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MISSION AND EVANGELISM

Whereas the majority of humanity has had the privilege of hearing the sweet, salvific message of the Gospel, “there remains very much land yet to be possessed”. (Joshua 13:1). God had a perfect reason when He spoke these words to Joshua.

When he was old and advanced in years, Joshua spent his life in conquering the land which God had promised to His people Israel, part of which had been already conquered by Moses. And still, there was very much land “yet to be possessed” and divided among the Jewish tribes.

The reason I chose to use this passage is because I most firmly believe that after many years of intense missionary labor, there still remain numerous people who have not heard about the Lord Jesus Christ who died on the Cross for sinners. These people still sit in the region and shadow of death (cf. Matthew 4:16). And not only in Africa or Asia, but also in the heart of civilized America and even Europe. Even though they have heard the Gospel, despite the fact that they are frequent churchgoers, people worship their loved ones, their possessions, and their ambitions. Consequently, for every devout minister of the Gospel, there remains very much land yet to be possessed; there remain thousands of opportunities for evangelism.

Evangelism forms an integral part of missionary work. Of course there has to be some balance between evangelism and other aspects of missionary enterprise, e. g. medical or educational work. But still, the Christian doctor, for example, should not miss the opportunity of pointing his patient to the physician of souls and bodies. Medicine, education, or any other type of charitable or social work ought to be handmaids to the Gospel and not take precedence over its proclamation. The Apostles’ main work was to preach the Good News to the poor, not to establish schools or clinics. This does not, however, mean that the rest diminish in importance; not at all, they are equally essential.

There is one core mission of the Church: to free the world from the dominion of Satan and the slavery of death and of sin and all other bondages. This liberation is the real Gospel for mankind. Therefore the ministry of evangelization is a ministry of liberation. Liberation, in the context of mission work in Africa, has always been interpreted as pertaining to matters of poverty, disease, and illiteracy. The Messiah was anointed “to preach deliverance to the captives... to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4: l8). To the hard task of evangelization, the even harder task of re-evangelization is being added; more and more nominal believers need to be challenged afresh with the message of the Gospel. The Gospel is the truth, the truth that sets captives free. The mission is always to get this very Gospel to the masses, wherever they may be, despite the hardships in the way.

Why do I call evangelization a hard task? I will now go on to mention a few of the main obstacles to he encountered by any evangelist in his work. The first main obstacle is the prince of darkness himself. That may sound absurd to twenty-first century Christians, but it is true and anyone who has worked for God can testify to this.

Evangelism is a direct assault on Satan‘s dominion. Consequently, he does not take it lying down. He tries to bring to naught the ministry of the Church. “F or the mystery of iniquity does already work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7). The devil today uses new methods. He utilizes education, technology and the mass media to dechristianize mankind. The modern man from infancy is influenced by all those demonic methodologies, which he does not consider evil at all; for to him they are all natural. The media, especially social media, is the devil’s sharpest tool today. So much of what we hear, see or read is contaminated by the lethal poison of sin.

Our own sinfulness is another obstacle. It prevents the tire of the Holy Spirit from burning within us and filling us with sacred zeal, faith and enthusiasm so that we can transmit the light of Christ to others, as happened in the case of the Apostles. And not only that. By our faulty presentation of Christianity we also cause those enquiring about Christ to lose their interest, every sin of ours, no matter how trivial, every compromise with the evil environment of the satanized world system, is a hindrance to the Gospel. l must admit that the challenge today is bigger than what I have encountered in my mission work in Africa for over thirty years now.

A major problem in Africa is cultural. lt is important to evangelize people without obscuring their cultural heritage. However, some African cultures can end up secularizing the people, even after evangelization. Not all are able to fuse beneficial aspects of the culture into their Christian lives. The modern man, therefore, ends up organizing his life independently of God, as if God exists only outside their culture. Our secularized society may tolerate the Church as one of the many values of our civilization, or as a national institution which, though its feasts and ceremonies, gives a festive color to the monotony of our lives. Moreover, many so-called believers have what is termed a “Sunday religion.” They spend the entire week as unbelievers but attend church services on Sundays, while cultural practices take center stage in their lives. The truth is that Christ is missing in their lives. There is no true evangelism if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the Kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, are not proclaimed. To truly evangelize in Africa and to have a fruitful mission, one has to learn the different cultures.

We always review the obstacles in any initiative; in this case, in mission and evangelism. What could possibly be the qualifications necessary for such work? What might they be‘? A qualification in theology? Well, maybe! Monastic experience? Possibly, but not always! What then? The basic qualification is a personal knowledge of the Messiah, and that as taught by our Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Any scenario devoid of this becomes a hindrance to mission. This implies a serious concern by the would-be evangelist for his spiritual progress. With obvious defects in his own life, how will the would-be evangelist benefit another and invite him to an encounter with Christ? This concern is expressly stated by the Lord Himself. “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye” (Luke 6:42)? St. John Chrysostom, himself a keen supporter of missionary work, comments. 

