Thursday, 13 March 2014

Kwame Bediako (1945 - 2008)

African Theologian and Scholar

Manasseh Kwame Dakwa Bediako was born on 7 July 1945 in Ghana. He was the son of a police inspector and the grandson of a Presbyterian catechist and evangelist. An outstanding pupil, he was able to gain secondary education at Mfantsi-pim School, Cape Coast, founded in the nineteenth century by the British Methodist mission. 

The period of his secondary education coincided with the transformation of the Gold Coast into Ghana, the first of the new African nations, led by Kwame Nkrumah, with his emphatic rejection of Western rule in Africa and high sense of Africa’s past glories and future destiny. Kwame joined the University of Ghana in 1965, set up after World War II with the aim of being an Oxbridge in Africa. 

There he developed as an eloquent orator and debater, a person who could make a mark in politics. He also attained the academic excellence in French that won him a scholarship for graduate studies in France and the promise of an academic career. By this time he was a confirmed atheist under French existentialist influence. In France he gained master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Bordeaux, not surprisingly choosing African Francophone literature as his area of research. 

During his time in France he underwent a radical Christian conversion - so radical that at one stage he thought of abandoning his studies in favour of active evangelism. Happily, he was persuaded otherwise; the time was coming when he would recognize scholarship as itself a missionary vocation.

Kwame’s evangelical convictions and credentials were manifest, but he was wrestling with issues that were not at the front of most evangelical minds, or on the agenda of most evangelical institutions at that time. Could Africans become fully Christian only by embracing the mind-set of Western Christians and rejecting all the things that made them distinctively African? 

Ordinary African Christians daily faced acute theological issues that were never addressed by the sort of theology that apparently served Western Christians well enough. It was not that the theology was necessarily wrong, it simply could not deal with issues that went to the heart of relationships with family, kin, or society, nor deal with some of the most troubling anxieties of those who saw the world in terms different from those of the Western world. 

Africans were responding to the Gospel, and in unprecedented numbers, but the received theology did not fit the world as they saw the world. Great areas of life were thus often left untouched by Christ, often leaving sincere Christians with deep uncertainties. Much evangelical thinking was not engaging with the issues of culture, or was doing so simplistically or superficially.

Over many years Bediako pointed others to Africa’s proper place in contemporary worldwide Christian discourse. He charted new directions for African Christian theology. He laboured so that generations of scholars, confident equally of their Christian and their African identity, might be formed in Africa, and to that end he created a new type of institution where devotion to scholarship and understanding of the cultures of Africa would be pursued in a setting of Christian worship, discipleship, and mission.

These were huge undertakings, and sadly Kwame was to be called from them at the height of his powers, when still full of visions and plans for their implementation, and the institution that was meant to model and facilitate all those visions still in its youth. It would be premature, therefore, to pronounce upon his legacy so soon after he has gone from us. 

All who knew him or his work are still achingly conscious of the gaps caused by his departure, the business unfinished, the books half written, the plants that have budded and blossomed but are yet to bear their intended fruit. His achievements, great as they are, point to a future not yet realized. 

He was both a visionary and a skilful entrepreneur, but he was also an inspirer and encourager of others, holding out a vision for the whole church in Africa and beyond, sending out a call to those who would heed it to dedicate themselves to scholarship as a costly form of Christian service. 

His life, his vision, and his objectives can be set out, but we do not yet know how far others will take up what he has laid down. It is as though we are present at the reading of a will; decades must pass before it will be manifest how others, in Africa and elsewhere, made use of what Kwame Bediako bequeathed to them.
In his quest to establish an institute of scholarship the Akrofi-Christaller Centre for Mission Research and Applied Theology, later called the Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission, and Culture was started in 1987. Its establishment and development lay at the heart of Bediako’s work for the rest of his life.

Any consideration of the life of Kwame Bediako must take account of the institute and the principles on which it was based. Crucial to its purpose was the commitment to Christian scholarship in Africa. Bediako believed that Africa was now, as a result of its experience as a major theatre of Christian mission, a major theological laboratory, with theological work to do that would not and could not be done elsewhere. 

Furthermore, the shift in the centre of gravity of Christianity from the global West to the global South that was such a feature of the twentieth century made the quality of African theological activity a matter of universal, not just continental, Christian concern. Africa needed scholars, and needed them not only for its own sake but also for the sake of the world church.

