Witnesses to God’s Grace in Africa
By John Calhoun
“We give you all the glory! We worship you, O Lord, you are worthy to be praised!”
This song of joy and thanksgiving served as the closing anthem to a recent meeting of Global Ministries missionaries in Johannesburg, South Africa. From February 5-10, 2016, nearly 70 missionaries from four continents serving in 14 countries across Africa gathered in this thriving metropolis for a week of worship, fellowship, study, and consultations with Global Ministries executives and other staff.
This month, Global Ministries missionaries, staff, and friends gathered for a group shot during a weeklong meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, where nearly 70 missionaries from four continents came together for worship, fellowship, and consultations with Global Ministries executives and other staff. Photo: Courtesy of Rev. John Calhoun
Held at Emseni Christian Center, a retreat community operated by the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, the gathering offered missionaries and their families an opportunity to rest and reflect on their ministries. Each morning began with a time of worship and prayer led by missionaries from a particular region of Africa, who incorporated traditions of their region. Throughout each day, missionaries gathered together in small groups to pose and answer challenging questions related to mission service, such as: What is our mission theology? How do we define and live out our guiding principles of mission? Do our lives reflect the love of Christ for the world?
Like many who serve the church in mission, United Methodist missionaries living in Africa face hardships and difficulties that at times challenge their commitment to service. Throughout the gathering, time was set aside for missionaries to share their stories, to witness to one another God’s unfailing love and grace, and to testify to remarkable acts of charity that have sustained their spirits over the years. During one time of sharing, a missionary pilot serving in Democratic Republic of Congo told one such story:
I was asked to fly my plane to a remote village to deliver supplies to the local population. Not wanting to be a burden to the community, I packed enough food and water to last me five days. During the first few days of my visit to the village, I found myself sharing my clean water with many people in need. By the fourth day, I was nearly out of water, and thus it was time for me to cut my visit short and fly home. When I told the local elders, they asked me not to leave early, that they would provide me with water. By the end of the day, I was given a supply of clean water to last the rest of my visit. I don’t know where they got this water, for they did not have a nearby spring! But somehow, out of their own scarcity, they gave to me in abundance. I will never forget their generosity and love!
The gathered missionaries also found support and encouragement in their engagement with the local Methodist community. On Sunday, the missionaries divided up and worshiped with three local Methodist congregations. In these churches, pastors and laity prayed for the missionaries, offering blessings and thanksgiving in the name of God for their Christian service. Throughout the gathering, 10 laywomen from the Germiston Methodist Church joyfully provided guidance and care for the nearly 30 children of the gathered missionaries. Additionally, the Rev. Dr. Lumka Sigaba, a local Methodist pastor and counselor, led a Bible study based on 2 Kings and the story of Elisha’s service as a missionary of God.
A deeply moving experience was the group’s visit to the Apartheid Museum. This museum recounts the tumultuous history of race relations in South Africa: the initial separation of the races, the establishment of the apartheid regime, the rise of black consciousness and the protest movement, and the triumphant release of Nelson Mandela and his election as the nation’s first fully democratically elected president. The museum also refers to the heroism of church leaders who resisted the apartheid movement. Such leaders included the Rev. Peter Storey, an outspoken bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa who played a significant role in the anti-apartheid movement and helped promote the peaceful transition to democracy. The visit to this important museum provided a profound reminder of the power of telling the truth and seeking justice.
Having been uplifted by these inspirational encounters, and with the joyful words of the anthem still ringing in our ears, our closing worship service concluded with a benediction offered by the Rev. Judy Chung, Global Ministries associate general secretary for missionary services. And with the blessing of the Triune God upon us, we departed South Africa to return to our places of service, further inspired to fulfill the mission of our United Methodist Church: Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!
The Rev. John Calhoun is a missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church. He is serving as mission advocate for the Northeastern Jurisdiction in the United States.