Uganda today and the East African Revival

Why we need Ugandan Christians (and why they might need us)

As part of the Wycliffe Hall Mission Week I took a small group of Students to Uganda to work with our sister college Bishop Barham Christian University, Kabale. This is located in the South West corner of Uganda, in the District of Kigezi, just an hour from the border with Rwanda. Kabale is about 7,000 feet above sea level and set in lush rolling hills. The air is a little “thin” and temperatures are less oppressive than in the capital Kampala where we began our journey, although the town centre is bustling, noisy and mucky, with red mud over all the roads and in the air. With a population of 50,000 people, Kabale acts as a district hub for an estimated 2 Million people scattered around the nearby villages.

The location itself is significant. Church Missionary Society missionaries brought Christianity to Uganda in 1877, arriving in Kabale in the early 20thC. The impact of the Gospel was enormously accelerated by the East African Revival which crossed over the border from Rwanda. It was warmly received in Kabale and from here emanated throughout East Africa.

The hub from which so much evangelistic zeal and worship emanated is the site where Bishop Barham Christian University now stands. The theological college students make up a small fraction of the 2,700 University cohort, but the Christian ethos pervades throughout.

We had the great pleasure of preaching in the chapel and nearby in the cathedral, teaching the Ordinands and sharing part of their training experience. We also taught in the local prep school and high school and visited local churches.

Why we need Ugandan Christians

The East African Revival lives on! Evidences of revival are strong, revealed for me in at least the following four ways

  • Worship is at the heart of community life

With African rhythm and harmony all you appear to need in order to sing praise to God is a drum! In fact adding extra amplification and electronic instruments (in my view) tended to distract (plus the electricity supply itself is pretty unreliable!)

The Luganda theme chorus was sung several times at every meeting we attended “Tukutendereza Yesu, Yesu Mwana gw’endiga, omusaayi gwo gunnaazizza, nkwebaza, Mulozi” (“We praise you Jesus, Jesus the Lamb, your blood has cleansed me, Saviour, I praise you”). It is quite complex to sing because of the interlocking harmonies – but the power of the message is evident and heartfelt.

Another aspect of worship is the power of testimony: yes, the preaching is important, but so too is the lived experience of the gathered Christians. A couple of us attended a Testimony and Praise meeting at All Saints Church in Kabale. It was hard for us to follow (all in Luganda) but person after person told their story of God’s mercy and faithfulness, interjected by “Praise the Lord” to which the response is “Amen”! There is power in a living, recent testimony of God’s work in a person’s life.

  • They Pray like they mean it!

Worship and prayer, of course, belong together. But the prayer meetings are worth a mention on their own. We attended the Graduation Ceremony, a rather long and tiring affair, followed by several delightful parties and celebrations. I was very tired and felt a little tetchy at being woken up several times during the night by what I had assumed were student graduation parties. Contrition eventually set in when I realised that what actually woke me was an all-night prayer meeting – marked out by corporate and public repentance and intercession for God to pour out His Spirit again!

Think about how hard it is to revive the traditional midweek parish prayer meeting in England. If we could but encourage some of the urgency, repentance and expectancy that marked these meetings I am a sure that we would delight to gather together as they did.

  • They Demonstrate Sacrificial living

For many Ugandans life is pretty good. There is not the level of poverty which I have witnessed in other East African countries (particularly Tanzania). The land is lush and fertile and the economy in Uganda is growing. Nevertheless, clergy tend to be self-supporting through modest subsistence farming. There is plenty of fresh mango, pineapple and other fruits. But main meals are pretty much the same lunchtime and evening. It’s the “not-the-Atkins diet” – high carb content with Rice, “Irish” potatoes (roasted) and Matoke (cooked bananas) accompanied by a piece of scrawny chicken or chewy beef/mutton. Don’t get me wrong, we were generously and graciously hosted. But we were guests who were humbled by the sacrifices they made for us and mindful of the material trappings which tend to distract us western Christians from simple living.

