Reverse Missionaries: A Review of BBC Documentary (Part 2)

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.


About israelolofinjana

Rev Israel Oluwole Olofinjana is an ordained and accredited Baptist minister and has pastored Crofton Park Baptist Church (2007-2011) and Catford Community Church (2011-2013). He is currently the pastor of Woolwich Central Baptist Church, a multicultural church in south east London. He is Nigerian coming from a Pentecostal background. He holds a BA (Hons) in Religious Studies from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and MTh from Carolina University of Theology (CUT). Israel is the editor of “Turning the Tables on Mission: Stories of Christians from the Global South in the UK” and author of “Reverse in Ministry and Missions: Africans in the Dark Continent of Europe” and “20 Pentecostal Pioneers in Nigeria” He has spoken in a number of conferences regarding reverse mission and Black Majority Churches (BMCs) and has also contributed to academic journals and Christian magazines on the subject of Black Majority Churches (BMC) in Britain. He is currently co-opted as a member of the Baptist Union Council. Israel is also one of the Directors of Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World an initiative design to train and equip pastors and missionaries from the South. He is a member of the Global Connections council. When he is not preaching or writing he is playing with Lego! He is happily married to Lucy who works as an administrator and research co-ordinator for the Evangelical Alliance. She is a graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), earning a BA in Social Anthropology and International Development. Lucy loves baking and watching movies!
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4 Responses to Reverse Missionaries: A Review of BBC Documentary (Part 2)

  1. Rev. Malcolm J. Anderson says:

    What was sadly missing from the recent Reverse Missionaries program series 2 was a truthful representation of the on-going ministry of the Church through its mission and outreach to the community. The production team from Twenty, Twenty managed to leave this positive Gospel work on the editing floor and was not truly representative of the work of the Churches in the area.

    Our mission at Blantyre Congregational Church to the Loaves and Fishes project in Glasgow, our participation in the Hamilton Churches Drop In Centre, our pastoral chaplaincy at the local hospital and nursing homes and youth groups, is the on-going work we undertake in our Lords name.

    However these evangelistic missions in all honesty, were never going to be aired, purely because they were pro mission and overtly positive and In contrast to the agenda of the producer, which was to portray a lifeless Church. To say that our Church is in decline is totally untrue and miss-informative, over the past three years of my ministry, we have trebled our Sunday morning attendances, entered into a collaboration with a nursery and out of school club to use our facilities each week day and fostered new links within the wider community.

    By the end of our participation (which initially extended to the use of our Church Hall for any outreach activities and thereafter snow-balled) our Christian hospitality and patience were severely tested. Although increasingly frustrated, we were always supportive of the open air rally, but became less willing to participate, due to the manipulating, doctoring, manufacturing of Twenty Twenty Production team.

    However what the program did portray correctly, was the relevance on how to communicate a time-less message to a society who have little or no time for God or Church, but rather than be downcast or discouraged, we boldly continue to sow seeds of the Gospel into the mission field of the community and pray that God will reap a harvest.

    Reverend Malcolm J. Anderson.
    Blantyre Congregational Church.

    • Thank you so much Reverend Malcolm for telling us the other side of the story that the media refused to portray. This is very helpful and shows that your Church is actually involved in the community and engaging with the issues mission. This is why I think those of us here on long term reverse missions should not work in isolation but in meaningful partnership working together with people like yourself on the ground. It would be sheer arrogance to think we can do it alone. Keep up the good work Reverend!

  2. Kate Bailey says:

    Reverend Anderson – thank you for your side of the story. I have been fascinated and touched by this series, because it resonates with many, many churches in this country. As an Anglican Reader-in-Training, I am deeply interested in the Church and Mission – we are sitting in our home churches waiting and hoping for people to come to us – and what this series has shown is that churches need to get out and go to where the people are, especially in terms of children and young people – who clearly are the church of tomorrow. Whatever your experiences of the film production team, i think the series has made a vital point, that we HAVE to get out into the mission field to be doing the mission! That your church is involved in this work but wasn’t shown is to be commended – because you are “walking the walk” not just “talking the talk”, which is sadly what so many churches are doing.

    Pastor Israel – it is heartening to see your zeal for your fellow men and women. Thank you so much for coming here to bring Christ back into society – it needs it.

    May God bless the work of His church, as we all listen to Him, and then go out to listen to our communities and grow His family here in UK.

  3. Pastor John chilimtsidza says:

    My desire is that many countries should open up for missionaries to preach the gospel for the time of His coming is at hand. I thank the twenty twenty tv for the opportunity given to me to preach in the UK. As churches let us work together, and partner for the gospel of our lord Jesus Christ. I thank pt Malcom and leaders for being such a wonderful people to work with, though the work was tough. pastor John Chilimtsidya, malawi.

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