Multi-ethnic Congregations: A Flavour of World Christianity in Britain

As conversations on World Christianity continues with the growth of churches in Africa, Latin America, South Korea, China and South Asia, and as Majority World Christians continue to send missionaries to the Western world, it is important to look at multi-ethnic churches in Britain and consider their significance for World Christianity.

Take for example the church I pastor in Woolwich in the Royal Borough of Greenwich (RBG) in south-east London. Our church have about 17 different nationalities representation drawn from African countries, the Caribbean, white British, black British and so on. We have people from Nigeria, Cameroun, USA, Jamaica, Ghana, Trinidad, Barbados, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Martinique, Congo, Brazil, Vietnam, Seirra Leone, Lebanon, Austria, Ireland, Italy, England, India and Germany. We also have different generations such as first generation Africans and Caribbean and second generation Africans and Caribbean.  In addition people speak different languages such as Yoruba, French, German, Lingala, Igbo, Pidgeon English, Shona, Twi, Fante, Ga, Vietnamese, Hindi, Patio and Portugese

These diversity has allowed me to have a taste of World Chrsitianity. For example, I have presided over a Ghanaian naming ceremy and learnt the deep meaning of Ghanaian names. I have also presided over Nigerian naming ceremonies. This has been done either at people’s homes (the traditional Yoruba way of doing namng ceremony) or at church service. About two weeks ago we had in the same service a Ghanaian naming ceremony and a couple from Congo dedicating their daughter. The name of the Congolese couple’s daughter was Qiyana, a Zulu name meaning the smart one. The names of people at our church reflects World Christianity, here are few examples, Superior, Neelkarma, Huong, Asante, Adeola, Aurille, Angelo, Clement, Akko and so on. I have also visited an Indian family and enjoy a home made curry and Indian tea while having discussions on Christian spirituality.  I have spent time listening to the stories and testimonies of Christians from around the world. This process of listening and praying with people has enriched my own faith and understanding.

Our congregtaion is one of many multi-ethnic churches in Britain and while scholarly attention is on currents and developments of African Christianity, South Korean Christanity or Latin American Christianity, important as they are, it seems to me that multi-ethnic congregations are certainly a place to also study World Christianity. There is the need to look at multi-ethnic congregtaions not just as place to understand multicultural churches, but also as a place to study World Christianity. These congregations often have rich theological significance for our learning and understanding of World Christianity. This is not of course an arm-chair approach to the study of World Christianity as it is still imperative to travel to Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean to understand these Christianities, however studying mulit-ethnic congregations in Britain gives us a window and a flavour of World Christianity in a locality.

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Reverse Missiology: An Introduction

So what is reverse mission?

If you live in an urban part of the UK, you have probably noticed the many African, Latin American, Caribbean and Asian churches and Christians in Britain. Perhaps you’ve wondered why all these people are coming and starting churches in the UK?

One popular phrase used to describe this activity is ‘reverse mission’, but what is reverse mission, and why is it a controversial term?

Reverse mission starts with a deep sense of gratitude from those who have benefitted from historical European mission activity, either in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America or Asia. It is this sense of gratitude, combined with the understanding that Europe also has need of missionaries, that has led to missionaries being sent to the UK from across the majority world (that is, Africa, Caribbean, Asia and Latin America).

Some are sent intentionally from churches or mission agencies across these continents to be missionaries to the UK. But do people from these places who are referred to as economic migrants or, refugees, or those who’ve come to study here, also count as reverse missionaries?  Yes, some of them do, because while they may have come to the UK as a refugee for example, they may at the same time have the sense that God is calling them to do mission in the UK.

One example is Pastor Girma Bishaw, who came from Ethiopia to the UK in the 1990s as a refugee, but is now engaged in mission, including organising local community festivals. Pastor Girma deeply appreciates how the UK has supported his family, and therefore loves the UK and wants to help build a multicultural Church and society here.

Another example is Pastor Kingsley Appaigyei, who came from Ghana in the 1980s to study theology, but realised after finishing his studies that God was calling him to the UK. Pastor Kingsley now leads one of the largest Baptist churches in the country, Trinity Baptist Church, and has planted many branches across London and Europe.

What are the controversies around reverse mission?

Some people have a problem with the term reverse mission, because if our understanding of God’s mission is that any Christian anywhere can be involved in mission, does the direction of mission really matter? Others think reverse mission is not really happening, because they say a Nigerian pastor leading a ‘Nigerian church’ in the UK is not engaging in reverse mission.