Kwame Bediako was an outstanding African theologian of his generation. A distinguished academic himself, he knew that academics were not the only theologians, and he drew attention to the informal or, as he would say, implicit theology to be found among people of little formal education. He delighted in the vernacular songs of Madam Afua Kuma, traditional midwife and Pentecostal poet, who sang the praises of Christ in the exalted language of praise songs to traditional rulers. He called them “a liberating force for African academic theology and for the academic theologian.” He did perhaps more than anyone else to persuade mainstream Western theologians and mainstream Western theological institutions that African theology was not an exotic minority specialization but an essential component in a developing global Christian discourse.

His all too few writings will continue their influence, as will his institute’s Journal of African Christian Thought, to which he so often contributed. There are other books that he never completed, rich material lying in those electrifying lecture courses and biblical expositions. But much of his finest work has been written in the lives and thinking of his students, colleagues, and friends, in the concept of the institution he founded, and in the networks he helped to establish, enhance, and maintain. 

It is a rich legacy, much of it prudently invested for future use. Bediako was passionate about the need for African Christians to create an authentic, indigenous African theology which connected both with the historical Christian tradition and also with the realities of life in Africa. He was an ardent promoter of Bible translation into African languages. He was a man of towering intellect, but he didn’t use it to crush others, but to build them up and encourage them. After a serious illness he died on 10 June 2008.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Amy Carmichael (1867 - 1951)

Founder of Dohnavur Fellowship 

“Upon a life I didn't live, upon a death I didn't die; upon another's life, another's death; I stake my whole eternity.”  Click here to see a little bit of Amy Carmichael coverage by BBC.

Kathleen White writes concerning Amy Carmichael, "here is a profound look into the life of Amy Carmichael--pioneer missionary, poet, hymn-writer and author. It is the personal story of one whose simple obedience continues to help change the world."

The eldest of seven siblings, Amy Carmichael was born on the 16 December 1867 in the small village of Millisle, County Down, Northern Ireland. Amy describes her idyllic surroundings as "a little old world village of white washed cottages on the shore of the Irish Sea". She, along with her brothers and sisters were brought up in a loving home environment and were fortunate not to have been exposed to the evils and hardships that many would have faced. Although notorious for her childlike mischievousness, Amy was trained by her Presbyterian parents in Godly principles.

At the age of 15, Amy made a personal decision to follow Christ, and thus accepted Him into her heart and life. Her Father, who had contracted double pneumonia at the age of 54, died from this illness. Amy stayed with her mother at this difficult time at which she developed a heart and passion and dedication to Christian mission work which had significant impact upon the society in which she lived.

 In Victorian Britain, opportunities for women, both in terms of careers and missionary work were limited. In this sense, it seemed unlikely that Amy would become involved in and lead mission in the way that she did. However, it is a joy to know that God is not bound by societal norms and expectations or indeed by individual weaknesses, fears and ailments. As exemplified in Amy’s life, it was out of a love for God that she sought His will continually. It is significant to note that Amy had a real heart and passion for people. Commenting on her elder sister (Amy), Ethel recalls how she was very much concerned with both loving and serving people wherever/whenever opportunity arose.

Amy’s involvement in Christian mission predominantly took place in India, however, her missionary work and training began at home. Unlike the recommendations of mission organisations today, Amy did not undergo an organised training regime prior to being led further afield. Nevertheless, her exposure to and experience of working with a variety of different people within different contexts in the UK helped prepare her for the challenges that she would inevitably face in a completely different culture.

Amy began by gathering the children of the neighbourhood to her home for meetings. She however, was not oblivious to the fact that her previously privileged but sheltered childhood meant that she had limited awareness of the poverty and evils that existed within the society where she lived. Thus, in order to begin to understand more of the context and culture in which she lived Amy, accompanied Henry Montgomery (Belfast City Mission), went through the streets of Belfast on Saturday nights. It was as a consequence of this exposure that she instigated a work, which involved teaching a group of boys in a night school – always concluding with something from the Bible.

Amy’s love for God and others and desire to her share the good news of the gospel with the heathen was stirred up following her attendance of the Keswick convention (1886). Though she was unsure where God would eventually lead her, she longed to be, and indeed was, proactive in fulfilling this calling and responsibility. Significant to note is that Amy did not spend her time being preoccupied with her likely ultimate missionary calling. She worked with people in the slums of Manchester (1889). 

However, the lessons that Amy learned in one place, she was able to apply and further develop in other areas and opportunities of mission. Contrary to Amy’s natural preference and desire to remain within Manchester, she willingly went to reside in Broughton Grange (Lake District – 1890) when invited by Mr Wilson (a Quaker and widower in his 60’s). 

