The Mburi Partnership
At the beginning of May 2012 we celebrate at Jesmond Parish Church our 25 years of partnership with St. Philip’s Church, Mburi, Kirinyaga, in rural Kenya.
This partnership was established in 1987 when David Gitari was the Bishop of Mount Kenya East. On my sabbatical in 1986 the Bishop invited me to a service and Harembi (a Kenyan style fund-raising) at Ngiriambu Parish Church, a church in that diocese. This was in aid of a new church plant at Mburi, a mile or two away. The plan was for the little wooden St. Philip’s Church to become a permanent stone or brick structure.
At that event, at which I was asked to preach - with no notice (but having a translator gives you time to think) I made contact with Mwendwa, a great Christian man, who together with his wife, Joyce, have become a wonderful leadership team at St. Philip’s. In September 1986 Mwendwa then invited us at JPC to join in a partnership with St Philip’s. Much has happened since then following an assessment and survey Joan Parker (chairman of our mission committee) and I made of the region, the locality and the church in 1987.
That resulted in the partnership being established the same year and soon JPC’s first initiative of helping the locality of Mburi provide itself with a well at the church. We had discovered that people were having to carry and use water from a local stream. Inevitably there were serious health hazards. Following the well, we have helped subsequently in other practical ways. The first major activity was to help develop a large stone and brick worship centre, with rooms for workshops and also a clinic and laboratory (named by the church “the Jesmond Clinic”). More recently we have been able to sponsor a new state Christian primary school in the area, for which we thank God. But much has changed since those early days.
Bishops and Archbishops
Not least many new churches have been planted requiring the old diocese of Mount Keyna East that went up to Marsabit and the northern border, to divide into a number of dioceses – including the new diocese of Marsabit in the “remote” area where Rob Martin, an original co-partner of ours at Mburi, is now bishop. Also the leadership of the church has seen many changes. David Gitari, whom we knew (and know) well, went on to become the Archbishop of Kenya. He has since retired to be succeeded by Archbishop Nzimbi who, himself, has recently retired, to be succeeded by Archbishop Eliud Wabukala. This new Archbishop of Kenya is now having an international role as the Chairman of the GAFCON “primates” (senior Archbishops in the world-wide Anglican communion).
These primates had attended (an orthodox) Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem in 2008. The conference came to a momentous (and necessary) decision that in its view Anglicanism is defined doctrinally by a commitment to the canon (that we call Canon A5 in the Church of England) that says:
“The doctrine of the Church … is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.”
Anglicanism is not, therefore, fundamentally defined by a relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury, whether or not you believe in the biblical basis on which the Anglican church is founded. It is doctrinally based. For that reason many of the primates (representing the majority of Anglicans in the world) refused to attend the last Lambeth Conference of global Anglican bishops. The problem was the number of bishops (and bishops of the Province of the USA especially) who were flagrantly rejecting the decision of the previous Lambeth Conference in respect of biblical sexual ethics. They were ordaining partnered homosexual clergy and had consecrated one notorious partnered homosexual bishop. Of course, GAFCON primates realized that this issue of sexual morality was simply a symptom of a much wider rejection of biblical doctrine and ethics. However, they believed such a rejection to be incompatible with the Christian faith. So this is the body of which Archbishop Wabukala is chairman. The Archbishop is also the Patron of AID (Anglican International Development), two of the trustees of which are from JPC - Donald Curry (Lord Curry) and myself.
In the light of all this – our connection at JPC with Kenya and these new developments in the Anglican Communion - I thought it would be good for us all to read the Archbishop of Kenya’s Lent message. It is primarily for the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK). But it is relevant for Christians globally.
From Archbishop Eliud Wabukala of Kenya
Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith!
The disciplines of Lent, which begin on Ash Wednesday, are not intended to be burdensome, but to open our lives more fully to the transforming power of the gospel. Our mission as the Anglican Church of Kenya is simple, yet powerful: it is ‘to equip God’s people to transform society with the gospel’. This is an holistic transformation much deeper and more lasting than any government or international agency can bring because it addresses our deepest need, that of a restored relationship with the God in whose image we are made and whose workmanship we are.
The glorious truth of the gospel is that we are justified freely by God’s grace alone, but far from making us complacent about doing good, the abundant grace and full forgiveness we have through the blood of Christ should be a great spur to Christ-like living, to walking in those good works ‘which God prepared beforehand’.
Imagine the transformation if our nation heeded this call. As we prepare for general elections which will test the cohesiveness of our civil society, Christians need to model what it means to live in peace, practicing tolerance and forgiveness, with a new sense of urgency. Moreover, the foundation of our civic life is the family so it is vital that the love of Christ deeply infuses family relationships and that the shameful violence being reported in the media, not only of husbands towards wives but now even of wives towards husbands, is replaced by the kindness and gentleness of Christ.
Our Christian faith can also have an impact on the scourge of unemployment; although the immediate causes often lie with economic forces beyond our control, the Christian values of hard work, thrift, enterprise and honesty have the capacity to bring long term prosperity.
These things are not easy. They call for the spiritual depth which comes from a real and growing awareness of Christ’s presence in our personal lives. Otherwise, the good works God calls us to do will simply feel like burdens and we will not sustain them under pressure. During this Lenten season, whatever particular disciplines we adopt, our first aim should be to draw near to God in prayer and through his Word, beseeching him to make in us new and contrite hearts, hearts that will desire the things of his heart.
Without this joyful discipline, we will be vulnerable to taking short cuts that lead us away from the truth of the gospel. Some church leaders seem to think that the transformation of society will simply come through commitment to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, and at home in Kenya, the Vision 2030 initiative and the new constitution. While it is obvious that such good things as feeding the hungry, fighting disease, improving education and national prosperity are to be desired by all, by themselves any human dream can become a substitute gospel which renders repentance and the cross of Christ irrelevant.
Moreover, we need to be discerning about the values behind these visions. For instance the Millennium Development Goals have grown out of a secularised Western culture which is pushing Christianity to the margins and uses the language of human rights and equality to promote irresponsibility in social life and diminish personal responsibility.
So this Lent, let us seek to experience a renewed walk with Christ in those good works that God has prepared. The good news of the gospel is that transformation begins with ordinary men, women and children, however sinful or insignificant we may feel. It is not a responsibility we can leave to governments and agencies, but a challenge to fulfil the purposes of Almighty God in our place for our time.
May the Lord establish your hearts in every good work as you trust in Him. Amen.