'Indomitable faith' of Archbishop in troubled Nigeria
Book Neither Bomb nor Bullet: Benjamin Kwashi: Archbishop on the Front Line by Andrew Boyd (Monarch Books, 2019)
By Wayne Walters
October 21 2019Andrew Boyd has done the worldwide church a wonderful service by putting the Archbishop of Jos, Nigeria Ben Kwashi’s story to print. This is a remarkable story, simply and grippingly told, full of frankness and humour as well as heartbreaking tragedy in which the indomitable faith of Ben Kwashi and his wife Gloria shines through. Ben describes his early life in Nigeria with a strong Christian heritage and upbringing, his years of doing his own thing when he was far from the Lord, and the moving account of his conversion with the dramatic change that followed. The story of his finding a wife is beautifully told and full of laughs as well as pause to consider God’s hand in such a significant life step.
The commencement of his extremely fruitful ministry as an evangelist and agent of social transformation is amazing, as is his rapid rise to the role of a bishop. The daring and unorthodox way he begins his exercise of this role in a bitterly divided and corrupt diocese testifies to his courage and instinctive wisdom, or as emerges in the book, his total dependence on God and willingness to do what God says and what is right, no matter the cost.
The book does not glorify Ben but presents an eminently practical man who takes the gospel of Jesus seriously. Ben grows in his faith and courage as he consistently preaches and acts out a gospel that serves the needs of orphans and widows and builds community through education and health initiatives that exemplify deep compassion and effective leadership.
The backdrop to this ministry is the increasing vulnerability and impoverishment of Nigerians – and particularly Christians – with the unconstitutional joining of Nigeria to the Organisation of Islamic Nations by their Army General President in 1986. This opened the way for the beginning of violence by those seeking to make North Nigeria part of an Islamic Caliphate, such as that attempted but defeated in the Nineteenth century in a previous act of Jihad – Boko Haram and the more murderous and destructive Fulani herdsmen. The inactivity of the government, army and police to respond to this violence strongly suggests their collusion with its aims. The Archbishop finds himself as the chief spokesman confronting the authorities as well as providing leadership across the community. This brought him and his family into personal danger with drastic consequences which have served in God’s grace to fuel their determination to work for the good of their people and the gospel with even greater focus and sacrifice in the time that is left to them.
Issues of the ethics of self-defence and how Christians are to respond to violence against themselves without giving way to the lust for revenge are frankly wrestled with. Likewise the issue of willingness to face death in the cause of Christ and the test of faith’s reality in the face of life threatening violence is exemplified.
The book is an appeal to the West to recognise the scale of the threat to Nigeria where the murder of Christians exceeds any other place in the world and the consequent breakdown of social cohesion and basic structures threatens the nation’s very future. It is also an appeal to Nigeria to work together to build its nation lest it be irretrievably torn apart. The tone is frank and confronting, yet gracious and full of faith in God and the gospel as the only hope for Nigeria.
The book concludes with an appendix that is a delightful pastoral piece addressed to us all that contains so much wisdom and spiritual guidance and carries the authority of the Archbishop’s own story.
As he set out to do when converted, he has proved the gospel in his life and now commends it to us all to pursue with all our might and heart as the only pursuit that will ultimately satisfy and the one that God calls us to get on with urgency and a trust in God that will surely grow as it is acted on.
This is a book for everyone, and it is a book for now!
The Revd Wayne Walters is Vicar of Christ Church Dingley
Christ Church Dingley will host a public gathering with Archbishop Ben Kwashi on 1 November at 7.30pm, and Archbishop Kwashi will speak at a thanksgiving communion service at St Paul’s Cathedral on 2 November at 5pm, at which Archbishop Philip Freier will preside. Copies of Neither Bomb nor Bullet will be available for sale at these events, and the book is also available online.