Sunday, 7 July 2013

Les souffrances de l'Afrique

Poverty! Mahouna is the first to answer when I ask about what Africa suffers from. We’re at Noumonvihoue ( ) for worship. Mahouna is about 18 years old, one of the leaders of this small church group. Emile, elder on loan from Dogbo, to my left, nods in agreement as Mahouna continues: but, before we came to know Christ, our greatest suffering was not being pardoned. For Mahouna this ‘before’ is no theory. He grew up animist, pagan, as was his whole family until a few years ago. Fetishes dominate the  villagescape at Noumonvihoue: guardian poles marking the maize fields surrounding the village, bones and feathers bundled together and fixed above doorposts, blood, cornflour and palmoil sacrifices covering the horned legbas. Leah is quick to point out that Africa suffers from high infant mortality. There is AIDS, I suggest, and Mahouna’s mother gathers up into her arms a sickly three- or four year old sitting beside her to whom all eyes have darted. His distended belly is covered with a pattern of numerous incised scars, remnants of a healing ceremony intended to drive out his particular demon. The list of Africa’s woes goes on. Malaria. There was slavery, centuries of it, before and after the coming of the white man. There is corruption. There is hunger.
I had introduced the scripture reading by noting that we were but few. But that in God’s plan that didn’t matter. My task this morning is to preach, I said. And your task is to multiply this preaching, by sharing the message with your neighbours. And God will do what He has always done. I continued: perhaps some will say, as many do, this Christianity is the white man’s religion. But that isn’t true at all. Do you know who first brought the gospel to Africa?
And then we listened to the history of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. The latter on his way back to Africa from Jerusalem with a copy of the prophecies of Isaiah. Reading, without full comprehension, about the suffering Servant: like a lamb… Asking for help and receiving it from Philip, who began at that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. Baptized along the roadside – just as Mahouna had been baptized a few months ago – and then going on his way rejoicing. Back to Africa, with good news to share for the whole continent. That’s the good news you will be hearing this morning, to share with everyone who will listen, I said. The good news that “the Lamb of God took up the infirmities of Africa and carried its sorrows.” As the Ethiopian could henceforth explain the words of Isaiah 53: ce sont nos souffrances qu’il a portées, c’est de nos douleurs qu’il s’est chargéSufferings of such proportions that we know of no continent in greater need than Africa.
I didn’t preach for long. The words of Scripture were there and were sufficient without the need of more than a few amplifications. The – for now – nameless One spoken of by Isaiah: growing up before the LORD as a tender shoot, like a root out of dry ground. I pointed to the straggly maize plants just outside the unwalled chapel. Nothing of beauty or of majesty to attract us… Despised and rejected, man of sorrows, familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces… Not far from here there is a leper colony, as the inhabitants of Noumonvihoue know. Scarred, missing toes and fingers, nose and ears, and eventually more than just these extremities. Unfortunate, impossible to look upon without the gorge rising, cursed to a long wait for death. The images of Isaiah are never far away in Africa. And we esteemed him not.
He suffered. All the sufferings of Africa. And why? A logical conclusion might indeed be: we considered him stricken by God, smitten by Him and afflicted. But no, the words of Scripture went on: he was pierced for our transgressions, pierced for our iniquities… Not he, the lamb of God, but we all, like sheep, had gone astray. Behind me, one of the many small village moutons raises a plaintive cry. Strangely like an abandoned child calling out for comfort. And the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Oppressed and afflicted, like a lamb to the slaughter…
I will never again read this passage without being transported back to Noumonvihoue.
It was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. Yes, I know who that offspring is, nodded the teenage girl sitting right in front of me. That’s us. And so it is. These young African believers: God’s children through the amazing sacrifice of the Lamb of God. Suffering followed by redemption, seeing the light of life and being satisfied, justifying many by his knowledge and bearing their iniquities.
And the best is yet to come. A truth rarely fully sensed by a westerner who isn’t truly and probably never will be familiar with suffering. He bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors. That’s the Lamb of God. Intercessor. He is the joy of the Ethiopian. The Sudanese. The Ugandan. The Nigerian. The Beninese. When God’s word says that he took up our sorrows and carried our infirmities, it wasn’t theory. He’s standing there before the throne of his Eternal Father right now, I explained to them. With the sufferings of Africa on his shoulders. Father, don’t you see how your African children are suffering? Of course you do. Here they are, all of their sorrows, all of their infirmities. I died for them. Redeem them, deliver them just as soon as your time can come!
God’s time will come. You can be sure of that, the gospel reassured the people of Noumonvihoue this morning. You may have to wait a while. But God’s time will surely come. As surely as the Lamb of God is praying for you. There will be more for you than just forgiveness now, great as that is. There will be an end to all the sufferings of Africa.
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1 comment:

  1. Seeing our need is so important. Something that a lot of us non-Africans have a hard time with. It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle ....