The Bible College 2020

The biggest shift for CFM during the years of crisis and our response was theological. The Lordship of Christ, God’s incarnation in Christ and atoning work, the centrality of scripture remains solid, but the way we viewed these things took on much richer meaning. The cross of Christ became even more central to our lives. The transformation of focus in our theology was a move from individualism to community; and a move away from “escaping to heaven” to living as God’s family of new creation on earth. Therefore, CFI (CFM’s bible college,) became essential to training our leaders. All arms of CFM reflect these two theological foci, because without them we don’t have a gospel of peace. Peace means we move from self to community and it means we embrace what Jesus taught about the rule of God on earth.

The book of Romans was one place where our shift began. We used to see it about our personal faith. Our theology really began with Paul and from there we reinterpreted what Jesus taught in the Gospels. This was why Jesus and Paul seemed to be different in their emphasis. But we had it wrong. Living through the same kind of turmoil that threatened communities of the first century, we began to understand that Paul was writing about new community, and our personal faith as the steppingstone into new family. Paul’s objective was to show that in the church Jew and gentile became one, and this new relationship is the basis of forming new creation. As one, the barriers of rich/ poor, slave/ free, female/ male and our nationalism all break down. In serving each other, we move from exploitation to renewal and recovery. We who once destroyed our relationships and environment in greed now begin to fulfil our true Adamic commission in nurturing a God filled creation. Unlike Cain, we ARE our brother’s keeper. If Christ showed us God’s free acceptance in his cross, then we also can accept one another, even our enemies, for whom Christ died. In rejecting our neighbour, in spurning our enemies, we are rejecting God’s acceptance of ourselves.

Our second lesson was in our view of atonement. We thought Jesus didn’t teach a clear theology of atonement but left this to Paul. This is a strange position to hold, since Jesus is head of the church and atonement is central. But we slowly realised that the Sermon on the Mount shows how atonement was central to all Jesus taught. In this sermon he reoriented our understanding of what atonement meant. He shifted it from the traditional religious view that “God demands punishment or blood for contravening his law,” to an offering of ourselves as a new act of peace to defeat the darkness that fills human hearts and communities. In the Old Covenant the priest offered animals or other humans. In the New Covenant the priest offers him or herself. This Jesus did and taught it for us to follow as the basis of new creation. The children of God (the peacemakers) share self-giving light to form community, just as God through his light formed the world. This self-giving light, as opposed to the darkness of pagan greed, is the true light of Christ. This was Paul’s gospel, as in Romans 8 where the children of God restore creation, and in 2 Corinthians 3-5 where God shines light upon creation through our new community. This was Isaiah’s vision of earth filled with God’s new rule. We began to understand Paul’s atonement theology better when we started with Christ’s teaching.

Peace is of prime importance globally today, and peace efforts must have a strong biblical basis to succeed. The creation shows humans made in God’s image, from which comes human rights, or the dignity of every individual. Humans were also made for community, which negates the individualism of identity politics. Paul put it like this: Christ has freed us to serve. In the Torah property is privately owned but not for selfish purposes, rather used to lift the poor and heal the community. Spirituality means social care. There is a balance between “left” and “right,” a monetary morality that shares wealth and a sexual morality that protects family and community. God deals with our self-centredness, the “pharaoh” inside us, so we live for each other. This is how the individual battle for dignity is won. This is how we are freed. It’s a theology that bases around creation and not self, a theology of life, all our lives and not just my own, and the life of the environment.

The teachings of Jesus about forgiveness, reconciliatory and redemptive acts that atone for injustice in our neighbourhoods and renew communities from our hostile past are crucial to a new creation of peace. The vertical and horizontal parts of the cross show not only that God holds nothing against us, but that we should treat each other the same way. Restorative justice rather than punitive justice come from a right understanding of the cross. The way God punished sin was to put himself in the middle of it, to take the evil we did to him, and then forgive it, freeing our hearts from its guilt. He allowed us to punish sin in him. He put an end to sin by exposing it by his cross, redeeming our conscience by his death, which revealed his forgiving love. That the divine should do this is the greatest guide in the universe towards peace. This shows us the principles of rebuilding ravaged communities. The only way we can reconcile earth, is to know earth is reconciled to a loving God and follow what he did. Our self-giving towards each other exposes our collective sin and reveals God’s love for a renewed world.

