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‘Study it. Believe it. And Live it.’

A challenge from Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi this Easter!
‘Study it. Believe it. And Live it.’

Ben Kwashi has faced death more times than anyone I know. I’m referring to Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi, a key Christian leader from Jos, Nigeria, a belt of land known for Islamic extremist attacks against small mostly Christian villages and churches. The Wall Street Journal recently reported, “A slow-motion war is under way in Africa’s most populous country. It’s a massacre of Christians, massive in scale and horrific in brutality. And the world has hardly noticed.”

In October 2017, I visited four of the small villages decimated by terrorist attacks. The survivors told us stories about the early dawn raids, the masked men shouting and brandishing AK-47s, the shooting of men, women, and children, the dismantling of mud brick church buildings. The villagers pointed to their murdered pastor’s shoes lying in the former church sanctuary, a silent testament to their grief and loss. As we were leaving the country, a friend told me he had heard that a group of terrorists planned to ambush our group. They were 30 minutes too late.

Archbishop Ben preaches in this context.[1] In 1983, doctors told him to prepare for death in light of an incurable tuberculosis condition. He was miraculously healed. In 1987, militants burnt his house to the ground. In 2006, they barged into his home, but Ben was out of the country. They severely beat his wife Gloria. A year later they returned for the Archbishop. After taking him outside, forcing him onto his knees and pointing a gun into the back of his head, his captors mysteriously fled and disappeared into the night. This past October, Benjamin made an emergency trip to Virginia to receive treatment for advanced colon cancer.

So when I talked to him about preaching on Easter on our recent Preaching Today webinar, I paid attention. How do you preach Easter joy and hope when your life is once again hanging by a thread? Here’s part of what he said:

I’m looking at life and death right now. Cancer brought me to the United States, and my chemo regime will last until after Easter. My prayer is to live a little longer—as much as God will have me live. But the challenge is that Jesus is alive! And we not only believe it; we live it. So I’m not accepting the idea that because cancer is chewing me up, medical science is battling it, and therefore, I am down. No, I am not down. I just finished my seventh round of chemo. My wife had to help me remove the bag.

Yes, I’m going through aches and pains, but the gospel must be lived … The resurrection is a credible story. It is a reliable story. There are eyewitnesses who saw it and then lived it. They not only lived it; they were willing to die for the story that they told. So, let us be credible and reliable witnesses to the story that we tell. [As preachers], we’re not just quoting commentaries … We preach it, we believe it, we live it. Then we become credible witnesses to the world.

This year Archbishop Ben will celebrate Easter from the comfort of an American suburban home. He has also celebrated Easter in the dust and ashes of a terrorist-destroyed church building in Jos. The Easter message does not change, he told us. And as a matter of fact, celebrating Easter joy in the midst of suffering often increases the credibility of our witness for Christ.

No wonder the Archbishop concluded by encouraging preachers with these words: “Tell the story. Study it. Believe it. And live it.”

[1] Andrew Boyd, Neither Bomb Nor Bullet: Benjamin Kwashi: Archbishop on the front line (Monarch Books, 2019).

Matt Woodley is the pastor of compassion ministries at Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois.

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