BY JENNY MUSCAT
Over 100 people gathered at The Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire, for the annual CMS Africa conference from 9-11 November.
As I’m still a new-ish member of staff, this was my first Africa conference. I was given a warm welcome by the Africa conference family, who gather each year to share share passion and prayer for Africa.
The delegates included current and former mission partners and mission associates, as well as many long-standing supporters of Church Mission Society. Mission partners in training Tom and Verity Clare commented, “It was really encouraging to be here – to meet people, hear their encouragement and wisdom, and draw on all of the experience here.”
Fittingly on the centenary of the armistice, the theme of the conference was peace and reconciliation in an African context.
Keynote speaker Berdine van den Toren Lekkerkerker drew on her experiences living in and continuing to regularly visit the Central African Republic as she explored this theme. She led us in exploring parallels between the experience of Israel in exile and the experience of Africans today and drew on the songs of the suffering servant in Isaiah to consider what the response and impact of the church, particularly the African church, could be in situations of conflict.
One of the highlights of the weekend was the opportunity to receive the gifts of challenge and encouragement from the African church.
Henry Mwaniki, training manager at CMS-Africa, updated us on the latest news and developments at our sister organisation. He also encouraged those who have poured many years of faithful service and prayer into mission in Africa with a message that the African church is rising up to meet challenges and raising a generation to do mission in an African context and an African way.
Theo Mbazumutima from Burundi, director of Rema Ministries and subject of the book My Country Wept, spoke to the whole conference about his experience of fleeing violence in Burundi and later returning to lead Rema, a charity working to support returning refugees.
He later held a workshop looking in more detail at one of the challenges Rema seeks to address: that of conflicting land claims between returning refugees and those who have been internally displaced. He challenged participants to consider the question: How do you resolve a land problem when the two parties in conflict both legally own the same piece of land? Although they only have the resources to address these questions slowly, Rema have been encouraged that several hundred families have reached agreement in these disputes after Rema’s intervention.
Sadiki Kangamina is vice rector of the Anglican University of Congo, based in Bunia, Ituri Province, an area affected by the recent Djugu ethnic clashes. He spoke about the situation in Ituri and the impact it has had on the university, as many of the students’ families have been displaced or even killed. Sadiki called the conference to pray urgently for this situation, but also to draw hope from stories of reconciliation at an individual level that have been facilitated by the church and Anglican university.
It was inspiring and challenging, especially to hear voices from Burundi and DRC about the big issues and questions with which the church in those countries is grappling and the challenges in the face of which the church is continuing to bring the light of Christ.
What was most striking about those gathered was the depth of commitment and passion they had for the people of Africa, a deep concern and love for the nations being spoken of.
I was both encouraged and challenged as I pray for and engage in mission by the faithfulness of our CMS community and supporters.