with the seemingly hopeless case of Africa, it seems that some of these leaders failed to ‘look up’.

‘Look up at the sky and count the stars…so shall your off-spring be’ (Genesis 15:5). Time and again in the long years that followed this promise from God, Abraham would have been reminded every time he looked up at the night sky that he would be the father of many nations, even as he and Sarah aged and remained childless. And when there seemed no hope, even when ‘his body was as good as dead…he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised’ (Romans 4:19-21). In other words, he kept looking up. The eyes of his heart were probably looking up too when God came to him and said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love…Sacrifice him…’ (Genesis 22:2), because he obeyed immediately, reasoning that ‘God could even raise the dead’ (Hebrews 12:19) if needed, to fulfil his promises. And when the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven to stay his hand he ‘looked up’ and saw the ram, the foundation of his hope.

‘After this I looked…’ (Revelation 4:1). In Revelation, John saw everything from heaven’s perspective. He saw behind the scenes of the apparently meaningless drama which unfolds on the earth we know. He saw the climax of a carefully directed play – a great, adoring multitude from every tribe, nation, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb (Revelation 7:9), the foundation of their hope. In our earthbound weakness, we struggle to see beyond this world’s stage, where it seems that we have not only lost the plot but there is in fact no script, no storyline. How we need to look up and see as God wants us to see! ‘I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest’ (John 4:35).

Those mission leaders in Edinburgh in 1910 failed to see that it is exactly where and when things seem most hopeless that God loves to act. Thankfully, others did look up and pressed on with the task of bringing the gospel to Africa’s peoples. The result is that not only is Africa now not completely Muslim but, south of the Sahara, Africa is majority Christian and the African Christian diaspora is re-shaping Christianity around the globe. Where mission leaders saw no hope in Africa at the beginning of the twentieth century, the gospel is now Africa’s overflowing hope. As one upward-looking African mission leader wrote prophetically at the beginning of this millenium:

“Africa is a continent eminently endowed. Her sportsmen and women are a spectacle all over the world. Her rich raw materials fuel industries worldwide and her skilled labour force keeps several industries and bureaucracies around the world running. Even her troubles provide jobs and businesses for several governments and non-governmental organisations. And yet in no area is Africa as endowed as in her growing spiritual resources… Africa may not give the world computers, astronauts or great inventors. Yet it may well be that God has designed Africa to give the world what the world needs most: missionaries – bearers of the message of life and hope. That could as well be Africa’s greatest contribution to this generation. Watch out, the Africans are coming!”

From Africa to the World2 is the story of Africans coming, of Africans looking up and going forth to proclaim the gospel in boldness and faith. In the late 1960s, amidst the ashes of a Nigeria racked by a vicious civil war, revival broke out among students. Propelled by the Holy Spirit, and with the eyes of faith gazing upwards to the one enthroned in heaven (Psalm 123), they began preaching in the Muslim north of the country. And so was born Calvary Ministries (CAPRO), the largest interdenominational mission agency to emerge from Africa, with over 700 missionaries from more than two dozen nations, serving in over 35 countries. It is the story of some of Africa’s best and brightest offering their lives to see the gospel established among the unreached of our world. And it is not an isolated story.

On a personal level, my contact with Great Commission following Africans has enlarged my faith, warmed my heart and fanned my zeal. They have helped me to ‘look up’. They have helped AIM to look up. They stir us all to keep looking up towards the finish line of churches established among all of Africa’s remaining unreached peoples. With the hope that each of us who have contributed will one day be able to say, ‘I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do’ (John 17:4).

1. The Kingdom of God in Africa – A History of African Christianity, Mark Shaw and Wanjiru M. Gitau, Langham Publishing 2020, p 12
2. From Africa to the World – the CAPRO Story, Festus Ndukwe, CAPRO Media 2019

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