As some of this readership knows, Rachel and I met each other in Louisville, Kentucky in 2003 at an annual event called the Global Missions Health Conference. We have been back to that conference a half dozen times since then, including a bit of a capstone last year, when the we (the couple who met there) moderated a panel on "Marriage and Missions".
Halfway around the world, a sister event was established in Nairobi, Kenya, about 7 years ago. This GMHC (rebranded this year to GMC-Africa) had a few partners from the West (or "Global North", i.e. the USA and Europe), but is truly an African run and led event, where Christians, especially in health professions, gather together to share about the question: "How do we pursue the mission of God in his world?"
For several years here at Kibuye, we have offered a small sponsorship of senior medical students at Hope Africa University to attend this conference. Sometimes we've had as many as a dozen of them take the long bus ride to Nairobi, and their report has always been excellent. However, early September being a bit of a difficult time for our teammates to travel (e.g. end of summer, start of school), it's been a challenge to get there ourselves to participate.
This year, I was pleased to get to travel with our Burundian Medical Director at Kibuye, Dr. Gilbert, to GMC-Africa. The two of us had a great time together, and I got to see a few old friends from Kenya (in addition to some HAU graduates now studying in Kenya). The sessions were truly encouraging, especially regarding the quality of the African leaders and speakers.
So, what is an African-led missions conference like? Generally, two things stuck out to me.
1. Wholistic Mission Comes Much More Naturally to Africans
As someone who has thought a lot and presented multiple times on the wholistic nature of the Gospel and the Mission of Christianity, I have often received responses from my fellow Westerners like "Wow, I've never really thought about this before." The presenters at this conference took the question for granted.
|"Wholistic mission is looking at the total needs of the total person because the total man is broken."|
"We say 'Complete the Task". But we have not asked 'What is the completed task?'"
This guy, Rev. Dr. Dennis Tongoi kept me scribbling notes the whole time, thinking "that's what I've wanted to say!"
I'm so glad that our African brothers and sisters have resisted the false dichotomy of word and deed. Another presenter asked "If you had to choose to only read your Bible (without praying) or only pray (without reading the Bible) for 2 years, which would you choose?" Answer: "I hope you think that is a ridiculous question. May the day come when we react the same way to the idea of 'Should we be doing word ministry or deed ministry?'"
2. Call to the Global South
As the below table from the Pew Forum shows, the global distribution of the world's Christians has shifted dramatically in the last century (see also this article from the Washington Post). The "Global South" is the term used to refer to Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Note from the last column that most of the World's Christians live in the Global South today, a percentage that is only expected to increase in coming decades.
Given this reality, the question that (rightly, I think) preoccupied the African audience of this conference was "What are we going to do about it?" The prevailing sentiment was that it's time for Africa (and yes, Shakira was quoted) to step up and lead, and not wait for other countries to get on with the work of Christianity in the world. There was a definite willingness to continue to partner with brothers and sisters (like me) from the Global North, but they emphatically wanted to see this task as their task as much, if not more so, than a task belonging to another culture.
And from what this conference displayed of the leadership potential of that Global South, I was encouraged to hear it.