LONDON — “Oh dear. I believe I’m in the Olympic lane.”
Philip Adu-Bobie steers his car out of the far-right lane on the M4 motorway, which bears images of five conjoined rings with the word “ONLY” painted below.
A light drizzle falls from the overcast sky on this Sunday morning as Adu-Bobie makes his way from Heathrow airport — where he’s picked up a visitor from the U.S. — to the borough of Southwark in southeast London. There, two Churches of Christ will meet in a rented hall for a combined worship.
The world has come to this European capital, once the throne of an empire on which the sun never set. Signs for the 30th Olympic Games urge the locals to cheer on “Team GB.”
Despite the traffic jams he expected, Adu-Bobie is making “quite good time,” he says. Perhaps he and his guest can pop by his house for tea before worship?
The secondary school math teacher and father of two represents a new generation of British Christians. His parents moved here from a nation that once was part of the empire — Ghana. Born here, he spent a dozen years in his parents’ homeland as a youth, where he first encountered Churches of Christ.
In 1991 he became a member of London’s International Church of Christ, or ICOC, a booming congregation that emphasized evangelism and discipleship.
Ten years ago, as the ICOC endured a global leadership crisis, he and his family began worshiping with the New Cross Church of Christ
, a 75-member congregation.
Six days ago, his 13-year-old daughter was baptized.
Arriving at Bacon’s College, where the New Cross church is joining members of the Stratford Church of Christ
, Adu-Bobie hurriedly unloads supplies for the assembly. He shakes hands with Prince Ntim-Adjei, who moved here six years ago from Ghana to work as a “wood joiner,” or carpenter.
Umbrella in hand, Ntim-Adjei stands outside the college’s entrance, guiding congregants — and carrying children — to their classrooms for Bible study.
People of different nationalities trickle in, a bit like the opening ceremonies of the London games. A mother and daughter from the Philippines arrive, followed by an Indian couple with their infant. Most of the 151 people in attendance — 42 men, 65 women and 44 children — hail from West Africa and the Caribbean.
“This is the kind of day the devil despises,” says Jeff Abrams, addressing the congregation. “There must be 25 countries represented here. Truly, this is the United Nations Church of Christ.”
Abrams is minister for the Tuscumbia Church of Christ
, a 400-member congregation in northern Alabama. For 14 years, his church has supported New Cross minister Stephen Eusell, a native of the Caribbean island of Dominica.
Abrams and a small team from Tuscumbia have stopped in London on their way back from Ukraine, where they just completed their 10th annual Camp Amerikraine, a Bible camp for children. It’s Abrams’ first visit to the London congregation.
“There are many champions among us today,” Abrams says, referencing the crowds assembling a few kilometers away at Olympic Park, “but the most important champions are in this room.”
He reads from Hebrews 12, which urges believers to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
“We’ve got a better finish line,” he says, “heading toward a group of people eager to welcome us home.”
In the meantime, he urges the congregation to practice the Christian unity found in Scripture.
The people of London “have got to see us together,” he says, “loving one another, forgiving one another.” SHARING FAITH ACROSS CULTURES
After worship, the Christians dive into steaming plates of fish, beef and sausages as they discuss the challenges of evangelizing their multicultural metropolis.
“People don’t stop and talk,” says Thelma McKoy, who moved here in 1988 from Jamaica. She recently completed an evangelism course at New Cross and said she’s eager “to exercise what I learned.”
Malcolm Armstrong, minister for the Stratford church, says that, “here, Christianity has to be on its own initiative — more so than in the Caribbean. Otherwise, it won’t survive.”
Armstrong, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, has ministered in London for 31 years. He longs to return to his homeland and work with churches there but feels beholden to ministry in Great Britain. He doesn’t want to see it diminish.
Emmanuel Boateng came to London from Ghana 12 years ago as a student. He met his wife here and teaches at a primary school.
“Coming here has widened my scope,” he says, adding that he now thinks of the church in global terms.
Still, he finds it difficult to share his faith with people who aren’t from Ghana — especially white Europeans. He prays for courage to do better, to help his church be “a church of all nations, not just a church for the Ghanaians.”
One of the few white faces in the lunch crowd belongs to Lily Bland, a university student interning in London for the summer. Her home congregation, the Bedminster Church of Christ
in Bristol, has more members of European descent.
Nonetheless, “I’ve been made to feel very welcome here,” she says.
The youths in London’s 11 Churches of Christ have a sense of unity that transcends racial lines, says Adam Adesina, a native Brit whose mother is from Jamaica and his father from Nigeria.
Adesina grew up in the Wembley Church of Christ
, one of the only London congregations to own its own building.
One day after the Olympics’ opening ceremonies, more than 100 youths gathered for the London Christian Youth Conference
, an annual event that includes worship, drama, debate and lectures. The attendees enjoyed “celebrating together,” Adesina says.
Armstrong says he looks forward to a day when new generations of British Christians — the children of Africans, Europeans and people of the Caribbean — will take their zeal for the Gospel to other nations, including the U.S.
He longs to hear Americans say, once more, “The British are coming” as a wave of young Christians invades their shores. YEARNING FOR ‘A WORLDWIDE REVIVAL’
In the days following the combined worship service, the Tuscumbia church members treat the children of London’s churches to puppet shows, skits, races and refreshments.
“Champions for Christ” is the theme of the four-day Vacation Bible School, attended by 52 to 75 people each day. The children paint the Olympic rings on canvas visors and decorate “medals” made of leather as they hear Bible lessons. Their mothers watch and smile.
“This is quite good for them. Get them outside and get them active,” says Mercy Asiamah, a native of Ghana who was baptized nine years ago in London.
Gloria Osei rode on buses and trains for two-and-a-half hours to bring her 4-year-old daughter, Angela, to the VBS.
“It’s a good alternative to kids listening to long lectures,” says Osei, a member of the Edmonton Church of Christ. “For the children to come and socialize with these Christian brothers, it doesn’t matter how far you have to go. It’s priceless.”
More such efforts are needed, Armstrong says.
The Stratford minister had hoped the Olympics would energize church members worldwide to reach demographics underrepresented in Churches of Christ, including Latinos.
London’s churches need Spanish speakers, he adds.
Churches here also need encouragement, he says, to boldly proclaim the Gospel to the world — as the world arrives at their doorsteps.
Perhaps Churches of Christ in another booming, multicultural city — Rio de Janeiro — will take up the challenge in 2016, he adds, and foster “a worldwide revival for the next Olympics.”