Church Unity, For the World

Dawn In Congo (Why I Love ARDF)

It’s dawn in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 6am on Sunday morning in the lakeside town of Bukavu.  It lives up to its reputation as the most beautiful city in Congo, sitting on the southern shore of Lake Kivu.  We are here to meet with Archbishop Henri Isengoma, and celebrate today’s dedication of a multipurpose conference center in this capitol city of the South Kivu province.  From this day on and for many years forward pastors, church members, seminarians, and community members will be trained in reconciliation, theology, evangelism, discipleship, and various community development efforts.  This building is about the future against the backdrop of a difficult past.  In the 1990s and early 2000s Bukavu was a hotspot for the violence of the wars as it is so close to the border of Rwanda and Burundi, two of the main antagonists in Congo’s bitter story.  Even today, fighting goes on every day just to the north and south.

You know you’re in for it when an African warns you that a church service is going to be long.  The service we’re participating in today will go 6 hours, and will be a gluttonous feast of sacred moments, loud worship, and liturgy in a high church setting.   There will be four men ordained as priests and eighteen as deacons in this growing diocese, and at least a thousand people will be present, including the governor of the state.

And together, with prayers and praises and speeches, we will open the conference center.  Archbishop Isengoma made a special trip across the country from Kinshasa to meet with us, and that means the church service today and the dedication will take on even deeper significance.  Anglican Relief and Development Fund (ARDF) was the primary donor, giving almost $100K to the project, and it’s only one of six projects that we’ve funded in Congo in the last couple of years.

ARDF was founded in late 2004 as the very first outreach initiative of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) and the vision of Archbishop Bob Duncan.  Then, as now, the goal and reality of ACNA’s budget is that 50% of will go to outreach, in both church planting and international aid, and ARDF is the means for the latter.  Since our beginnings, we’ve given over $5.5 million to over 110 projects in 32 countries across the Anglican Communion and especially those provinces, like Congo, in the majority world.  We fund projects in health, food security, economic empowerment, education, community development, evangelism and discipleship, and relief aid.

I’ve traveled a lot and worked a lot with many international relief and development organizations, and I love working with ARDF, not only because of my own Anglican affiliations, but even more so because it’s just such a good agency, regardless of its church tradition and compared with any other agency trying to do good work in a broken world.

I love ARDF, here are five reasons why.

First, I especially appreciate the care with which all our projects are researched, evaluated, and monitored, using an independent agency to do just that, Global Scripture Impact, which gives detailed reporting and accounting on the scope of the project, it’s impact, leadership, budget evaluations, risk assessment, and overall rating of the project.  This protects us, in simple terms, from being swindled, which is common in countries used to receiving foreign aid, especially in Africa.

Second, the final decision about which projects get funded is not in the hands of Americans, but rather at the discernment of the archbishops of the Anglican Communion (also known as ‘primates’), six of them at a time who serve as our International Trustees and who are the ultimate authority of our organization.  On the American side, we handle receiving and researching proposals from around the Anglican Communion, and raise the money for the projects, but the projects are decided upon by the primates themselves, not us.  It truly is a partnership, and we in the West are in the passenger’s seat.  The North American Trustees, of which I am one, serve the church of the global majority, truly.

Third, for all that, I am so impressed with the North American leadership, from our small and lean staff, to our Chairman Bill Deiss.  It’s a true joy to see Bill fully able to use his vast international business experience to grow ARDF, and under his leadership, we’re soaring.

Fourth, these archbishops and their predecessors were critical in the formation of the Anglican Church in North America in a time of our own denominational turmoil and transition.  When orthodox Anglicans in North America were struggling to maintain a strong witness to the gospel of Jesus and stand up for the authority of the Bible, these archbishops stepped into the fray in America and enabled us to remain biblical first and also faithfully Anglican and a full part of the majority of the Anglican Communion.  We are in full communion with 2/3s of the Anglican world because of them, and still able to bring the richness of the Anglican tradition and global communion to America.

In fact, we are even more closely tied to the global Anglican communion now than historic Episcopalianism is in the US, which has sundered its own ties to the vast majority of the Anglican Communion.  For example, earlier this year the presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church in the US asked to be invited to South Sudan. The Archbishop and bishops there said a simple and much-reported “No”, and invited us instead, hence our recent trip across South Sudan and lengthy meetings with her bishops and Archbishop.  The same is true here in Congo.  We were told last night by the Archbishop here, “Our brothers and sisters in the USA are now those in the ACNA with whom we share the same faith and can talk together, walk together, and work together.”  Considering how much money these churches are putting at risk by saying this, with the sorts of concrete needs they have, it is stunning.  One bishop in South Sudan, Bishop Abraham Nhiel, a former Lost Boy of Sudan, told us, “If you make us choose between food and faith, we will choose faith….Jesus will provide our food.”

Last, at least for this blog post, I love ARDF for the simple help it’s providing for hundreds of thousands of people in the neediest places on the globe.  It’s a way to put skin on the loving hands of God for his beloved children who are in distress or have great needs.  It’s how Jesus is showing his good news and life-changing power to so many people.   Every project we’ve seen so far in South Sudan and Congo, and tomorrow in Rwanda, and another 29 countries and more to come, is a testimony to this.

So it’s now 7.15am in Congo.  The sun has risen and is rising, and a six hour church service awaits to be savored.  I’m grateful…grateful to be here in the reality of the world, grateful to be with my African brothers and sisters, grateful to God for his action in a world that needs it, grateful for Jesus’ real response to real evil and his invitation for us to join him, and grateful for this particular way through ARDF that I get to do just that.

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