purpose is to work with Kwong Christians and churches in such a way as to assure
the long-term viability of the Kwong church.
do this in four ways:
seek to establish a gospel tradition among the Kwong that is Biblical,
appealing, coherent, and vernacular.
seek to establish a tradition of transmitting the gospel tradition to future
seek to rid the Kwong church of traditions disfavorable to the continuation
of the gospel tradition.
seek to broaden the penetration of Kwong society with the gospel tradition.
work with Kwong Christians and churches:
part of our purpose statement acknowledges the reality that there are Kwong
Christians organized in churches, and affirms our intention to collaborate in
the closest possible way with them in everything we do. This affirmation simply
validates what we as a field already stated in our 1998 vision statement - that
we do “all in partnership with the existing national church”.
assure the long-term viability of the church:
is the crux of our purpose statement. It assumes that there is already a church
in existence, but that its future and durability is an open question - indeed the
question. This is an African reality whose significance is not comparable to
many of TEAM’s other fields. Planting churches in Africa is easy. Planting enduring
churches in Africa is altogether another story. The combined threats of
syncretism, Islam, materialism among the young, AIDS, and oil exploration, not
to speak of a culture opposed in almost every detail to the ideals of the Gospel
mean that the sustainability of any church is truly tenuous. One need only hear
the appeals of national church leaders for the re-evangelization of formerly
“Christian” areas of Chad to find empirical justification for the inherent
pessimism of this statement.
We do this in four ways:
four ways we specify here will sound a little funny at first reading with their
repeated references to a “gospel tradition.” Let us explain. It has been our
observation that traditions are the only things that endure in Africa. Buildings
fall into ruin, projects and programs go bankrupt, seminars (an African
favorite) are soon forgotten, books are eaten by termites, and people die. But
traditions continue from generation to generation - a blessing or curse to their
keepers. So when we speak of the long-term viability of anything in Africa, we
are speaking automatically of traditions. The church is no exception in this
respect, and it is for this reason that we cast our ministry among the Kwong in
terms of developing what we call a “gospel tradition”.
we mean by a “gospel tradition” is more than gospel theology. It is a body
of teaching expressed in characteristic vocabulary which is joined to a set of
characteristic attitudes, practices, and a body-politic. Taken together, these
elements form what we are calling a “gospel tradition.” An historical
example would be the Puritanism - which meant something much more than just
Puritan doctrine. It was a whole mindset and attitude, together with unique
customs and practices. It is therefore in view of developing just such a gospel
tradition unique to the Kwong that we express the 4 means by which we hope to
help assure the long-term viability of the church. They are, respectively:
establishment of a gospel tradition with the following characteristics:
it is Biblical
- A Biblical tradition is no more durable than a non-biblical one, but if
it is to be a “gospel” tradition, then it must find it’s substance
in the Scriptures.
This validates our efforts to translate the
This validates our persistent efforts to
teach the Scriptures - both in discipleship classes, and in preaching.
it is appealing
- the gospel is, and should be “good news.” An appealing tradition
will more likely endure than a discouraging one, such as the legalism
which dominates much of the Chadian church today.
This affirms our efforts in setting before
people (among other things less perhaps appealing - e.g. sin) the beauty and
glory of God, the poignancy of the atonement, the power of the Spirit over sin
in this age, and the glories to be revealed in the age to come.
it is internally
coherent. By virtue of
their chronological arrangement, The Firm Foundations and Kingdom of God
materials offer an internal coherence that traditional believe-and-receive
expressions of the gospel lack. Such coherence is essential to an enduring
gospel tradition in Africa.
This suggests that we are on the right track
with the Kingdom of God series.
the full power of the language and culture. Such a gospel tradition is
cherished by its keepers, and is articulated with the maximum of clarity
and poignancy. Such a cherished, clear, poignant tradition is more likely
to endure than one expressed using the least common denominator of the
This validates our continuing efforts to
develop a vernacular theology.
This suggests that if we spent more time on
linguistic research it would be time well-spent.
This suggests that we should reinforce our
program of personal language development
establishment of a tradition of transmission of the gospel tradition to
This statement assumes the obvious: that we as missionaries can only
inculcate one generation with the gospel tradition - the one alive during
the 20 or 30 years of our ministry. It further assumes, presumptuously
perhaps, that we succeed in the effort. What we affirm here is that leaving
to chance the transmission of this tradition to succeeding generations is an
unacceptable gamble. We are obliged, if we want to assure the long-term
viability of the Kwong church, to develop with Kwong Christians a tradition
of transmitting the gospel to their children and young people in both family
and ecclesiastical contexts. Failure to do so is to see our efforts in this
generation potentially come to naught in the next. We have done nothing in
this regard to date.
