For the large part of my life in the Diaspora, I have been in conversations with pastors. Many of the pastors have been preachers from many countries in Africa trying to do their ministry work in the West, but I have also spoken to equally many Western pastors. A good number of these conversations have been intentional and have, thus, been sustained over long periods of time–some stretching over a good ten-year period. Almost all of them have taken place in Germany, England or the United States. Consequently, I have been allowed access to tens of unabridged life-stories of immigrant pastors, or for the sake of this blog, a goldmine of data that actually show what is really happening in the African church in the Diaspora. Some of the stories are full of life, faith and hope. Others are not so encouraging. However, they are all optimistic in their conviction that God will make a way, somewhere, somehow, for their ministries to flourish in the land of the azungu.
Focus on the Missio Dei
Somewhere in the many dialogues that I have had with these African pastors over the years, I took the chance to ask some fifty of them the following four questions:
– what does the mission of God, or missio Dei, mean to you?
– how are you involved in this missio Dei?
– how does this understanding of missio Dei relate with your daily ministry here?
– how would you define success in your ministry in Europe or North America?
The answers that I got from these pastors will inform this series of blog posts. I will be publishing seven of these conversations in the next few weeks: two from Germany, two from England, and the remaining three from the United States. They are also from seven countries across Africa; from Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Ghana. I have chosen these seven stories to be representative of all African Christianity in the Diaspora, if that is possible.
My interest in these conversations has been nothing but mission. Of course, a lot more than mission was discussed, but the crux of the matter for me was (1) to get a good grasp of how they understand what they are doing in their ministries in the West in relation to what they think of their role in missio Dei and (2) how they will judge themselves in the same regards at the end of their stay in the West.
You mean everything has to change?
Recently, I met up with an Eritrean pastor serving in one of the big cities in Europe. He had two good problems at hand. First, his church–which did everything in Tigrinya–was outgrowing its premises, but it was not attracting any non-Tigrinya speaking people. He wondered if they were doing anything wrong. Second, his church’s younger generation was not interested in the Tigrinya service. They wanted an English-speaking service. He wondered why these young ones did not value their Eritrean liturgy.
In response, I asked him the missio Dei question. He looked at me for a while. I knew he was processing something hard on his mind. His face reflected both joy and angst for a moment. And before I said anything, he sighed, “holy molly, you mean everything has to change?”