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Please note that this is just a summary of parts of the story excerpted from the booklet, "Reconciliation for Africa," by Craig and his wife Medine (published by Africa Christian Textbooks and Oasis, in Nigeria). Other versions described in greater detail Craig's entrance into the Black Church and how it nurtured him and brought healing.
Black and white Americans often lived in separate neighborhoods even when Craig was growing up. When Craig was converted from atheism through an encounter with Christ, he and another recent convert to Christianity, who was African-American, became close friends. Together they began sharing the gospel with others. Sometimes black Americans mistrusted whites and vice-versa, but by teaming up Craig and his friend were able to share Christ with everyone they met in their town.
Just before beginning his Ph.D., when Craig was facing the most difficult tragedy he had ever experienced, some African-American Christians unofficially adopted him into their family. Because their churches had had to deal with slavery and discrimination, they knew how to deal with pain, and they lovingly nurtured him back to wholeness. Although Craig was from the northern United States, it was in the south where he met these Christians and attended their church. Reconciliation is not learned from a book, but from genuine friendships with people of other groups, and from these brothers in sisters in Christ whom Craig loved he learned about what they had suffered.
After that, he began to read and learn more about their culture, and was shocked to discover what people who looked like him had done to people who looked like his friends. He realized what it cost his friends to love him by Christ’s love, and determined to join them in working for justice on their behalf. Although he had previously pastored a multicultural congregation, he was now ordained in an African-American church, and for most of the years since then has served as an associate minister in black American churches under African-American pastors. He lived for about five years as the only white person in black neighborhoods, and taught for four years in an African-American seminary (affiliated with the A.M.E. Zion church). During this time, he and an African-American pastor co-wrote two books meant to serve especially the African-American church.
When he began teaching at a multiethnic seminary elsewhere, his closest friend, Emmanuel Itapson, was a Nigerian pastor studying in the United States. Through Emmanuel’s urging, Craig spent three summers teaching in Nigeria. From his students he learned much about Nigeria, including the rivalry and prejudice that sometimes existed among different ethnic groups. He learned that “racism” was not only a problem of “black” and “white,” and that it did not exist only in the United States.
During all these years Craig had remained in contact with a committed Christian friend that he met during his doctoral work, an exchange student from Congo-Brazzaville. In both France and the U.S., his friend Médine knew racist whites, but she also knew white Christians like Craig who genuinely cared about her. A more difficult ethnic problem for her personally was the conflict among different regions in her country, where she returned after finishing her Ph.D.
Those conflicts eventually exploded into full-scale war, forcing her to flee into the forest with her family, pushing their disabled father in a wheelbarrow. Before she fled she entrusted a letter for Craig to a cousin who was leaving the country. She knew that once Craig received it he would not stop praying for her.
By the time Craig received the letter, Médine’s house and town had been burned to the ground. Daily he pleaded with God for his friend’s safety, daily checking his mail in hopes that she might have escaped. There was little reason to hope for her survival, except for an assurance Craig sometimes felt in his heart when he prayed, that God had a plan for him and Médine.
Meanwhile, even when the family was not fleeing, Médine and her sisters often walked twenty kilometers a day to procure food for her family, often through snake-infested swamps and fields of army ants. Everyone in the family was close to death at one time or another. In fact, they had accidentally left behind the father’s diabetes and high blood pressure medicine. When the mother wanted to go back for it, he insisted that he would rather die than let anyone else risk their life for them. But miraculously, each of them survived, from the father to the young children.
One day, after a year and a half, Craig found another letter from the Congo in his mailbox. “I’m alive!” it began. “I, Médine Moussounga, am alive!” After a cease-fire, the family finally emerged from the forest, now homeless and weak from malnutrition and sickness. Soon afterward, Craig and Médine became engaged and, after a long delay (related to administrative situations in both countries), were married.
Médine and her family had been refugees in the forest for 18 months. Yet even there, Médine showed kindness not only to people from her own tribe, but to needy people from the region that was at war with them. Likewise, when members of her tribe captured and beat a mercenary from another country fighting against them, Médine’s family fed him and showed him kindness. The love of Christ, they believed, required them to care for everyone.
• For example: The Reconciler (published by the ethnic reconciliation ministry of Chris Rice and Spender Perkins before Spencer’s death)
· Reprinted in “A White Convert to the Black Church.” The Reconciler (Spring 1995): 1, 8. Reprinted in The Mennonite 111 (1, January 9, 1996): 6-7.
There were (in 1991) Associated Press and Religious News Service stories; stories in The Atlanta Journal & Constitution, the Raleigh and Durham newspapers; and, later, in Charisma.
(including works we have contributed to)
• Reconciliation for Africa. A short work on ethnic reconciliation directed toward Africa, co-written with my wife Médine Moussounga Keener (who has also translated the work into French), published by Oasis and Africa Christian Textbooks in Nigeria.
• Craig Keener, “Some New Testament Invitations to Ethnic Reconciliation.” Evangelical Quarterly 75 (3, July 2003): 195-213.
• “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation.” Pp. 117-30, and (notes) 181-90 in The Gospel in Black & White: Theological Resources for Racial Reconciliation. Edited by Dennis L. Ockholm. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997. (Based on selected papers from the Wheaton Theology Conference.)
The Gospel in Black and White http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=1887
• “Interracial Marriage and the Bible.” 2-27 in Just Don’t Marry One: interracial dating, marriage, and parenting. Foreword by Curtiss Paul DeYoung. Edited by George A. Yancey and Sherelyn Whittum Yancey. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2002.
(Please note that there are many other wonderful resources (e.g., by John Dawson, Curtiss Paul DeYoung, Chris Rice and Spencer Perkins, and George and Sherelyn Yancey... and so many others, including friends of ours, that I hope there will be no offense at us just naming a few randomly)
Although the following books are not mostly about reconciliation, see also Black Man's Religion (with one chapter about reconciliation) and Defending Black Faith (on our book pages; both coauthored with Glenn J. Usry and published by InterVarsity).
Black Man’s Religion http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=1983
Defending Black Faith http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=1995