Born in Johannesburg and educated at Michaelhouse, Cambridge University, and Fuller Seminary, Michael Cassidy is founder of African Enterprise >>, a ministry of evangelism in the cities of Africa with 10 teams across the continent. Michael has conducted many missions across Africa and in the wider world; initiated a number of major evangelism congresses across South Africa and Africa in the last five decades; and authored more than 15 books, his latest being a reflection and journey into John 17 entitled The Church Jesus Prayed For.
Michael played a significant role facilitating dialogue which led to peaceful first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994. He was recently named as distinguished alumnus of Fuller Seminary for 2012; honorary chairman of the Lausanne Movement for World Evangelisation >>, succeeding John Stott; and chairman of Mission Africa Phase 2 arising out of Lausanne Congress.
Michael is married to Carol. They have three children and eight grandchildren and live in Hilton, Natal, South Africa.
What is your main focus in ministry and why are you passionate about it?
The main focus of my own ministry and that of African Enterprise has been evangelism in the cities and urban complexes of Africa.
This also involves teaching and training in discipleship, as well as ministries of compassionate action and socio-political justice and reconciliation. I am passionate about this because it is the outworking of a call which the Lord gave me in the basement of Madison Square Garden in August of 1957 after a meetings during the Billy Graham New York Crusade.
As I sought to be obedient to this calling and vision, the Lord launched me upon a great and mighty adventure (not without enormous difficulties and challenges) of taking the gospel to the cities of Africa—a continent of vast spiritual potential for Christ.
Of course, the fountainhead of my passion for this ministry is that our Lord has given us his Great Commission to go out with the gospel to those who are lost. I believe with all my heart that people without Christ are indeed lost.
I remember once hearing Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri in Switzerland preaching on “All Are Lost – Jesus Saves – Only Jesus Saves.” I believe this with all my heart and with great passion. So I want my one journey to count deeply in terms of eternity and bringing people to Christ. I love the utterance of Martin Luther, when once he said, “There are only two days in my diary – Today, and That Day!”
I seek, albeit very inadequately, to live my life under that kind of conviction with every day lived out in the present but under the aspect of eternity.
Something else I am passionate about is mentoring younger leaders. I stepped down from the international leadership of African Enterprise six years ago and recently have sought to focus my endeavours more specifically, and without executive and fundraising concerns, into the ministries of preaching, teaching, writing, and mentoring younger leaders. In South Africa, I have established nine “Barnabas Groups,” involving nearly 200 younger leaders.
I seek to meet with these leaders four times a year and keep in touch with them in between our meetings. I believe it is very important for the older generation to commit to the younger generation any insights, lessons, and experiences which they themselves have had in their own ministry journeys. I am passionate about this.
What does evangelism mean to you?
To me, evangelism most fundamentally and basically is the proclamation of the biblical evangel of the life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus Christ, along with an appeal for repentance, faith, and conversion as people receive the two gospel offers (see Acts 2:38) of forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The faithful proclamation of this message will receive the anointing and blessing of the Holy Spirit and bring forth in respondees the supernatural happening of new birth in Christ, justification by faith, and a desire to follow our Lord Jesus in deep, committed, godly, and lifelong discipleship.
I also believe that evangelism at its best will always carry a holistic component with a demonstrated concern for the physical, social, economic, even political needs of people in terms of justice. The Lausanne Covenant understands evangelism in this holistic way and sees the proclamation of the gospel operating rather like the two wings of a bird, with such compassionate acts of action either preceding the proclamation of the gospel, accompanying it, or following it.
In African Enterprise, our stated mission is: “The evangelisation of the cities of Africa through Word and Deed in Partnership with the Church.” I believe that “the word and deed” combination is very important, particularly in areas which are socially, economically, or politically marginalised. People need to know that the love of our Lord Jesus extends not just to their souls but to their whole persons and be contextually related to their places of domicile and daily life.
Tell a story of how you shared your faith in Christ and saw God woo an individual one step closer to himself.
Of course one can think of many such stories when one’s ministry has spanned five decades. But one which stands out as a special highlight relates to an experience 13 years ago when I was flying from Entebbe in Uganda via Ndola in Zambia to Johannesburg in South Africa.
Next to me on the plane was a lovely young Rwandan lady who looked unutterably sad and grief-stricken. We began to talk and I asked her whether she had suffered in the Rwandan genocide. She told me how she had lost many family member, saying, “I do not know why I am still alive, and I don’t want to be alive, and I wish I were dead. I am so full of hatred and bitterness for what happened to my family and friends in Rwanda and I can never forgive them. Life has no meaning or purpose for me.”
