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10 September 2014

Christians urged to unite despite culture differences

Christian leaders from across the UK gathered on Saturday, 6 September to explore how missionaries and pastors from the majority world can work in partnership with indigenous British Christians in the UK.

With increasing numbers of Christians from the global south moving to the UK as missionaries, the Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World (CMMW) organised the Partnership in Mission conference to provide a space for honest discussion about how Christians of all backgrounds can work together more effectively and in equal partnership.

Celia Apagyei-Collins, vice president of Tearfund and founder of the Rehoboth Foundation, spoke of how the Holy Spirit is working in the lives of many ethnic minority Christians in the UK, prompting them to have a heart for this land and helping them understand the terrain here. "God is savvy, He sees the future and has moved people from the global South to the UK to position us for what he is going to do," Celia explained.

With six in ten of the nineteenth century missionaries to Ghana having died within two years, Celia shared her sincere thanks for the sacrifice of the UK missionaries that travelled across the world to share the good news, and for the prayer and worship of Christians across the decades in the UK, saying: "We need to celebrate and honour those that have gone ahead of us".

Yemi Adedeji, director of the Alliance's One People Commission, agreed that while ethnic minority churches often did not initially focus on reaching out to British people, many now want to embrace their new community and are actively looking for ways to engage with those around them.

Harvey Kwiyani, a director of CMMW, shared how many African pastors have told him they want to reach British people and be missional, and they are asking for training to engage effectively. CMMW is therefore working on a project in Birmingham called Missio Africanus, training pastors in cross cultural mission within the UK.

But stories were shared that revealed the divisions still evident among Christians –with one person asking why they were introduced as "my little African friend" when speaking at churches. Others shared how 'white flight' is a reality in many churches, with white people leaving once the church becomes largely black or a black leader begins. Some pastors said that many in their congregations do not want to coexist with people of other races.

"It's about time we stopped focusing on what is different and zeroed in on the mission," Celia said, encouraging Christians to unite behind a shared vision to see God's kingdom come. Partnership requires exchanging ideas and experiences with others, and letting truth bind Christians rather than being divide them on doctrinal issues such as the prosperity gospel.

Celia spoke passionately about the need for Christians to become more culturally intelligent;understanding where each other are coming from rather than viewing each other as "strange". For example, understanding why African Christians often pray through the night in prayer vigils can be gained by appreciating that they often come from cultures where there is a need to rely on God for basic needs, and where, from a young age, children are trained to pray for hours on their feet. African Christians can also find it hard to understand why some British Christians are relaxed and informal in the way they pray to God, but Celia suggests this is because British people often relate to their fathers in a friendly way, rather than having a respectful and fearful relationship.

"We can only have partnership when we accept that the other person has something to offer," Celia said. Drawing on the concept of the covenant at Hebron in 1 Chronicles 12, she spoke of how God is looking for a covenant in Christian partnerships rather than just a little collaboration or participation. But covenant is not possible without relationships, which she suggested are formed through spending time together to forge a tight unit.

The conference concluded by reaffirming the importance of relationships and focusing on a common kingdom vision to overcomes differences. The need to train future church leaders to understand issues related to partnership and multicultural churches was also emphasised.

Following the conference, Dr Daniel Chae, principal of Amnos Church Planting School, and member of the Evangelical Alliance Council and One People Commission, said: "There is an urgent need for partnership in missions in the UK between the churches and ministries of indigenous Britons and those of ethnic minorities.

"This is especially so in light of the decline of the former and the growth of the latter. The Partnership in Mission Conference today emphasized there must be an intention to support each other with the skills and experiences each to offer."

He concluded: "This is an excellent start to a dialogue between aforementioned groups which, I pray, will contribute to bring our nation back to God."