Churches must affirm holistic witness despite challenging contexts

A group of participants during the opening worship of the Africa Lutheran Church Leadership Consultation, hosted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, 13-17 May, in Moshi, Tanzania. All photos: LWF/ALCINET

LWF President Musa brings greetings to Africa Lutheran Church Leadership Consultation

(LWI) – The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member churches in Africa have received messages of gratitude and encouragement for their untiring and vibrant witness to God’s mission in spite of increasing social, political and economic setbacks.

Convening under the 2019 Africa Lutheran Church Leadership Consultation (ALCLC), 13-17 May, in Moshi, Tanzania, delegates from the 31 LWF member churches are focusing on the theme “Rethinking Holistic Mission in Africa Today.” Hosted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) the meeting is the first gathering of representatives from all the 31 LWF member churches in the region since the 2017 Twelfth Assembly in Windhoek, Namibia.

In her opening address, the LWF Vice-President for Africa Rev. Dr Jeannette Ada Epse Maina, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cameroon, offered encouragement to churches and delegates at the consultation who had been directly affected by insecurity and crises around the continent, including the recent deadly cyclones in Southern Africa. “We believe that if the said realities are bad, instead of creating resentment in you, [they] will on the contrary, be a source of inspiration that will help us to rethink our mission in its context,” she said.

The 120 participants at the ALCLC comprise heads of churches (bishops and presidents), women and youth leaders, LWF Council members, representatives of networks for theological education, confronting poverty and economic injustice, and communications, as well as ecumenical guests.

LWF Vice-President for Africa Rev. Dr Jeannette Ada Epse Maina, during her opening address.

Maina emphasized LWF’s appreciation for the gathering, saying, “this encounter following Easter is an opportunity to rejoice in the life given graciously by God and to reflect together on the ways and methods of defining our common walk.” She described the meeting also as "an occasion to celebrate the risen Christ in his holistic dimension.”

Holistic mission is a central theme of the LWF and its member churches, putting emphasis on carrying out God’s work through proclamation (preaching), diakonia (service) and advocacy.

Mission trajectory in Africa

Maina delivered special greetings from LWF President Archbishop Dr Panti Filibus Musa, Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria (LCCN), who offered his prayers that the consultation would provide delegates “renewed vigor and enthusiasm of being and remaining a missional church with untiring commitment to the sustenance of our communion.”

In his message, the president referred to the LWF document Mission in Context | Transformation, Reconciliation, Empowerment and invited churches to use it as a literary tool for in-depth understanding about “our collective and shared view on mission and being a communion in mission.”

The LCCN archbishop cautioned churches against “being caught in the terrible web of racism, xenophobia and violence swirling around issues like migration, human trafficking, poverty and disenfranchisement.” As churches called to God’s mission, he said, “we must affirm that God’s encompassing love, which sustains the world inside the church and beyond, offers humanity the power and purpose for transformation through acts of justice, mercy and peace.”

The president noted that Christianity has been misused to perpetrate injustice, intolerance and violence. Thus, followers of Christ are obliged to seek God’s guidance in renewing and transforming “us for mission that motivates us to engage in genuine peace building, that partners with all humanity, and anticipates the oneness of life shown to us in God’s Spirit.”

Musa wondered whether the time had not come “to articulate afresh a vision of mission that both counters domination, principalities and oppressive forces and speaks to our contextual and existential realities.”

Challenged to be “more engaged and more engaging”

In his sermon at the opening eucharistic service, ELCT Presiding Bishop Dr Fredrick Shoo reminded the participants that the Church of Jesus Christ “has something to offer the world, and that is why we are gathered here to rethink about the holistic mission of the church.”

ELCT Presiding Bishop Dr Fredrick Shoo during his sermon.

Reflecting on the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the ELCT leader said the exchange between the lawyer and Jesus, on which passerby had acted like a neighbor to the injured man, was more about interpreting the content than gaining knowledge. “The command by Jesus to “‘Go and do likewise’” shifted the lawyer from knowing scripture to actually doing it,” Shoo said.

In the same way, he added, the Lutheran church is being challenged “to be more prayerful, more thoughtful, more engaged and more engaging.”

Rev. Dr Hoyce Mbowe, presiding the opening worship.

The opening worship was presided by Rev. Dr Hoyce Mbowe of ELCT’s Tumaini University Makumira Dar-es-Salaam College, assisted by other pastors. Two local choirs accompanied the singing, with intervals of lively performances throughout the service.

The ALCLC agenda includes plenary session discussions on engagement with the LWF Strategy 2019-2024, reflections on the Lutheran understanding of mission, mission as the church’s prophetic voice, and how theological education relates to formation for mission. In small group workshops, participants will discuss ongoing LWF programmatic work in the region including economic empowerment, gender justice, migration, and climate justice.

Choir singing during the opening worship.