In June Benjamin Kwashi, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Jos, Nigeria, was elected as general secretary of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON). Only a few days later, his home in Jos was attacked by Fulani raiders, resulting in the death of his neighbor Adamu Dung. “He was shot through the head because he flashed his light when he heard footsteps of cattle being rustled,” Kwashi wrote on Facebook. “The cows were mine.” This is far from the first time Kwashi has been targeted for religiously motivated violence resulting in tragedy. He and his flock have been under attack for nearly two decades.
Yet external persecution is not the only pressure Kwashi feels against his evangelistic ministry. Timidity is more endemic when it comes to sharing the gospel across the globe. “There was never a time when the apostles handed over anything but a hot potato gospel, one that was sizzling with excitement and power,” he said two days after the raid on his compound. “Woe unto us if we ever become lethargic.” Alex Wilgus, pastor of Logan Square Anglican Church, spoke with Kwashi about these two immanent threats to evangelism: intense persecution and casual indifference.
What is evangelism like while shepherding the church through intense persecution?
It may surprise you to hear this, but the effects of persecution are both good and bad. Positively, it shakes the institutionalism of the church and proves to us that there is no lasting home in this world. But it also destabilizes individual human beings and raises a lot of questions in the hearts of sufferers.
The first questions we encounter with people is this: “Is it because of our sins that God is punishing us?” That tends to be the most common interpretation of what we’re going through. But the truth is that churches impacting society by exposing sin are going to make those powers that are being exposed unhappy. When the church is a light in the world’s darkness, it will suffer from the darkness.
The other question we encounter is from people who cannot make meaning out of their difficulties. A young girl came back from boarding school and arrived to find her father, mother, and sisters, everybody at home, dead. And she wanted to know “why?” We don’t have answers to that except to continue to encourage such a person to trust God. Even though we don’t know why now, we will know it in eternity.
Yet persecution has increased the love, the sharing, and the caring of people for each other. We don’t love the persecution itself. But it has caused in our churches a practical demonstration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Strong churches move in to help people and take them in.
For example, my wife, Gloria, has a habit of taking in orphans. When I was in Jerusalem this past June for GAFCON, the mother of a seven-month-old baby was shot back in Nigeria. The killers thought they had killed both of them, but later on in the day, people went searching for the corpse of this woman, and they found the baby sitting there crying with his dead mother. They immediately knew to bring him to Mama Gloria, to our house.
Showing the love of God by caring for orphans and widows is a top priority, and it is a great witness to our neighbors who are not Christians. It is a great testimony of the gospel.
How is the baby doing now?
The baby is growing fine. He is chubby, chubby—that boy eats! Everybody knows that Gloria will take in any child. There are now 51 in our house. I joke with her that, because there are so many, I am now an orphan. So she will have to take me in as well!
“The power of the gospel” is a big theme in your book Evangelism and Mission. That seems distinct from teaching the gospel message. What do you mean by that phrase?
It is true that teaching and preaching the Word of God is the gospel. But we cannot cause that message to break into hearts, to devastate evil and Satan, and to institute the rule of God in the hearts of people and in society. Only God can do that. We see that again and again. Without even telling people about the power of God, we see people bring out their charms, amulets, and the idols they have trusted and throw them away. We see people who were extensively addicted to drugs and alcohol restored miraculously. We see people who are sexually perverse suddenly change.
The power of the gospel transforms lives, and we have seen it. We do not scream and shout like television preachers. But because we ask God to demonstrate the power of the gospel we preach—the same gospel you preach in the West—he does.