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.
Frontera de Cristo is a Presbyterian border ministry located in the sister cities of Agua Prieta, Sonora and Douglas, Arizona. Frontera de Cristo seeks to put flesh on the good news of Jesus Christ through six areas of ministry: Church Development, Health Ministry, Family Ministry, the New Hope Community Center, Mission Education and the Just Trade Center.
New Hope Community Center
Centro Comunitario Nueva Esperanza is an innovative ministry which is a collaboration between Frontera de Cristo and the Nuevo Progreso Community. The purpose of the community center is to improve the quality of life in this outlying community of Agua Prieta by providing educational, cultural, and development activities for the community
The Mission Education Ministry focuses on building relationships and understanding across borders. This ministry facilitates the crossing of borders of over 400 persons a year to enter into relationship with their sisters and brothers from Mexico. The ministry helps churches, presbyteries, seminaries, and individuals reflect and act biblically and theologically on what it means to be disciples of Jesus Christ when borders divide.
Migrant Resource Center
The Migrant Resource Center is a partnership of many different people and organizations working together towards the common goal of helping migrants. Migrants, especially those who have been recently deported, have many basic humanitarian needs – a fresh pair of socks, a burrito, and some basic medical attention for dehydration and blisters. We help inform migrants about their options, including reduced price bus tickets to return to their place of origin. Another important part of the Center’s work is abuse documentation, which we use to better understand the situation migrants face, and in some cases, help victims of crimes pursue legal options.
The Family Ministry is integral in sharing the gospel with un-churched persons of the Nuevo Progreso Community and beyond. The ministry provides a weekly Bible School for 25 to 30 children, monthly marriage enrichment gatherings/workshops for about 10 couples, women’s self-esteem workshops both for the churched and un-churched, parenting classes in the elementary schools of Nuevo Progreso, emergency assistance for families in distress, counseling, spiritual direction and a pastoral presence in a highly un-churched community.
Through Frontera de Cristo’s Church Development Ministry, Frontera is working with the Presbytery de Chihuahuain the development of two new churches—Casa de Oración (House of Prayer) in Agua Prieta and Manantial de Vida (Fountain of Life) in Hermosillo. We also support the continued growth of the Lily of the Valley Presbyterian Church of Agua Prieta, Sonora and the First Presbyterian Church of Douglas in Douglas, Arizona. Each of the churches are multi-cultural congregations. The First Presbyterian Church is the only church in Douglas that is a bi-lingual worshiping congregation.
The Health Ministry of Frontera de Cristo has provided health education and service in the New Progress Community for over 15 years. The primary areas of focus are the following:
- Prevention of cervical uterine cancer and breast cancer through education and administering of pap smear and breast exams
- Dental hygiene through screening and education in Dental hygiene through screening and education in the community schools, primary dental care and follow-up
- Control of high blood pressure and diabetes through screening, nutritional education and support groups
- Promotion of good hygiene through participatory education for students and parents in the community kindergarten and elementary schools