Let us strive to persuade others with our lives and not with mere words. Because, even if we can speak very philosophically, but we do not give an example of godly life, there is no profit at all. Unbelievers pay more attention to our deeds than to our words. if we describe to them the glories of eternity, but remain attached to earthly enjoyments, we are contradicting ourselves.

Another qualification would be a deep feeling of responsibility for the souls of those who “perish for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6), who are entrapped in the sludge of sin or the darkness of false teachings. Indeed, our responsibility for such people is enormous. This, however, does not exempt them from responsibility for themselves, since it is they who have freely chosen their path.

So, where does fear of the unknown come into play? Our own indifference, cowardice and idleness contribute towards the perdition of so many souls. As I said earlier, cultural differences and language barriers, among other issues, will keep many at bay. S0, was I afraid of the mission to Africa? Maybe, to some extent. However, convicted by the above statement, we ought to take up evangelistic work. Let us once more heed the warning of St. John Chrysostom: "Each one of us is responsible for the salvation of his neighbor.”

Above all else, evangelism relies much on self-denial and sacrifice. As in all achievements, sacrifice, effort and suffering are required in evangelism. No great achievement comes with ease and rest. Nevertheless, missionary labor will invariably result in great peace and joy. This l can verify from my own personal experience. Self-denial is linked to patience: patience in all adversities. The fishing of men requires patience in every situation and circumstance. As laborers of the L0rd’s harvest, we should work patiently and persistently. Conversions may not be instant. Perhaps we shall only sow the seed, another will water and someone else will reap. But this does not matter. God will reward all His workers according to their efforts.

Evangelism requires discretion and politeness. Without sulkiness and a style of reprimanding, with meekness and, even more, with respect, full of the joy which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, we should tell others about the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. St Paul commands, "Let your words be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians 4:6).

Even though we meet with opposition and bitterness, which we will most definitely do, if we are scolded and reviled, we still have to treat those who come against us with kindness and gentleness, imitating our Lord, who is meek and lowly of heart. Didn't He warn us about being reviled and persecuted for His Name's sake? Didn't He say "Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven" (Luke 6:23)?

I left prayer for last, not that it is least; rather it is the most vital necessity in any form of Christian work. For any Christian worker, prayer has to be his continuous resource, his solace and his weapon. lt is an unseen map as a missionary charts his course, endeavoring to fearlessly make known the mystery of the Gospel (Eph.6: l9). It is by no means accidental that St. Paul asks for the prayers of believers so frequently. Nowadays, we need people who like Epaphras will be always wrestling in prayer for those engaged in evangelistic work (Colossians 4:12,). Through prayer also we can ask God to open the hearts of those to whom we are witnessing, as He did in the case of Lydia.

lt is paramount that I mention re-evangelization as an absolute necessity also. If it is not made an integral part of missionary work, the missionary will not realize the overall aim of his labors. It is sad but for many of the so-called believers "they claim to know God, but by their actions they deny Him" (Titus 1316a). This could be the very reason why Apostle Paul always wrote to the churches as well as paying visits to them whenever possible. in the African context, with so many competing teachings, not to mention cults and other forms of indigenous worship, re-evangelization becomes an absolute necessity.

It should never be forgotten that the Divine Liturgy is itself an instrument of evangelism. When l became Bishop of Riruta and Dean of the Patriarchal Seminary in Nairobi in 1992, l was at once impressed with the absolute urgency and necessity of ensuring that the Divine Liturgy be available in at least each of the major languages and dialects of Kenya (nearly 60 dialects are spoken in the country). This goal has been achieved and when the Orthodox faithful in Kenya (numbering close to a million) throng their churches and places of worship (some still worship under trees), Sunday by Sunday, they sing the Divine Liturgy in their vernacular languages. I spent days and nights with students translating and discovering that in most cases we had to devise alphabets and learn the syntax and accidence. This gave me a new sense of the seriousness of the task and a very real sense of excitement that as a result of these studies, so many more Africans would have God’s Word and the Divine Liturgy in their own languages available to them. l remember vividly one student who jumped up and cried out, "There is no translation of the Bible in the language for my own tribe." The translation work was a kind of mystagogy and meditation. The students were overjoyed when they realized that they would be able to celebrate the sublime spiritual treasures and provide spiritual food to their own people in their own dialects. Currently, with the Ages Initiative program by Fr. Seraphim Dedes and Dr. Michael Colburn, standardizing the many translations is becoming a reality.

When I arrived in Harare in February I998 to take up my new post as Archbishop of Zimbabwe, I resolved that one of my first tasks would be to ensure that the Divine Liturgy was translated into Shona, the language spoken by four fifths of the black population. This has now been done, together with a number of other Orthodox services; translations have long been published. The remaining task, we leave in the hands of God. 

 

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