There are also those who think Britain does not need missionaries, as we are the ones who send missionaries to other people, not the other way round! At times there can be an unhelpful assumption that someone from a majority world country is not qualified or equipped to help British people in mission.

It is true that our understanding of God’s mission is that any Christian anywhere can participate in God’s mission – whether it’s in the streets of Lagos, Nigeria, or someone called to be an overseas missionary in India. But reverse mission does not contradict this – it is just one expression of God’s mission, without claiming to be the sum-total.

What reverse missionaries are simply saying is “we who used to receive before now feel we are matured enough to give”. And surely this is a good thing!

It is also true that there are Nigerian pastors leading ‘Nigerian churches’ in the UK, or Brazilian pastors leading ‘Brazilian churches’ (although many of these churches are in fact multicultural, with people from different tribes and nations attending, possibly from the same continent).

But what is often missing in these conversations are other examples, where a Nigerian pastor is leading a multicultural or white majority church (that is a church full of mostly white people). To illustrate, Pastor Andrew Junaid leads Brook Lane Community Church, a white majority church in south east London, Pastor Tani Omideyi leads a multicultural church Temple of Praise in Liverpool, which has many local Liverpudlian members and Rev Woyin Karowei Dorgu is the Anglican Bishop of Woolwich . And I’ve personally had the opportunity to lead both multicultural churches and a white majority church.

There are also Christians from the majority world working in Christian agencies and institutions founded by western Christians. Dotha Blackwood trains ministers at Spurgeon’s College, Hirpo Kumbi teaches reverse mission at For Mission College in Leeds, while Joel Edwards advocates for the poor and marginalised at Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

Are reverse missionaries welcome in Britain?

The idea that Britain does not need missionaries is ridiculous really, because the need is obvious! We only have to look at how many people are not Christians, and the number of churches who’ve declined in the last 40 years, and how our values as a society have changed. Besides, if Britain is a multicultural multi-ethnic society, then it’s important that the Church that’s reaching that society is also multicultural and multi-ethnic.

There are UK churches that have invited and welcomed reverse missionaries. While I’ve personally been welcomed, I am also aware that there are cases where reverse missionaries have not been accepted or valued.

There are ongoing conversations to better understand reverse missionaries. The Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World, which I run with five friends from across the majority world, was started to help facilitate such conversations, so that we can all work together for God’s kingdom. After all, we all need each other!

This article was first written for the Great Commission website of the Evangelical Alliance

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Brexit is triggered! What is God saying about Migration?

Today Marks a significant day in the life of the nation as our Prime Minister, Teresa May triggered the important Article 50! What this means is that our exit/Brexit from the European Union (EU) is now certain and there is no turning back. We now have to wait and work out how this affects the status of EU workers, students, diplomats and citizens in the United Kingdom. Added to this scenario is Nicola Sturgeon’s relentless effort to lead Scotland in a Second Referendum. One question Brexit definitely raises is our view on migration and migrants. For us Christians, the question should be what has the Bible has to say about migration and what do we as Christians think of migrants? Should our opinion on this important subject be shaped and dictated by public opinion or has the Bible has something to teach us?

I have been working on a resource with other colleagues (Rev Dr Steve Finamore, principal of Bristol Baptist College and Rev Wale Hudson-Roberts, Racial Justice enabler of the Baptist Union of Great Britain) titled, Moving Stories: The Bible and Migration (A Series of Bible Study Reflections). The resource has contributors from the Majority World (Caribbean, South Asian, Central Asian, African) bringing their own perspective on the subject of migration. Topics covered includes, Reverse Mission, Economic Migration, Syrian refugees, Uncompanied minors in Calais, France, Migration and Persecution, Migration and Land, the trans-atlantic slave trade and Diaspora theologies. This resource is designed to be used in Bible study groups, house groups, cell groups or any other groups interested in discussing what the Bible has to say about migration. At the end of each study are questions to aid discussions and reflections.

To read or use these free resource please follow this link to download Bible and Migration

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Multi-ethnic Churches: A Gospel Imperative in a Post Brexit World

In the light of the EU Referendum vote that led UK citizens deciding to pull out of the European Union, there have been lots of conversations about Brexit and its implications for economics, commerce, trade and society in general. But what implications will Brexit have on the church in the UK, or to rephrase the question, how shall we do church in a post-Brexit world?

If Brexit is dividing people into us and them, migrants and British citizens, elite and uneducated, racist and accepting of others, how should the church respond and handle these differences?

