Compelled by a barrier-crossing love




What barriers do you face in your life and work? How do you respond to them when you face them? These were some of the questions posed by Dr Joshua Bogunjoko in his sermon - based on 2 Corinthians 5:1-21 -  at  a service held at the Africa Evangelical Church in Chilomoni, Blantyre, to mark the SIM 125th Anniversary.

Three young men arrived in Africa 125 years ago to bring the Good News of Jesus to people who were living and dying without knowing about Him. They had had to overcome many barriers just to get to Africa. They would have to overcome more in order to establish their work.

Two of them, Thomas Kent and Walter Gowans, died of fever within a year of their arrival. The third, Rowland Bingham, who also contracted fever, was repatriated first to England then to Canada. He was 21 years old and faced criticism that their quest had been doomed to failure and that it was just youthful exuberance (the others were aged 23 and 25). It took Rowland Bingham a total of four attempts before the Soudan Interior Mission (SIM) was finally established in Nigeria.

“These three men faced four main barriers,” said Dr Bogunjoko.

“The faced the barrier of distance; they were in North America, the people they wanted to reach were in Africa.

“They faced the barrier of disease; there were many diseases without treatment in Africa at the time and this would claim the lives of two of them.

“They faced the barrier of violence; tribal and ethnic violence rife in the area in which they wanted to work.

“They faced the barrier of loneliness; they were three young men, the only ones of their type in the region, far away from family of friends.

“Yet compelled by the love of Christ they overcame these barriers to set up a mission organisation whose 125th Anniversary we celebrate today.”

He also spoke of the barrier of other Christians who tried to divert them from their endeavours.

Church and Mission: Dr Joshua Bogunjoko (left), SIM International Director, Mike Hammond (right), Country Director SIM Malawi, and Revd Christopher Mwalweni, Deputy General Secretary of the AEC, at the Chilomoni celebration service

“When they arrived in Lagos they were met by a senior missionary, a Methodist,” said Dr Bogunjoko.

“He told them; ‘You will never see the Soudan. Your children will never see the Sudan. Perhaps your children’s children may see the Soudan!’ Wonderful encouragement for three young men who were starting out on their mission for the Lord!”

Despite all of these setbacks and barriers which they had to overcome they persevered with their mission. But still it was not without cost. Bingham, Gowans and Kent arrived ini Nigeria in 1893 but it was not until 1901 that the first convert to Christianity was baptised, Indeed the history of SIM shows that in the first seven years of SIM’s life, there were more missionary graves than baptised believers associated with the mission.

“There were two things in the lives of these three young men that could not be conquered,” he said.

“Two things in their lives no barer could stop.

“One was their love for Jesus. The other was their love for dying souls.

“They had given themselves to Jesus for the dying souls across the region in which they wanted to work , Nothing was going to stop them. They were compelled by a barrier crossing love.”

Dr Bogunjoko tool 2 Corinthians 5: 1-21 as his text for the sermon.  Indeed verse 14 is at the centre of SIM’s celebration in tis 125th year: “For the love of Christ compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” (2 Cor 5:14)

“There are many barriers to the gospel, and there are still many who are locked behind those barriers and are cut-off from fully experiencing what a message of love and joy truly means,” he said.

“God has appointed us as His ambassadors to bring His message of reconciliation to a world that hungers and thirsts for purpose and meaning in all spheres of life. The choice is however ours to respond to Him who died and rose again for us, or to choose our own way.”

 “God is the initiator and the executor of our salvation,” he said.

“He was the one who crossed the greatest barrier in human history and in human nature to reach us with the greatest news of greatest joy in heaven and on earth that sinners like us could be, and are being, reconciled to God through the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“There are many options for us in life, there are many possibilities, many directions to go, many skills to acquire, many places to work, many neighbourhoods in which to live, many choices of friends, and even places to visit or not visit, there are many options of vocation and many options of location, but there is only one choice, to live for Him who died and rose again for us. To choose not to live for ourselves, our ambitions, our dreams, and wants, and desires, and our sentiments, but to live for Him who died and rose again for us.

“How do we do that, Paul made it clear that, first, God reconciled us to Himself, then He chose us as His ambassadors to the world. Ambassadors do not represent themselves, but the one who appoints them.”

He said that these ambassadors were motivated by a love for, and awe inspired fear of, God. That that love and fear inspires them to action and that, compelled by Christ’s love, to tell the world that the love of God is a reconciling love.

He also challenged the congregation as to how they would respond to God’s love.

“Will you respond with love to love and step up to say, here I am Lord, your ambassador? You see, some ambassadors are sent very far, but others are sent nearby.

“We as His ambassadors all have different destinations. Some of you have been sent to your neighbourhood, some others have been sent to your office, to your work colleagues, to the next province or district, to other countries and people groups. How do you respond? What motivates your choice, and what compels your direction? Is it Love? The Love of Christ?

 “125 years ago, two Canadians and an American chose to let Christ dictate the direction of their lives. Despite danger and threats, they sailed to Nigeria seeking to make Christ known where He was then least known,” he said.

“Eighteen years after they started the work in Nigeria, a young champion athletic Manitoba man set out to join the work that the three young men had started, two of who had since paid with their lives. He went out to reach the people of Oro, a Yoruba group without the gospel. Two years later, he was in a very small village seeking to cross the barrier of distance and darkness to a people reputed as the headquarter of Ogun cult worship in all of Nigeria.

“He went out with courage. Compelled by love. He was rejected, but a few believed. Those who rejected the gospel soon separated from those who received the gospel in two villages. In spite of that rejection of the gospel, God did not give up on those who first turned their back on the light.

“Not too long after the separation, the Good News followed the rejecter again, and many of them received the light of life. From that group came two young men who, 120 years after the first three young men left Canada and 100 years after the Manitoba man reached their village, God called them, one to lead an International Mission and the other to lead the Evangelical Alliance in Nigeria.

“Our Passion for Christ must be displayed in our love for God and our love for our neighbours. Living for Him who died and rose again for us must be demonstrated in how we follow Him. How we follow Him must match how He himself walked on this earth and invited us to follow. A true believer is a following believer.

“That love is demonstrated in: A passion to love, A passion to pray and A passion to go

“There are all kinds of barriers to the Gospel today. There are geographic, political, economic, social, linguistic and even generational barriers to the Gospel.

“As disciples of Jesus and His ambassadors of reconciliation, we are called to cross these barriers in love (for Christ) and with love (for others) to make other disciples (reconciled men and women). We are all well prepared (by the Holy Spirit), well-motivated (by the fear of God and Christ’s love) and fully appointed by His work in us to cross these barriers and make His disciples.

“The decision as to what we do and how we respond rests with us. Since our call is not restricted to a location or a vocation, it comes down to just one thing out of many options, our own choice. It comes down to the question, how will you live and for whom will you live? Yourself, or Jesus who died and rose again for you and for me.

“Yes, the barriers are there, but He calls us to cross them with love. Who will you live for?”


Podcasts of Dr Bogunjoko’s keynote talks and his Sunday sermon can be heard through this link