Observing ministry in Africa

Jul 17, 2017 by

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream

I’m writing this from Kenya. To be more specific, I’m hosted by the Diocese of Machakos, centred on the town of that name about 40 miles south east of Nairobi. For the past two years Anglican Mainstream has been partnering with a youth ministry project based at St Paul’s, a large church in another town called Athi River. We’ve been passing on some designated donations received mainly in the UK to the Diocesan office in Kenya, and the Diocese in turn has facilitated the formation of a body to give proper oversight to the new Centre for Compassion, Rehabilitation and Development. 

This is frontline mission in action, as the church takes the risk of reaching out beyond the safe confines of ministry to young people from the church, and in this case is looking to incorporate existing courageous but fragile ministries to those outside the church involved in harmful lifestyles. There have been some teething problems with the project, and so part of my reason for being here is to listen and observe how the godly and gifted folk here are looking to resolve the issues and move forward.

On Sunday I attended a wonderful vibrant communion service at St Paul’s, and this was followed by the formal opening of the youth outreach centre in the church grounds. Athi River is a dry and dusty town surrounded it seems by cement factories and brickworks servicing Nairobi’s burgeoning expansion, with potholed streets bordered by colourfully painted shops and market stall-type shelters. There is a constant bustle of activity, and everywhere you can see posters of politicians with their slogans as the country gears up for elections in early August.

On Monday I travelled to Nairobi with two clergy involved in youth ministry and theological education, to meet contacts from the interdenominational organisations African Enterprise and iServe Africa. Along the way we have been talking about the challenges facing Christians in Kenya and in Africa generally, and the conflicts in the Anglican Communion reflecting the wider issues of the clash between new ideologies coming from contemporary Western culture and biblical values.

Back at the guest house, after an evening meal of ugale, greens and chicken stew, I settle down to read a chapter of a fascinating book recently published by Christian Concern’s Wilberforce Institute: ‘The Nation’s Gospel’ by Jeremy Thomas of All Souls Langham Place. It’s a history of Gospel ministry in England from the time of Henry VIII onwards, but very much asking pointed questions in the light of the current decline in church attendance and the influence of Christian faith in the nation. Is secularism to blame for this, asks Thomas, or is secularism a result of a failure to evangelise as our forebears did, and as the church has been doing in Africa in recent decades?

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