Cape Town Archbishop and Anglican Primate of Southern Africa Njongonkulu Ndungane told the Towards Effective Anglican Mission (TEAM) conference March 8 that God had called the participants to Boksburg, South Africa.
"We hear and we respond because we serve a God who hears the cries of the oppressed," Ndungane said in his opening address to the TEAM conference. "God, my friends, hears and he acts and he acts through the mission of the Church and God acts through people like you and me."
God sends his people where they are needed, Ndungane said.
"We meet because God's world is crying out to him -- and we know our God hears, and our God acts," he said. "We meet because the hour demands it -- and we know that we serve the living God who says ‘Today' is the time for salvation. We meet because God has called us -- and we know that those whom he calls, he directs and equips to carry out his purposes."
Ndungane summarized those cries, beginning with the HIV/AIDS pandemic. He reminded the conference that 40 million people worldwide live with HIV/AIDS, 25 million of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa. Another 25 million have died of AIDS since 1981 and another three million will die this year, two million of those will be Africans. More than 4 million, and more than 3 million in Africa, will be infected.
In addition, he said, tuberculosis, which so often takes advantage of those with AIDS, will this year claim 2 million lives, the great majority in Africa. Malaria will lead to more than a million deaths, 90 percent in Africa, and most of these among young children. There will be more than 300 million acute cases of malaria globally this year. And, he said, the church hears the cries of more than 48 million sub-Saharan orphans, a quarter of who are the results of HIV/AIDS, and whose ranks are rising fast.
"All these statistics may seem overwhelming -- but, as the Lord tells Joshua before he leads his people into the Promised Land, we should not be daunted," Ndungane said, "because the hour demands that we come together, for other reasons too -- for reasons that are encouraging."
The rest of the world has increasingly become aware of the need for a comprehensive approach to aid and development. At this hour, the church can become a significant partner in the global development agenda, Ndungane said.
"It is a world that has also recently come to see that faith-based organizations are fundamental to the effective tackling of poverty," he said.
"Development institutions have begun to wake up to the strength of the faith communities," Ndungane said, adding that when the church cooperates with aid and development agencies, "we give them the opportunity to reach more people, more quickly, more efficiently."
The TEAM conference "offers us an opportunity to harness the energy, commitment and potential of faith communities to make a constructive contribution towards the realization of sustainable livelihoods for everyone" and "for the church to raise its profile in development and to articulate the capacity and the strength that we have as faith communities in delivering services to those who are in need."
The Archbishop, who was tasked by the Primates of the Anglican Communion in April 2001 to coordinate the Communion's response to HIV/AIDS, said that he agrees with the late South African missiologist David Bosch when he said that the mission of the church must transform reality. At the same time, Bosch, whom Ndungane knew before his death in an auto accident in 1993, said mission itself must be constantly transformed according to God's call to his people to address the needs of the world.
Ndungane reminded the conference that the Book of Common Prayer's catechism says that the mission of the church is to reconcile all people to unity with God and each other through Christ.
"So we come together for God to transform us, and to make us agents of transformation, as we dedicate ourselves to work for the restoration of all people to unity with God, and with each other, in Christ," the archbishop said.
Preaching eternal life, abundant life
Ndungane called the Anglican Communion a "worldwide Communion, spanning the planet, spanning rich and poor, donors and recipients."
"This comprehensiveness uniquely strengthens our ability to engage more effectively in holistic mission with global partners, and make a greater difference than ever before in bringing the Lord's abundant life to his children," he said.
Ndungane told the conference that "God's eternal Word did not come as a philosophical concept, nor as a political program."
"Nor was the Word made text," he said, drawing chuckles from the conference. "But the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth."
Ndungane said that Christians have "over-spiritualized" the promise in the Gospel of John that Jesus has come to bring abundant life to the world.
The church should reclaim those words in John, "understanding them as applying to every dimension of human existence, spiritual and physical -- an existence that Jesus dignified through his incarnation," the Archbishop said.
Too often, Christians have "the mistaken idea that we have to choose between preaching the salvation that brings eternal life, or working for abundant life here and now," Ndungane warned.
Saying that God provides for our needs but not our greed, Ndungane said that "tackling oppression requires more than tackling the particular consequences of the way today's world works."
"We need to tackle the causes," he said. "This means looking beyond the roots of inequality and injustice within global political and economic systems. It means looking to the deeper causes that lie within the human heart -- the causes of selfishness and greed that have their roots in our fear that we will never have sufficient."
God provides a world of abundance for all, if that abundance is shared equitably, Ndungane said.
"But the whole global economic system operates through ruthless competition, based on the fallacy that actually there is shortage. And so the rich and powerful are easily able to exploit the poor and weak. Furthermore, short term gain increasingly ignores the long term costs, for ourselves, and for future generations."
Transforming the Anglican Communion
Ndungane challenged the TEAM conference to let its work transform the Anglican Communion.
"Bound together by bonds of affection that unite us and unite us against poverty, let us seize this opportunity by blowing fresh winds of change into the lungs of the Anglican Communion," he said.
"And of course, this is a time in the life of our Communion when it will be good for us also to step back and take stock of the fullness of our calling," he said. "There is no doubt that we face deep and difficult issues in the internal life of the Communion, and I do not want to pretend they do not matter. We are, rightly, concerned with what it means to live faithfully and obediently to our Lord, in pursuit of greater holiness and Christ-likeness.
"But this must not be at the expense of God's mission in God's world. We know that too often the world around thinks we care only about questions of sexuality. This week's meeting shows that this is not the case.
"And beyond this demonstration that we care for all God's children, I am also sure that, as we live out more fully the whole breadth of what it is to be God's people in God's world, we shall better understand how to tackle the differences and divisions among us. I am sure that through following Jesus' example in serving the needs, the urgent needs, of others, we will be helped better to know how to follow his example in other areas of our lives."
The full text of Ndungane's speech is available here. An audio version of his speech will be posted later today here.
More than 400 people from 30 of the Anglican Communion's 38 provinces are attending the March 7-14 TEAM conference to review the Communion's response to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and how the church can do more as one of the world's largest grassroots development networks. The TEAM conference is in part a follow up to the first-ever pan-Anglican conference on HIV/AIDS, which was hosted by Ndungane in Boksburg in 2001.
The conference is also meant to "encourage a prophetic articulation for an Anglican theology which supports witness and action for social justice."
More information about TEAM is available at the conference website. Continuing ENS coverage is available here.