Firstly, a few observations concerning Europe.
Suffice to say we were museumed out and old churched out after two weeks. What amazed me was the love and dedication shown by people over decades to beautify their world, and particularly to honour God. What stood out for me was the sense that when one sees a Cathederal or an ancient home on television, one thinks of it as exemplary, something that stands alone as an example of what such and such a building style or artistic movement would look like. The opposite was true, in that everywhere the buildings were old, the fortresses had been build (and added to) over time. One tudor style home is next to another in a neighbourhood of others in a similar style. Art museums have rooms set aside for Vermeer after Vermeer or Picasso after Picasso. From this one gets a sense of the irresistable march of history, that it is alive. I found this sense of a relentless parade an encouraging picture of the church, how through revelation after revelation, dispensation by dispensation, God is at work perfecting His church.
We were priveledged to visit a number of believing churches during our visit both in Germany (in Freilassing) and in Pretoria and Bloemfontein in South Africa. What stood out for me, although palpable, is very difficult to put into words, so I have included a quote from Austin Sparks which speaks a little of the mystery of the unity which Christians around the world enjoy;
There is a mystery about this people, about this particular Church, there
something here that is supernatural, something here that is spiritual. It is
not just a society of people called Christians, a number of people who
together in the Christian faith and believe certain doctrines.
something more than that about them. If only you knew it and
it, in the deepest and innermost reality of their being
they are not merely natural people, they are not
people. There is
something hidden within them which you cannot
on any other ground,
and you have to say, 'It is God; it is
the Lord.' When
you meet these people,
when they are gathered together
even in a small
company, if you move in there
you find something extra
to the people,
something more than what they are; you
meet the Lord.
There is a mystery
about this, and the mystery of Christ of which
is speaking here is not
just the mystery of Christ personal, but it is the
mystery of Christ
corporate, of Christ in His Body the Church.
My third observation concerns South Africa, a nation very dear to my heart. There is a tangible sense of optimism in South Africa, which is pervasive. It is matched by a safer security situation, bought at the price of armed guards and razor wire. Also at the same time there is a hightened sense of dignity and self worth among the african people of South Africa. I got a foretaste of this after the first democratic elections, although this is more tangible and widespread.
In contrast to this optimism there is a greater disparity between rich and poor. While regime change has meant affluence to a small select few, the majority are worse off. First hand we witnessed the devestation aids has brought to the continent, which is such an unknown quantity. The whole face of Africa will change in twenty years. Our thoughts and prayers go out to you, pastors, elders and churches out in the townships and tin shed churches. May God's mercy and grace be swift in coming and your hands and feet be like the hands and feet of Jesus.