Review: Clouds of Witnesses: Christian Voices from Africa and Asia @ivpress

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Many thanks to Adrianna W. at IVPress for this review copy, and indeed, the work she does for us bloggers.

For many of us in the West, we are unfamiliar with Christianity outside of our Sunday morning circle. Simply put, our Global Consciousness, or conscience, has yet to be awakened. Sure, there are those times in which natural disasters strike other parts of the world and we selflessly give, but between those times, we often forget that the Christian witness is being played out in those lands, long after our great fleets of air cargo have left. Mark Noll and Carlyn Nystrom has configured a book which reads almost like a devotional and a modern day Foxe’s Book of Martyrs in that we meet, in very short and succinct chapters, men and women from far distant lands who have been persecuted and even martyred, and many of them, not too distant in years from us.

Of particular note is the honest, sometimes raw, used to portray these figures. While many of them are from what we call Mainline Denominations, they exhibit often times what we might label as emergent, pentecostal or just plain heterodox beliefs which would have them named outcast in many American churches today. As a matter of fact, at least one faced the Western Church and lost. But, a book like this calls to mind what many Europeans have forgotten. With our liturgies, our prayer books, and our high ceilinged cathedrals we can still have the power of the Spirit of God present and active. In this, there are lessons to be learned from men and women with funny names and different hues of skin. They took their African, Indian or Asian culture and, like Europeans did 1900 years earlier, and allowed it to be transformed by the message of the Gospel. Some of this, I admit, was difficult for me to take, especially with my admittedly stringent views on what should pass or not pass for Christian praxis, but by allowing a little subjective license, the same license that the Europeans once used, we find that these witnesses have set forth the Gospel in their own language, but every bit as beautiful as the Gospel set forth in our language.

Noll and Nystrom tackle various continents, and for the case of Africa, various regions. There is Southern Africa, West Africa and East Africa. India and Korea have mentions as well, but China seems to receive the most attention, which is important for today as China’s Christian communities struggle to find hope in the midst of oppression by the Government. We meet Methodists, Anglicans, and Catholics, as well as those who are more mystic than mainline. There are tales of assassinations, miracles, murder, and rebellion, but these men and women served Christ in lands, and through times, which were abused by the West, and Western religion, and still have managed to proclaim Christ and to secure unto Him and the Church, faithful witnesses.

While the book seems to cover only the late 19th to 20th centuries, I was left wanting to hear from Japan, of which the Japanese Martyrs (16th century) come to mind, but in that this book is not exhaustive, what is presented is worth reading, absorbing and in many ways, serving as I said earlier, as a devotional of sorts. Many Christians focus on the Saints of years past, carrying short biographies, or keeping them in prayer books. Here – here is a book for those who seek a different face of the saints of the past. It is also a reminder for those of us in the West to not forget where we have come from, and how much long forgotten ancestral traditions influenced ancient tribes and their reception of Christianity. Perhaps, then, we will not judge the mystic who seems more Islamic or Buddhist than Baptist or Methodist, and understand that these men and women who fought against the dominant religions and native superstitions did so in the name of Christ, and then let us hear the words of Christ,

But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. (Mark 9:39-41 NRS)


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