02 November 2013
The changing face of UK Christianity
Leaders of key UK Church denominations and mission organisations gathered at the Evangelical Alliance on 30 October to hear about the changing tide of global missions, and share their stories, as Christians from across the global south come to the UK to minister.
Rev Joel Edwards, international director of Micah Challenge and former general director of the Evangelical Alliance, said "God is turning the tables. He is turning them for a united Church. There is a call for partnership in this missionary enterprise - God is bringing us in to do a new work and develop new partnerships. Not to replace people but to join the enterprise for mission to which God has called us". He challenged reverse missionaries to embrace radical and transforming roles, bringing structural and systemic change and challenging contemporary injustices.
A strategic new book Turning the Tables on Mission: Stories of Christians from the Global South in the UK was launched at the event at the Evangelical Alliance. The book is a compilation of stories from 12 church leaders and missionaries to the UK from the Caribbean, Asia, Africa and South America. In allowing these modern-day missionaries to speak for themselves and share their inspiring, heart-wrenching stories the book challenges stereotypes and assumptions about migrants. For example some of the contributors left well-paid, lucrative jobs to respond to God's call to the UK.
The audience were visibly moved when an excerpt from the book revealed the reality of racism in the UK today. A story was told of church volunteers refusing to accept black children into their crèche in 2004, and the children's beakers being locked away for fear of 'contamination'. The Brazilian missionary was also forbidden by the local church from baptising illegal immigrants in their building.
The book describes the racism and prejudice that many Christian migrants to the UK have faced. One contributor, Dr Ram Gidoomal CBE, shared his experience as a refugee to the UK in the 1970s and 80s. He witnessed Asian Christians being told they could not rent church buildings as their curries would leave a smell – and joked about this being ironic given Chicken Tikka Masala is now the UK's national dish. Meanwhile dog training schools were allowed to rent the church buildings.
Reflecting on his Hindu, Sikh and Muslim background, Ram founded South Asian Concern (SAC) to help raise Awareness about South Asians in the UK to the wider Christian communities, to build bridges across community divides and offer cross cultural training to those seeking to reach out to South Asians.
Bishop Donnett Thomas, founder of Power of the Living Word Ministries International, spoke of coming to the UK with her parents in 1954 and facing the difficulties of being the only black girl in her school, with her hair pulled by other children. She later joined the Black Power movement, proud of her identity. Today she works in partnership with UK Christians as chair of Churches Together in South London, and her ministry has planted churches in Kenya and India.
Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance, chaired the launch, recognising that "this book tells some of the stories of a God movement which is impacting the Church right across the UK". The One People Commission of the Alliance recognises the influence of Christians from the global south in the UK and is working to ensure that the Alliance reflects the diversity of the Church here.
The book's editor, Rev Israel Olofinjana, observed that European missionaries to Africa were most successful when they worked together with indigenous Christians. "Reverse mission needs to be about partnership, with British Christians listening to migrants' experiences - not to feel guilty but to move forward in forgiveness and understanding. The success of European missions can be seen in the UK today, as many reverse missionaries are the spiritual children of European missionaries. For example the founder of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, which has 670 churches in the UK today, was converted in an Anglican church in Nigeria in 1927."
At the event a new mission initiative, Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World was launched. This is a training network established by Rev Israel Olofinjana, Tayo Arikawe, Peter Oyugi and Dr Harvey Kwiyani to prepare, equip and encourage missionaries and pastors from the Majority World. This is in recognition of the shift in global mission and the need for missionaries to understand the context and realities of life in the UK. The Centre will also help UK Christians to understand Christians from other cultures and partner together.
Turning the Tables on Mission by Rev Israel Olofinjana is published by Instant Apostle and is available from Amazon, CLC and Gardners.