The migration of faith, an interactive map (PEW)

Some of you might be interested in this interactive map of the migration of faith around the world from PEW (see report). (HT Duncan Green, From Poverty to Power.)

For example, Into Kenya: (click each image for a better picture)

Out of Kenya

Into the US

Out of the US

Top destinations for Christians:

Top countries of origin for Christian migrants

Top destinations for Muslims

Top migrant Muslim countries of origin:

Hindu Migrants

Migrants of Other Religions

Unaffiliated Migrants

Faith on the Move: The Religious Affiliation of International Migrants (PEW)

 March 8, 2012 Report

More than 1/3 of Protestants and Evangelicals live in Sub-Saharan Africa (Pew study)

The latest Pew study on Global Christianity.

The number of Christians around the world has more than tripled in the last 100 years, from about 600 million in 1910 to more than 2 billion in 2010. But the world’s overall population also has risen rapidly, from an estimated 1.8 billion in 1910 to 6.9 billion in 2010. As a result, Christians make up about the same portion of the world’s population today (32%) as they did a century ago (35%).

This apparent stability, however, masks a momentous shift. Although Europe and the Americas still are home to a majority of the world’s Christians (63%), that share is much lower than it was in 1910 (93%). And the proportion of Europeans and Americans who are Christian has dropped from 95% in 1910 to 76% in 2010 in Europe as a whole, and from 96% to 86% in the Americas as a whole. At the same time, Christianity has grown enormously in subSaharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, where there were relatively few Christians at the beginning of the 20th century.

The percentage of African Christians is even more striking when we limit it to Protestants (37%) and Evangelicals (38%). Africans also make up 44% of the world’s Pentecostals (p. 68).

Sub-Saharan Africa has both the greatest concentration of evangelical Christians (13% of sub-Saharan Africa is evangelical) and the largest share of the world’s evangelicals (38%) (p. 68). [About one-in-three evangelicals live in the Americas (33%) and roughly one-in-five reside in the Asia-Pacific region (21%).]

The majority of Christians in sub-Saharan Africa are Protestant (57%), as broadly defined in this report; this includes members of African Independent Churches and Anglicans.12 About one-in-three Christians in the region (34%) are Catholic. Orthodox Christians account for about 8% of the region’s Christians, and other Christians make up the remaining 1% (p.54)
  • Nigeria is the 2nd largest Protestant nation (after USA). 3. China, 4. Brazil 5. South Africa 6. UK  7. DR Congo 8. Germany9. Kenya, 10. India (p. 27)
  • Kenya is the 9th “largest” Protestant nation in the world; 60% of the population is Protestant; Kenyans make up 3% of global Protestants. (Including Catholics, 85% of Kenyans claim to be Christians.)
  • 73% of South Africans are Protestant.

Nigeria’s large Christian community is diverse. It includes nearly 60 million Protestants (broadly defined),
about 20 million Catholics and more than 750,000 other Christians. All of Christianity’s major groups have
grown in Nigeria since the 1970s, but the growth of pentecostal churches has been especially dramatic in
recent decades.

Orthodox Christians make up 12% of the global population. Ethiopia is the second largest Orthodox country in the world (after Russia ahead of Ukraine) with 36 million (43.5% of their population; 14% of all Orthodox.) (Spotlight on Ethiopia p. 56).

Other Christians includes groups that “self-identify as Christians” (pp. 35, 40), including American exports like Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and Christian Science, but they make up only about 1% of the global total. Zambia leads African countries (#4 globally) with just over a million “other Christians”, 8.5% of its population, followed by Nigeria (#6) with 0.5 of its population, and Kenya (1.5 % of its population) at #9, just ahead of Germany (p. 35).

The United States is the world’s third most populous country, but it has by far the largest Christian population. With nearly a quarter of a billion Christians, the U.S. dwarfs even Brazil, which has the world’s second-largest Christian community (more than 175 million). About 80% of the U.S. population identifies as Christian, and U.S. Christians represent 11% of the world’s Christians (p. 46).

CHINA: Read the section on Living as Majorities and Minorities (p. 19) There’s a considerable treatment of China (see esp. spotlight on China page 56, and Appendix C, pp. 97-110 ):
  • China has the world’s largest Christian minority population, although Christians make up only about 5% of China’s total population.
  • China probably has more Christians than any European nation except Russia.
  • India is #10 in terms of number of Protestants, but only 1.5% of the Indian population is Protestant.

