Although it's been nearly 15 years, I remember the first time I visited Africa as though it were yesterday. What I remember most was how difficult it was to come home. (Those who've been there know what I'm talking about.)
There's something about the grace of its people, the diversity of its topography, the winsome sound of its music and language—even when you can't speak it—that burrows into your soul and leaves you itching to return again.
These warm and fuzzy feelings stand in contrast, however, to the desparate plight of a continent on which the fate of the rest of the world seems to hang.
It is in the furnace of Muslim Sudan that Osama bin Laden's and al-Qaida's hatred smouldered—and where he issued a "Declaration of War" against the United States in 1996.
Although it is the most impoverished continent on earth, greed for Africa's vast wealth of natural resources has created a fertile environment for the wars, colonialism and slave trade that have wracked the continent for centuries.
Until recently, the world stood idly by while Africa became an incubator for a global AIDS epidemic. The latest United Nations estimates say 26 million of the 40 million people infected with HIV worldwide live in Africa, and that Africa saw about 3.2 million of the nearly 5 million new infections recorded in 2005—most of whom are women and children.
In spite of what may appear to be the depressing realities of Africa's political and economic past and present, the nation's spiritual future could not be brighter. The observations of scholars (such as Philip Jenkins, in his book The Next Christendom) vividly reveal that the center of Christianity has shifted from the Western world to the East—and that Africa is at the epicenter of this shift.
For those who suspect the speculations of pointy-headed academics, we offer "Out of Africa" (page 28), just one example among many that the mission field of Africa has become a missionary-sending continent, and that God is using the creativity, spiritual sensitivity and courage of African church planters like Sunday Adelaja to take up where many of us in the West have left off.
These pioneers teach us that crises on the homefront are no excuse to neglect the Great Commission's call to cross-cultural witness. The students have become the teachers, and I, for one, don't plan on skipping class.
Matthew Green is managing editor of Ministries Today. He invites your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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