Go Conference, the TAFES national conference, was held in Mwanza for 2020.
A standout session was from Dr Charles Sokile on the call to urban ministry, ‘Go ye and make disciples… in the cities and urban places.’ Dr Sokile is a governance and development expert currently working as the Tanzania director for Oxford Policy Management.
To begin with he drew our attention to the story of the city in Scripture. Although the city begins as a counterpoint to the garden, God sees fit to redeem it, and the story ends with heaven and earth restored to one another in a garden city.
While humankind became majority urban in 2008, governments and international aid organisations continue to focus on rural people. Africa is currently 43% urban, but is urbanising more rapidly than elsewhere. Yet Tanzanian Christians typically see ‘mission’ as something to be done in rural communities.
The growth of Dar es Salaam makes headlines, but Dr Sokile pointed to Lake Zone as the fastest expanding urban area in Africa (11% p.a.), where Mwanza, Geita and Chato will soon merge to become a single city on the south shores of Lake Victoria.
Cities have no shortage of struggles. There is the potential for psychosocial loss of hope, plus false hopes taking form in self-appointed mitume (apostles and prophets) and urban witchcraft among other things. Climate change is beginning to make its presence felt in flooding, bushfires, food shortages, and extreme temperatures.
Dr Sokile called for followers of Jesus to be at the forefront of creating good cities. Where there is work to be done on infrastructure, nutrition and food security, education or anything else, we should be there. ‘If the church cannot respond, it will be irrelevant.’ The point is not for the church to be popular, but remain true to its purpose.
As for campus fellowships, they should be ‘better’ than the local churches: the leading edge where ministry innovation happens, a place of learning for the church at large, helping the local churches and denominations to reorient themselves.
A campus ministry like TAFES should facilitate ‘practical, demand-driven ministry approaches, progressive discipleship content, and ways of improved ministry planning and management.’
This is part of a drive within TAFES to get young people focusing on the immediate context in which they find themselves. It’s in the cities that you’ll hear God whispering, said Dr Sokile, not the bush.
(As we like to say: take Jesus beyond uni!)
This dovetails with the call to be ‘ten times better’ heard in TAFES in 2017. It’s about becoming more fully involved in God’s world, for God’s glory, instead focusing on our own patch.
Cities are God’s invention, said Tim Keller, and Dr Sokile affirmed that God’s purpose for humanity is urban. The city is where the poor come to find hope, where immigrants come to find a home, where communities can work out ways to live in the image of God.
‘Thus the city is deeply merciful to those with less power, creating safe enclaves for singles vs. families, the poor (and even the rich!) vs. the bourgeois, immigrants vs. longer-term residents, racial minorities vs. majorities. Thus the city will always be the most diverse human-life structure.’
More than two thirds of Earth’s human population will live in cities by 2050.
Africa has more Christians than any other continent as of 2018.
How can the city be used to glorify God? Dr Sokile got us thinking about what a ‘God-honouring civilization’ might look like, citing Revelation 18 references to music, arts, manufacturing, trade, technology and families.
How will the people of Jesus be good for cities—and be part of creating good cities?
Images in this post were used in my City Wonder series
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.