Yearly Archives: 2019

The Revelation and the power of cross in context

Teaching and learning from the final BUILD module with local leaders is a humbling and enriching experience, not least because of the contexts they face. A recent residential with learners from Burundi, Congo, South Sudan and Uganda led to additions to the module as we explored why the cross of Christ is the key to history.

An excerpt from a book by John Stott drove the discussion. The BUILD materials rarely quote from western authors, preferring to draw on comments and insights from participants in the curriculum development process. But given the relevance of the material and the stage learners have reached in the curriculum and their personal development, it seemed right to quote the book, and at length. What follows is drawn from the materials. The introduction and the discussion questions that follow top and tail an extended quote. The hope is that our readers will also be challenged and encouraged.

The cross of Christ as the key to history

In one section of his book The Incomparable Christ, John Stott considers Revelation chapter 5, just as we have done in an earlier learning unit. He draws attention to the truth we have already discovered: only Jesus, the Lamb of God, can break open the scroll of God’s purposes. “See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals (5:5).”

John Stott then asks and then answers these questions: “Why is Jesus Christ the only person who is worthy to open and explain the scroll? What is it about the Lamb of God which uniquely qualifies him to interpret it? Clearly it is because he was slain, and because of what he achieved by his death.”

We have already been learning that lesson together, but it is important to reinforce it: Jesus is the only one who is truly qualified to shed light on history because of his death on the cross. But we need to now go deeper and Stott recognises that. He continues by adding this question: “But what is it about the cross that makes it the key to history?”

We have grown a great deal in our understanding as we have gone through the BUILD curriculum. This is a good moment to test and to stretch that ability by reading John Stott’s answer carefully and by considering the questions that follow. Why is the cross of Christ the key to history? John Stott explains what that is the case by making four main points:

“First, the cross illumines history because it speaks of victory. The reason why the Lamb was able to open the scroll is because he has triumphed (5:5). The same verb has been used at the conclusion of each of the seven letters to the churches. A promise is given to him who overcomes. For example, ‘To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne’ (3:21). Thus the cross is represented in the New Testament as victory not defeat, as triumph not tragedy. For, as Paul wrote, on the cross Christ dethroned and disarmed the principalities and powers of evil, triumphing over them in the cross (Col. 2:15). True, they are still alive and active, for they have not yet conceded defeat. Nevertheless, they have been conquered and are under Christ’s feet (e.g. Eph. 1:22). This is the great truth of Christus Victor, which the church has sometimes forgotten. The first reason why the Lamb alone can interpret history with all its evil is that he triumphed over evil at the cross.

“Secondly, the cross illumines history because it speaks of redemption. The repeated use of the title ‘the Lamb’ will immediately have reminded Jewish readers of the Passover. For just as the Passover lamb was sacrificed, its blood sprinkled and the people spared, so Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us, so that we might be redeemed and might celebrate the festival of redemption. Thus history has a twofold plot-line. There is world history (the rise and fall of empires) and there is salvation history (the story of the redeemed people of God). Moreover, we dare to say that the former is explicable only in the light of the latter; that what God is doing against the backdrop of world history is to call out from every nation a people for himself; and that only the cross makes this possible.

“Thirdly, the cross illumines history because it speaks of suffering. For the sufferings of the Christ, although unique in their redemptive significance, were nevertheless the prototype of the sufferings of the people of God. Because he suffered, his people are called to suffer. Because he went to the cross, he calls us to take up our cross and follow him. So John moves on from the Lamb slain (in ch. 5) to the souls of the martyrs, slain because of their faithful testimony (in ch. 6). Thus those who are called to suffer for Christ, whose sufferings are so hard to understand and to bear, learn to see them in the light of the sufferings of Christ.

“Fourthly, the cross illumines history because it speaks of weakness, and specifically of power through weakness. This paradox is seen in its most dramatic form in Christ and the cross, and in John’s vision in Revelation 4 and 5. For at the centre of God’s throne (symbol of power) stands a slain Lamb (symbol of weakness). In other words, power through weakness, dramatized in God on the cross and the Lamb on the throne, lies at the heart of ultimate reality, even of the mystery of almighty God himself.” (Inter-Varsity Press 2001, pp. 185-187.)