The Middle East-North Africa region is home to less than 1% of the world’s Christians.13 Only
about 4% of the region’s residents are Christian. Although Christianity began in this region,
it now has the lowest overall number of Christians and the smallest share of its population
that is Christian (p. 63).


Eddie Arthur, head of Wycliffe UK (beat me to the draw with his post as I was eating dinner with my family ;-), adds the following comment:

…although the Church is growing rapidly, it is only just keeping pace with the growth in the world population. There is no place for either complacency or triumphalism in this data.

One issue which I have not seen in the report is the issue of influence. Though the majority of Christians are found in the two thirds world, most power and influence still resides in the Western Church. Our habits and attitudes have yet to catch up to the statistics. If you would like some further thought on these questions, I heartily recommend the talks by Martin Lee and Peter Oyugi at the recent Global Connections’ Conference, you can also take a look at an essay which I wrote on the subject a few years ago.

I’m curious how the stats would have looked if they had split North and South America.

Read the full Pew report for more details on these subjects:

Christian Traditions:

Related Content from The Pew Forum

The church in Africa as a thriving market (Gitau)

Maggie Gitau, new PhD student in World Christianity provides this imageof the church in Africa:

….Some years ago I lived in the backyard of Toi Market, a bustling and sprawling second-hand clothes market annexed to the Kibera slums.  During the 2007/ 2008 political violence it was razed to the ground. After it was reconstructed the market was as alive as ever, but in the reordered version, I found my way much more easily and could direct a stranger on where to find products. Later, I watched a TV feature that showed how suburban residents come to new Toi Market to shop, freely mingling with kibera slum dwellers, all looking for quality deals on clothes and foodstuff. The Church in Africa is quite like that market. It is alive and aflame with all sorts of activity. It has a lot to offer to the continent, but I do not think we have yet realized let, alone appropriated that potential.  For me, there-in is the challenge and the opportunity. I believe we need to understand our own story, in a way, to ‘make sense of this market space’.  If can articulate the common themes around which we as Africans Christians identify, despite our numerous diversities, we will rally together more easily to resolve the immense challenges facing the continent in the 21st century. And that way—if we solve practical bread and water type of problems, then we will be all the more relevant. We will help those who are on the fringes to discover that there is something for them in the church as well. In short, make order of the market to make room for even more efficient and productive business…

Read the rest of Gitau’s interview here. Images of Toi market., which happens to be where we buy many of our clothes.

What to do on a short-term missions trip

Preston Sprinkle asked two veterans of theological education in Africa what a positive short-term mission trip would look like.

They said: don’t teach. I know you’re a teacher, you even have a PhD, and it looks like you’re doing a fine job in America, but if you come to Africa, don’t teach during your first trip. Before you teach Africa, first be a student of Africa. Sure, hundreds of schools and institutes would love to have you come teach. You’re educated. You’re white. You’re the very symbol of wealth, wisdom, and upward mobility. But frankly, you don’t know the culture, and you have a better chance at doing more harm than good if you go in and dump all your knowledge—and perhaps a wad of cash—with no awareness of the complexities of the culture. But what you could do that would be hugely beneficial for both you and them is to learn. Find an African bishop, priest, or pastor, and follow him around. Be his shadow when he’s visiting a mother dying of AIDS at the hospital, or at a refuge camp where displaced Christians are wrestling with forgiveness. Go with him to the slums, to the cities, to the villages, and to the homes of congregants living in grinding poverty. Follow him. Ask questions. Take notes. Stare into the eyes of the man who lost his daughter to the militia seeking young soldiers. Don’t teach. Don’t counsel. Just learn. Drink deeply from the rich wells of African wisdom. And if you do this for a couple of months, you will be in a much better place to teach in Africa—if your heart beats hard enough to bring you back.

I might just add that you might also want to talk to one or two “locals” who move in these circles as well (click here for a West African version) just so you see it all.

The Africa Society of Evangelical Theology (ASET) launches with lectures on What is African Christian Theology?

