My journey with a lively entourage in Africa last month was the latest in a series of encounters with the continent stretching back nearly as long as the 48 year old Partnership between the Church of England Birmingham and the, now four, Dioceses of Upper Shire, South, Lake and North Malawi.
From Idi Amin’s Uganda via war-torn DR Congo to the peaceful ‘Warm Heart of Africa’ the inspiration, contrasts and dilemmas of Africa remain at once attractive and daunting.
Here are few ways in to the adventure of Africa.
John Reader in his Africa, Biography of a Continent (Penguin 1998) prints a Map (p679) that shows Africa encompassing large portions of the rest of the world’s land mass including the USA, Europe, India, China, Argentina and New Zealand, whose population, however, exceeds Africa’s by over 3 to 1.
The Poverty indicators of the continent are in stark contrast to the mineral, agricultural and human resources. Over 61% of Malawi’s population are below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day. Popular awareness of this has grown through vivid Comic Relief and other campaigns. See also unicef.org and www.cnn.com/
Governance has been highlighted as a major stumbling block to development whether through those clinging on to power or in wholesale corruption. Even in Malawi the May 2014 Presidential Election process has been controversial. David Van Reybrouck’s Congo (Harper Collins 2014 tr Sam Garrett) is a magisterial and absorbing account of the epic struggles for over a century in a country the size of Europe.
Violence and insecurity is on our screens in Nigeria (children abducted by Boko Haram) Kenya (tourists being evacuated from Mombassa), Southern Sudan (civil war), CAR, and Eastern DRC, not forgetting the Arab Spring north of the Sahara.
Infrastructure whether in Education, Health, or Sustainable Agriculture and Environment (soil, water and nutrition) has been Christian Aid’s focus and one that shows real results www.christianaid.org.uk/whatwedo/africa/malawi/aspx
The role of Church is emphasised in the Commission on Africa ‘If the African state is to become more effective it needs to understand what it is about religion that builds loyalty, creates infrastructure, collects tithes and taxes, fosters a sense that it delivers material as well as spiritual benefits.’ (Penguin 2005 p31). The vigour of the Mother’s Union is one example of Church and Community working together.
In CofEB the World Mission Review being conducted by Bishop Maurice Sinclair will show that individuals and parishes have links with many places and peoples in Africa and around the globe. Our major link with Malawi has also been examined fruitfully by Janice Price and is the subject of continuing discussion between myself and Bishops Fanuel, Francis, Brighton and Alinafe. I am looking forward to seeing the film being made by Steve Squires and Nick Jones in spreading the word of our deepening involvement with Malawi, leading up to the 50th anniversary in 2016.
Professor Andrew Walls has asserted ‘the things by which people recognise and judge what Christianity is will (for good or ill) increasingly be determined in Africa.’ (The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History T&T Clark 2002 p85)
As Christians we have a huge opportunity to nurture international relationships, concentrating on making a real difference to people’s lives.
The phrase self-reliance is re-emerging as key phrase with all the dignity, fulfilment and maturity implied in a responsible, inter-dependent partnership. This means making stepping stones together towards flourishing, confident communities founded on economic and social stability. Courage and creativity will be required and best of all faith in a gracious and powerful God who seeks justice, peace, mercy and righteousness.
Let us, in the name of Jesus Christ, renew our participation in this part of God’s Mission.
‘God Bless Africa, Guard her people, Guide her leaders, And give her peace, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen’
Bishop of Birmingham
PHOTO: Bishop David with Matilda who will feature in a documentary being made to celebrate 50 years of the partnership