One of the pioneers of the Black Church in Britain is the late Philip Mohabir. His immense contribution to the Christian landscape in Britain and other parts of the world is unparalleled. Philip is like one of those great Church leaders who God sends at a particular time for a specific reason. Just as God used Paul in the New Testament to pioneer a ministry to the Gentiles and expound on the teachings of the Church and Augustine to develop the theology of the Church in the 4th Century, so did God used Philip Mohabir to pioneer reconciliation between black and white Churches in Britain in the 1980s. Among his other pioneering work is the founding of a co-operative village in Guyana (Hauraruni Village), the establishment of an Apostolic network of Churches in Britain known as connections, Church planting in Britain, different parts of Europe and the Caribbean and the founding of the African Caribbean Evangelical Alliance (ACEA) in Britain.
Philip Mohabir was born in Georgetown Guyana in 1937 into a Hindu family. He had six brothers and two sisters. From around the age of ten Philip was trained by the Hindu priest in their village to become a priest but something happen in his religious education class at school which would change the course of his life. Out of interest, Philip had decided to study the Life of Christ as one of his subjects at school. On this particular day at school the teacher asked Philip to read Mark 1: 14-19. As Philip began to read he sensed an unusual presence he had never felt before. This experience eventually led to his salvation. Not long after dropping the bombshell to his family about his conversion to Christianity, he sensed a call to be a missionary to England. After many struggle with himself, his family and community in coming to terms with his call to a foreign country, Philip came as a missionary to England in 1956 being sent not by a Church or mission agency but by God’s spirit. Philip came to England not knowing anyone or having any connections so it was very difficult for him to find accommodation and feeding. He went several days starving and slept outside in the cold on many occasions. Philip soon made friends with a group of white evangelical Christians and decided to visit the Church that one of them attends. After visiting the Church about three times he was asked not to come back again. He felt rejected and lonely and began to realise that the ethnic minorities in London were not accepted by the society as well as the Church. This sowed the seeds of Philip later working towards the reconciliation of black and white Christians. Philip began itinerant preaching in Brixton from house to house, market place, pubs and open spaces. Through this he also met many black people who felt rejected by the society and the Church. It must be emphasised that this was not the case with every black person as some black people were definitely accepted into fellowship. He began to help people irrespective of their race, ethnicity or culture with whatever he can such as feeding them, caring for them, finding them jobs and housing. Some of these people touched by the ministry of Philip started to attend the fellowship that Philip and some of his friends have started in their homes. These house fellowships became Churches and grew rapidly becoming Church plants all over the south east.
These Churches continue to grow so that they had to move from one venue to the other in search of bigger spaces. Some of the Historic Churches allowed them to use their buildings while others refused not wanting to associate with these sect Churches as they were perceived in those days. Philip and his team also manage to rent a place where they all shared and lived together as brothers and sisters. This was a real community as they ate together, wept together, shared good news together and fellowship together. This Church community that was based in Brixton was a multicultural one as there were people from different ethnicities and cultures. Philip met his wife Muriel through one of the sisters in the Church and after about three months of intense struggle with himself he made the move and they started going out. Part of his struggle was the racial difference, Muriel was Jamaican, Philip was of an Indian extraction from South America. He had to challenge his own racial prejudice and repent before challenging that of his family and later that of the Church in Britain. On 1st of November 1958 Philip and Muriel got married at Stockwell Baptist Church.
Philip and his team began to have open doors of mission in other countries such as Sweden, Ghana, Nigeria and Liberia. They therefore began travelling abroad doing missions and forming significant partnerships. Their Church in Brixton also grew in numbers as more immigrants came to London. During this period Philip met some of the leaders of the Charismatic renewal in Britain such Michael Harper. He also became good friends with Bryn Jones who was one of the pioneers of the House Church Movement. In 1963 Philip, Muriel, Bryn and his wife Edna all travelled as missionaries to Guyana. In Guyana they engaged in Church planting establishing about 100 Churches in total. Bryn and Edna came back to Britain after about three years but Philip and Muriel did not come back until 1983 when they sensed God calling them back to Britain. Their coming back in 1983 was aided by his new friend Dave Tomlinson (one of the pioneers of the House Church Movement and now an Anglican vicar). Philip began to observe that the Black Church in Britain were growing strong and independent at a time when British
evangelicalism through the now called New Churches (formerly House Churches) was also growing strong and relevant but had nothing to do with each other. He became a bridge builder working towards ecumenical partnership between black and white Churches. His ecumenical vision became the blueprint for the founding of the West Indian Evangelical Alliance (WIEA) in 1984. Philip became the first director of WIEA working with Clive Calver, the then General Director of the Evangelical Alliance. Through Philip and the work of WIEA which later became ACEA, the gap that existed between the Black Church and British Evangelicals were bridged.
Philip also founded Connections which is an inter-denominational, multi-racial Apostolic network of Churches in Britain, other parts of Europe, the Caribbean, Africa and South America. Part of the vision of Connections is pioneer evangelism, cross-cultural missions, Church planting, leadership training, relief work and racial reconciliation. Philip through his ministry in the UK has influenced a whole generation of leaders some of whom are now in key and strategic positions. He has influenced the likes of Lovel Bent, UK Connections Apostolic team leader and New Life Assembly’s senior pastor, Joel Edwards, International Director of Micah Challenge International, Mark Sturge, former General Director of ACEA, Ade Omooba, co-founder of Christian Legal Centre (CLC) and Christian Concern for our Nation (CCFON) and the senior pastor of Christian Victory Group, Denis Wade, senior pastor of Micah Church Ministries, Doug Williams, Superintendent of the London Region of the Assemblies of God and many more. After a lengthy illness, at the age of 67 Philip passed away on 26th of November 2004 in London. He is survived by his wife, Muriel, five daughters and many grand children. Philip has written several books including building Bridges (1988), Hands of Jesus, Pioneers or Settlers? (1991), The God Slot and Worlds within Reach (1992). Philip will always be remembered by friends, families and colleagues as a loving father, good husband and a genuine friend. He will also be remembered as an Apostle, pioneer, reconciler, missionary and ambassador.
Philip Mohabir, Building Bridges, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1988.