It has become almost a stock image, especially in missionary circles: During a fitful night trying to sleep, an African man has a dream of a white man coming to him telling him that a message of salvation or healing is on the way. The missionary then arrives, the gospel is preached, people gladly receive the good news and the church is born anew. You don’t have to go far to find such a story. In fact, the most recent issue of Christianity Today (May 2012) tells the story of an Islamic farmer in Mozambique named Feliz Talibo who had this very dream a few years ago and is now a devoted Christian, freed from sickness and demonic oppression.
I rejoice over this story and the dozens like it I have read over the years. It reminds us that God is the greatest evangelist of all. We see God showing up in the dreams and visions of Joseph (Matt. 1:20; 2:19), the magi (Matt. 2:12), Pilate’s wife (Matt. 27:19), Ananias (Acts 9:10), Peter (Acts 10:10), Cornelius (Acts 10:3), and Paul (Acts 16:9, 18:9), among others. Nevertheless, I see a day dawning when the “man in the dreams” will be an African, and the man or woman who has the dream will be white. Paul once had a vision of a Macedonian Man and, in obedience to God, crossed the sea and found Lydia. We need the message of Christ, of salvation, of healing, of demonic deliverance and of hope here in the West too, especially as North America is emerging as the fastest growing mission field in the world. I am praying that God would start sending Africans into the dreams of white men and women.
This prayer may have already been partially answered in the 2012 General Conference of the UMC. In the midst of leadership failures, stunning disconnects between the mission of the church and the work of the Conference, and attempts by protesters to hijack the Conference, the African delegation kept showing up. Not only did the Africans bravely remind us that the church is the most diverse movement in the history of the world, but that great inclusiveness must be found in Jesus Christ. The Africans showed up in our dreams to boldly remind us of the imperative of the gospel to preach good news, to heal the sick and to share the love of Christ. The Africans showed up in our dreams to gently remind us that Jesus Christ is Lord. The Africans showed up in our dreams to lovingly remind us that the Scriptures are the Word of God to us. There were many in this delegation who remembered General Conference 2008 when some wanted to silence their voices and take away their vote. Today, no one can silence the African church.
It is easy to cite disappointments in the recent General Conference. But, looking back a decade from now, this conference will be remembered as the time when the African delegation really found their authentic voice to speak prophetically to the church they love so dearly. They showed up in our dreams. They spoke to us. If we listen, we just might hear the voice of the Lord calling us to a better day.