What to say when they burn down your house and church
I came across this remarkable, inspiring story at the end of David Smith’s excellent The Kindness of God, a plea for a new missiology appropriate to these troubled times. It comes a professor friend of his who has ministered for many years in Jos, Plateau State in northern Nigeria. Jos sits on Africa’s great faultline between the Muslim north and Christian south – and thus has faced terrible things in recent years.
The story concerns a young Baptist pastor, Sunday Gomna, who had been a student of Professor McCain’s, and led the church attended by him and his family. The church building and the pastor’s house were located in an area of Jos which was badly affected by the recurrent outbreaks of violence, and there had been much loss of life and destruction of property there. Danny McCain relates the story:
On the second Sunday of the crisis, which was the first Sunday we could go to church, pastor Sunday [Gomna] assembled his congregation in a little mud wall community center about one kilometer from the burnt church . . . The service was all in Hausa and my Hausa is very poor. However, I understand enough Hausa and the pastor slipped into English enough that I could understand what he said.
He said, ‘First, I am grateful that no one in my church killed anyone.” Certainly many Christians had blood on their hands. However, Pastor Sunday said that he had gone around through the community and some of the Muslim people said, “Pastor, thank you for the way you taught your people. Your people helped to protect us.’ So Pastor Sunday was proud that his people did not kill any Muslims. ‘Second, I am grateful that they did not burn my church.’ We all looked at him a bit incredulously. We were meeting in this little uncomfortable place because the church building had been burned. But Pastor Sunday continued: “Inasmuch as no church member died during this crisis, they did not burn our church. They only burned the building. We can rebuild the building but we could not bring back to life any of our members. So I am grateful that they did not burn my church.” He continued, “Third, I am grateful that they burned my house as well” He had been living in the parsonage [which] was burned with everything in it. Pastor Sunday continued, ‘If they had burned your house and not my house, how would ! have known how to serve you as pastor? However, because they burned my house and all my possessions, I know what you are experiencing and I will be able to be a better pastor to you. So I am grateful that they burned my house as well.’ To me these were amazing statements coming from a young pastor. And they were an illustration of the true spirit of Christ. Who can find fault with this kind of Christianity? This is not just a veneer of Christian faith over evil thoughts and attitudes. It is a true reflection of Jesus’ teachings. (Danny McCain, To the Ends of the Earth (Calabar, Flourish Brands 2010) 164-5)