The resurrection of Christ is the vindication of self-giving. Resurrection is the hope of justice when we don’t take justice into our own hands, but trust in the one who made all things. The new values of the new kingdom shine immediately, when women, even a former prostitute, were the first to herald the new heavens and new earth by declaring, “He is risen.” This herald came from no one important, but from “the least” of society. This is God’s way. This way will make our relationships new. The resurrection shows the result to our communities when we take up our cross: our communities bloom with love and heal when we die to ourselves and live to one another. The hope of eternal life by the resurrection of our own bodies from the dead is the final victory of righteousness and justice. This display of God’s character to his creation through Christ is the true peace and only on this ground can the church follow the ways that bring peace. It’s essential that CFM has a forum in which this truth of Christ can be taught. This is the only sure building.

When we were building Wurin Alheri the bible college was the last department of CFM we focused on. With all the classrooms, offices, boarding hostels, dining area and library space it needed the cost would be too high. In addition, charities don’t give grants to build a bible college. They usually don’t see a bible college as vital, or the grants come from secular sources. The concept of transforming our nations by a secular approach is doomed to failure. Secular materialism is a non-holistic approach to life. To CFM the bible college is vital. As stated above, it is central to all we do, to the transforming work in all our staff and leaders. Without this central arm of CFM there would be no “central nervous system to the body.” It would be a temple without life. Life doesn’t come from science; science comes from life. So even without grant support, the bible college must be held at the centre. The bible college isn’t an arm of imperial “Christendom,” but a river of inclusive new creation. As Ezekiel saw (Ch 40-48), if we want new creation, the temple of Christ is the source.

But something happened in early March 2020. In recent years it had become more difficult for us to work with our landlord at Bukuru, who made increasingly unreasonable demands to double the rent paid for substandard buildings that he refused to maintain. In 2020 the situation came to a point where we had to act, forcing us to trust the Lord. Our two CFM leaders, Paul Shettima and Gabriel Aiso came up with an almost feasible plan to move the bible college to Wurin Alheri. We had one month to achieve it, before we would have to pay another six months of rent. It meant erecting three buildings at Wurin Alheri, as a minimum requirement to move the staff and students. We had a record 539 students in the bible college, so moving would be an enormous step.

Ruth and I took this as the purpose of God. All the staff could see the Lord’s hand in the matter. So, we bit the bullet and announced we would move the bible college from Bukuru at the end of March. Everyone got to work with enthusiasm. The students were excited, and all threw hands and hearts into helping. Work parties were set up and everyone worked at the building site. The little money we had was all thrown into this cause. The three buildings we thought were required were an absolute minimum. It would be a squeeze. Much more would be needed in the future. In the meantime, flexibility would be required: a lot of moving furniture each day between the bible college programs and the other arms of CFM at Wurin Alheri would be needed as we shared other space.

Then the coronavirus hit the Western nations and they locked down. The WHO forced the same policies on Nigeria. At that time, we didn’t understand anything about the virus and didn’t know what was coming. Our belief was that it would calm down soon, lose its severe potency and herd immunity would build. We didn’t believe it would hit Nigeria hard and we also thought the economy should remain open to support the millions of vulnerable people impacted by conflict and terrorism, already living far below the poverty line.

Then there was the question of our support base. We had just committed to a major move. The economies in which our supporting friends live had shut down. We had no option but to keep going. We had passed through many challenges before in which God showed us his independence from the things that restrain us. He is able to keep us. We said to everyone with us, “The Lord makes all things work together for the good of his people.” We saw how Jesus fed many thousands with only a few loaves and fish, twice. And once 12 baskets were left over, and the other time seven baskets left over: a new Israel (12) bringing new creation (7) through the presence and cross of Christ. He creates “out of nothing.” There was no doubt that he had every matter in hand and would see us through. This situation would come out for our good, so we should just keep going.

In just over a month the three buildings were completed and the move from the rented premises in Bukuru was done. The bible college students shifted all our furniture across to Wurin Alheri. Then many of them, most of the bible college students and some of the disciples, left to return to their home regions. About 300 stayed: 150 crisis-care children, 50 bible college students, 38 disciples and staff all remained at Wurin Alheri throughout lockdown. 98 more CFM crisis-care children and their care givers were also locked down on our other site near Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. The team kept farming and kept building and within another month a fourth building was done: the new kitchen that can cater for thousands of meals each day. A cafeteria and provisions store were completed, enabling hospital patients, vocational students, and workers on site to buy food and small supplies, to eat and share together on the Wurin Alheri site. Toilet blocks and septic pits were built.