Despite the difficulties and rejection that she faced at times, she learned invaluable lessons here that she was able to use and apply when she finally reached India. Regardless of the geographical location of the Christian mission in which she was involved, Amy’s love and passion for the gospel and her desire to share this with the lost did not change. 

Significantly however, because of the cultural, religious and language differences that Amy encountered first in Japan, then later in India, she knew that barriers would have to be overcome and bridges built if people were to be won for Christ. Amy strongly criticised people who claimed to be Christian missionaries yet merely sought to impose their views norms and cultures to a foreign people in a foreign land. In one of her corresponding letters, Amy wrote that "missionary work was a chance to die".

 Though she did not underestimate the difficulties that she encountered, Amy immediately began learning the language (first Urdu, then Tamil) of the local people. Significant to note is that though Amy sought to relate to the people with whom she was working she was deeply concerned by, and unwilling to adopt, practices and customs that conflicted with her Christian beliefs. This is also a challenge for missionaries within today’s society. As a consequence of her willingness to listen and learn and simply love the people, Amy gained respect and thus her Christian witness had an impact upon the society.

As she had done in her involvement in mission within the context of her own culture, Amy lived a life of faith in India and was very much dependent upon God to supply her need. She was dedicated in her devotional and prayer life and she sought to encourage fellow workers to do likewise. Truly, the way in which Amy related Christian mission to her life context is of great challenge for today. Indeed, her writings continue to influence and inspire the lives of many individuals in relation to Christian mission and the key elements required for it to have an impact upon society.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Jim and Elisabeth Eliot

Today we travel to America to meet yet another bunch of   faithful Christians.

Philip James Elliot was born on 8 October1927, in Portland, Oregon, USA to Fred and Clara Elliot with three siblings. His father was an evangelist and his mother practised medicine. The many missionaries who visited his home whilst he was growing up proved to be an important influence in his life and Jim received the Lord as saviour when he was eight years old.

 After graduating from high school, Jim's brother recommended Wheaton College to him and he entered this Christian college in 1945. It was there that he met and cemented a strong friendship with Pete Fleming. Coming across the statistic that "there is one Christian worker for every 50,000 people in foreign lands, while there is one to every 500 in the United States" he was challenged to think deeply about missions and, after visiting Mexico one summer, he felt his missionary call to South America. In 1948, he was elected the president of the Foreign Mission Fellowship at Wheaton and was part of their Gospel team during the summer. In one of his notebooks he wrote that year, "God, I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life and may I burn for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life, but a full one, like you, Lord Jesus."

 In June, 1950, Jim spent much time in Norman, Oklahoma, where he worked with a former missionary to the Quechua Indians of Ecuador and learned for the first time of the feared Auca Indian tribe. Immediately, Jim felt the call and after ten days of praying, he wrote a letter to Dr. Tidmarsh asking whether he could come to help with the missionary work that had been going on there.

Jim convinced his friend Ed McCully to leave law school and to start mission training and with Pete Fleming they started raising money and getting prayer support. In 1952, Jim and Pete sailed for Ecuador, staying in Quito for six months with a missionary family who helped them learn Spanish accurately and quickly. The men's plan was to locate themselves in an old oil station that has been abandoned because it was considered too dangerous for oil personnel. It was close to the Auca tribe and had a small airstrip. In 1953 Jim married Elisabeth, whom he had met at the college. Their marriage brought among other things a partnership in the translation of the New Testament into the Quechua Indian language.

At Shandia Pete and Jim made contact with the Quechua Indians. Ed and his wife Marilou joined Pete and Jim in Shandia after their six months of Spanish training in Quito. Later Nate Saint and his wife also joined them. Together they built a mission station, a small medical station, a few houses for the missionaries to live in, and a small airstrip, which all took about a year. After all that had been accomplished, the missionaries had their first Bible conference with the Quechua. During the rainy season, a flood came that wiped out everything that they had built during their first year.

 The Auca tribe which was the tribe next to the mission station was known for being a violent and murderous tribe which had no contact with the outside world. The missionaries therefore developed a plan called 'Operation Auca' to try to initiate some contact with them. They started well and seemed to make good progress despite the challenges. At one point before leaving for Auca Jim wrote to his father saying, "…they have never had any contact with white men other than killing. They have no word for God in their language, only for devils and spirits. I know you will pray."

