Which impressions come to my mind after participating in the 14th World conference on the mission and evangelization organised by the World Council of Churches in Tanzania ? First of all the development of the topic of Discipleship (See the Call of Arusha to Discipleship). Being a Christian is above all a relationship with Christ who transforms our lives, our relationship with God, with each other and with the creation. No one should be excluded from this relationship. We are Christ’s instruments as he sends us out to everyone to make known the beauty and the bliss!
In this final review I wish to underline three aspects. This Conference confirmed an enlargement of ecumenism. It was focused on Africa. Furthermore, it was young and prayerful!
An enlargement of ecumenism
This is the third time that I took part in a missionary conference of the World council of Churches (WCC). The Athens conference of 2005 was a step towards a readjustment of the ecumenical movement by including the Evangelical and Charismatic churches. It basically clarified the matters of healing and reconciliation by underlining the importance of a fraternal community arising out of the Word of Christ and the Holy Spirit. (See my account on Athens).
The hundredth anniversary conference of 2010 in Edinburgh went far beyond the framework of the WCC, which was just one of the participants like the Vatican and the World Evangelical Alliance. As I then wrote, “the meeting was a like small miracle”.
The conference emphasized the integral nature of the mission. The days are over when evangelization, social action and commitment were opposed to justice, peace and the concern about creation. (See my article)
The Arusha conference reaffirmed this enlargement of the ecumenical “tent”. Metropolite Geevarghese Coorilos, the President of the Commission of Mission and Evangelism, stated that: “We do not believe in the artificial dichotomy between ecumenism and evangelicalism. Pentecostals and Evangelicals are members of our commission. It is here that we make these two currents come together.”
Even though the conference clearly stressed the importance of social and economical justice – which is within the WCC’s tradition, especially in the Protestant Churches – the subject of the Holy Spirit and the call to be “transformed disciples” coincides with the Evangelicals.
An African conference
Africa is the continent where Christianity is spreading the fastest. All the churches are considered to be missionary. I realized this on one occasion when I took part in a Lutheran Church service in Arusha. The church was full, including a flock of children ! After the service the bishop of the Meru diocese, Eliasi Kitoi Nasari, explained to us the emphasis on evangelization: he oversees 60 pastors…plus 200 evangelists, all of whom are paid by the church!
My visit to the Christian Council of Tanzania allowed me to see the considerable size of the ecumenical deaconship. The Council puts two big 40 T lorries and several other vehicles at the disposal of the member churches. This enables, for instance, the Bible Society to organise practically an unlimited biblical distribution.
One of the great moments of the conference was when the renowned theologian John Mbiti told us about his experience translating the New Testament into his mother tongue: “In the beginning was the Word” quoting the first verses of St John’s gospel in Greek and in kikamba. This was how Africa’s evangelization began …and he continues. “This translation was a great blessing for me. It allowed me to follow Jesus step by step, and it gave me a new perspective of our Lord”.
A workshop led by the United Bible Societies illustrated how translation of the Bible was a decisive factor in evangelization. In the opinion of Nicta Lubaale, General Secretary of the Organisation of African Instituted Churches, it is one of the major factors for the emergence of native-born new churches in Africa. This organisation covers more than a thousand new Churches with a membership between 300 and 3.5 million people!
We heard also the cries coming out of Africa on its socioeconomic situation. The Congolese theologian Isis Kangudie Mana stated that the Christian communities should lead the way to “encourage people to rise up for change as per God’s project on His people of Congo.”
African women have a special and prophetic role to play : ”educate a woman and you will educate a family!” The conference combined mission with justice as a consequence of justification by faith: economic, climate, social, gender justice…
And not only in the context of Africa, but everywhere in the existential outskirts of our world, “the cries of the harvesters” and “the righteous condemned and murdered” (James 5,4,6).
A conference both young and prayerful
The conference was preceded by that of the Global Ecumenical Theological Institute (GETI). It brought together young theologians from all horizons on a similar topic – “Translate the Word for transforming the world.”
There were not only many young people present as delegates or visitors, but there were also young theologians who made some fine contributions. For example Mutale Mulenga Kaunda, a young Pentecostal from South Africa, who on the first day gave a talk on the principal theme.
Aldi Marianne Waqa, a young Catholic theologian from the Fidji Islands, gave a speech which provoked one of the few “standing ovations” of the Conference. The participation of this new generation is a welcome sign for the ecumenical movement.
The conference was particularly prayerful. There was a notable emphasis on spirituality and the moments of prayer were well attended. The joyous and communal African spirituality was widely demonstrated by several groups of singers. Their rhythms left a mark on all the participants.
“Moving in the Spirit: Called to Transforming Discipleship”. This was the theme of the conference and is, first of all, to be invoked through prayer. There cannot be any transformation without prayer.
The Catholics and the Orthodox reminded the Protestants and the Evangelicals (who are often threatened by activism) of this point by their insistence on the Eucharist. For the Catholics it is the source and the height in the life of the Church. For the Orthodox the liturgical celebration is followed by the “liturgy after the liturgy” which includes all the dimensions of the mission.
To conclude, this meeting was for me a magnificent experience of the Risen One in our midst. I wish to leave you this prayer addressed to Him:
I met you in the prayer and brotherhood of your people assembled together.
I heard you when sharing the Gospel, you who are the Word.
You shook me with the cries of the poorest living on the fringes of our society.
You have tutored me through the wisdom and the experience of the pastors and the scholars from all horizons.
You have widened my view of the astonishing unity of your Body, which is even stronger due to the extraordinary diversity it expresses.
You have thus fortified my hope that one day we shall be able to assemble all together around the table to feed on the one single bread and to drink from the one and only chalice of communion.
For God’s glory, the radiant light of your Gospel and the salvation of the world!