The Africa Society of Evangelical Theology (ASET) invites you to its first Annual Conference and General Meeting: 26 March 2011 9am – 4pm

At Africa International University (AIU)

(Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology – NEGST)

Keynote addresses:

“What is Evangelical Theology?Prof. Mark Shaw

“What is African Theology?Prof. Samuel Ngewa

The conference is free and open to all

A community of Evangelicals in Africa engaged in the full spectrum of theological scholarship for the benefit of the Church and society

ASET annual membership fees: Full, 1600 Ksh; Associate, 1200Ksh; Student 400Ksh

Come prepared to join

For more information, contact:

John Mbiti: The Dialogue between African Religion and Christianity (lecture notes)

John Mbiti The  Spontaneous Dialogue between African Religion and Christianity Through Evangelization and Bible Translation

Tangaza College, Nairobi, Kenya: Thursday, May 20, 2010

Following are my typed notes from Professor Mbiti’s lecture at nearby Tangaza College. The lecture was hosted by Prof. Jesse Mugambi (Wiki bio) and sponsored by the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, University of Nairobi in honour of their 40th anniversary.  [The lecture was moved to Tangaza College as the result of “student unrest” at the University of Nairobi.]

Everything on the left margin comes directly from his handout though I’ve reinserted words—eg. articles and verbs—he omitted in the handout to save space. I’m not a terribly fast typist, so I might have captured the general gist of one out of every four or five sentences. I’ve bolded a couple of especially memorable quotes.)

My summary of his basic points:

  1. Christianity in African has expanded at historically unprecedented extraordinary rates.
  2. The causes of this rapid expansion are missionaries, African Christians, Bible translation, and the nature of African Religion.
  3. African Religion was very receptive to Christianity, which was consistent with African religious values; Jesus Christ was the new element.
  4. There has been significant awareness of the dialogue between Christianity and African Religion.
  5. Bible translation was a significant facilitator of the encounter and dialogue between Christianity and African religion.
  6. Prayer and Christology are two of the areas of greatest interaction between African religion and Christianity.

[Mbiti believes that there is enough commonality among the different expressions of African religion to speak of it in the singular.]

A. INTRODUCTION

There has been a silent statistical explosion of Christian expansion in Africa.

  • 1900 Christians were 9.2% of the population (Mainly Egypt, Ethiopia, and Southern Africa.)
  • 1984 45%,
  • 2025 49% (cf. 40% Muslims, 11% African Religion, 0.2 other religions and atheists.)

[Projections by David Barrett—Encyclopaedia of Christianity; Encyclopaedia Britannica.]

This is a very big expansion of Christianity. Never in history has it expanded as rapidly anywhere. Naturally, one would raise the question: “what has brought about this expansion?”

B. CAUSES FOR RAPID EXPANSION AMONG OTHERS

1. Modern missionary work—through western countries, recently Korea and India

2. African converts—evangelists, priests, pastors, teachers, lay persons

African converts were much more mobile than missionaries. I remember how when I was growing up in a Christian home, we used to tell other people about the Bible—then only the NT in Kikamba. We used to tell them about prayer and heaven. We used to teach them church hymns. This spontaneous sharing of the gospel is at the core. Formal ways of doing evangelism—through employed catechists, etc. add support to evangelization which is still at work—explaining the faith and giving spiritual nourishment. The vast majority of churches and parishes today are being led by Africans.

Africans opened, not only their arms to welcome the missionaries, but they also opened their eyes and ears to the faith. Selecting elements that are acceptable and rejecting others. Conversion takes place at different levels.

3. Bible Translations into African languages—in full or in part:

  • 113 translations in 1900, 500 by 1984, 718 in 2008
  • Translations repeat Acts 2:6, 11 Pentecost: “In our own tongues”.
  • Informal dialogue in local languages loaded with African Religion.

Translation was a high priority by early missionaries. We note that there were already ancient translations—Boharic and Sahidic Egypt.

Now, Bible translations have landed the Scriptures into more and more local languages. This enables the people to hear the word of God, to discuss, teach and dispatch it to the whole people. Inevitably, it enables formal dialogue to take place in the minds of those that experience it. Each translation is like a repeat of Pentecost (Acts 2:16)—Each one hears the terms in their own language–the mighty works of God. That sparks dialogue. We hear dialogue in our own tongues telling us the gospel. In may cases, the publication of a Bible is the first book in a given language. Through the translation of the Bible, the Christian message sings. It is a revolutionary event with powerful ripples throughout the ethnic groups. Christians go out with the Bible in their own language to nourish others. In many homes, the Bible and the hymnbook are the entire library, and many people know much of the Bible by heart.

