Christianity: The Gift to All People!
Wow! An inspiring speaker just came through Eagle River with an emotionally gripping story of how his family endured Confederate-South slavery and ‘Jim Crow law’ discrimination by the sheer power of their Christian faith. If you missed Fr. Moses Berry’s moving story, you can still see his film introduction at http://godsgardenthefilm.com.
The heart-rending drama of Fr. Berry’s story was brought to full life for the Eagle River audience by the real ‘iron neck shackles and ankle chains’ worn by his great-grandfather until 1865! He also had other artifacts from his families’ slavery years, such as ‘human neck locks and weights,’ quilts used on the Underground Railroad to signal slaves to safe houses and century-old family pictures from the late 1800s.
By strong prayer and their faith in Jesus Christ, his African-American family bore the great sufferings inflicted on them from the horrors of slavery. And as Fr. Berry was told from his turn-of-the-century relatives, they knew their salvation and rewards were certainly not to come in this world. Instead they clung to their faith in God and lived strong spiritual lives, ever looking for their reward of crowns in heaven! They understood the full meaning of taking up the cross of suffering in their lives to follow Jesus.
And then Fr. Berry spoke of a major surprise that truly strengthened his life today. Almost a ‘best kept secret,’ the deep Christian roots in Africa go back to early centuries of the Christian Church! Indeed the Christian Church amongst the African people has a rich and profound history that started in New Testament times and has continued unbroken for nearly two thousand years!
First, we know from the Book of Acts 8:27-39 that Apostle Phillip taught and baptized “a man of great authority under the queen of Ethiopia.” And later Christian history tells of thousands of African Christian people in the Church in Namibia, Egypt, and other African regions.
Second, Fr. Berry was greatly moved to discover the life of a great third century Saint Moses the Black from Ethiopia. This great Christian saint lived a great life of repentance and dedication to our Lord Jesus Christ! And countless others in Africa have lived the Christian faith. As today’s Fr. Moses explained, it was truly inspiring to know that his African ancestors have lived as Christians for centuries, from the earliest days of the church in Africa!
And so, after our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the ‘great commission’ in the Gospel of Matthew to go and “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” the Christian faith has truly spread as the universal faith for all peoples!
Very interestingly, after Fr. Berry left Eagle River, a number of reminders of African Christianity surprised me. (Were these “mere coincidences” or the Holy Spirit?) First, it was the Ethiopian women who won the 5,000 meter Olympic race and cried with sincere praises to Jesus while clutching an icon of our Lord Jesus Christ for us viewers to behold. Truly awesome! Second, another Kenyan church was brutally bombed by terrorists this August again, yet the Church in Kenya remains strong. And third, the naturally flowing profession of faith, humility, and thanks to God by USA’s Olympic Gold medal gymnastics winner Gabby Douglas was truly inspiring.
Thank God for the amazing breadth and depth of the Christian Church throughout the ages. Africa — and so many cultures around the world — have been enlivened by Christ! Let us rejoice in our universal Christian faith.
Kevin Dougherty is chair of Love INC of Eagle River, and a member of St. John’s Orthodox Christian Church.