This week saw the 9th “Africa Arise” conference, organized by Beza International Church in cooperation with members of the diplomatic community in Addis Abeba. This conference takes place annually, coinciding with the annual African Union meeting and is attended by an increasing number of Christian leaders, diplomats and politicians from all over Africa and from other parts of the world.
During the conference, important issues affecting Africa are discussed and solutions are suggested from the Christian and biblical perspectives. Issues include economic development, resources management, corruption, security and conflict, major contemporary issues in other words.
The conference takes place over three full days, with seminars during day time and a church service every evening during which Christian leaders from several different African countries, including Ethiopia, speak.
Just prior to the opening of the annual assembly of the African Union, the early morning of the last day of the conference, Sunday, is traditionally dedicated for a prayer breakfast in one of the halls at the Africa Union offices in Addis Abeba, attended by many delegates and officials.
This year the conference theme was “RE-IGNITING THE AFRICAN REFORMATION”. As the Christian world celebrates the 500 year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the conference took time to look at its implications for us in Africa and lessons we can learn from it. The organizers of the conference stated that: the call for reformation is the result of a frustration about where the past has led us. “While appreciating the decisions made 500 years ago by a few brave men, we feel we are not just to celebrate their achievements, but to also address some of our own concerns about where the past has led us. In many ways, we in Africa have never had the opportunity to stop, assess our position, and chart the preferred way forward.” The conference thus focussed this year on the need for reformation in the areas of ministry, marketplace and family, as these are key to Africa’s future. During the opening session, the speaker stated that we are drawn together by a common cause, a common frustration and a common believe that change can happen, that Africa can be free of what is bad, free of poverty and free of corruption
Now, for something to change or to be reformed, the assumption is that it was formed in the first place and in the course of its further development some deformation must have taken place. The process of forming, deforming and reforming was compared by several of the speakers with pottering, where the potter forms an object from clay with his hands, using a turntable, upon which the clay is placed. It is important for the potter to place the clay in the centre of the turntable, otherwise it will tilt to one side or the other during the process of forming or reforming. In other words, it is essential for the clay to be centred right, while the momentum of the wheel provides the condition for the hands of the potter to mould and change the clay into the shape he has in his mind. The parallel was then drawn with the theme of the conference, the reformation of the church and re-igniting it. We must centre ourselves on the wheel, lest the end result will be tilted. Now, as long as the centre point is economy based, the result will never be like what we have in mind, what we envision. Instead, the centre point must be value based and derived from a value based vision.
Values represent what we find really important in life and surprisingly enough very few people will find it easy to define exactly what their values are. But most people act according to their values even if they are not very conscious about it. After all, where your treasure is, there your heart will be. If someone finds it very important to have a car (s)he will try and get one. Those of you, who have built a house, will know how difficult it was to complete the project but it was worth it because it was very important to you. Other people find it important to be around their family and because of it hesitate to take on a job that will separate them from their family. Other examples of values are to have respect for each other, to be honest, integrity, etc. We can also know what people do not find important as we observe their behaviour. Somebody who finds it important to get rich quick but does not value honesty or hard work for example will find other innovative ways to get the money. In other words, values are formed in our minds and our values guide our behaviour. Now for change to take place, for a transformation to take place, values must change and for values to change, a change or transformation of the mind must happen.
The foundation of the reformation is then found to be in the home and in the family, referred to in the Bible as the house, built by God. The house is then not referred to as its physical structure but to the family in it. God built His house, beginning with a family, making many and nations came out of the house. Now, a nation is only as strong as the house it came from. If the house is built on brittle rocks and a weak foundation, it will not stand strong and it is in danger of collapse. And so it is with homes and the families in it today. We are building physical structures, not homes and families. The “house” or the home provides the foundation for the family, for society, the nation and its government: the people. The house is therefore the quarry of all things. We must build houses that are worthy, in which there is peace, because that peace will flow into society, the education system, businesses, the market and institutions. Without peace we cannot prosper, with peace we can. We therefor need to take everything back that is not built on solid ground anymore and begin to reform, house to house, home to home. As the potter, we need to form things into new vessels with a renewed mind, a renewed vision, based on and derived from how God saw it and how it is described clearly in the bible. The hands that shape the clay, follow the vision, the thoughts of the potter. We must begin with our thoughts, our individual thoughts and allow ourselves to be transformed by the renewal of our mind. With the family being the foundation of society, we need to model our children, instruct them in every way of our life, spend time with them. If we don’t spend the time with them, someone else will and other values and influences will be imparted in their minds. Modelling is not the same as telling. Telling can explain but not impart. We need to model what is in our hearts, what our values are and thus shape a value system. If all we talk about is money, guess what our children will find important in life? We wonder why there is so much corruption? The truth is that the values that speak against it are not imparted strong enough in the minds of those who practice it. The issues we face on the continent are not the land and resources; instead the land is blessed with so many resources. But resources without values are useless. Wealth without values is useless as the biblical story of the prodigal son so well explains.
The centre of our turning wheel must be value based, otherwise it is all for nothing. So, what does it take to make reformation reality? Are we willing to change and make change happen? The participants of the conference were boldly confronted by one of the speakers with the fact that often there is no true follow up of the recommendations and action plan, following a conference like this. A commitment was made to really re-ignite the reformation for Africa, taking individual responsibility, to apply it to the family, to engage in the local community, to link that to the wider society and to use Ministry as God’s means to reform.
Note: for more information about Africa Arise and the conference: www.africarise.org