In 2017, Tanzania Fellowship of Evangelical Students (TAFES) held several new events for associates (graduates of the ministry).
At September’s Reunion Dinner in Dar es Salaam, one of the speakers was Joshua Wathang’a, a former General Secretary of FOCUS Kenya. He issued a serious challenge. There is no shortage of Christians in East African cities, Wathang’a said, indeed they are present at the highest levels of leadership. Many thousands of students are now passing through student fellowships and church groups every year. Why is Christian witness still so lacking?
Christianity has become middle class, he said: ‘By some miracle we are raptured between Monday and Saturday!’ He was not referring to ‘nominalism’ but a sacred-secular divide: churches are full and downtown offices have worship music playing, yet still corruption is rife.
Then came this extraordinary challenge: if society is corrupt, we can hardly blame the darkness for being dark; it is the responsibility of the light.
What might this mean for campus ministries?
September also saw TAFES hold its first ever associates conference, ‘Transformers’, in Mwanza. The expositor was Calisto Odede of Nairobi Baptist Chapel, also a past leader in FOCUS Kenya. He was covering the book of Daniel, which is proving to be fertile ground for exploring this challenge.
In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. (Daniel 1:20)
‘Ten times better’ was the theme of the conference. Wisdom, discernment, ‘an excellent spirit’ (6:3): these should be our hallmarks, said Odede. We should be distinguishing ourselves by our integrity and excellence. Do a good job, and people will praise the God that we serve. ‘I want to believe that Christians are not interested in going to heaven only, but in being involved,’ he said, ‘because the Kingdom of God is about the reign of God coming in wherever we are.’
As an example he gave Justice Julia Sebutinde who served as Judge of the High Court of Uganda, and subsequently joined the International Court of Justice. She said in 2012, ‘I pray and ask God to give me “the wisdom of Solomon” – knowing what to do in a particular situation – to grant me favour amongst my peers and to walk with me each day.’
To me these seem like building blocks for an emerging campus ministry vision in East Africa. It is neither a youth ministry nor a Christian club, neither is it purely for Bible study or evangelism. It is a leadership development environment for the moral and ethical formation of its members, seeking to raise up those who are ‘ten times better’. ‘Wisdom’ is vital, spiritual maturity going hand in hand with academic and professional excellence.
At the Reunion Dinner, Wathang’a suggested that Africa’s greatest gift to the world is its youth — and by his count a whopping 84% of Tanzanians are under the age of 35. We are all waking up to the significance of this, but what are we to do? The TAFES motto is ‘reaching students, transforming lives’, but we must understand this in truly future-oriented terms: decades, generations, centuries.
In light of this, the measure of ‘effectiveness’ for a campus ministry cannot ultimately be the present state of its student fellowships, but rather the state of its graduates ten years on. What an appeal, what a high bar, and what an extraordinary opportunity!
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.