[See additional thoughts on this section by A Bloke in Kenya.]

4. African Religion, evolved gradually, integrated into world-view.

Wide range of beliefs, central belief in God, monotheistic.

Moral and ethical values.

Religious actions—ceremonies, rituals, festivals, prayers initiation, etc.

Sacred places and objects—groves, trees, mountains, etc.

Responsible persons—elders, priests, and priestesses, doctors, etc.

African Religion said “Yes to Christian Faith, simultaneously. Without African Religion, Christianity (Biblical religion) would not have made impact on religious landscape of Africa.

African religious systems are a complete system. There is no section of African life which is not touched by religion. People practice differently in different places, but there is enough commonality to call it singular.

African Religion said “Yes” to Christianity, and the Christian faith said “Yes” to African Religion.

C. BIBLICAL RELIGION MEETS AFRICAN RELIGION

African Religion dominated the religious scene from ancient times. No religious vacuum existed when Christianity (or Islam) arrived.  Thus, African belief in God existed before the arrival of missionaries. Missionaries did not bring God to Africa, rather it is God who brought the missionaries here. African religiosity was very receptive to the Christian message and enabled the message to make sense, to sink into spiritual soil.

The new element was the naming of JESUS CHRIST as messenger of God in whom Africans believed already. Initially, missionaries and early converts rejected despised and condemned African religion.

Eventual appreciation or recognition of African religion by some western scholars and missionaries, e.g. Wilhelm Schmidt (1868-1954).

Edwin W. Smith (1878-1957)

Organized a Continue reading

The dilemma of the African missionary (part 2)

Patrick Nabwera ended part 1 by framing the dilemma: the African missionary comes from a background of the “have-nots to the have-nots”, yet he being pressed into the established blueprint of “the standard missionary”. And then he asked, “What should the African missionary do in such a case?”

Today, he offers a few suggestions:

For one, the African missionary must understand and accept his home/background context. This would stop him from trying to fit into the shoes of “the standard missionary”.  He has to learn to appreciate the fact that God has called him from a different background-the background of “have-nots” to the “have-nots” (often faith in Christ is the only asset which the African missionary may have above the host community-oh, that great eternal life of immeasurable value). David’s humility in choosing to use the five stones in the place of what Saul had given him forms a good model for the African missionary in this context. The testimony of this missionary from a poor context helps show the struggles.

Lotje Pelealu, an Indonesian nurse serving on a multicultural team in Gambia, reflected on her inner struggles as a missionary from a poorer country than the Western teammates…she admitted that it did get under her skin that she couldn’t afford as much as her colleagues. She had to pray and wait longer for the motorcycle for her ministry while they were able to buy a car immediately (Roembke 1998, 145).

Second, the African missionary can have the perspective of one coming from the kingdom of God to those outside the same kingdom and not as one coming from “the have-nots” to “the have-nots”. This means that he considers the possibility of partnering with all in the kingdom of God to bring the holistic Gospel to those outside God’s kingdom.  To him (and not only him but the entire body of Christ) then, it becomes clear that God can still avail the resources of the kingdom to him for ministry in that community. This view calls for kingdom partnerships (however, it is not just so that he may fit in the “standard missionary” model but so that he would bring the holistic Gospel to the target people).

Finally, his senders need to understand that the community expects the missionary to help in their social needs.  The fact that the missionary has another family which he has to care for should factor into his senders’ thinking. Then they will avail all that they can to have their missionary who has inherited the “old rich title” of the “standard missionary” present the holistic Gospel to the target people groups.

Reference

Roembke, Lianne. 1998. Building credible multicultural teams. Bonn: VKW.

The dilemma of the African missionary (Nabwera)

This is a guest post from Patrick Nabwera, Kenyan missionary to Mozambique:

The missionary in Africa stereotypically comes from a “better” background and context than their host community.  Missionaries generally comes with more wealth, more knowledge, and better technology from “the haves to the have-nots”. Because of this, the host community often sees him as a development worker, the source of new technology and knowledge in the community, or help in the hour of need and emergency.  Typically, the missionary comes to the community with much more to offer than just “preaching”; she comes with knowledge, technology, or wealth. In short, the missionary is associated with help for the community’s needs.

