Updated: Apr 17
Overflying Africa on the way to the Global Anglican Futures Conference (Gafcon IV) in Kigali, Rwanda, several of the planes carrying European and North American delegates were diverted away from Sudanese airspace. For some it meant a longer flight, others found themselves rerouted back to where they had come from.
Sadly, on the ground below, a coup was taking place in that terribly conflict-ridden, poverty-stricken country. The passengers on at least one aircraft were informed while in the air that a number of people had been killed and hundreds injured.
While some of those 'Gafconers' privileged enough to fly huge distances for one of the experiences of a lifetime were being cossetted aloft, far below some of the most disadvantaged in the world were enduring the latest of untold agonies.
It was a tragic reminder of the reality of the lives of so many in the Gafcon family, including those in Sudan and its neighbouring states.
All who attend Gafcon are united by a desire to see Biblically faithful, orthodox Anglicanism preserved as a blessing to the world. That is the priority. But Gafcon is also full of Christian men and women who themselves do not know when they go to bed if they will see another day, and if they awake whether they will ever return to their bed. And they represent millions like them.
For some of those at 40,000 feet the sudden events in Sudan were a divine cattle prod to dulled consciences that their other priorities for Gafcon and global Christianity would not be at the forefront of the minds of most attendees. For many in the Global Majority World the Church’s provision of essential healthcare, education, benevolence and some measure of protection and security is the only way to meet needs caused by limited functioning government or resources. And where that is the case, those priorities, for example, are objectively more important than, again, for example, the limited persecution in the west or the loss of a church building.
May the bloody coup be ever so short lived but may the prompt to those who needed it remain this week and beyond.
On one plane, as the seriousness of the situation was relayed, people prayed for those below. Of course they did, given the acuteness of the timing. But doing so also contained within it something of an automatic rebuke. It was a silent rebuke that intercession over these things is not more the norm in western Christianity, despite the unrelenting nature of the type of suffering precipitating those very prayers.
The inconvenience of the flight delay, the uber-late night, as with so many of the daily “concerns” of the Anglicans of the UK, USA, Australia and the like, seem faintly absurd in the face of the cataclysms of others. Cataclysms that, compared to light and momentary troubles would seem naturally overwhelming.
But of course, the faithful Anglicans of the world who face real suffering are consistently not overwhelmed, however deep the waters or wild the fire. They persevere, even with joy, until they join the great crowd of witnesses that have gone before them. That too is all profoundly challenging to those who not only have never been tested in such ways but who indeed expend so much effort actively avoiding being placed in such a position.
It is sometimes said that to be born in the West is to be the winner in life’s lottery and while that probably chimes with those enplaned aloft, it can by no means be assumed that they are the envy of those at Gafcon from the Global Majority World. As previous Conferences have shown the spiritually awake know how pathetic are the lives of those consumed by the frivolities of the safe and wealthy. It is not thought that the streets of London are paved with gold to be coveted - not because of images on the internet but because of the so evident oxidisation of a culture reverting to the ignorance of pre-Christendom, which the smartphone also reveals.
The hope of the supposedly hopeless is real - hope in the prospects of a culture faithful to revealed truth, hope in the vindication of the values of the often persecuted and oppressed, hope most of all in the face of death. Hope which is real and therefore valuable.
If it is anything like 2008, 2013 and 2018, today will not be the last time this week that Gafcon confronts poor priorities and other spiritual failings and does so in a rather abrupt fashion.
Such is the real privilege of those on the plane.
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