  • Theirs are Mission-focused Anglican structures

The Diocesan office was a hive of Gospel focussed activity. Bishops, Archdeacons, 5 talents workers, theological college staff and diocesan educators were there to resource the local church, be active in evangelism and church planting. Alongside this was a genuine desire to serve the whole person: education, health, community care and church growth belong together. I guess in a previous generation that was true for England too. Now, it seems, the church looks after the narrow sphere of the “spiritual” whilst the state looks after welfare and other social needs. I think that things are changing in England, but it seems to me that for a long time we have made Gospel preaching the centre of evangelical ministry out of anxiety that we will slip into “social Gospel” (and that has been a real danger). But giving the Gospel feet and hands as well as lips and ears is surely something we need to learn again from brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

Why might Ugandan Christians need us?

Do we have anything to offer to Christians in Uganda? Not much, I think. But, they are keen for genuine partnership with us and it was great to be able to sit down with the Principal of Bishop Barham and confirm our mutual commitment to giving and receiving from each other in partnership.

Here are three things which with which I think we can be of some assistance.

  • Training

Even the undergraduate theology students who came with me were able to provide good pedagogical assistance to the college. Having enjoyed full time “High” School and, generally, undergraduate study in a non-theological discipline, and now completing another BA or higher in theology, they were able contribute to classroom conversation. Education is a gift! I come away from time spent preaching and teaching in Africa realising how fortunate I am to have been surrounded by such good teaching – which can easily be shared. And, they are eager to receive it!

  • Resources

The internet possibilities are opening up in East Africa with occasional wifi access, internet cafes and a computer lab in the library. Thanks to the generosity of Wycliffe Hall Students (and a generous charity baggage allowance!) we were able to take nearly 200 books for staff and students and a new laptop computer with logos software and office suite for the use of the teaching faculty. In England, we are spoilt for resources and when we share them, they are grateful! This extends to our time too. Short-term missions cannot achieve very much, but medium (3-6 months) or longer term is a great way to share your gifts with the wider church.

  • Preparing to live in a Post-colonial/post-Christian nation

I hesitate to write this point. What I mean by it is that colonial influence, whilst largely positively received in Africa, is an embarrassing topic in western culture, not least because of some the baggage we exported. Are the Anglican structures we exported the best way to manage an African group of Churches? Is it really necessary for Africans to wear a heavy, hot cassock and surplice to lead a service? These are relatively minor points, of course.

More significant though is the conversation about life the other side of Revival. Praise God for the evidences of its continuation. However, as we often say, God has no grandchildren.

I had a delightful hour helping an excellent female ordinand with her final project before graduating from Bishop Barham. She asked me for advice on how to go about evangelism. My initial reaction had something to do with grandmas and sucking eggs. But she had hit upon an area which with which I think we might be able to help.

Evangelism, for Ugandans is very much Church based, consisting of inviting people in to hear the preaching of the Clergy. In our post-Christian country we have realised that this is not necessarily the most effective strategy. Through the successes of “Alpha” and “Christianity Explored” we have seen that effective evangelism is not only a matter of explaining the Gospel clearly, but also of doing so on the territory of the non-believer. Although I would very much hesitate to recommend a strictly teetotal culture to do their evangelism in their local bar (nothing like a British pub, really!), the challenge to meet non-Christians where they are, is important.

It may well be out of desperation that we have arrived at innovative non-church evangelism. But, we now know that evangelism happens outside the boat, in the secular sea around us, seeking to drag as many souls aboard as possible. Out of necessity, we have been evangelistically innovative

Having said that, I found myself saying on more than one occasion: “Please pray for us because many of those who sacrificed greatly to bring the Gospel to you no longer believe it… we need you to remind us of the things we once believed”.

