By Josiah Idowu-Fearon and Tom Furrer
The last ten years have been difficult for the Churches of the Anglican Communion. As we all know too well, the fabric of our international family has been torn by controversial decisions and remains fragile today. Yet despite our many challenges and problems, we Anglicans share a common theological and historical tradition and a bond of mutual affection. Most importantly, we have a Gospel to share and a God to serve who is stronger than the very real challenges we face. This is the story of one partnership that has not only survived, but thrived, over the past two decades.
Friendship Leads to Ministry Partnership
Our ministry partnership began with a simple friendship twenty three years ago when Bishop Josiah came to study Muslim-Christian Relations at Hartford Seminary. During class, he was befriended by a Trinity parish member who invited him to worship with our parish in Tariffville – a short distance from Hartford. Over the next two years a friendship developed between the visiting bishop and the parish. The friendship was deepened when the parish arranged for Josiah?s daughter to receive extensive medical care here in the U.S. Over the course of several months, the entire Fearon family stayed with a Trinity family as the child underwent several surgeries and convalescence. In the early years, our partnership consisted mostly of a ministry of support for the bishop and his family.
New Chapter Born in Crisis
Our ministry grew deeper in the aftermath of the Kaduna crisis of 2000 during which rioters killed hundreds of Christians and destroyed the homes and businesses of many more. A few months later, Bishop Josiah came to Trinity to ask us for prayers and assistance. When we heard the terrible news we felt convicted to do something to help our suffering brothers and sisters in Kaduna. We raised funds to help the victims of the riot rebuild their homes and businesses. Later that year, the Bishop returned and invited us to ?come and see? the people we had assisted in their time of trial. Responding to this invitation, a small delegation from Trinity traveled to Kaduna to meet the people we had helped. On that first trip, a new dimension of our partnership was born. We moved from a personal friendship between a bishop and a parish priest to a love affair between the people of Trinity parish and of the Kaduna diocese.
Medical Ministry Begins
During our tour of Kaduna diocese, the Trinity delegation was introduced to the realities of life in northern Nigeria. For the small delegation from Trinity, it was an eye-opening experience, to say the least. It was the first time any of us had been to a developing country. The levels of poverty and the challenges that most people face in their everyday lives came as a shock to us middle-class Americans. We saw the great and heroic work being done by the Anglican Church in the face of great challenges. And we saw many possibilities for a deeper level of partnership between our respective faith communities. At one point in our travels, we were shown an empty building which the diocese had been refurbishing as a potential medical clinic to serve the rural poor. While the diocese had been given funds to refurbish the building, they had no funding for medical staff. In that one instant, our small delegation from Trinity knew what God was calling us to do. We went home with the conviction that we would raise the funds to pay at least one doctor and one nurse to begin the work of this small clinic in the rural market town of Kateri. In May of 2003, we held our first fund-raising event and raised enough funds to pay one doctor and one nurse for three years. The diocese immediately hired a doctor and a nurse and we began running a small medical clinic to serve the rural poor. Over the next few years, we were able to gradually increase the staffing at the clinic. In the ten years of its operation, Kateri Clinic has helped more than 100,000 people with life-saving medical care.
Annual Trips Sustain the Partnership
Our partnership is sustained by annual mission trips which build and sustain strong and lasting friendships between Trinity parish and Kaduna diocese. Our mission trips are always collaborative. American and Nigerian team members work side-by-side in ministry of various types. In years past, we have worked together on mobile health ministry and church-planting missions in rural villages. More recently, we have collaborated together on intensive health care ministry. For the past five years, we have partnered with FaithCare (an ecumenical Christian ministry similar to Doctors Without Borders) to create a field hospital at our clinic site. Each year, this collaborative health care ministry attracts an increasing number of volunteers and patients. In our most recent FaithCare mission in July of 2013, we assembled a team of more than 150 volunteer doctors, nurses, dentists, prayer counselors and security workers from the US and from all over Nigeria. Over the course of two weeks, this team provided medical care for 5,474 people. This mission was our most successful to date and we are already planning for next year?s medical mission.
Peacemakers in the Midst of Conflict
Our annual medical missions are conducted in a very tense political and social environment. Tensions between Muslims and Christians have been exacerbated over the past two years due to the increased terrorist activity of Boko Haram ? a homegrown Nigerian version of Al Qaida. For this reason, we have been forced to increase our security arrangements. Even so, we see our medical mission as a gesture of peace in the midst of conflict. We seek to serve Muslims as well as Christians with medical care. This year, we estimate that 25% of our patients were Muslims. And for the first time ever, two of our volunteer doctors were also Muslims. It is our hope and prayer that these efforts to treat Muslims with love and respect will have a salutary effect on the religious tensions endemic to the region. We believe these gestures are examples of what Jesus mean by ?the things that make for peace?. We are not only healing people?s bodies. We also aim to heal the wounded social fabric of Nigerian society.
A Witness of Reconciliation in The Anglican Communion
We are both proudly and unapologetically evangelical Anglicans. We are committed to extending the Kingdom of God through evangelism. We want to bring the life-changing Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to every person on the planet. We want to demonstrate the love of Jesus to everyone who doesn?t yet know it. We recognize the supreme authority of Holy Scripture and seek to preach it, teach it and live it faithfully. We are well aware of the theological and sociological challenges to a coherent biblical and evangelical witness within the Anglican Communion. We are not blind to, or in denial about, the very real challenges that face our family of faith. However, we have chosen to focus our time, money and energy on the mission of proclaiming and demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ to a broken and hurting world.
We believe that this is the most effective advertisement for a vibrant and contagious Christian faith to a world looking for a truth worth believing.
The Most Reverend Josiah Idowu-Fearon, PhD is Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Kaduna, Nigeria and former Archbishop of Kaduna Province.
The Venerable Tom Furrer is Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Tariffville, Diocese of Connecticut USA and Archdeacon of the Diocese of Kaduna.