In order to respond we have to comprehend God’s vision of Every Tribe, Nation and Language as articulated in Scriptures. This is why our Centre, Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World, in partnership with other churches and agencies in Bristol is putting together a conference with the theme of Every Tribe, Nation and Language: Growing Multi-ethnic Churches in Britain on Saturday 10th of June 10am-4pm.

The vision of a multicultural, multi-ethnic church is very essential to the Gospel; in essence it is a Gospel imperative that started with Creation itself and runs through the biblical narratives. The creation story is a witness to the fact that God loves and intentionally created diversity in all its beauty. The promise to Abraham that all nations will be blessed through him reveals that God’s plan in salvation history was to draw to himself people from every nation (Genesis 12: 1-3).

Paul in the New Testament expounded on this theme both in the letter to the Galatians and Ephesians. In Galatians he confirmed the acceptance of Gentiles (non-Jews) into God’s family by affirming that God’s promise to Abraham was not only meant for the Jews but also for the Gentiles.

One implication is that we are all one in Christ whether we are Jews or Greeks, slave or free, male or female (Galatians 3:28). Paul seemed to be saying that in Christ, culture, class and gender should not divide us. He pressed this message home in Ephesians 2:11-22, when he talked about how Christ’s work on the cross reconciled us back to God (vertical relationship with God), but that in addition, he pulled down the wall that divide sus as humans (horizontal relationships with our neighbours).

In the time of Paul and the other Apostles, this wall would have been the various separations that happened in Herod’s temple. There was the Holy place only for the High Priest, the court of the priest for the other priests, the court of Israel only for the Israelite men, the court of women for Israelite women and the court of the Gentiles for everyone who is not a Jew. These various separations were taken seriously, so that if a Gentile dared entered the court of Israel, it would have been at the loss of his or her life. To illustrate this, when Paul was arrested, one of the accusations against him was that he brought Greeks into the temple area (see Acts 21:27-29).

Paul’s theology of unity in diversity saw Christ’s death on the cross as putting an end to these artificial segregations, therefore uniting us together in Himself. Paul went further to say that this is why he, Paul, has been chosen by God to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:1-7).

God demonstrated time and time again that His Gospel brings an end to whatever divides us. In Acts of the Apostles this was done through the birth of the church on the day of Pentecost, which brought Jews in Palestine as well as Jews in diaspora together.

It was the cultural diversity of the church in Jerusalem that led to one of the earliest tensions in the church, which emerged in Acts 6:1-7. The Holy Spirit also caused the disciples to scatter into Judea and Samaria, therefore bringing the Gospel to the Samaritans whom Jews would not accept as equals (Acts 8). As if that was not enough, God had to convict Peter first through a vision in order for him to accept and relate with Cornelius (a Gentile) and his household in Acts 10.

All of these Scriptures demonstrate that God, the creator of diversity, embraces cultural diversity in a way that it should bring us together rather than separate us. The implication is that whatever divides us today, such as race, culture, ethnicity, class, gender, and age, we should form one new body when we are in Christ, because it is in Christ that our identity is fully complete.

A multicultural, multi-ethnic church is one of the spaces where this diversity can be lived out in togetherness. Multicultural, multi-ethnic churches are signs of God’s kingdom on earth! How can we develop multi-ethnic churches and what are the challenges faced in these churches? These questions and more will be discussed at the conference on 10th of June. Below is the link to register for the conference:

Every Tribe, Nation and Language

 

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The New Black Consciousness

As the Western world continues to grapple with the issues and consequences  of both Brexit and Trump, there appears to be a sea of TV programmes on Black identity. Below are examples of these programmes

Blackish (E4): Blackish is an American sitcom following the lives of a middle class African American family. It is witty, clever , educational and entertaining. It shows you the various nuances of how an average middle class African American family tries to define or see their blackness

In the Shadow of Mary Seacole (ITV): This is a one off documentary on the life and signicance of Mary Seacole (1805-1881) a Jamaican born woman who funded herself to bring Western and traditional medical relief help to the wounded soldiers during the Crimean War (1853-1856). The documentary ended with a sculpture of her being erected in front of St Thomas Hospital in London

Black is the New Black (BBC): This is a series profiling various Black personalities in different professions and works of life in Britain. They all spoke about how their identity has been interogated and continues to be in their various professions

Will Britain ever have a Black Prime Minister? (BBC). This was a one off docmentary presented by actor and presenter David Harewood. He looked at how odds are stacked against Britain  having a Black Prime Minister. These odds starts from birth to University education

Black and British: A Forgotten History (A four part Documentary Series) (BBC). This documentary explores Black British History tracing the history of Africans in Britain back to the 3rd century AD with African Roman soldiers resident near Hadrian Walls in Cumbria. It also looked at how one of King Henry VIII trumpeters was a  moor from North Africa in the person of John Blanke. A plaque commemorating John Blanke was unveiled at Greenwich University in London.