A large building, providing a male hostel, classroom space and a chapel/ dining area for the bible college had intimidated us for years. One wing was built, used for our safe house disciples. The foundation for the whole building had been laid some years before. We bit the bullet again and restarted work from the existing foundation. This building is now almost complete, a major benefit to the bible college.  It gives extra hostel space, a chapel hall, classrooms, and a dining area, meaning our crisis-care children won’t be disturbed in their facility. We built new tables and chairs for all our bible college classrooms. Then a building was erected for breeding 100 goats, to help lift vulnerable families. Then we returned to the permanent hospital building. We haven’t stopped building on Wurin Alheri since we began in March. By October we will be nearing roofing level on the second floor of the hospital. Our support during lockdown has doubled. Only God could do this.

None of this building has come at the cost of caring for our crisis-care children, now 300, our disciples in our safe house, our bible college students from remote persecuted regions still in our care on the site. All the wages have been paid through this lockdown, for almost 300 staff, plus assistance for staff personal emergency needs. Not only that, we have also been able to build a house (nearing completion), for each of our two main leaders and their families. As well, we have opened a “long-service” account for our staff and started saving an additional 10% of our gross monthly wages bill for land investments for our staff. So, our monthly wages bill went up 10% during the lockdown. This is during a period where millions have been laid off work around the world, and in Nigeria almost no one in private institutions like ours retained staff or their pay. There has been great suffering caused by lockdown. Yet the Lord has kept us through the whole period. People from the communities around Wurin Alheri have been employed throughout the lockdown on our buildings, giving them wages when everything else was closed. It has provided essential help for many. Our staff have been busy throughout. The teachers responsible for 1,300 children have taught them every day by sending and receiving text messages to their parents in their homes, or their care givers in the crisis-care homes, keeping their education up to date. It has been a year of many miracles, possibly our greatest since CFM began. Thousands have been supported by the grace of God through the lockdown period. And they those on our sites have worked hard, building CFM to reach the African Sahel and millions of people in the years ahead.

The greatest resource CFM has is the mentoring that restores and trains her leaders. This comes down from the two main CFM leaders, Paul Shettima and Gabriel Aiso, who were part of the founding team of CFM in 2006. The love, hospitality, correction, and nurture that these two leaders and their families give daily to so many others, shapes the whole CFM staff body and flows on to all those whom CFM serves. From buying the materials for our first tables and chairs in 2006 to the current level CFM has reached and all its administration systems, these two have led the way in their own personal daily work and leadership, through terrorism, conflict, personal loss, and the most difficulties crises and circumstances. They have never tired but always lived out the unity and mutual submission around which the whole ministry is based.

They have shared Christ in our churches, mission stations, and bible colleges (in Jos and branches in other regions) and raised up a team of church pastors who give us an endless richness in ministry and stability. These two leaders live out miracles quietly every day, never drawing attention to themselves, but caring for the needs for every person in CFM and every stranger they meet. People like these, and the whole staff team of CFM, are the greatest gifts God can give. I could write at length about each one of our staff members and the depth of true wealth they are bringing to those they serve, and this is because of the mentoring they all give to each other daily. A mentoring of care and love in truth is the basis of joy filled life that passes God’s blessings on to others. As one of our leaders shared, Jesus said “My joy and my peace I give to you.” How did Jesus give this to us? “Love one another, as I have loved you.”

In 2016 our son John and his wife Michaela (Kay) joined the CFM team in Jos and have lived and worked here since. Kay worked with the Guardian UK and with Compassion (Australia) before coming here, and John co-owned a social business and did a pastoral internship in a church in Australia. Now, Kay helps by overseeing CFM’s crisis-care homes and John oversees our mission teams, CFM’s social businesses and business training/ micro financing for widows. They both help to structure evolving accounts and administration in CFM’s arms. They also serve CFM’s computer centres, and CFM’s Vanguard for Peace outreach in communities and schools, to further build these as peace-making instruments to more regions. Their areas of interests are particularly towards restoring communities with locally inspired and controlled development. They both teach in the bible college. It’s a busy time for them, also with their two small children.

Our two oldest children Esther, and Tim, are married with families, and live in England. Both are doctors, both general practitioners and partners in different medical practices. Our middle son, Ben, lives in Sydney and has been an English instructor before the lockdown.  As stated earlier, our youngest son, Daniel, lives with us in Jos, working with dogs we breed at Wurin Alheri, selling puppies to the more affluent, for pets.

We are shocked and humbled by the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord. God does not make a show of himself as some “gospel ministers” do. There are many who use the gospel as an opportunity to enrich themselves, or make themselves into stars, so different to Jesus and his mission. Christ was maligned. God doesn’t “showboat”. He has nothing to prove, no reputation to build, no argument to win, no need to impress, no office to run for. He is faithful and kind. He is gentle, not demanding. He is present every day, keeping his promises.  He has never failed us. The Hebrew word that describes his relationship with the church is chesed: loving kindness, covenant faithfulness, steadfast love. This includes correction and discipline, so that his love may increase more. He is true and there is no other promise in this world that is true. We can’t do anything ourselves. It is he who does all. When we make mistakes, he will always forgive us and will always pick us up.

