Last week, I had the privilege of teaching a 40-hour intensive course in Christian Ethics for fifty West African leaders in Abidjan. As we talked through difficult issues, I was inspired to hear their courageous commitment to fight corruption, ethnocentrism, and violence in the name of Jesus for the common good of Cote d’Ivoire.
The classroom erupted in applause when a woman pastor gave her presentation on ethnicity and neighbor-love and declared,
“Our problem is that ethnic conflicts are created by politics, and people bring these problems into the church. Different ethnicities follow different political leaders, but a pastor should not give privilege to people of one ethnic group above others. Sometimes there is no love for others in the church if they are not from our tribe – they won’t even say their name but only refer to them as ‘this tribesperson.’ We think we are better than other people, and we should not think like this; we are all the same. Everyone is our neighbor, so we cannot exclude anyone from our love!”
Another student boldly declared in a presentation on politics and public life,
“The absence of justice and equity in the state brings dictatorship and revolt, which leads to chaos. Today in our societies, we notice that the stronger crush the weaker. Because of bribery, even the leaders in the church are corrupting God’s justice. Christian leaders’ lack of interest in public life gives all power to secular leaders to do whatever they want.”
These powerful words of truth apply to Christian communities across the world. We need to rediscover God’s passion for justice and public life.
All of my students were excellent, but I was especially impressed by the insight and boldness of the women pastors.
Each student wanted to sign our Neighbor-Love Covenant, and literally gave their backs to help one another do it!
Please join me in praying for these leaders as they return to their communities.
Yesterday I had the gift of preaching in another local church. I spoke again about the Bible’s counter-cultural vision of seeing even the most hated enemy as a precious neighbor. Ivorians tell me they fear a new civil war is coming, and I delivered this message with an intensified sense of urgency: “The time is now!”
Neighbor-love is the lens we need to heal our moral vision and prevent society from collapsing into war. “Do this and you will live,” Jesus promises (Luke 10:28). I believe him and will continue sharing this message.
Like last week, the entire church responded by coming forward and signing the Neighbor-Love Covenant. They committed to devoting their bodies – eyes, ears, mouths, hands, hearts, feet, and minds – to being organs of love across the boundaries that divide us. With one voice they declared, “Today I say Yes! I am a Neighbor-Love Ambassador!”
When I returned to my seat, the pastor pulled me close to his face and whispered in my ear, “God has brought you here to warn us. We fear war is coming. Your message is a very important seed of peace!”
These words are extremely alarming and encouraging.
Please join me in praying for the 185 Ivorians who signed our Neighbor-Love Covenant this week. Pray that they will have strength and courage to be peacemakers in the months ahead as Cote d’Ivoire prepares for an unpredictable national election in October.
Wherever you are in the world, I invite you to sign this Covenant today and commit to being an agent of peace and justice as the world moves toward greater contempt and conflict. The time is now. “Do this and you will live.”
Yours with gratitude from Abidjan,
P.S. Deep thanks again to our hosts Rev. and Mrs. Kwak. Their hospitality has been extraordinary.