One thing all these programmes have in common is Black identity. Could it be that the political and public discourses emerging with the new politics on both side of the Atlantic is causing migrants to visit their roots in order to affirm who they are? Perhaps a more pertinent question is as conversations continue on the implications of Brexit that African and Caribbean in Britain are asserting their dual identity as Black and British? If current rhetoric is almost saying that to be American is white or Britishness equal whiteness then it becomes very powerful for people to be reminded how far back black people have been around these shores and how much they feel part of their identity is rooted in these geo-political construct called America and Britain.

I think these various programmes on the TV and other media platforms are very good for the children and youth of African and Caribbean parentage in understanding who they are and that they belong, and have been part of British history for centuries. I can only hope that these will be translated into our education system at all levels so that Black British History is not confined to the margins but that it becomes mainstream.

 

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Re-interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount by Lucy Olofinjana

Having all our prayers answered.

Being healthy, happy and comfortable.

Seeing breakthrough and victory in all areas of our lives.

Seeing our struggles overcome and all our needs met.

Having what we need provided, without having to wait too long either.

That’s what it means to be blessed by God, doesn’t it?

But someone pretty important had a different idea about blessings.

Because this isn’t how it goes…

“Blessed are those who know they’ve got all they need and are quite-alright-and-not-in-need-of-any-help-from-God-or-man-thank-you-very-much…

Blessed are those who never suffer loss or tragedy or betrayal…

Blessed are those who never doubt themselves…

Blessed are those who know they’ve got it all sorted and have no more issues to deal with…

Blessed are the stingy and self-sufficient…

Blessed are those who cut a few corners because no one’s really looking anyway – and it doesn’t really hurt anyone, does it…

Blessed are those who get their point across no matter who gets in the way, because they really know best after all…

Blessed are those who never get teased or pointed out for their wacky ‘God-stuff’, or for going on about that Jesus guy again…

Blessed are you when people cheer you on, recognise you, praise you and say all manner of wonderful things about you, because after all you’re God’s blessed and highly favoured one…”

When we take Jesus’ famous teachings at the start of the beatitudes – the beautiful attitudes – of Matthew 5, and flip them on their head like this, I believe it challenges us to the core of what we mean when we consider ourselves ‘Blessed’.

When Jesus says ‘Blessed are…’ he’s talking about being in a state of true happiness and joy. But we don’t really associate true happiness with suffering and going without and experiencing tragic loss, do we.

Especially in our western culture, where the continual ‘pursuit of happiness’ seems to be something we’ve subconsciously allowed to creep in, and assume we are entitled to all of the time.

Because when we get real, it’s not just ‘those prosperity gospel churches over there which we all look down on’ who are founded on a belief that following God means only good, nice, lovely things will happen to us.

Even in the process of writing this, I’m challenged by what we really mean when we say statements like “God only wants good things for his children”, and “God blesses his children”. I believe they are true, but what are ‘good things’ and what are ‘blessings’?

Does it mean getting our way all of the time, and only having nice things happen to us?

I firmly believe that God is a good God, and a wonderful father. As Jesus himself teaches later in this same sermon on the mount:

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11)

But the reality is we live in a fallen world, and being a follower of Jesus doesn’t exclude us from the consequences of sin and death.

We will experience pain and loss and insults and heartbreak.

But Jesus is saying, as Christians, we are blessed in these circumstances.

It seems Jesus is telling us – through his radical teachings – that he wants to bless us and show us something of his ability to give true, deep, inner joy, especially in those hard situations.

We may have been taught that our joy shouldn’t be dependent on our external circumstances – on everything going right all the time – but are we ever taught that it is actually through the really tough, awful, excruciating times, during loss, betrayal, hurt and confusion, that we are truly blessed by God?

And maybe true happiness and joy comes from not getting everything our own way all the time, but from learning more about who God is – how dependable, rock-solid, faithful and compassionate a father he is. And how he truly understands and walks with us, having been betrayed himself by one of his closest friends, and denied by another.