Our visit to Uganda was a wonderfully enriching experience and it was a great joy to be reminded that though cultures and nations separate us, what we have in Jesus Christ binds us to other Christians more than anything else.

 

  • I am very grateful to Jovahn Turyamureeba (Vice Principal Bishop Barham University College) for his book “The East African Revival and its impact on my life”, from which I have drawn several insights for this article
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GAFCON2 reflections, Nairobi, October 2013

Reflections from Nairobi, October 2013, Simon Vibert

GAFCON2 (the Global Anglican Fellowship Conference) has just finished.

Choosing Nairobi as a venue has caused considerable anxiety over recent months. The airport was nearly destroyed by fire in the summer and the Somali Islamist group al-Shabab attacked the Westgate shopping Mall only a matter of weeks before the start. However, I am so grateful that it was held here.

Our hosts, All Saints Cathedral and Archbishop Wabukala, have done such a marvellous job, both in their welcome to us and the exemplary organisation.

I was not present in Jerusalem in 2008 for the first such global conference. I sense that the movement has gone from strength to strength since then. There were nearly 1300 delegates, 331 of whom are Bishops, and 27 Anglican Provinces. There has been a great spirit of unity among the 120+ UK delegates, although it is sobering to note that there were more Nigerian Bishops than the entire UK contingency!

The week began with a presentation of the impact of the East African Revival which swept Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and beyond, in the 1930s. I was deeply moved to hear of the key themes of brokenness, calls to repentance, Christ-centredness and visibly changed lives through the work of the Holy Spirit in individuals and communities.  In the 1970s these key themes were rediscovered and a new wave of revival swept through East Africa.

It was fitting that our closing Holy Communion service incorporated an extended time of individual and corporate confession and repentance. Whilst the Jerusalem Declaration rightly makes the following point (no 13):

 “We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.” (http://fca.net/images/uploads/jerusalemdeclaration.pdf)

 a notable feature of this conference has been the reminder that all of us need to repent as a necessary component of expecting God’s blessing, and also to do this together in corporate worship.

 Others will write more extensively on the conference (see http://gafcon.org/conferences/nairobi-2013) these are some of my highlights:-

  • The daily expositions from Paul’s letter to Ephesians have been of a very high quality and also they have been very pertinent. Paul reminds the Ephesian Christians that the unity they have in Christ transcends racial, sexual and religious boundaries. Christ achieved peace and reconciliation at the cross. This has been demonstrated so powerfully in the multi-cultural diversity of the conference delegates which finds a unity in Christ Jesus.
  •  An excellent and perceptive address was delivered by Dr Mike Ovey (Principal, Oak Hill College). I particularly resonated with his comment that liberal-minded preachers today think that they are being prophetic when their message chimes in with the dominant agenda of the culture. The hallmark of prophetic preaching, rather, is to faithfully preach God’s word, perhaps particularly when it challenges the prevalent pagan world-view.
  • I was amused to be told by a Nigerian Bishop that if they want to punish an errant cleric they send them off to teach in a theological college, which made me wonder what I have done wrong! This attitude also reveals a rather concerning under-appreciation and under-investment in theological education, a dominant theme of the conference.
  • We enjoyed a tremendous unity among British delegates discussing the UK scene and possible implications of the soon-to-be released Pilling Report. My own sense is that the AMiE (Anglican Mission in England) will continue to provide assistance with some of the tricky, albeit relatively isolated, problematic issues in England. At the same time, a broader conversation about the possible ramifications of a revision of the Church of England’s position on Homosexual conduct would have huge implications. For me, and for many others at the conference, this would reflect a departure from the clear teaching of the Bible and would lead to a fracturing of relationships within the denomination. It was particularly good to hear from British Bishops, all of whom feel intense pressure in seeking to maintain biblical convictions in a hostile culture. We prayed for them and pledged our support.
  • It was great to meet so many people whilst on the Wycliffe Hall stand. There was considerable interest in theological education, although for many delegates the expense and disruption of full time study would be difficult. However, it seems to me that Wycliffe Hall’s place as an excellent centre for undergraduate and postgraduate study and the commitment to training a new generation of evangelical leaders is critical. Nevertheless, I am also convinced that more short courses, accessible and cheap publications, as well as taking up invitations to teach around the world, will continue to be a great stewardship of our rich resources.
  • The process of arriving at the final words of the Nairobi Communiqué and Commitment was complex in recognising the need to:
    • Speak for Global Anglicanism;
    • Be aware of the varied (some negative, but many very positive) experiences of working within the Church of England.