Romans 8 is a brilliant in artistry, describing the church’s interaction with the world powers as she brings renewal to our communities. There is a suffering that is involved, which is also part of the church taking on the image of Christ, who suffered for us. In this suffering, the love of God is revealed, the justice of God in serving, in which the powers of selfishness and coercion are laid bare. Suffering has been denied in recent theology, which means that we become embedded with the comfort of the powers and their injustice against the poor. In doing this the church denies her renewing identity. In the Roman world of Paul’s day, renewing life meant denying the affirmation of corruption, “counting it as dung,” so we can identify with the God of compassion towards the weak. Paul showed this is what Christ did in his sufferings, and Paul determined he would follow this example. He believed in the kingdom of God and not in the affluence and comfort of Jeruslem or Rome.

Hitler’s regime exposes the consequences of seeking the world’s version of “peace and safety” today. Those who succumbed to the regime’s intimidation, to secure the interests of their profession or family, wept bitterly in the end. It’s a trap. It has no future. It might not be something so apparent as a corrupt regime, but merely the allure of self-indulgence while the world around us cries for justice. The gospel teaches us to say no to unrighteousness and yes to a better future which comes from com-passion (suffering with) siding with renewal and hope. This is the choice of the gospel: to deny the future God has for us and become logjammed in our personal security, or to believe in the justice and love of God, to believe in tomorrow, and lay aside our personal interests as temporary. This is the basis of community renewal, whether in Africa where Ruth and I and our team serve, or in any nation. There are challenges of conformity to this current world, and if we succumb to them the world sinks into greater corruption, but if we reject this conformity and risk suffering the consequences, our hope grows. This hope is the most precious gift, the true vision of the future. This is why suffering is so essential to renewal, transformation, resurrection, hope and tomorrow. Those who believe suffer and receive the reward of sharing in tomorrow. There is nothing surer. The promises of self-security are false.

God has a history of overthrowing monopolies against impossible odds, like at the Red Sea. It entails trusting in him and following him through the journey. Throughout the Old Testament the powers of greed put the people of God under siege, whether by war, oppression, plague, or famine, often caused by their mismanagement of the land over time. Throughout the ministries of Elijah and Elisha God gave witness to his ongoing government of the world, including multiplying food for the widow, raising her son from the dead, and overcoming the army of the Syrians, Israel’s enemies, bringing temporary blindness to the soldiers, saving their lives and giving them food. The four lepers overcame the army of the Syrians, on another occasion, taking all their spoil in the camp and breaking the terrible famine in Samaria. Later when Assyria brought a huge army against Hezekiah, the whole army died overnight outside the city wall.

Jesus also brought God’s government to save the world. He harmed none of his enemies, but his life was a demonstration that the earth is the Lord’s and all the earth contains belongs to him. He governs the world, not the greedy powers who claim to own it. Jesus walked through the crowds of agressors, walked on the water, stilled the storm, overcame lack and constantly met the needs of himself and all those with him, healing diseases and casting out demons with ease and even broke the power of death. All of these miracles are a demonstration of his power, love, and faithfulness, showing us that we are not to fear anything or any power but him. God still governs the world, no matter what other powers may think or plan. “Why do the godless imagine a vain thing? The Lord will have them in derision,” meaning his kingdom will come and his purpose will be done on earth. All these miracles show us that God keeps his church and carries forward his plan to fill his creation with his glory.

In the days of slavery John Newton said the one thing that comforts him is that Christ is Lord, he reigns. Someone asked us once whether we have heard about the conspiracy of one world government. “Yes,” we replied, “Christ shall rule from the river to the sea and to the ends of the earth.” Isaiah is filled with God’s plan to make Christ Lord of all things, and he is Lord of all things already today. His government shall fill our lives upon this earth. He shall raise our bodies to reign with him forever. If he can defeat the powers of greed that made slaves of mankind in John Newton’s day, he can break their power today, as they enslave humanity in their web of commercial exploitation. Their power shall be broken. The monopolies that plot to enslave humanity and make the world their own shall be surprised that the Lord has a better plan. The whole scripture and history of God’s revelation is a testimony that he governs the world. Greed comes to an end. The oppressor fails. Nature and human relationships shall be regenerated, and work as intended in the beginning.