By Rachel Thebeau
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” Revelation 7:9
Close your eyes. Picture the reality of this verse. Now, picture what this would look like, feel like, and sound like if it were reality on this pre-eschatological earth. Welcome to the Global South Conference of 2016!
During one of our services, we were asked to pray the Lord’s Prayer in our native language. What a beautiful sound of people from 16 different provinces praying the Lord’s Prayer together, but in numerous different tongues.
Each day of the conference I engaged with someone from a new country. Each day I left thinking these are the Lord’s people, these are MY people. Anglican Church in North America, these are OUR people.
We in the orthodox Anglican Communion share in something special: We have brothers and sisters around the world with whom we immediately share a part of our culture. Even more extraordinary is that in the last few decades it has been necessary for us to work together in a common defense of the Gospel, not just remain distant brothers and sisters. Now, we share an innate familial bond.
As one of the few youth—which in Africa means young adults—I had a unique experience. I immediately caught the attention of many non-Western delegations which ultimately opened the door for me to engage with delegates from all over the world.
Imagine four lunches, five dinners, four coffee breaks, a whole afternoon and evening of touring together, and breakfasts and breaks at the hotel to spend getting to know different people. Literally, every meal and every break was spent meeting, greeting, and engaging others from different countries and provinces. I now have over 40 new friends, really brothers and sisters, from around the globe.
The Nigerians are my people. The Ugandans are my people. The Singaporeans and South East Asians are my people. It didn’t matter where they came from, the bond was there and the bond was real. Our time together was more than superficial chit-chat that you find at conferences in North America. Rather, it was bonding, growing together, and living life together even in just those few short days. How incredible!
The most awe-inspiring experience of the Holy Spirit through the week was the humility of the leaders. Like many of you, I have spent years following the happenings of the Anglican communion, watching and listening to the Primates from around the world stand up for the Gospel, and for us in the Anglican Church in North America. I grew to admire these leaders from afar. They are influential leaders in their countries. Many of them have a certain governmental influence and certainly a social influence. These are the “celebrities” of the Anglican communion and even the Church. Yet, they are extraordinarily humble.
That Archbishop Ntagali of Uganda (who, after returning home from his stance at Canterbury last January was met by a crowd of cheering Ugandans with signs like he were an NFL team arriving home from a big win) would have several different conversations with me and greet me every time I passed by, incredible. That Bishop Jwan Zhumbes of Nigeria would sit and talk with me like a friend for over an hour, special. That Archbishop Okoh of Nigeria would joke with me, unique. That Bishop Ponniah of Singapore would be so genuinely interested to know me and engage with me, inspiring. And that Archbishop Beach would pray over me as I left for my year-long mission in the Philippines, encouraging.
This may not seem unusual, but when you understand the sphere of influence these men have, how incredibly busy they were throughout the week, and how long I’ve admired them from afar, I was amazed and inspired by their gentle, kind, humble spirits, oozing with the Holy Spirit. I mean, who am I but a young lay person from America who most don’t even know. Why should they care? Because they recognize we are family in Christ in the Anglican Communion – that is special! May we all be encouraged by their humility and love – this is after all, our leadership and those speaking on our behalf!
The focus of the plenary sessions was how the Church and, specifically, the Anglican Communion were shaped by North Africa. As a non-seminarian, I learned just how much Thomas Cranmer, the first Archbishop of Canterbury and our church father, derived his writings, teachings, and liturgies after Augustine of North Africa. I knew generalities, but not specifics. It may be no coincidence that the largest contingent of Anglicans today is in Africa.
Exhortation to the Youth
As noted, being a youth delegate was a unique experience. It is quite clear from discussion that the leadership has a heart for and interest in the youth of today. They are interested in the youth perspective and how to reach the younger generations for the Lord. To the youth: let’s be encouraged to get involved and work with our leadership to increase mission to our generation and raise up the leaders of the future. We are the ones these leaders will pass the torch to, the ones who will stand publicly for the Gospel and against culture in coming years. Let us be faithful to follow the Lord’s lead in the role He would have us play.
Be encouraged that both Archbishop Okoh and Archbishop Ntagali personally sent with me their greetings to the youth!
Let us not fool ourselves, we all know you want to know about the touristy things, too! We visited the Pyramids and the Sphinx then went on to the antiquities museum. What an incredible sight the pyramids were. But even more fun was watching as bishops and archbishops were gleefully taking in the sights – wandering around, laughing, and taking pictures like children on the last day of school. The joy and laughter on the tour was my favorite part. I loved when the tour guides would run around calling out to the bishops specifically that it was time to go – they enjoyed it so much!
The Holy Spirit moved. On the night of the first reading, things seemed chaotic and unsettled, but as Bishop Ponniah read the final copy on Friday morning, something beautiful had happened. His tone combined with the words of the document were powerful, smooth, and seemingly perfect. The transformation was notable to me. I looked back at where we have come from, the mess of the first draft, to the beauty of what we shared later in the week. The document proclaims that while there is still work to be done on the issues at hand, we must not be distracted. Our mission must move forward. Something in the way the Communique discussions played out sent me chills in the reflection of the beautiful transformation that is working in our Communion. That was the Holy Spirit.
It was an absolute honor, privilege, and blessing to represent you all at the Global South Conference in Cairo, Egypt. My heart is to serve the Anglican Church in North America and the global communion through relationship building with our brothers and sisters from other provinces. Thank you for allowing me to do that, and know that if I am connected with them, you are connected with them – for the Glory of God. May we seek to have that taste of the Heavenly Kingdom now, sharing in true relationship and communion with those of every nation, tribe, people, and language. Amen!
Rachel Thebeau serves as the Vice Chancellor of the International Diocese of the Anglican Church in North America. She served as a delegate to the 2016 Global South Conference in October 2016.