    The final wording of the statement was greeted with much enthusiasm and thanksgiving (see http://gafcon.org/conferences/nairobi-2013)

  • I had a very stimulating lunchtime conversation with the Nairobi Cathedral Development Officer who gave some great insights into the troubles in Sudan and Somalia. He believes that Sudan will arrive at a peaceful settlement when the border issues are resolved (although this may take time). He believes the Somalian problems will go on much longer, mainly, he says because of the small Christian influence there. “In their language”, he told me “there are no words to say ‘I forgive you’, the only way you recompense is by paying a fine.” He urged me to pray for Christian growth in Somalia.

It is rare to come back from conferences like this feeling refreshed and energised. Yes: GAFCON2 was exhausting and the days were long and the politics continues to be complicated. But overall I feel nourished, encouraged and prayerful. I am hopeful that this will last! Thank God for the health of the world-wide body of Christ!

with great thankfulness to John Stott

This post is inspired by three unrelated events, but each of which are influenced by John Stott:-

I am in Osijek, Croatia, and about to begin teaching a one week Langham Preachers seminar.  It is nothing other than John Stott’s vision to train a new generation of preachers who will faithfully expound the word of God that has brought me here. Dick Lucas and the Proclamation Trust have probably had the greatest influence on expository preaching in the UK. But in terms of world-wide impact, none surpasses the spread of influence of John Stott. Those who heard him preach noted his disciplined, almost dogged, determination to bring out the meaning of the biblical text such that the hearer really felt as if they had heard the last word about it. But it was not dry or academic because it was heart warming and always Christ and cross focussed.

Secondly, over the Christmas break I have been reading “John Stott: A portrait by his friends”, Chris Wright (ed, IVP, 2011).  I have already reviewed Roger Steer’s excellent biography of Stott, but this portrait intends to be different. For some readers it will be the first time they see the humanity of our evangelical luminary.  Key themes reoccur throughout the book: his mischievous sense of humour; his deep humility; his rigorous self-discipline; and above all, his Christ-likeness. Indeed, how fitting that his last platform message should be on precisely this topic (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qGHSBZph3g)

Thirdly, from 11th – 15th June 2012, Wycliffe Hall will be hosting an exciting conference on “Charles Simeon, John Stott and the Expository Method”.  We shall be looking at the legacy of these two great british preachers and consider the benefits of their preaching for a contemporary audience.  In particular, I am keen that we answer the question: “is expository preaching a transferable method and can it be done well by the average preacher?”  If you are a preacher, I hope that you can come.  More at SoP leaflet 2 and www.wycliffe.ox.ac.uk.

So, I am truly am grateful to God for this remarkable man of God who, through his wit, wisdom and winsomeness has influenced many for good.  But, as John Stott would be the first to remark: all glory and thanks goes to God.

The 3 pages of the sermon

I have been teaching students at Wycliffe Hall about “homiletical form”.

