Appointed as a PC(USA) mission co-worker in October 2009, Josh is regional liaison for West Africa. He facilitates support for the programs, relationships and activities of PC(USA) partners. He also provides support to PC(USA) mission personnel and helps connect partner churches with PC(USA) churches that want to be involved in ministry in the region.
West Africa has tremendous challenges. Niger, for instance, is the poorest country in the world. But the Christian churches of West Africa are some of the most dynamic on the continent, and they are committed to addressing the many problems that people of faith confront. The PC(USA) has partnerships with churches in three countries in West Africa. In Ghana, where our historical roots go back many years, PC(USA) maintains partnerships with two denominations, the Presbyterian Church of Ghana and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana. The PC(USA) also has newer partnerships with the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria and the Evangelical Church of the Republic of Niger. Josh is responsible for maintaining relationships with all these partner churches.
Some years ago in Niger, I met a Muslim man who relayed to me an experience he had with a visiting Christian missionary. While leading an evangelism program in the country, this missionary told him privately that the Quran is wrong. Curious to understand why the missionary felt this way, the Nigerien Muslim inquired, “Which part of the Quran is wrong?” The missionary replied, “All of it.” The Nigerien continued to ask, “But which aspect of it in particular do you have a problem with?” As the conversation went on, the Nigerien said it became clear that the Christian missionary had never read the Quran at all.
This Nigerien Muslim asked me to explain to him why a Christian missionary would say that the Quran is wrong if he knew nothing about it. It struck him as very ignorant and arrogant. Shouldn’t you at least be somewhat knowledgeable before making such a serious claim? And even then, shouldn’t your own faith – no matter what that faith might be – encourage you to be humble and respectful when speaking with someone of another?
The conversation has stuck with me through the past several years, and it’s shaped the way I go about my own work in West Africa. It’s also encouraged me to try to be much more knowledgeable about Islam.
Recently, I was reading through a section of the Quran, as I do from time to time, and I found myself admiring a particular passage:
The creation of the heavens and the earth, the alternation of night and day, the sailing of ships across the ocean with what is useful to mankind, the rain that God sends from the sky to enliven the earth that was once dead, the scattering of beasts of all kinds upon it, the changing of the winds, and the clouds which remain obedient between earth and sky, are surely signs for the wise. (2:164)
In fact, when I read these words from the Quran, they bring to mind words from Psalm 19:
The heavens are telling the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard. Yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
I like so much this Biblical notion that even the natural world around us makes known to us the glory of God. And I was happy to learn that this idea is in the Quran, too.
Really, it seems that much of the language about God in the Bible and the Quran would be appropriate in either Muslim or Christian settings. Look at the opening words of the Quran, for example:
Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, Master of the Day of Judgment. It is You we worship, and upon You we call for help. Guide us to the straight path, the path of those You have blessed.
This passage makes me think of Psalm 107:
Give thanks to the Lord, who is good, whose steadfast love endures forever. Or Psalm 1: Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.
Over the past few years, I’ve come to respect the passion my West African colleagues have for spreading the gospel through evangelism programs. We American Presbyterians can definitely learn from them! But at times, I also find myself feeling a bit uneasy.
When people learn that I am a “missionary”, they often ask me, how many souls have I won, how many heathens have I converted, how many people have I rescued from perishing? The more critical side of me wants to respond and say zero. I haven’t saved anyone, converted anyone, or rescued anyone. And the reason I haven’t is I don’t have this power. Only God can do these things.
But at the same time, I do believe in the need to speak with others about the Good News of Jesus Christ, because I believe it has the power to transform both individual lives and entire communities.
What we can do is share with other people stories about how following Jesus has changed us and allowed us to experience in our own lives the fruit of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We can do this faithfully and with integrity. And everything else – any conversion of hearts, minds, and souls – is left to God.
I invite you to pray for our partners in West Africa – in Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, and Niger—as they embark on evangelism. Thank you for all the support you give, which allows us to help one another, and learn from each other, as we live out our Christian lives together.
First Presbyterian Church supports PCUSA Mission Coworker Mark Adams and his ministry on the US/Mexico Border.
About ten years ago, weeds wouldn’t even grow on the land that was given to DouglaPrieta. But they dreamed big-they dreamed of converting the barren land into a food jungle. And with a lot of hard work, tons of different types of manure, and a beaucoup of compost, laughter, tears and prayer, they are producing more vegetables than their families can eat and are blessing their community with not only fresh vegetables, but also with an example of faith and perseverance.
At DouglaPrieta’s anniversary, Rosalinda Sagaste Chavez, one of the founders, thanked Frontera de Cristo for believing in their dream and accompanying them on their journey to its realization. Yet, it is we who are honored to be invited to participate with them to be a part of God’s amazing, creative and transformative community-building and life-giving, work.
Whether it is with an amazing group of women who envision creating something out of nothing, or a with a group of farmers determined to transform their community by creating an international roasting business, or with an unlikely group of Presbyterians and Catholics who decide to work together to provide a welcome to those children of God who are being rejected by the economy of their home countries and the immigration policies of the United States, or with a group of recovering addicts who believe we can provide support for the children, youth and families of Agua Prieta in living fulfilling drug-free lives, Frontera de Cristo, at our best, accepts the invitation of unlikely people to dream big and work with them toward a world that reflects God’s love.