Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi has written a moving message about the church in lockdown in Nigeria. The Anglican archbishop of Jos, Plateau State, is a partner of Release International, which serves the persecuted Church around the world.
Coronavirus is just the latest challenge for Christians in Nigeria, who face attacks from Boko Haram and armed Fulani militants. But Archbishop Kwashi’s message is the gospel cannot be destroyed. At a time of lockdown, Christians must find new and imaginative ways to spread that Gospel.
Christians, he says, have been sent as lambs:
‘Easter 2020 must surely go down in the annals of history as being unique. In many countries the church buildings are standing there – empty; some are even locked. But the great news is that the church is alive – and is growing!
In the north of Nigeria where I live there have been so many killings, together with the destruction of homes, farms, properties, churches… The stories can be heart-breaking. But the gospel cannot be burnt out or destroyed.
Let me give two remarkable pictures:
The other year a village in our diocese was attacked; people were killed and buildings were burnt down, including the church. Inside the church, however, the altar and the cross on it refused to burn, and were left standing.
Recently a column of vehicles was forced to spend the night in a town just outside Maiduguri, the state capital in the far north-east, where persecution has been hot. While the travellers slept they were attacked and the vehicles set on fire. The people died, the vehicles and all their possessions were burnt out.
Everything was lost except one thing. A Bible was retrieved undamaged from inside a vehicle. It was lying on top of a laptop which was totally burned, but the Word of God was intact.
These are signs which we cannot ignore!
Jesus said: ‘Go your way; behold I send you out as lambs among wolves.’ (Luke 10:3)
The prophet Isaiah points to Jesus as the ‘Lamb’ who stands silent and still in the face of the wolves, before being led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7). It was on the cross that this Lamb won the ultimate battle with the wolf and therefore in St. John’s great vision in the Book of Revelation that Lamb is now honoured, praised and glorified by all (Rev.5:12). Indeed, the Lamb has become the shepherd, leading God’s people to the water of life (Rev. 7:17).
This is why in every generation those who are truly in Christ, and in whose lives the Lamb of God reigns, are enabled to stand before the wolves. The wolves are now faced not just with one lamb, but with a whole host of lambs, lambs who have been transformed by the Lamb of God. God is always on the side of such lambs, the ones who make no claims of their own, who trust the shepherd implicitly and do what he tells them.
God cannot be on the side of the wolves because the wolves would never allow him to help them: they think they are fine, perfectly able, and infinitely superior to those weak little lambs. So when Jesus sends out the lambs he is not an absentee sender, he is a present help in all times of joy, sorrow, trouble, comfort, and each and every condition of life.
We are to be builders, not destroyers, and the mandate of Almighty God on us as Christians is to build lives spiritually, intellectually and physically. We must build all people, and particularly the young people, and give them a hope for the future, a vision of the Kingdom of God.
Today the coronavirus has caused buildings of bricks and stone to be closed. But the new and imaginative ways in which Bible teaching, worship, discipleship, Christian love and compassion are being continued, lived and developed are opening new doors, in new directions, in new lives. This is the living church!
No matter what the surrounding circumstances may be, the call of God is urgent; there is not much time. We ourselves must be so firmly rooted in the gospel, that the gospel’s transforming power can move in us, through us and into the world, the world which so desperately needs to hear the message of salvation, and of the love of God.
This is God’s call, and it does not depend upon buildings, health, strength, academic ability or wealth. This is God’s call, and those who answer are the lambs who can face the wolf, the church which can face persecution, the nation which can face coronavirus – and win!
It will be costly, but the transforming message of Easter is that the cross led to the resurrection! Moreover, the resurrection was not just a one-day event which happened years ago; it is the resurrection which opens the door to a new way of life, a life of faith, love, peace and hope, today and into eternity.’
Release International has produced a range of resources for churches in lockdown to help Christians to better understand and support the persecuted church. These include video clips, Bible talks, prisoner profiles and interactive activities. They’re available here
Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi is the General Secretary of GAFCON, the Global Anglican Future Conference. His recent biography, Neither Bomb Nor Bullet, describes the growing conflict in Nigeria. Details are available here