This suggests we should develop a tradition
of parents teaching their children - something where we show them what to, or
have something at the church in the evenings with parents and kids.
It might also suggest that we get involved
in the Sunday School program - something which already has the status of a
“tradition” but which is bereft of any structure or materials.
It might also suggest some kind of
confirmation class or youth group. Such a program must be able to function with
no money - a fault of the JEA program already in Chad.
the Kwong church of traditions disfavorable to the continuation of the
There are societal values endemic in the church which, notwithstanding an
appealing, coherent, Biblical gospel tradition to the contrary, threaten the
long-term viability of the Kwong church. Among these are: a preoccupation
with the dead to the detriment of the living; an unwillingness to think
which metastasizes into the inability to do so; the systematic educational
deprivation of young girls resulting in an appalling dullness to the gospel
in grown women; the almost total capitulation of the church in matters of
discipline to cultural norms; and a complete breakdown of traditional sexual
values - and this in an age where AIDS renders the whole notion of
transmitting the gospel tradition to the next generation a moot point. There
simply won’t be a next generation. The depth and perniciousness of these
traditions suggest that it will require persistent teaching over many years
to reverse them and replace them with traditions conducive to long-term
viability of the Kwong church.
This suggests to us that we need to be here
in Kwong land a very long time, if we want to see some of these deadly
traditions reversed. We are beginning to think in terms of staying in Kwongland
until we retire.
It also suggests that we will need much more
ecclesiastic authority than has been given us to effect such changes.
It suggests that we should be using print
and radio media to propagate right thinking about many of these issues which
hithertofore we have ignored - eg AIDS.
It suggests that we should start a school to
teach young women to think.
It suggests that maybe the only way to
develop within the church a tradition of thinking is to begin with small
children and “raise” them to adulthood, effectively establishing for them
and their progeny a new tradition of intellectual and moral possibilities and
It validates our efforts at starting a
literacy program among the women.
the penetration of Kwong society by the gospel tradition
In a situation such as that of the Kwong where Christians are a miniscule
proportion of the total population, the prognosis for the long-term
viability of the church is not good. The prognosis would be more positive in
an individualistic I’m ok-you’re-ok society, such as in the West, but
not in Africa where the power of traditional society to enforce conformity
to itself defies belief. It may also be possible in a situation where the
church is “born of fire” and a small, persecuted minority holds to a
radical faith, such as was the case in southern Chad in the early 70’s, or
behind the Iron Curtain. Unfortunately, no such radial faith characterizes
the Kwong or, indeed, any southern tribe in Chad today. The surest guarantee
of viability from this standpoint, therefore, is the conversion of a
“critical mass” of believers who are able by virtue of their numbers to
resist the tendency of the society around them to swallow them up.
This suggests to us that we need to be
proactively involved in evangelism (as always, together with Kwong Christians -
see above). We may not regard ourselves as only “church developers”.
This validates our practice of preaching
publicly in village squares and to village chiefs whenever the
opportunity has presented itself.
It suggests we need to consciously develop
both a modus-operandi and a message for going house-to-house with the gospel
It suggests that a worthy, if arbitrary,
goal is to see a church among the Kwong numbered in multiples of 1000. The Kwong
church now numbers about 500.
all this, we can easily anticipate the sanctimonious retort of someone along the
lines of “don’t you think God
can assure the long-term viability of the Kwong church?” Surely, he can. But
trusting him to do so, and presuming on him to do so are two quite different
things. Failure to use every means within our grasp to assure the long-term
viability of the church is presumption, not trust, just as failure to preach the
gospel to this generation on the grounds that God will make himself known is a
presumption which God has never indulged. There is no essential difference
between trusting and working for today and trusting and working for tomorrow.
Except this: trusting and working for tomorrow, makes the trusting and working
for today worth it all.
A couple quotes from Mark's newsletters of years past express this
objective is to inculcate attitudes, passions, emotions, motivations, and
priorities that befit someone who has been drawn into fellowship with his or
her Creator and Savior. My presupposition is that a Bible study [or
translation] that does not constrain us to either cover our heads in abject
humiliation, or overflow with wonder, or shut our mouths in honor, or fall to
our knees in thanksgiving is at least a partial, if not complete, failure. (FWMVI
desire is to gently pry the curled, faded, black-and-white print of Christianity
from my Kwong friends’ hands, and then usher them into the OmniMax theater of
the splendor of God’s Kingdom and tell them “Look up! Look around!” I want
to set the vast sweep of God’s design for history so vividly and
comprehensively before their eyes that being (or becoming) a Christian becomes
the most compelling, sensible thing to do. I want the depths of love and
sacrifice worked out in that design to be so soaked in technicolor hues that a
passion befitting it would consume them. (FWMVI May 98)