Our church in Guebwiller, France recently moved into a larger facility. It was mostly unfinished when we acquired it. We rushed to make it “tolerable” in December 2007 for a visiting speaker…lots of moving…cleaning…setup…etc. Then it was obvious that the dust from the unfinished floors, walls and ceiling would soon kill us or our equipment and we (ambitiously) wanted to host the 2008 French Christian Education conference “Mathurin Cordier” in the new building in February.
So, we re-moved and re-setup in our old facility and started a manic rush of finish work (almost all of it done by the church and most by a handful of faithful, talented and insanely hard-working people). Well, we got “done” (enough) in time for the conference these last few days and with a fantastic team effort and a smiling Heavenly Father, we had a wonderful weekend together.
I was up in our sound booth (wow, a real-live raised platform for the sound people now!!!) on Sunday morning where we combined the last session of the conference with the Sunday morning service. Surveying the jam-packed room (good-sized for a French church!), I took this little 1-minute video of the worship with my digital camera…(don’t expect any high-quality stuff!) You can get at least an idea of what it looks like:
This past weekend, my daughter and I witnessed history. We were just 2 of about 300 people, I would guess, who had this privilege…tied to a responsibility.
From November 1884 to February 1885 Berlin, Germany hosted a significant conference whose repercussions are still strongly felt today and are likely to be felt for awhile yet. We pray, however, that this past weekend will mark a significant shift in history and a different direction in the future.
As can be seen in the picture, this original conference 120 years ago focused its attention on the continent of Africa. The intent of the gathering of 13 European nations and the United States was to attempt to bring some order into the “Scramble for Africa” (the European Colonial Era in Africa). The participants (which included no Africans) desired to lay out some “rules of the game” to which the European colonial powers would theoretically adhere. The principal effect of the gathering being to draw up borders in Africa that would be used to denote where the influence and control of each colonizing nation began and where it ended. While the primary desire was avoid inevitable conflicts of colonial maneuvering. In fact, quite the opposite was the end result. Conflicts were not avoided in Africa, nor in Europe, where the activities of African colonization quite literally became the foundations of World War I…which led directly to World War II…and which are arguably the two defining events of the world in which we live today.
In addition to two World Wars, which are in and of themselves defining, the importance of the legacy of colonialism and, in particular this conference, cannot be overestimated. While the figures are difficult to come by exactly, it is estimated that nearly 10 million people died in the Congo alone during this period. When the clear link between this era and the World Wars is made, you quickly see another 10 million lives robbed. Then when one considers that instead of sending the flower of their youth onto the mission field, the two largest missionary-sending countries, Britain and Germany, sent their youth to die in the trenches of World War I fighting each other, you can see that Satan has had a hey-day of rage against humanity in the last 120 years.
This conference drew up borders in Africa with a regard only to commercial and political interest…of only the colonial powers. The fact that many tribes were split into 2 or 3 nations (perhaps with different official European languages imposed on them) and then put together in the same nation with tribes with which they already had a warring relationship, was of no interest to the participants of the original conference. It was of significant interest to the Africans of that time and today and it is of significant interest to those European powers as well as they eat today the fruit of those seeds planted 120 years ago.
This last weekend, we gathered at “Gemeinde Auf Dem Weg” (Church on the Way) in Berlin, Germany to take responsibility for our sins against Africa. No one is left from that time to confess, repent, ask forgiveness, reconcile, and offer restitution to our African brothers and sisters who themselves daily experience the results of the colonial era. God is looking for His Church to stand in the gap and apply the Blood of Jesus to this sin and place the Cross of Christ between our continents. That’s what we did this last weekend.
As you can see, just as 120 years ago, we too had a table around which all the delegates would sit. The big difference was that Africans were there! As you can see in the picture above, witnesses were there too. We had people who represented each of the nations who had been there around the table as well as Africans from, perhaps, about 20 different African nations.
We prayed, worshiped, testified, declared, wept, reconciled. We did this in English, French and German; representing not only the three most practical languages at this gathering, but also representing the 3 of the primary tongues that have been foisted upon Africa and representing strong colonizing nations that speak those languages. The translators worked tirelessly and, I think, prophetically as we sought to honor one another’s languages instead of use them as a weapon.
Personally we had the privilege to travel there with 2 ladies from our church, one of whom spoke German as well as French. So the 4 of us went as a team representing France, the United States, Alsace and our church. We had the opportunity to dine twice with a Congolese lady now living in South Africa. We heard her stories of the situation in the Congo and in South Africa. It was not always easy to hear especially as one hears views about Europe and the United States that are not all that flattering….and those are not opinions about past history but about today.
Now the question is what do we do with what we’ve heard. The more we know the greater our responsibility. I’ve not had a real heart for Africa but I know that we have a responsibility to live in such a way that the mind-sets with which we’ve conducted ourselves where Africa and Africans are concerned, must begin to be replace with those of the Kingdom of God. Our Imperialist and neo-Imperialist ways (I’m as guilty as anyone) need to be transformed by Jesus’s Kingdom ways. Lord help us!