For discussion

  • Look at John Stott’s first point, “the great truth of Christus Victor” (Latin for the Victorious Christ or Christ the Conqueror). Consider his argument carefully and then explain how the cross – an event that appears to be one of humiliation and defeat – qualifies Jesus to teach us about the turbulent history of our world.
  • Think about Stott’s second point, “history has a twofold plot-line.” Explain what he means by that and then go on to discuss how this truth can help us as Christians to live through the difficulties of human history and to stand firm in our faith.
  • Now turn to point three. A “prototype” is a first example of something that then becomes the basis for later models or versions. How do Christ’s sufferings explain and help us in some of our own sufferings (see also 2 Peter 2:21)?
  • Finally, look at the last paragraph and point. The cross is the ultimate demonstration of power in and through weakness. Explain and describe some of the ways in which that can help Christians in the midst of the struggles they face.


Featured picture: South Sudanese BUILD trainees in a refugee settlement learning together.

Responding to training needs in Kakuma Refugee Camp

BUILD has been training local church leaders in refugee settlements in northern Uganda, as reported previously. This month, in partnership with the Church Army in Kenya, we have begun to look at the needs there – beginning with Kakuma Refugee Camp in the north west of the country.

Kakuma is under enormous pressure. The camp that was designed to host a population of 70,000 now has approximately 150,000 refugees, and that having been ‘decongested’ through 38,000 being hosted in the nearby Kalobeyei Settlement from mid-2015 (the combined population was 191,500 registered refugees and asylum-seekers at the end of August this year).

Every possible resource is stretched to the limits, including those needed to grow and sustain healthy churches. Benjamin Kibara from BUILD in the ACK is also a Captain in the Church Army (an Anglican mission initiative). Benjamin reported as follows:

“We visited Kakuma Refugee Camp with a team from Church Army Africa through an invitation from Ven. David Wuor, from the diocese of Ayod. Five dioceses from southern Sudan had written to us asking for help in various areas including evangelism, clothes, food, tents and chairs for use during Sunday worship, and the training of leaders. The dioceses are Ayod, Nasir, Akobo, Maiwut and Bentiu (all are new dioceses, sub-divided from Bor and Malakal).

“As a team of eight we managed to take two large tents, with capacity for 150 people to meet, 100 plastic chairs, 10 sacks of clothes and assorted foodstuffs. Earlier in the year, Carlile College, the Church Army College in Nairobi, as a response to their request admitted four evangelists to train for three years. Even with this, the need for training leaders is huge and there is so much that needs to be done.

“Ven. David Wuor, was the dean of the cathedral that was demolished due to the ongoing war, and finished his diploma last year from Carlile College. David, who has been in the camp since 2014, shared with me that he had no previous training, even though he has served as a clergyman for twelve years. He is in charge of five congregations with 400 – 500 in attendance each Sunday. To do that work, David is supported by fifteen evangelists and lay readers who have no training at all to lead churches.”

David’s situation seems typical. Benjamin went on to describe how he had also visited a classmate of his from Carlile, Revd Timothy Ibrahim in his church in Kakuma.

“Timothy was my classmate in Carlile from 2005 – 2008 and has been in the camp since 1999. Timothy has three congregations and seven untrained leaders who support him. Timothy introduced me to the chair of all the Anglican clergy, Ven. Abraham who has been in the camp since 1992. Abraham shared that there more than 40 ordained Anglican clergy in the camp but more than 90% of these have no formal ministerial training.

“During my visit to Timothy’s church, the Bishops of Feiyang and Kongeren Dioceses were visiting the Dinka community in the camp. The bishops gave me time to address the gathered Christians and I explained to them about BUILD work across East Africa. Bishop David and Gabriel were excited to hear of the prospects to train their church leaders right there in Kakuma.”

