AN EVENING of traditional Kenyan food, music, cake, and praise for the power of African mission marked the opening of a new building for the Church Mission Society (CMS) Africa on its tenth anniversary, in Nairobi, on Tuesday.
Construction of the building was completed on time, and below budget, in June. It was blessed and opened on Tuesday by a former Archbishop of Tanzania, the Rt Revd Donald Mtetemela, now retired, during a short ceremony led by the outgoing international director of CMS Africa, the Revd Dr Dennis Tongoi.
A special plaque was unveiled outside the building.
CMS Africa was established in 2008 to provide a link between the work of Christian missionaries, who have been in Africa since the 1800s, and churches, communities, and families across the continent. Its offices, on the same site as the new building in central Nairobi, were a gift from CMS UK.
CMS Africa demolished the original one-storey building six years ago, but it took until 2016 to raise the funds, through investors and a footprints scheme of partners and philanthropists, to build a new 15-storey building, of which two floors are now occupied by CMS Africa staff.
The hope is for supporters to continue to buy office space by the square foot which will eventually be rented out to secure a sustainable income for mission.
Jeremy Woodham/CMS UKThe new international director of CMS Africa, Canon Moses Bushendich
The new international director of CMS Africa, Canon Moses Bushendich, said on Tuesday: “We would like the building to be an opportunity to talk to people in the area about Christ. . . In Africa, mission is relational; people are more important. In the West, missionaries work more with the time than the people.”
Canon Bushendich moved to Kenya from Uganda a few years ago, where he was the Archbishop’s chaplain, a parish priest, and, previously, a teacher. He had a clear calling to lead CMS Africa, he says, and was impressed by its history of martyrdom.
“The work of the first missionaries in Africa is hugely impressive. . . The Church of Uganda was born out of martyrdom, which became a strong foundation. My doctoral mission was on the holistic mission of the Church.”
His hope is that CMS Africa embodies an outward-looking, pioneering, holistic approach to mission. “I believe that God’s intention for humanity is not just to grow spiritually, but to have a social and economic transformation. I would like to see that happen across the churches we work with in Africa, and for Africa to then contribute to global mission.”
The ceremony was attended by partners and friends of the organisation from around the world, and included the hymn “Amazing grace”, prayers, and readings. It was followed by a celebratory dinner, during which Dr Tongoi was thanked for his work, and the new board of CMS Africa were introduced.
Speaking on the roof terrace of the new building before the celebrations, Dr Tongoi said that his overriding emotion was joy at the hundreds of communities who had been changed through mission training.
“I am not seeing a building; I am seeing the Lord. This has been a journey of seeing the Lord do things beyond the limitations of my eyes.” One of the main challenges, he explained, had been functioning through the global economic crisis of 2008 with limited resources. “One of our biggest budgets is air travel.”
Canon Philip Mounstephen, who is stepping down from his position as executive leader of the CMS to be the next Bishop of Truro (News, 7 September), said that the unveiling was also a significant moment for him. His first trip with the CMS, in 2012, had also been to Nairobi, where he took part in the ground-breaking ceremony of the same building.
Jeremy Woodham/CMS UKJeremy Woodham/CMS UK
“We have been through the life of the building, and it means a lot to me,” he said. “I am going on to be Bishop of Truro, but I go to do that as a CMS partner; that is how I see it. So much of what I will take there I have learnt from Dennis [Tongoi].”
The keynote speaker for the evening was Steve Maina, a Kenyan and the national director of CMS New Zealand.
Africa and the African people were more than the negative image of poverty, slavery, and suffering portrayed in the media and in blockbuster films, he said: Africa represented a young population, a huge workforce, a vast chunk of the global economy, and a vibrant, faithful people with the power to evangelise abroad, in the UK and elsewhere.
“It is Africa’s time,” he told some 200 guests to applause and calls of Amen. “We cannot use models of mission from the West: we need depth, strategic partnerships, and our own models of mission. I want to spend my life figuring out how Africans can lead the way in global mission.”
This was part of the founding vision of the CMS, but it had a turbulent start, the society’s international director of mission, Paul Thaxter, explained. He had been a mission worker in Pakistan, and later in London, before returning to the CMS at the turn of the millennium.
“CMS was undergoing massive genetic change. We conducted major reviews of education, how we train and equip people for mission, where should we be based [CMS moved from London to Oxford in 2007], spirituality, and of international mission.”
The organisation had even considered closing, after 200 years: “We asked, should we shut down? Should we say, ‘It is not needed now,’? But we still felt the need for indigenous mission to reach out. We came into this century looking for a new way of being, a new type of mission society to fit the challenges of the 21st century.”
The founding of CMS Africa represented a new approach, he said.
“Anglicans have a territorial theology that was imbibed more in Africa, perhaps, than Asia and elsewhere. It was that vision that national Churches would reach their people. We didn’t necessarily give them a global vision: we set up a church that had mission as part of its lifestyle, but it did not have a CMS.”