By Matthew Angell – Bible Teacher and Campus Ministry Pastor at The Amazima School.
“Are you a Christian?”
“What makes you a Christian?”
Last month we had 72 new students arrive for their first day at The Amazima School. First-year students have six classes, including Christian Religious Education (Bible Class), which I teach with my Ugandan partner, Pastor Daniel. During our first week of class we assign the students a short writing assignment where they get to share their story with us. Included in that assignment are the two questions above.
Pastor Daniel loves these two questions. Uganda as a country claims that more than 80% of its population is Christian. So when the students turn in their assignment we usually see 80-90% of the students answer yes to the first question. However, the answers we see for the second question betray the accuracy of the answer to the first. This helps us to know where we need to start.
Our students know about Jesus. They have memorized facts about His life and death and resurrection. Many have been baptized, and most have responded to an altar call. What they are missing is discipleship. Without discipleship, the students have an understanding of Jesus that looks exactly like your understanding of George Washington. We may know about His life and His accomplishments, but we never get to interact with Him. That should not be true of our relationship with Jesus because He is still alive!
This is why everything at the school is focused on discipleship. To live as a disciple of Jesus means that you are consistently growing in His likeness. We don’t look like Jesus because we simply memorized all of His attributes. We grow in His likeness in community, where those who are a step or two ahead spiritually share their lives with new believers. The spiritually mature show through their actions, behaviors, and instruction what it means to live like Christ, just as Barnabas did for Paul, and then Paul did for Timothy. At Amazima, we love to instruct, but we do not stop there. We model what it means to be a disciple of Christ through investing our lives in the students.
Jesus’ disciples were radically transformed over the three years they followed him. They learned how to pray, show compassion, extend grace, serve, give, be patient, be humble, protect others, reconcile relationships, and more by watching and listening to him. After Jesus ascended, the disciples, empowered by the Spirit, demonstrated just how much they looked like Christ in the way they impacted Israel and the surrounding Roman Empire. Similarly, there is already evidence of the impact our students are having in their communities. They are serving neighbors and holding Bible studies. They are offering forgiveness and restoring relationships. And as a stunningly beautiful picture of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, they are showing compassion to people that this culture rejects typically. These things happen as a result of Spirit-empowered discipleship.
The students who have now been at The Amazima School for three years have completely different answers to the second question than they had when they first arrived. Today, If you asked our students, “what does it mean to be a Christian?” they would tell you that they are Christians because they have been saved by grace through faith and not of works. They will say that Jesus alone took on the guilt of their sin and paid its penalty. They will tell you that they are a new creation in Christ Jesus, and they will say it with conviction and authenticity. But, I also believe that if you were close enough to our students to ask the question, you wouldn’t need to, you could see the answer in the way they live.