Shaping the Church for mission

The Common Life Mission Conference at Waikanae is the largest Anglican gathering in these islands in recent years.

Lloyd Ashton   |  20 Jul 2011  |

More than 550 people converged on Waikanae, north of Wellington, for 2011 Common Life Mission Conference.

They gathered to be energized by four days of preaching, workshops, networking and strategizing.

Their number included many overseas guests – including the keynote speaker, Archbishop Ben Kwashi from Nigeria, and Bishop Mark McDonald, the Canadian church’s National Indigenous Bishop (who will be leading the daily Bible Studies) – as well as hundreds of mission-minded Kiwi Anglicans, among them some visiting from overseas mission posts for the conference.

The gathering was so large, in fact, that yesterday’s powhiri was a two-stage affair – which kicked off with a welcome for local visitors, followed by another for the overseas visitors, who include three archbishops (David Vunagi from Melanesia, Joseph Kopapa from Papua New Guinea and Ben Kwashi, from Jos in Nigeria) and bishops from Malaysia, Tanzania, South Africa, Vanuatu and the UK.

After lunch the conference settled into a daily rhythm that will be maintained until Friday, with a couple of keynote addresses, workshops – delegates can sample dozens of different mission specialities – and Bible Studies, which started this morning’s programme.

Archbishop Ben Kwashi, who will deliver four keynote addresses, is a remarkable figure.

He comes from a privileged background, has links to Nigerian royalty, had a early self-declared reputation for hell-raising, and he was forging a military career when he met a street preacher – “and in 10 minutes my whole life was changed.”

He was ordained 30 years ago, and Jos, the city in northern Nigeria where he’s now bishop, is on the border between the Muslim north of Africa and Christian south – and is frequently wracked by inter-religious violence.

Archbishop Kwashi has had his own home and church razed by arsonists, he and his family have been attacked and subjected to frequent death threats. In the face of this, the church he leads is growing at a prodigious rate: when he started as bishop there were 19 churches in his territory, and now there are 210.

He and his wife Gloria (who is also at the conference) have six children of their own – and have opened their home to a further 51 children, many of whom have been orphaned by the sectarian violence that plagues his region.

Yesterday, Archbishop Kwashi delivered two hard-hitting addresses, taking as his text Matthew 9: 36, 37: When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

This text, he claimed, outlines seven principles which must determine the church’s course as a mission-shaped enterprise.

1. The church, he said, is a movement: “We are a movement people, not a static people. We have to move. Jesus is the first missionary. He is the chief missionary.”

2. It is called to be a proclaiming church – which must forever be marked by teaching, preaching and healing.

3.  The church must also be a seeing  church. “Jesus looked,” he said, “and he saw the crowd hapless and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Gloria Kwashi had seen the plight of vulnerable children in their own neighbourhood, he said – brought 51 of them to live in their own home, and in various practical ways, she continues to reach out to many more.

4. The church must be marked by compassion. “The heart of God is so full of compassion,” said Archbishop Kwashi. “One of the things missing from the Anglican Church worldwide is compassion.”

5. The mission church needs labourers and workers, and not more bosses. “Every Nigerian,” he said, “wants to be a chief. But the mission church needs labourers. Are you ready to work? Roll up your sleeves!”

6. The church must pray  for labourers. “A praying church,” said Archbishop Kwashi, “is a mission church.”

7. And it must be a sending church.

Tikanga Maori wrapped up the evening with a mix of testimony, stories and waiata.

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