David, Gabriel and many others are excited by this prospect, but delivering that training will not be straightforward. The nascent BUILD ACK initiative is now beginning to look at how this might happen, alongside putting down roots in and around Nairobi, where, despite a wealth of resources in comparison to Kakuma and Kalobeyei, there are also significant training needs. The challenge and opportunity will be to do this in an integrated way.

“Some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

Empirical data on follow-on training from BUILD initiatives can be hard to gather. It was therefore encouraging to be sent figures from efforts at AICMAR, described in an earlier post. 36 of 59 students who completed their BUILD-based diploma studies were sampled and the following figures were noted and observations made.

First, the training had been emphatic when it came to the importance of passing on learning to others. 100% of the sample followed through on this: every single one had trained others using BUILD materials or methods and a total of 423 individuals had been reached. If that figure is extrapolated for the 59, then a total of approximately 700 will have been reached, 693 being the estimate. One outlier showed extraordinary enthusiasm in passing on his training to 45 others. BUILD can have that effect. But if he is removed to normalise the findings and a new average is applied, the group remains responsible for equipping around 640 (637 the figure).

Second, students were assured that quality was as important as quantity and that follow-on training to a few peers was legitimate and to be encouraged. Against that background the lowest number reached by an individual was three (two individuals trained that number) and the highest 45, as we have noted above. If that exceptional individual is included the mean number trained per student is just under 12 (11.8), but even with the outlier removed the average is only reduced to just under 11 (10.8). These encouraging figures may well reflect local leadership development group sizes. In that distribution of leaders reached per trained trainer the person, apart from the individual who reached 45 others the next most prolific reached 24 others. The most frequent number reached was nine: six individuals reached out to that number with BUILD based training.

Third, the 59 BUILD graduates came from three distinct cohorts. 23 were part of a Church Workers Cohort made up of students in full-time ministry: priests, deacons, evangelists, lay readers and associate ministers. A further 15 were in a Chaplaincy Cohort, the majority of whom were early childhood development teachers and teachers from primary and secondary schools. Finally, there was a Regional Cohort, also with 23 graduates, drawn from the Western and Nyanza regions of the Anglican Church of Kenya, together with two students from Tanzania. Looking at those different types of leader, the Church Workers averaged just under 10 per person (9.7). The Chaplaincy members averaged a higher number: 15 (although the outlier was in their ranks and without him they averaged just under 11 (10.7)). Those from the Regional Cohort reached on average just over 14 others (14.3). That higher number may be due to the sustained focus on the incremental development of local leadership development groups in that group.

A final observation or comment is that it is impossible to quantify the more informal teaching and training that resulted. If the approximately 700 who were directly touched by the training (including the 59 themselves) were preaching to or praying for or sharing with just ten others on a week-by-week basis then the wider impact or influence is increased ten-fold. But of course many would be interacting and interfacing with much larger numbers in groups and congregations. The wider numbers of those influenced in some way by just 59 students in a single BUILD programme are then in the thousands.

“David faced what we are facing” – confidence despite insecurity

Kamango Diocese is a young Anglican diocese in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It lies close to the Uganda border in the Beni region of DRC’s North Kivu province. Various armed groups operate in North Kivu, encouraged by an absence of governance and the presence of mineral wealth. One of those groups, the Allied Democratic Front (ADF), continues to create havoc.

We spoke with Manzi Costa who serves in the diocese, and travels regularly to Uganda as part of a BUILD training cohort. Manzi described how the ADF is operating in his area: “They attacked the diocese and killed many of our Christians in April. Even now Bishop Sabiti [Tibafa Daniel] and the diocesan staff are no longer at the cathedral in Kamango but have been displaced to the town of Nobili close to the Uganda border, where there is some protection. This is the challenge we are facing: the whole diocese is scattered. It feels as though no organisation is really helping us, and no one is going out to get food. They attacked the town yesterday and killed eight civilians and three soldiers. People are no longer going to the churches. We gather together in the town and pray from there, sometimes in semi-permanent structures.”