I may have a particularly cluttered mind, but one area of preaching used to be troublesome for me.  As I poured over the passage I would end up with reams of jottings which included

  • exegetical thoughts on the passage;
  • possible central themes arising from the biblical passage;
  • possible anecdotes/illustrations
  • a “hook” into the sermon and possible applications;
  • alliterative or numbered points for the sermon;

In order to declutter my thinking I have come up with “3 pages of the sermon”

  • on one page I write down all my thoughts on the passage;
  • on the second page I write down possible illustrations, applications, introductions and conclusions;
  • on the third page I write down a tentative outline including an “exegetical theme” (single sentence summary of the biblical passage) and “homiletical theme” – sometimes called “the big idea” (single sentence summary of the sermon);

Then comes the time to try to distill the three pages into one.  For the sermon I preached on Luke 17:20-37 recently it ended up looking liks this http://www.simonvibert.com/Luke_1720_37_notes.pdf.  This is a detailed outline of the sermon.  After this it is a matter of taste as to whether a full text is then written (certainly a good discipline for new preachers) or whether these notes are used as the outline from which to preach the sermon.  An audio recording of the preached sermon may also be found on my website http://www.simonvibert.com/Luke1720_31.mp3.

Other’s may have a much more coherent and logic mind which enables a separation out of the discreet parts of sermon preparation, but it doesn’t work that way for me, hence this methodology.

To put the same principle another way round:

  • First isolate the heart of the passage and locate the heartbeat;
  • Secondly, overlay this heartbeat with a skeletal structure for the sermon;
  • Thirdly, overlay this with the flesh or meat of the sermon;
  • Fourthly, dress it up so it is ready to go (with illustration, application etc.)

I hope that this may help preachers arrive at clarity in the prepartion process.

uniting the rocket scientist the whale and hollywood

I have just got back from a week in Los Angeles.  I was there with fellow Wycliffe Tutors Richard Turnbull and Peter Walker.

First we led a day’s Preaching Conference at St James’ Newport Beach for local clergy, then an overnight teaching event for the congregation at St James’.  I preached the three morning services on “the ordinary and extraordinary nature of Paul’s conversion”  (1 Timothy 1:12-17).  Listen here http://stjamesnb.org/content/sermon-rev-dr-simon-vibert

I spent a very fruitful and encouraging time with Professors at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles discussing mutual interest alongside the possibility of Wycliffe being a home for American postgraduates studying in the University (http://www.biola.edu/).  

Next, a short visit to the marvellous “Ecclesia” Church which meets in a theatre on Hollywood Boulevard – what a great location to reach out with the Gospel (see http://www.churchinhollywood.com/).

Church politics is complex!  St James’ has left the Episcopal Church and is now  part of the Diocese of Western Anglicans, in the Province of the Anglican Church in North America under the oversight of Archbishop Robert Duncan.  They are in protracted legal dispute over rights to the property.  Horrible.  But it is so heartening to meet prayerful, godly, sacrificial people in this congregation who are keen to look outwards with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I hope we encouraged them in this great mission.

I left the West Coast with a sense of thankfulness that the Gospel of Jesus Christ unites believers across cultures and down the ages.  Links with Wycliffe are further encouraged by several members who have been to our Summer Schools and the possiblity of Seminarians coming here for short study stints (www.wycliffe.ox.ac.uk)

And, oh yes, I had a great sail with courtesy of a retired rocket scientist and, along with dolphins, sea lions and pelicans, got a brief glimpse of a Whale!

Try Something New Today?

What is Vocation?

Vocation is a slippery word. It derives from a Latin word meaning “call”. There was a time when only the “Priest” was thought to be called. “Every member ministry” has been much more the catch phrase in recent decades. But the concept of vocation is often extended much further in modern parlance to mean anyone who works but does not get paid!

So: What is vocation? Do we all have one? How does that relate to ordained ministry?

Conversion and Calling

The primary call of every believer is to faith, leading to conversion. The needy sinner calls out to God for salvation. But more, the gracious Father calls to us to hear and heed his invitation: “As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” (Rom 9:25).

For some there is also a secondary calling to ministry. For me, conversion and ministry were very much tied up. I was so enthusiastic as a new convert that I assumed that I would spend the rest of my Christian life working for God in some sort of full time paid capacity. But, for many people, the call to ministry is a separate and subsequent call in which God clearly directs the individual into some new acts of ministry and service. And, of course, for many more people calling means serving God in every sphere of life and work.

