Friday 23rd of March BBC 2 continued the documentary on Reverse Missionaries. This time we have a missionary from Malawi in Central Africa. The name of the visiting minister was Pastor John Chilimtsidya who oversees a Church that has grown from 25 people four years ago to about 800. His Church, The Charismatic Renewal Church, is one of the fastest growing Churches in Blantyre capital of Malawi. Malawi’s capital was named Blantyre after the home town of Dr David Livingstone (1813-1873) on the outskirts of Glasgow, Scotland. This was because of his remarkable influence as a missionary, explorer and medical influence in both Central and Southern Africa. David Livingstone was sent out by the London Missionary Society (LMS) to South Africa from where he began journey northward setting up mission stations and preaching the Gospel. Livingstone decided to learn about the native culture, customs and language in order to be able to reach the local people with the Gospel. In order to acculturate to the indigenous culture he cut himself off for the first 6 months from any form of European life or culture. This paid off as people loved him and were interested in what he had to say. Livingstone also fought tirelessly against the slave trade and made efforts to replace it with legitimate trade.
Pastor John in a reverse mission came to Blantyre, Glasgow to preach the Gospel. He became part of the Congregational Church in Blantyre and started learning about the city that his hero Livingstone lived in. Pastor John soon realised that things have changed from the days of Livingstone as he discovered the lack of interest in Christianity. People were more keen and passionate about football than God and Church. Pastor John discovered that people worshipped football rather than God. The young people were not interested about Church or Christianity, but worse, the Congregational Church full of elderly people were reluctant to reach out to these youngsters. Pastor John went out with Street Pastors and this helped him to learn about the life in Britain on a Friday night. Prepared now by this experience he set out to reach the young people in the community. He visited the youth centre, met people on the streets and visited a Mother who had lost her confidence in God as a result of bereavement. Pastor John also visited the playground and played football with people of the community.
The sad moment of the documentary for me was when Pastor John was trying to convince the diaconate about the possibility of doing a Church service in the skate park. The cynicism, pessimism and reservation of the diaconate in going out mirrors the lack of confidence British Christians have in going out to talk to people. They however managed to reach a compromise by allowing the service to take place in the skate park but with the addition that they have to do the BBQ at the Church. Better than nothing, Pastor John agreed and the service took place. Helped by a young Christian Chloe people were invited to the park for this Church service. To the diaconate’s surprise people came. Even though nobody became a Christian what is exciting is that these people have moved from not interested in Christianity or seeing it as boring and irrelevant to coming to see what it was all about!
In all, the documentary shows that reverse missions are possible and do work. This is made possible with passion and confidence in the Gospel. It also highlights the fact that the Gospel is still effective but it is our methods of delivery or lack of delivery of the Gospel that is the problem. One critique is the way Livingstone was portrayed throughout as if he was only interested in missions. While this is definitely true, a faithful account of Livingstone’s work has to draw attention to the fact that he was also an explorer who was interested in finding out natural resources in the interior of Central and North Africa. In addition, he proclaimed Christianity and Western civilisation hand in hand. This means you not only became Christian but you also became a British gentleman. In addition the narration of Pastor John’s ministry implied that all he did was influenced by his ‘hero’ Livingstone, which whilst true in part denies the fact that he was himself inspired by the Spirit and responding to his context of ministry. It is neo-colonial to attribute everything Pastor John did to Livingstone.