USPG International Programmes Manager Davidson Solanki explores what it means for the global church to work, learn and grow together as the family of God.
I want to introduce the theological idea of ‘Incarnational Trinity’ because I think it sums up my understanding of what it means to participate in global mission.
We are perhaps familiar with the idea of ‘incarnational ministry’ – the idea that we are called to be the hands and feet of Christ, manifesting his love in our daily lives.
With the phrase Incarnational Trinity I am wanting to emphasise that quality of God that is relational – the idea that God is, at core, relational, which is shown in the fact that the Godhead is comprised of three equal persons giving and receiving from each other, in communion with each other, with ‘neither hierarchy nor inequality, neither division nor competition, but only unity in love amid diversity’ (LaCugna).
For me, Incarnational Trinity means manifesting this type of relationship in our everyday life, relating to each other as we would as a family: loving, caring, growing and suffering together, constantly communicating.
Whatever happens, the church remains in vital relationship because the Holy Spirit resides in all of us. Indeed, we cannot avoid being in relationship!
So what does this look like in practice? I can offer a few examples from my experience of working as an International Programmes Manager with the Anglican mission agency USPG.
The biggest ongoing change I’m seeing is a radical revision in the concept of relationship – from one of ‘saviours’ to equal partners who share the same challenges of living faithfully, albeit facing challenges that might vary greatly according to context.
We have been challenged by our global brothers and sisters to reassess our understanding of ‘wealth’. In our modern economy, our society has absorbed the idea that wealth is measured in terms of buying-power and ownership.
But what if we were to measure our wealth, not in financial terms, but in terms of the quality of our relationships or the fulfilment of our potential?
To offer a more concrete example of what I mean by Incarnational Trinity, I want to share my experience of my work with USPG in partnership with the Internal Province of West Africa (IPWA).
IPWA was created in 2012 and comprises five countries divided into six dioceses: Cameroon, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia and two dioceses in Sierra Leone. Over the last couple of years, I’ve spent a lot of time with IPWA, witnessing its growth.
Our role has not been to instruct or train or educate. Rather, as long-standing friends of the church in this region, USPG has been a travelling companion. We have been a listening ear, providing a space for provincial leaders to meet and explore options and discern the way forward. In the process we also gained knowledge and learning.
USPG has been supporting IPWA through the whole journey of developing its strategy. At IPWA’s first synod meeting, in April 2017 in Liberia, we were in attendance, asking questions together, learning and occasionally offering a different perspective – acting very much in the way that friends seek to help each other. So our role, as an Anglican mission agency, has been to accompany our friends on a journey of mutual sharing, learning and discovery.
What has emerged is a five-year plan for how to develop the province. The strategy highlights five key priorities, namely investment, governance, communication, post-Ebola reconstruction and livelihoods – and each of these areas needs will be implemented in appropriate ways to suite the different contexts across the region. This work will be a very big step. So let us pray for the province.
Going forward, my role as USPG’s International Programmes Manager for this region will be to continue to offer accompaniment – providing respectful and dignified support as the province’s new leadership grows in confidence.
I have been impressed by IPWA’s vision, which is very clear about the centrality of faith. The province does not want to become an NGO or an aid organisation, rather it is a church that has adopted a holistic approach to mission – meaning mission with depth that takes into account the economic, emotional and spiritual well-being of the people.
One of the blessings of my role with USPG is that I am able to engage with the global Anglican family as a companion – which is something we can each be in our own way.
It is a privilege to witness the faith, passion and unique gifts of those I meet. It is a reminder – if one were needed – that there is not one culture or sector of the society that has all the answers. It is only when we put all the pieces of the jigsaw together that we can hope to glimpse God’s bigger picture – and that means talking, listening and endeavouring to understand each other.
To return to my idea of Incarnational Trinity, the point about relationship cannot be over-stated. When USPG helps to develop a programme with one of our global partners, we do not adopt the role of professional consultants with a task to perform. Rather, we are brothers and sisters in Christ – we are literally part of the same family, learning together, with an overall goal to see healing and wholeness of human life.