Needless to say I began to share about the love of Jesus Christ and told her that there was indeed one Person who could give her a new start in life, enable her to find a new family of friends and people who would love her and care for her, and that this Jesus could and would come into her heart if she invited him to do so.
Her wide, sad, and attentive eyes told me that she was listening with all of her soul to what I was saying. I explained the gospel and what was necessary in order for her to find Christ. She seemed eager and open, like a drowning person clutching for a lifebelt, and as the plane was coming in to land at Ndola Airport in Zambia, I led her in the sinner’s prayer and she gave her life to Christ.
It was a wonderful and memorable moment. I kept in touch with her via correspondence and by phone and was amazed at the way she was growing in Christ and rejoicing in her totally transformational experience of the new birth in him. She quickly began to connect to other believers in Rwanda and elsewhere in Africa where her work took her.
Although I have only seen her face to face and been with her two or three times since then, she continues to keep me in touch by letters and phone calls. She got married to a German gentleman and they have a wonderful love. They are now living in an Arab country where she has a particular ministry of prayer, intercession, and care for children in need.
Her faithful witness in a number of places where her husband’s work has taken them has been a source of wonder and marvel to my eyes, along with very deep thanksgiving. Her name is Ilysa and anyone reading this report would bring further blessing and protection to her if they would pray for her and her husband as they seek to be true and faithful witnesses to Christ in an exceedingly complex context.
When I see the extent and impact of her mighty witness, I often feel that if she were the only person in my life I had ever led to Christ it would have been worthwhile.
God is so good in what he does through each of us, even in our weakness. I am also constantly reminded by Ilysa and others that the power is in the seed, not the sower. If we sow the seeds of the gospel faithfully, and as they fall here and there on good soil, so the fruit comes forth. I have no power to create an oak tree, but if I can get an acorn into the ground, with the Lord’s natural power within that acorn, then in due time an oak tree will indeed come forth. To be sure, Ilysa is one of these. Praise the Lord.
What is your favourite scripture?
Multiplied thousands of scriptures and texts have spoken to me powerfully. But I feel my life verse, received from the Lord in the early years of getting our ministry started, is Joshua 1:5: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.”
It is a stunning, comforting, and amazing text given to the nervous and anxious Joshua as he launched out in his ministry in succession to the mighty Moses, surely one of the greatest giants of faith in all of Judaeo-Christian history. Now Joshua had to take over from him. And the Lord then gives the nervous young leader this remarkable promise. I have claimed this verse thousands of times when I have been in situations that have challenged me, scared me, or rendered me anxious or insecure. And my testimony over all these decades is God has indeed never failed me and has stood by me in awesome faithfulness in ways deeply beyond my deserving.
How can people learn more about you and your ministry?
The African Enterprise International website >>
Prayer letters can be received from our different African Enterprise (AE) offices whose addresses follow:
AE USA >>
AE Canada >>
AE UK >>
AE Australia >>
AE New Zealand >>
AE Belgium >>
AE Ireland >>
AE South Africa >>
Anyone who would like to receive my own personal email news/prayer letter (which I send out every five or six weeks) can email me >>. I would dearly love to expand this personal news and prayer letter if there are people in different parts of the world who would keep a corner for me in their prayers.
ABOUT THE WORLD
What is the biggest issue the Church in your part of the world faces today and why?
Although there are many issues being faced by the South African Church, one of the most major is whether the Body of Christ can recover its nerve sufficiently to begin once again to speak prophetically to both the society generally and the state specifically.
In the apartheid era, although there were numbers of denominations which explicitly or implicitly supported apartheid, the majority in the Church of Christ (via a number of fine prophetic spokespersons) prophetically addressed the race issue and called both society and the state to account. The challenges were those of justice, human dignity, political representation, democratic principle, and so on. These challenges came creatively and powerfully from a number of prominent Christians over the years such as Chief Albert Luthuli, president of the ANC in the late 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s before he was banned and prevented from speaking publicly or holding political office.
Then there were others from the ranks of church leadership such as Bishop Trevor Huddleston, Bishop Ambrose Reeves, Archbishop Joost de Blank, followed by such distinguished leaders as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Frank Chikane, Alan Boesak, and a host of others. We in African Enterprise sought to make our own contribution in that arena as well, and I think we succeeded in modest measure.
However, after 1994, and with apartheid defeated and a new black majority government appropriately in power, the Church went to sleep in terms of its prophetic witness. It seemed unready or too weary to face and handle the new issues arising in the post-apartheid period such as poverty, housing, unemployment, economic liberation, sexual promiscuity producing a rampant HIV/Aids pandemic, as well as issues such as abortion, gay marriage, African Traditional Religion, and ancestor worship.
