My name is Jonathan, and my dream is to be a pastor. Tosin and I met several weeks ago when he and I sat next to each other on a plane flying to Cape Town. Several people from my church in Seattle were going to evangelize at the University of Cape Town together with other Christians there. In total, we had over two hundred conversations with University of Cape Town students and saw six people get saved.
Ever since I made this commitment that I wanted to be a pastor, the Holy Spirit has a track record with me of placing me next to extraordinary individuals and having unforgettable conversations. I can’t step on planes anymore without finding myself in conversation with people like that, where I can see so clearly that the Spirit has arranged what my pastor calls a “divine appointment” for me to give something and receive something special in the short time we have traveling together. In this case, the Spirit gave me Tosin!
The first moment of my trip which set it all in motion was a lengthy conversation I had with Tosin as soon as our first meal was brought out. I learned very quickly how much he loves the Lord. I was very interested in his academic background, since I have had my own academic aspirations even though my heart is currently set on ministry. We encouraged each other. We prayed for each other, and he got to sow seeds of prayer into me and my team. But most of all, I was interested in hearing about South Africa and Tosin’s heart for the African continent. I wanted a “state of the Church” briefing for the African context, and I can think of no one better to give it than Tosin.
Throughout the trip, I saw Tosin’s warnings reflected in my experience on campus at UCT. At one point my team was praying in front of one of the residence halls to see if the Spirit would give us vision for what these students were struggling with. Several of us got impressions that converged in one dark direction: aimlessness.
My team was entirely comprised of Americans. In America, the air you breath is (under normal conditions) the hope of the American Dream. People aspire to greater things in life than wealth. They believe their life, their family, their vocation, can all make a positive impact on global society. Even if it is a small contribution, we are used to experiencing how meaningful it is, even if from a secular perspective that hope is ultimately in vain.
But in Africa, there is no American Dream. The air is different. The African conscience is seared by the absolute divide between poverty and wealth. The students’ hopes are far closer to the ground, barely hovering above nihilism and hedonism. Many UCT students take six years or more to complete their undergraduate degrees, not because of the inherent difficulty of their classes, but so often because of their own flaccid motivation and penchant for partying. Those were the students we spoke to.
I am very aware as an American that the Christian faith is receding in my country. Seattle, my home, is one of the most secular parts of the United States. We certainly have our own struggles with nihilism and hedonism. But even here, I am aware everyday that the civilization I am living in has been penetrated by Christianity (in various ways) for thousands of years. Christianity certainly has a millennia-old heritage in Africa as well, but in very important ways Africa is still a Christianizing continent in a way North America certainly is not. Over 5% of Africans are still following polytheistic faiths. In Africa, the Church is a bright light growing faster than in America or any Western nation. But it is sadly the only light. Beyond limbs of Christ’s Body, the public sphere in Africa is breathing different air. Noxious fumes, it seems.
Yet this comes with its own opportunities that Christians in America and Africa must be aware of. Jesus’ dream for the Church was that it would be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” Rarely has this vision been realized. So often it is the world that is draining us of our saltiness or blotting us out with light pollution. Jesus’ dream was for a people whose way of life differs so starkly from everyone surrounding—where the Church pulls society upward as the world sinks down. It is an enormous vision whereby the Church is to lead society itself.
American Christians have a harder time believing in this vision than most nations. We are incessantly distracted by competing visions of our nation’s leadership that do not come from the Church. They come from politicians and celebrities and multinational corporations. And churches so often prostrate themselves under those boots. We abdicate leadership for the society we live in.
This is not so in the African context. Any Christian with eyes there can see that the Church is the only light in a dark world. The public political and economic solutions are so obviously untenable. The only task at hand is to convince non-Christians to see with those eyes. We need to declare to the world that the political solutions, the wealth, the pleasures, the dreams—they will all fail. We are always at a crossroads. The way of Jesus is one branch of the fork. Aimlessness, corruption, and noxious fumes fill the other.
Christians normally think in these terms at the individual scale. But we must think much bigger. Society itself must be led by Jesus or it will not be led. In the words of William Penn, “Men must be governed by God or they will be ruled by tyrants.” I wonder—I know I must take decades more to confirm if this is true—I wonder if God is raising up generations of African ministers to declare this message. It is in that sense that the corruption and inequality and everything Tosin described to me on that plane are to become advantages for the Church. I can think of no better set of conditions for the preaching of the Gospel. No wonder the churches are filling up in Cape Town.
Article was written by Jonathan Hayes