Try Something New Today

Vocations Sunday is an excellent annual reminder that all Christian believers are “called” to ministry. But for some it might also be a time to hear God’s call to a particular ministry. Recent Sainsbury adverts use the slogan: “try something new today”. The adverts hope to incite shoppers with a sense of adventure and impulsiveness. Give this a try, you might like it! It is also hoped that, having tried something new, you might just stick with it.

An Audience with God

How is your appetite for ministry and service? Vocations Sunday may give you a chance to “suck and see”. But ultimately vocation is a God-thing. It is not about the jobs we do; it is not about the roles we fulfil; it is not about our sense of fulfilment. Rather, as Os Guinness wisely wrote in his Christian classic The Call, vocation is all about living before “an audience of one”. Yes, we serve men and women. Yes, we flourish when we are affirmed and encouraged in our ministry. But, for vocation to be vocation it requires an acute sense that all we do is in God’s presence and is to be for His glory. He is the only audience which matters.

Equipping for Ministry

Those of us who have the privilege of training men and women for the misapplied phrase “full time Christian ministry” are familiar with the word “formation”. The mind needs to be challenged and stretched. So academics are involved. There are skills to be developed: preaching, counselling, evangelism etc. So ministry is involved. But there is also the need for personal and spiritual formation. For what God does through us seems to be inextricably tied to what God does in us. The most useful Christian ministers are those who have their lives God-oriented. Vocation is all to do with being called by the Son, equipped by the Spirit and God-glorifying and honouring throughout.

Spectacle Frames and Skeletal Outlines

Spectacle Frames and Skeletal Outlines

We had a great Study Morning with the Students at Wycliffe Hall last week. NT tutor Justin Hardin, Doctrine Tutor Benno Van DenToren and I to bring our integrated thinking to apply academic learning, spiritual formation and ministerial training from 1 Peter. My job was to do a “walk through” sermon from first read of the text to final form.

Sometimes I detect a little impatience when we discuss matters of structure and homiletical form. Surely we need to get on with the task of preaching the message of the bible and spend less time on homiletics?

But I have become increasingly convinced that form and content belong together. The skeleton of the sermon should not be protruding the flesh, but without any bones and support structure the body if formless and lifeless.

As I have mentioned elsewhere (see http://www.Simonvibert.com) Spurgeon was a master at the art of structuring and simplifying skeleton sermon outlines, producing over 12,000 of them, still in print. I have always felt that John Stott is brilliant at this task, always leaving me with a sense that his sermon has said all that needs to be said about the passage, helping me see it with a new clarity.

To illustrate: I am not very good at looking after my glasses. When they are well cared for and not scratched I hardly notice that I am wearing them. However, at the moment, I have bent one arm and scratched the right lens. The consequence of this clumsiness is that rather than seeing through the lens I am forever noticing the scratch. And rather than having clear focus on objects in front of me I have very aware that I need to wiggle the arm around to get a clear view.

A similar clumsiness at the stage of sermon construction can mean that the congregation is distracted from the content of the biblical passage by the lack of focus in the sermon outline. Instead of seeing the passage clearly, the structure distracts.

If the preacher states: “Rejoice despite trials” (1 Peter 1:6-7) the well educated congregation knows this to be true but fails to connect this with the specific flow of Peter’s thought.

If, on the other hand the preacher says: “Welcome trials and testing because like gold, your faith is precious. God will allow faith to be tested through suffering to make it pure.”

This task of pressing for clarity in the homiletical outline is a gift to the congregation. It enables them to concentrate on how the ancient bible passage applies to contemporary life. Good preachers structure sermons in such a way that the framework supports the bible message and enable congregations to focus their gaze on the God who speaks through his living Word.