If you were asked who the greatest missionary in all of history is, who would you name?
Who would you say has called most people to Christ? Who has done so much soul-saving that you think they deserve the star on the missionary walk of fame? A lot of people will name biblical characters. But don’t be lazy, I mean think of people we can trace in modern times. At this point, you are probably thinking of some old white people: John Wesley? Mother Teresa? Benny Hinn? Billy Graham? Or perhaps you’re thinking of some Nigerian televangelists? Who?
Well, irrespective of who you thought of I’m here to argue that you’re wrong. I don’t need to know the preacher’s name; all I know for sure is that they can’t take the title of the greatest missionary of all time. If a missionary is one who wins souls for Christ, then the greatest of all time is none other than African government officials.
Yes, you read that right. Let me make my case: A missionary is one who promotes their faith, a Christian missionary is one who promotes faith in Christ; causes people to believe in Christ. I’ve thought long and hard, and I can’t give anyone other than African government officials more credit or pushing African people to Christ. Western missionaries may have brought it here, but it’s our government that has enabled its preservation over a century later. In fact, the government has three great missionary achievements to its credit.
1. ‘Suffer them to Come Unto Me’
In Matthew 19:14, Jesus said “Suffer the little children to come unto me. Bible translators have explained that the meaning for “suffer” there was “allow” and not the ‘suffer’ we know as of today. But the African government officials did not hear that one. No, what they – and the rest of us too- have heard is that “pain is the touchstone of spiritual growth”, that suffering draws us to God. And so they believe they are doing the Lord’s work by suffering the civil servants who after scrambling to secure a government job must then wait years before they get paid. How won’t you believe in God as a medical doctor in this country? You must believe when you see how low people are surviving despite the low chances of survival. You must believe, for your own sanity, that you will live long enough despite daily risks as a frontline worker to see the day you cash out your arrears – after the bribe of course. And so the government sends you to the altar.
Now, I’m not on the side of those who say God intentionally gives us pain to bring us to him. Personally, I don’t like nor agree with that framing. I understand it, I definitely think he permits the pain and uses it for good. But the intentional cruelness of breaking you, bring you to your knees seems sadistic and not at all God-like (see James 1:13). So of course I am not going to relegate the Government’s “ministry” to just that of suffering. Nope, they have other strategies for promoting the faith. So moving on, let’s look at their second missionary achievement …
2. “In God we trust”
One of the most memorable lessons of the New Testament is that which teaches us not to presume tomorrow is assured… Jesus uses the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16–21) to teach it and James (4:15) warns against betting on tomorrow and suggest that we rather say “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
Well, even if you’ve never read the bible, the Cameroonian government has taught you this lesson by virtue of their unreliability. We say “by God’s grace” automatically whether we’re active disciples of Christ or not; because if there is one thing we’re sure of, it is that nothing is sure. You may have money in the bank but you cannot be sure that the ATM would work, in fact, it is normal for them to have issues. You may have paid for a monthly data subscription but you are not sure to enjoy the data- and even if they skip days on end, you can do nothing but grumble. You are not sure of getting to work on time even if you left home early- some minister may be visiting and the roads will be blocked for hours with not consideration… Nothing is sure. No one teaches this better than governments like the Cameroonian and this makes them one of the greatest missionaries- whether they intend to be or not.
In other countries where the system is reliable, you can plan for days ahead. In Cameroon courtesy of the government, doing meal prep for a week is an act of faith. You must be trusting in God because it cannot be in ENEO you trust…
They have taught us dependency on Christ in a way Saker and Wellesley could never!
3. “In Everything Give Thanks”
I in no way mean to suggest other countries are perfect… far from it. More developed countries have their own systematic failures. A Black-American probably has to pray that their justice system works as it should… Yet, the Cameroonian government has made thanksgiving a national practice in ways that can only be considered a missionary achievement.
In the absence of a functioning system, even the littlest thing becomes a miracle. And so we hear resounding shouts of “thank God” when ENEO restores power. We clap in gratitude when the bus safely arrives Bamenda after a night journey – the way Africans elsewhere clap when the plane lands) because we know that our roads are hazardous and our driver may have acquired his license through corrupt means… We know it is a miracle that we’re not dying of Covid19 in crazy numbers, because there is literally no contact tracing done and the testing centers barely practice the measures they recommend.
And while it is likely that you’d find a black grandmother giving a testimony of thanksgiving that her grandson wasn’t framed because he ‘matched a description’, in Cameroon you’ll find a Cameroonian having celebratory drinks over the issuing of their national ID card.