This past July, for the first time ever, Global Scholars Canada hosted a regional retreat for North American professors who are serving around the world.
About 20 members of the Canadian and American governing boards also joined us at Tyndale for meetings and fellowship.
We enjoyed our time with the 13 professors in attendance, along with their guests. Serving in such places as China, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, The Gambia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Czech Republic – it was an educating and inspiring experience to listen to their stories, laugh with them, and learn from them. We spent time in worship, updating each other on our work, enjoying a special academic lecture, and taking in the sights and sounds of multi-cultural Toronto.
Because our mission is focused on cultivating faith in public universities across the planet, we hosted a public lecture by Esther Acolatse, author of the book Powers, Principalities, and the Spirit: Biblical Realism in Africa and the West (Eerdmans 2019). Dr. Acolatse is professor of Pastoral Theology and Inter-Cultural studies at Knox College (University of Toronto) and argues that while Africa over-indulges in an imagination for the spirit world of demons and witches, the materialistic West has for the most part ignored the spirit world, which is a significant part of the Bible, not to mention the ministry of Jesus. The church is one body, however, and the West and Africa desperately need each other. Africa needs to celebrate the victory of Christ over the powers, and the West needs to re-mythologize its universe to see the powers and tap into the Holy Spirit’s presence.
Dr. Susan Robbins (Humanities & Philosophy professor at Klaipeda University) responded to the lecture, emphasizing that the West has lost its connection with myth and etymology, and this creates a closed, materialistic universe of meaning. Language—already at its origin in the human species—was mythological, and layered with spiritual meaning. Scientism has flattened our universe and language, and a literalism has made us poorer in terms of our apprehension of a full, physical and spiritual reality. For example: the Greek word “pneuma” can mean wind, breathe and spirit. In English, we have separated the words, and so separated the worlds. As Christians, the wind in our face should be a reminder not only of the weather, but also the Spirit’s presence.
Dr. Obert Hodzi (Political Science professor at the University of Helsinki) also responded live-stream from Finland. He emphasized the fluidity and flow of these two worldviews—how Western language for Christianity is mixed with African language, and how Africans may use spiritual explanations for personal trouble but switch to human-based explanations when in a different context. The rationalizing forces of the West and the spiritualizing practises of Africa are shifting, and in 50 years, as Africa develops, we may see some of the witchcraft and demon explanations receding to a more materialistic worldview.
In sum: what happens in the African church, happens for the Western church. We need to listen to each other, because we are one body with one head.
The retreat was a wonderful opportunity to meet the scholars we support through our work, build on the launch of our new Society of Christian Scholars, and make connections with board members who guard and guide our North American partnership. It was certainly an encouragement and empowerment for our transnational ministry.
In all, about 40 people were in attendance for the retreat and many more for the Saturday evening lecture event.
A US board member commented, “Engaging with our Canadian peers, the fellows, and attending the presentation Saturday evening made the mission come to life afresh”.
This was the first retreat in Canada, and we look forward to more in the future. It is our prayer that we may all resist more attentively the work of evil powers, and live more deeply into the Spirit’s presence and work in our shifting contexts around God’s many-layered, bustling, vulnerable world.