On Thursday afternoon delegates were given a real treat – a tour of Nairobi National Park. As our bus made it’s way around the roads of the park we soon came across some stunning sights. First gazelles and hyrax, next a rhinoceros and then even a whole group of giraffes. I’ve been to a few open zoos and safari parks before but the National Park didn’t fail to delight!
It’s an incredible thing to see animals in their natural environment, doing what they do naturally and responding in line with their natural instincts. We had a herd of giraffe walk alongside our convoy and then cross over before it; fantastic shots! We were also faced off by a rhino who, after watching us for a while seemed to decide he had had enough and squared off. The bus moved on quickly after that!
They’re not the only things we’ve seen here in Nairobi just as they should be, not in a faked western presentation. The most overwhelming sense you get from this GAFCON week is that this is how it’s meant to be. There is a genuine sincerity, love and warmth being expressed between delegates that flows out of a genuinely shared commitment to and unity in the Lord Jesus Christ. That unity is being increasingly expressed in a desire to stand together in the issues facing us as a movement and in the wider Communion.
The conference has spent the last 2 days concentrating on “mini conferences” looking at a diverse range of topics. I’ve spent time with others considering the work of the Spirit in the Church. Yesterday we considered the question of spiritual opposition, what it looks like and how Jesus by His Spirit is the stronger man (Luke 11:22) who defeats all demonic opposition. It was truly fascinating to hear from Ugandan Rev Dr Afred Olwa about spiritual warfare in rural Africa. We then broke into small groups and discussed what spiritual opposition GAFCON churches were facing and what might be done about it. What was striking was that although I was in a group dominated by Africans (as you would expect in a conference that accurately reflects the true makeup of the Communion) their concern was first and foremost for the Western churches. The responses of potential solutions was also encouraging. Much of it was grounded in what we might call “word ministry”. There was a deep desire to stand publicly with those who were facing opposition; not just to send bland greetings but genuinely stand in the fire with them (Justin Welby take note). There was also a heartfelt desire to share one with another in partnership in ministry. I’ve spent a lot of time introducing African bishops to the distance learning material from Sydney’s Moore Theological College which is already supporting many dioceses all over the world to train their clergy and laity. Perhaps in the future there’ll be an opportunity to renew those relationships as we extend that partnership.
More personally, I’m struck by the work yet to be done amongst some of us evangelicals in addressing the question of Spiritual warfare. Not one conservative I spoke to doubted in any way the genuine nature of the demonic encounters that Alfred and others were describing, but for many of us we have not yet fully clarified how they manifest themselves in our particular culture. Men like Alfred who have also spent much time in Western culture and academia would be particularly helpful in aiding us in this thought. I certainly know that in ministry I come across things that are quite obviously satanic in origin and I also have no doubt about the total overwhelming victory of Christ over those powers, achieved in His death and resurrection, and yet I think I’m not alone in not yet being rock solid on the interplay of those things. Hopefully we can get a working group together out of our mini conference to think harder about this.
As we do work together it will be yet another expression of the genuine unity we’re experiencing here. Time and time again I’m hearing stories of how different this is to other Communion meetings people have gone to where unity has been institutional and nothing more. “It’s wonderful to be somewhere where those around me really are with me!” said one bishop. “These are my friends” another told me.
Here, then, is the Anglican Communion as it really is. Rich, African, vibrant, genuinely not notionally Christ-centred, determined to support one another and moving forward together. We’re a clearly defined herd, all moving together in the right direction. Perhaps in tomorrow’s statement we’ll also stand like the rhino facing off those who oppose the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
[picture Andrew Gross, ACNA]