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Archive for February 13th, 2009

A new world

Rich Bledsoe has pointed to an amazing article by Matthew Parris which appeared in the Times online for December 27, 2008.

Mr. Parris, a professing atheist and native born African, admits to being forced to acknowledge something he has resisted for a long time: Christianity makes a real difference, not only in individuals, but in whole societies. This last December, Parris returned to Africa after 45 years absence and couldn’t ignore the influence of Christian missionaries:

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

He had noticed this during his childhood:

The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world – a directness in their dealings with others – that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.

And his return trip confirmed this. This time, however, he noted the difference between Christians and the typical African tribal beliefs. Parris observes, tribal belief “suppresses individuality. People think collectively; first in terms of the community, extended family and tribe. This rural-traditional mindset feeds into the “big man” and gangster politics of the African city: the exaggerated respect for a swaggering leader, and the (literal) inability to understand the whole idea of loyal opposition.”

The effects of African paganism are far-reaching:

Anxiety – fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things – strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won’t take the initiative, won’t take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders.

His conclusion is stunning:

Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted. And I’m afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.

Money, power, political manipulation and coercion . . . . all are weak and impotent in comparison to the gospel. Darkness and death cannot stand when the light and life of the Triune God comes. Apart from Jesus, we are left to the “mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone, and the machete.”

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St. Valentine

st-valentineSt. Valentine was a martyr who was put to death for the faith in the the latter part of the 3rd century. There is some confusion about Valentine’s identity. There was a Valentine, who was a priest of Rome, and a Valentine, who was bishop of Ternia Both of whom are commemorated on February 14 (both are now generally assumed to be the same person).

Some say that Valentine was taken prisoner for assisting the martyrs in the persecution under Claudius II. Others say that he got in trouble for assisting in the marriage of young, Roman soldiers. The story is that Claudius forbade marriages among the members of his army without his consent because he believed that unmarried men made the best soldiers. Valentine took pity on the young soldiers who were in love and yet unable to get imperial permission to marry and began performing marriages for them, without the emperor’s permission. The emperor arrested him but he refused both to repent of his actions and to recant his faith. When he called upon the emperor to repent and believe in Jesus, Claudius became furious and condemned him to death.

Valentine was beaten with clubs and stoned and when he survived in spite of these actions, he was beheaded. His execution occurred on February 14, somewhere between the years 269-273. Valentine came to be commemorated as the patron of young lovers. In many parts of Europe, it was said that birds began to pair off for the nesting season in mid-February. This day, being close to the day of Valentine’s martyrdom, became known as St. Valentine’s day.

PRAYER: Almighty and everlasting God, who kindled the flame of your love in the heart of your holy martyr Valentine: Grant to us, your humble servants, a like faith and power of love, that we who rejoice in his triumph may profit by his example; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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