Without doubt, the preaching of «the gospel of the kingdom of God» (Mark 1:14) is the quintessence and reason for the existence of the missionary activity of the Church of Christ in the nations. It is the axis around which all the individual actions and initiatives of the mission must revolve and develop, so that they can be understood and evaluated as tools alone – and not as an end in themselves, which contribute to and facilitate the encounter of peoples with the redemptive message of the Gospel.
If our Lord Jesus Christ and His disciples and apostles functioned and ministered primarily and principally as preachers of the «Gospel of God,» and enclosed every meaning in the phrase, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15), then, necessarily and over time, this should be the meaning and the starting point of the ministry of every contemporary missionary apostle within the Church.
The Apostles were called « to become fishers of men” (Mark 1: 17), and we see them preserve and defend this self-consciousness to the end. Besides, this was the reason for the election of the seven deacons, so that the twelve apostles would not be forced to «leave the word of God, and serve tables» (Acts 6: 2), but rather give themselves continually “to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” unhindered (Acts 6:4).
This is the most sacred and at the same time the most difficult task, which the Lord did not entrust to all but only to those who fulfilled the requirements for this ministry, and had the dedication, the experience of the Holy Spirit and the call for preaching the word of God.
The need for complementarity and variety of spiritual gifts within the Church made St. Paul the Apostle use the image of the human body so as to explain to his brothers that everyone has a place and role in the Church ministry and their help can be conducive to the fulfillment of her mission as long as they realize that they should function within the framework of their own personal inclination and call. «And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles…Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? (A’Cor.12: 28-30). And he continues, «But covet earnestly the best gifts…» (A’Cor.12:31), in order to demonstrate later that every gift within the Church becomes important and necessary only if and when it is used “in love”.
Therefore, the inspiration and guidance of our Lord’s contemporary missionary apostles should be drawn from the aforementioned fundamental principles, which He Himself set as commandments in His New Testament.
But let us now come to the African reality in order to trace the challenges and the problems there. Our call and mission is to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God in His Son and the salvation and redemption of man through the plan of His Divine Providence. To every human being that God will send near us, in the villages and cities, in the fields, in the streets, in the wilderness. To impart the ecclesiastical experience of centuries and help so that it becomes understood and experienced as the only safe and sure path to salvation.
In Africa, since the problem of people’s daily survival is dramatically and desperately pressing and there is no end to it, the challenge is painful. The need leads to the ministry of the tables (in the broader sense), thus the daily dual struggle between the need and the divine service of preaching divides the missionary apostle and penetrates his heart like a double-edged sword.
He knows well what exactly the human beings he has before him are most in need of, but they themselves don’t! As expected, they only ask for the worldly, the material things that will help them meet pressing immediate needs. He was called to fill them up with the spiritual, the eternal. How can he achieve that without the support and help of deacons of complementary gifts? That’s his drama.
Many times the immaturity of the people and the inadequacy of the gifts make the most sacred and hard work, the testimony “on the word of life” (John,1: 1), come last, or inevitably end up in the hands of people who may be good but who are inexperienced both ecclesiastically and spiritually!
With ardent prayers
† Ieronymos of Mwanza