In this context, Manzi went on to explain how his studies that week on the Psalms were helping him: “David faced the same challenges we are facing, but he remained confident in God”, he shared. “However much we are facing challenges, we are still confident. This is how the BUILD training is helping me: the Psalms are encouraging me as the Psalmists were facing what we are facing but they continued to trust in God. Even though we are suffering, our God is there – that is the message I am taking and will share with others. The wicked one is prospering but I will cry out to God. It has been this way since I was born – 28 years ago. Up to now I have only experienced wars.”

Pray for Manzi as he returns to Congo, that he will continue to know and share that message of hope. And, as Bishop Sabiti, requests, “Please pray for a quick recovery of peace in the area so that people are able to grow their crops. [Without that] soon hunger will be generalised and sickness will follow as an epidemic. People now need shelter, clean water, food and medication, and sensitisation about the Ebola virus.”

Reintegrating Rwandan communities

We caught up with Edward Nyituriki, a BUILD student and trainer who is in Amsterdam studying for a masters. Edward is exploring how genocide perpetrators can be reintegrated back into their communities once they have been released from jail. We discussed what that work might mean for him when he returns to Rwanda later in the year, and how it can inform, connect with and impact BUILD.

The focus of Edward’s study is on how prisoners who were involved in the genocide but are soon to be released “can be positive to the community, how they can bring peace rather than instability.” Edward has looked at how his diocese, Shyogwe, has been doing prison ministry and preparing prisoners for release. He discovered that while there has been a great deal of helpful preaching, there has been very little personal work to respond to their cry. As one prisoner told him, “We are like orphans and no one is taking care of us.” In response, Edward’s study advocates for a particular type of prison chaplaincy to develop at Muhanga and Nyanza, a chaplaincy that will “counsel prisoners and connect them to the local community, helping them to share with those communities, and especially with the genocide survivors.”

The re-integration of perpetrators among survivors is understandably challenging. First, Edward shares, there is the need for them to “realise what they have done, for confession and forgiveness.” As he went on to say, “asking for forgiveness is a very big step towards reconciliation, and survivors are willing and wanting to hear from perpetrators, although it can take some time to forgive.” To complicate matters, the local gacaca law court system that was already struggling before the genocide was completely overwhelmed with cases. As a result, many prisoners who are presumed perpetrators feel they have been the victims of terrible injustice. As Edward pointed out, “some say, ‘What will we confess?’ We need to be able to help them to deal with this.”

The chaplaincy will connect prisoners with parishes in order “to create local reconciliation groups where perpetrators and survivors can meet for teaching and sharing on reconciliation, repentance and forgiveness. Not only drawing on key biblical passages, but also on how our culture encourages peaceful neighbourhoods, working closely with pastors and catechists. This means identifying genocide survivors and those in the community with relatives in prison, and bringing them together too.”

As Edward pointed out, it can be hard gathering people together for such meetings. “But if they can do an activity together it can motivate them, an activity of their choice – farming, brick making, income generating. That means having micro-finance funds available that they can borrow to start these up. Doing these activities together will encourage them and help them to overcome the stigma that they feel, their feeling that they are rejected, developing a sense of being together helps to reduce their fear.”

How does all this link with the work of BUILD? Edward explained that, “in one way and another I have been inspired by and have learnt from BUILD. But BUILD is focussed on the catechists and pastors, while this chaplaincy programme will draw in a wide variety of those who have been affected by the genocide. Those who have been trained by BUILD are among the ones who will implement the reconciliation groups – the catechists and pastors. This will give them a new perspective and message in their groups.”

Along with BUILD and other programmes, this initiative will be integral to delivering the four pillars of the diocese (sharing the word with families, alleviating poverty, bringing peace & reconciliation, and creating church ownership*), so that Rwandan communities can be reintegrated as a critical part of the Church’s mission in that context.


*Edward clarified that ‘church ownership’ means “members resolving their own problems and initiating their own programmes,” rather than assuming that the pastor or diocese will do it for them.