I have just returned from Kenya, where it was a great privilege to be part of a contingent of UK delegates attending the International Leaders Conference 2018 for the Salt & Light International family of churches.
Oxford Community Church was unusual in having 5 people there: As well as Steve Jones (who was speaking in some seminars), Steve and Lorraine Thomas were there as leaders of the International Team, Ruth Morton was ably translating, and I was the overall organisational lead for the event - do talk to any of us if you want to know more! There was also another surprise Oxford person there, who I will mention later…
350 delegates from 30 nations represented senior leaders from many continents, and included over 200 African leaders. As ever, it was a privilege to spend time with, strengthen relationship and learn from the other cultures. It gives me fresh perspective on our own situation in the UK. Four words sum this up for me:
When as UK leaders we met on the last day to talk about what we'd learned, one thing was on all our lips: passion! We had seen something in the conduct of our Africa family that inspired us all to pray more expectantly, worship more wholeheartedly and live more dependently on God. This isn't just a cultural matter of musical style or greater aptitude for dance(!), but the genuine and eager way in which every person present prayed and worshipped authentically.
Francophone African leaders connected to Destinée - the part of the S&L family in French-speaking Europe - had travelled for days to be with us, and some were working in some very difficult Islamic majority contexts. The surprise friend from Oxford was Jack, who was sent out by Oxford to lead a team working in Central Northern Africa. Jack had travelled to be with us, having felt that the Lord had directed him to do so. He spoke one night: a very challenging message which may well prove to be a significant moment in mobilising the sub-Saharan church to go north.
Being the first S&L International Leaders Conference outside of the UK, the International Team felt a significance in going to Africa. God is already doing something in the global church, in which the global south is becoming a much more significant voice, but a significant prophetic word given by a senior prophet called Africa to 'step up' further to be a stronger flavour in leadership, prayer, faith and mission. We are already seeing 'the empire strikes back' (a phrase borrowed by Ngwiza Mnkandla) as African churches plant back into the UK, and as OCC we are freshly determined to learn from the global south: over the coming months we plan to welcome Anderson and Lydia Moyo, Ngwiza Mnkandla (Zimbabwe) and JB Masinde (Kenya), and recently we welcomed Joemon Joseph (India).
Finally, although for me personally the conference represents a long, tiring working week, I find it tremendously satisfying to be able to facilitate our international extended family. Quite moving in fact! Whenever we get together, wherever we are meeting, there is an immediate and close sense of friendship, partnership and common purpose. We value unity in diversity, because through diversity we learn and are enriched. The International Team meeting preceding the conference saw a significant moment of unity as we signed off a project we've been working on for 2 years, as we agreed to walk together with freshly agreed mission, priorities and values.
Our family is an international family on mission, and - as Lois was saying this morning in Oxford - a family joined covenantally! What a privilege to be part of it.