The preacher at the morning Eucharist was a Nigerian bishop, Dapu Asaju. Preaching from Romans 12 (even though it was not read in the liturgy–a rather lamentable, though once commonplace, artifact of Anglican custom), his main point was that Christians are “life savers” in a cosmic battle, a present crisis, pitting the kingdom of heaven against the kingdom of hell. This is war, and one gets the impression that the preacher thinks the troops are way too flabby. One of the things I’ve become more keenly aware of in this conference is the importance of context. As a westerner still trying to unlearn the mental habits of Christendom, and as one who tries to be a bridge builder rather than a bridge burner in a very diverse and conflicted church, I would have wished for more winsomeness, more gentleness, and maybe even a touch of humor. There was none of that. Yet, the Nigerian church is on the front lines of the encounter with militant Islam. Many Christians there are, at any moment, in danger of losing life or property. So they cannot afford flabby troops. Neither can we, actually, but we haven’t completely figured that out yet.
The morning’s keynote address was by Hwa Jung, a Methodist bishop from Malaysia. It was rich and stimulating. He flew over four important properties of the missional environment in the “Majority World” (aka Global South): 1) the north-to-south demographic shift in Christianity’s center of gravity, 2) the increasing challenge of nominalism and shallow discipleship, 3) global political alignment along civilizational (rather than merely nation-state) fault lines, 4) rising persecution of Christians. He then offered six proposals for moving forward: 1) empower the indigenous churches, 2) pay more attention to discipleship and character formation, 3) deepen efforts to place gospel proclamation in authentic cultural context, 4) foster more sustainable socio-political transformation and nation building, 5) develop genuine North-South and South-South partnerships, and 6) attend to the crucial role of prayer, holiness, and unity.
I have to say, I’m about “up to here” with Thai food. It’s not that I particularly dislike it–quite the opposite–but I like it as a choice, not a compulsion. I miss my accustomed variety.
In the afternoon, it was back to the “track discussion groups” we began yesterday. I was very much an observer rather than a participant. The others there (except for the Canadian and two Australians) aren’t merely interested in resourcing theological formation, it is critical to their life and work. So they were highly motivated toward moving beyond general conversation to developing an action plan. It was the Nigerians who had the most energy for becoming very concrete.
Still struggling with jet lag, I was grateful when four o’clock arrived and when we were on break. It was all I could do not to nod off during the session, so I went straight to my room and hit the sack. By the time I could rouse myself, I had missed Evensong. I arrived in time for the final hymn, then followed the group over to dinner. I had nothing resembling an appetite, for any sort of food. Nonetheless, I sat at the table and drank water and tried to make conversation, even though I was still feeling very foggy. By the end of dinner, my head had cleared, and I was able to enter into some lively discussion. Then the four TEC Americans walked down the street about a quarter mile to a sort of mall–partly open air and partly covered, where we shopped for the sort of things one want to bring home to family and friends. I let one of my colleagues to the hard bargaining, then just came in behind and took advantage of the price he had negotiated. I’m crafty that way. On our way out, we spotted, of all things, a KFC. By that time, I was beginning to get a little hungry, so I ordered three drumsticks, “hot and spicy” of course. It was comfort food.