Then there were the issues of interfaith and comparative religion, cultural dictates versus biblical truth, rampant corruption in high places, alcoholism, crime, violence, child abuse, marital breakdown, and so on.
In other words, in the apartheid era, the Church was focussed into the race issue primarily, but to the exclusion of all other major issues. But in the new South Africa, there are all these other challenges running rampant across our socio-political landscape, with the Church seemingly asleep at the switch, locked into maintenance mode, status quo thinking, and internal congregational life and progress. Sometimes also it just doesn’t know its way around some of these issues.
The tragedy now is that as far as the general society goes, the Church seems almost silent, a kind of spectating body which is looking on either helplessly, negligently, or fearful of taking a stand, speaking out, and giving a word of challenge or guidance for the future. This has left our country morally adrift, void of an ethical consensus, and in many ways in a state of social and moral decline.
So perhaps one could summarise the biggest issue facing South Africa’s Christian leadership as that of recovering a prophetic and audible voice once again to both the nation and the Church of the nation. In this regard, one should reiterate the special challenges of the interfaith movement and mindset which challenges the distinctives of Christianity—the deity and uniqueness of Christ, the exclusive claims of our Lord, and the evangelistic imperative to take the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to every person.
Interfaith is in many ways the new religious orthodoxy of South Africa replacing the Christianity, albeit often nominal, of former times. In this widely prevailing mindset, tolerance of anything and everything, and any and every viewpoint is the ultimate virtue, while intolerance of what is perceived to be religious or moral error becomes the supreme sin.
At one level for the Church, the issue hiding in here is that of the authority of scripture and the divine nature of the Person of Christ. If we go weak at that point, then we will not have the courage or inclination either to be strongly evangelistic or relevant in contextual terms to the society around us.
What is the biggest issue the global Church is facing today and why?
In many ways I think the biggest issue facing the global Church is that of truth and the nature and reality of truth. This is related to some of the issues raised above. While it is important to be tolerant and respectful of people with different religious views, the Church dare not abandon its conviction of “true truth,” as Francis Schaeffer used to put it, that Jesus is indeed the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
But the problem in many places is that the Church has succumbed to postmodern relativism where it has lost its belief in the Law of Antithesis, which says two contradictory statements cannot both be true at the same time. In other words, A is not non-A.
Thus, if the Christian says that Jesus died on the cross and was raised from the dead in a truly historic moment, and that his death on the cross is vital in terms of our eternal salvation, and if the Muslim says that this is not so, namely that Jesus did not die on the cross and was not raised from the dead, but simply ascended into heaven after his earthly life, then one cannot hold to the view that both these statements are true and equally valid. The law of contradiction and antithesis forbids this.
So if the Church embraces both intellectual and moral relativism, then it cannot take a stand on the historic convictions and beliefs of the Christian faith. It cannot move out in strong and affirmative evangelism because this might seem intolerant of other beliefs and religious understandings.
Thus the nerve of evangelism is cut and its urgency diminished. The missionary motive is then significantly damaged and impaired and the practical outcome of sending passionate missionaries/Christian labourers to the ends of the world to preach the gospel will simply find itself in steep decline.
Yet the Great Commission given by our Lord in different forms at the end of the four Gospels and early in the Book of Acts still stands before us in stark and deeply challenging terms. These last words of our Lord in his earthly ministry must surely be our first concern.
This requires the Church to re-grasp the understanding of truth as coherence with the facts as they are—truth being that which accords with reality in a one-to-one ratio. Thus, in scientific terms we affirm as true truth that H2O is the correct formula for water, not H3O. In mathematical terms, 9x9=81, and it is not true that it is 91.
So truth is that which accords with reality on a one-to-one ratio. Christians need to believe again in the true truth of biblical faith—in the historicity of the events of Jesus’ life and the true truth of what he said. If the church loses this, then we will have lost the day altogether.
What is your hope for the global Church in the next 10 years?
My hope is that it would rally around the Lausanne Covenant and the Cape Town Commitment and work these out. When the Third Lausanne World Congress on Evangelism took place in Cape Town in October 2010, I believe the Lord gave both the theology and the strategy for the global Church to move forward in fulfilling his will and mandate in the coming decades.
Backed by the Lausanne Covenant and the Manila Manifesto, the Cape Town Commitment represents the clearest possible statement of biblical truth, along with its accompanying call to action. So my fervent hope would be that the Church worldwide would discover what was said and agreed upon in Cape Town and would act on it with all vigour and dedication in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In a nutshell, the Church does not need to go hunting around in some fresh struggles to find its way forward. The Cape Town Commitment has provided this for us in the clearest and most succinct terms possible. All we need now is to be obedient and fulfil what he has asked us to do in terms of his mandate for mission in our time.