The next day a group of twenty or thirty Aucas attacked them and in although the missionaries were carrying weapons they had decided not injure one Auca. Their bodies were later recovered brutally pierced with spears and hacked by machetes.  When their wives received the news they replied, "The Lord has closed our hearts to grief and hysteria, and filled in with His perfect peace."

 These martyrs are known worldwide and continue to serve as an encouragement for many missionaries. After their deaths, there were many conversions to Christianity among the Indian tribes of Ecuador. After Jim's death, Elisabeth Elliot and her daughter Valerie continued working with the Quechua Indians and later moved to work with the Auca Indians. Forgiveness allowed them to have amazing success with the once murderous Indians.

 Jim Elliot once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."  And true to his words he had given all including his life.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Gladys Aylward

 Gladys Aylward (1902-1970) stands out as an example of how God can use someone of meager means and abilities when they give themselves over to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Gladys was born into a working class family in Edmonton, London, on 24 February 1902, daughter of a mailman and oldest of two sisters and one brother. Unlike many famous Christians in history she did not excel scholastically or exhibit an exhaustive knowledge of the Bible and classic languages but rather her early life was marked with a propensity for play acting and a willingness to serve. God prepares those He calls for the roles they are to play and these propensities were to become contributing factors in her success as God put them to good use.

After working for several years as a parlormaid Gladys attended a revival meeting at which the preacher spoke of dedicating one's life to the service of God. Gladys responded to the message, and soon afterwards became convinced that she was called to preach the Gospel in China. At the age of 26 she became a probationer at the China Inland Mission Center in London but failed to pass their examinations. She worked at other jobs and saved her money. Then she heard of a 73-year-old missionary, Mrs. Jeannie Lawson, who was looking for a younger woman to carry on her work. Gladys wrote to Mrs. Lawson who said she could take on this work if she could get to China. She did not have enough money for the ship fare but did have enough for the train fare so in 1930 she set out from London with her passport, her Bible, her tickets, and two pounds nine pence, to travel to China on the Trans-Siberian Railway, despite the fact that China and the Soviet Union were engaged in an undeclared war.

When Gladys finally arrived in China she joined a seasoned missionary widow to run an inn for mule drivers, in a remote area. They used each evening to tell Bible stories to all who stayed at the inn. Their audiences were quite attentive, as the Chinese loved stories.  The small parlor maid from London learned Chinese from a local mandarin with whom she had an interesting relationship, one filled with mutual respect and challenges. The mandarin even asked her to deal with a prison riot because the head of the prison and the soldiers were afraid. Gladys was able to calm the prisoners down, and she promised she would help to bring about reform so they would have work and more food. In the quiet following the riot one of the men called to her, “Thank you, Ai-weh-deh!”, and this name, meaning 'The Virtuous One', became hers. She even took this as her official name when she became a naturalised Chinese subject in 1936, four years after she arrived in China.

As time passed, Ai-weh-deh's situation changed. She was approached by the local mandarin who wanted her to be responsible for ending the practise of binding the feet of baby girls. This was a great opportunity for Ai-weh-deh. She would then be able to visit many remote villages and preach the gospel to all who would listen. She was given soldiers to protect her and to help her enforce the new law, and she was very successful in this role, becoming well known among the people in the proces.

Gladys practiced her Chinese for hours each day, and was becoming fluent and comfortable with it. When Mrs. Lawson suffered a severe fall, and died only one year after Gladys' arrival in China, Gladys was left to run the mission alone with the aid of the Chinese cook, who was a Christian. Fluent in the language, she began to share the Gospel in surrounding villages and through circumstance, became aware of the many unwanted children. Her missionary work turned in a different direction as she began to care for these unwanted little ones. But her care wasn't limited to children. During those years China was under attack by Japan and many Chinese soldiers were wounded. Her Inn now became a refuge for 20 orphans and as many as 30 to 40 injured soldiers at a time.

In 1947 the new Communist regime took control and Gladys and other missionaries had to leave China. Whilst other missionaries moved to Malaysia and other countries in South East Asia she chose to return to England burdened for the spiritual condition of her native land. She wrote, "England, seemingly so prosperous while other countries passed through terrible suffering at the hands of Communist domination, had forgotten what was all important - the realisation that God mattered in the life of a nation no less than in that of an individual."

In 1958, after ten years in England, she left for Taiwan and started another orphanage. She remained here for the rest of her life serving God by serving His children. She died on 3 January 1970.

"She may have been small in stature at barely five feet tall, but she was a giant of conviction"