Maybe it all comes back to dependence, to realising that without being connected to the vine – to God, the source of life – we are nothing, and cannot have true happiness or that elusive peace we so often seek after.

This weekend the lightbulb in our toilet stopped working. So between us (and this is definitely the extent to which our DIY skills stretch), my husband and I managed to unscrew the exhausted bulb, only to have a small shower of debris fall on our heads. It looked as if a large part of the internal fitting had disintegrated, so while we weren’t convinced it would work, we got a brand new shiny bulb out from the cupboard under the stairs, and proceeded to try to screw it in and switch it on.

But that new, shiny bulb, full of all that potential to shine light and illuminate the darkness, wouldn’t even hold in place, because – as we’d suspected – the place to connect it into was no longer there.

And that got me thinking.

How can we expect to be shining in the darkness, to be used to our full potential, to be happy and fulfilled in life, if we’re not even connected to the source, to the one who supplies the power, to the one who created us in the first place?

And how often do we choose – very intentionally, or perhaps more subtly – to remove ourselves from connection and relationship with God when things just aren’t going the way we planned?

I don’t know about you, but in my school they encourage us to write a ‘five year plan’. But the reality of life is we don’t know what is around the corner, and none of us would include on our five year plan ‘this relationship is going to break up’, ‘I’m going to unintentionally hurt this friend, and the hurt and fallout will be huge for both of us’, I’m going to lose one of the closest people in my life to cancer’. It just isn’t in the plan.

But maybe Jesus is reminding us, in the greatest sermon of all time, that although we won’t plan it or want it, tough stuff will come our way.

But, in the midst of the struggles and questions and anguish and pain, will we choose to stay connected to the source of the blessings, to the one who alone can provide that deep, inner peace?

This article first appeared on the 22nd September on the Evangelical Alliance Threads. To view the article follow this link Threads

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Are we really Post-Racial in the West?

A question that seems to have been asked at least since Barack Obama became the president of United States in 2009 and one that in Britain we have been asking for a while is are we post-racial? Those who think we are post-racial considers certain events in our modern/post-modern world such as Mandela becoming the president of South Africa in 1994 and how politically blacks in South Africa were liberated (still not liberated -social-economically!). In Britain, John Sentamu became the Archbishop of York in 2005 making him, the second highest authority within the Anglican worldwide Communion. And of course the crowning acheivement Barack Obama becoming the 44th president and the first African American to hold that post was quite significant. These key markers in our shared history gives the impression that when it comes to race and racism we are making progress therefore the notion of a post-racial society.

However, recent events on both side of the Atlantic have raised tensions already discernible in our society. Lets start with Britain as that is my context. The Brexit campaigners used a very dangerous rhetoric bordering on stigmatising and demonising immigrants but of course when people are pushed on this point they always say they are refering to EU immigrants and not people from the Commonwealth. In essence, they are supposedly tackling white eastern European migration and not coloured migration such as from Africa or Asia. But now with all the racism  we are seeing on our streets and public transport, it is clear that that sort of separation of migrants along geopraphy and colour has not really work out as it has been people of colour that appears to have been suffering racial abuse. I am not saying that EU migrants have not suffered abuses as well, I am however commenting on the fact that the argument about people from the Commonwealth are more than welcome is not justified in the light of recent racial and xenophobic attacks we are seeing.

The notion of being post-racial is defeated when we see far right political rhetoric stigmatising migrants. It is also defeated when people act out their own personal prejudice which was already there may I say on public transport and in our streets. Britain is not post-racial and it has never been post-racial. This is a sad and uncomfortable truth we need to face if we are to deal with these issues in the near future.

In the context of America, the recent murder of black lives in the hands of white police officers whose  actions reminds us of that of  KKK has raised the debate. This type of killings is not new, America only seems to have moved from previously lynching black bodies to now somehow trying to justify it through police brutality. While police murdering black people in public is not a new thing as there were more than 100 of this cases last year alone, what makes the current one caught the public’s attention is the power of social media. That it was recorded and made public for all to see means that there is irrefutable evidence that racism is real and therefore we are not post-racial.

It is crucial to acknowledge on both side of the Atlantic that we have not moved on from racism. To do otherwise is to live in a virtual world that appears so real only because we are either protected or not affected by the events of the existential realities of  migrants, Black and Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME), African American, Eastern Europeans, African Caribbean, Africans, Latin Americans, Asians and the list goes on…………………………………

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