Based on this, the host communities expect African missionaries to fit into this model of “the standard missionary” with all the attached stereotypes. But the African missionary often does not have enough to keep him on the mission field.  The paradox of the “missionary” title without the stereotypical resources creates a lot of  pressure and stress. I have come across some African missionaries who always ask, “What project will I do when I get there?” (The model set by “the standard missionary”).

This is the dilemma: the African missionary comes from a background of the “have-nots to the have-nots”, yet he is being pressed into the established blueprint of “the standard missionary”.

Given this dynamic, what should the African missionary do?

Other missions posts by Patrick:

And his series on why missionaries quit:

  1. lack of financial support,
  2. difficulties in interpersonal relationships,
  3. marriage for singles,
  4. culture shock,
  5. resistance and hostility of radical Muslims,
  6. lack of quick conversion of the Muslims,
  7. a sense of God’s will for leaving,
  8. loss of vision, and
  9. lack of pastoral care.

Islam and Christianity in Africa (Pew Study)

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has just released a study on Religion in Africa

Download the full preface (5-page PDF, <1MB); Download the full executive summary (18-page PDF, 1MB) (in  French or Portugues)

In little more than a century, the religious landscape of sub-Saharan Africa has changed dramatically. As of 1900, both Muslims and Christians were relatively small minorities in the region. The vast majority of people practiced traditional African religions, while adherents of Christianity and Islam combined made up less than a quarter of the population, according to historical estimates from the World Religion Database.

Since then, however, the number of Muslims living between the Sahara Desert and the Cape of Good Hope has increased more than 20-fold, rising from an estimated 11 million in 1900 to approximately 234 million in 2010. The number of Christians has grown even faster, soaring almost 70-fold from about 7 million to 470 million. Sub-Saharan Africa now is home to about one-in-five of all the Christians in the world (21%) and more than one-in-seven of the world’s Muslims (15%).1

….While sub-Saharan Africa has almost twice as many Christians as Muslims, on the African continent as a whole the two faiths are roughly balanced, with 400 million to 500 million followers each. Since northern Africa is heavily Muslim and southern Africa is heavily Christian, the great meeting place is in the middle, a 4,000-mile swath from Somalia in the east to Senegal in the west.

….Despite the dominance of Christianity and Islam, traditional African religious beliefs and practices have not disappeared. Rather, they coexist with Islam and Christianity. Whether or not this entails some theological tension, it is a reality in people’s lives: Large numbers of Africans actively participate in Christianity or Islam yet also believe in witchcraft, evil spirits, sacrifices to ancestors, traditional religious healers, reincarnation and other elements of traditional African religions.2

Other Findings

In addition, the 19-nation survey finds:

  • Africans generally rank unemployment, crime and corruption as bigger problems than religious conflict. However, substantial numbers of people (including nearly six-in-ten Nigerians and Rwandans) say religious conflict is a very big problem in their country.
  • The degree of concern about religious conflict varies from country to country but tracks closely with the degree of concern about ethnic conflict in many countries, suggesting that they are often related.
  • Many Africans are concerned about religious extremism, including within their own faith. Indeed, many Muslims say they are more concerned about Muslim extremism than about Christian extremism, and Christians in four countries say they are more concerned about Christian extremism than about Muslim extremism.
  • Neither Christianity nor Islam is growing significantly in sub-Saharan Africa at the expense of the other; there is virtually no net change in either direction through religious switching.
  • At least half of all Christians in every country surveyed expect that Jesus will return to earth in their lifetime, while roughly 30% or more of Muslims expect to live to see the re-establishment of the caliphate, the golden age of Islamic rule.
  • People who say violence against civilians in defense of one’s religion is rarely or never justified vastly outnumber those who say it is sometimes or often justified. But substantial minorities (20% or more) in many countries say violence against civilians in defense of one’s religion is sometimes or often justified.
  • In most countries, at least half of Muslims say that women should not have the right to decide whether to wear a veil, saying instead that the decision should be up to society as a whole.
  • Circumcision of girls (female genital cutting) is highest in the predominantly Muslim countries of Mali and Djibouti but is more common among Christians than among Muslims in Uganda.
  • Majorities in almost every country say that Western music, movies and television have harmed morality in their nation. Yet majorities in most countries also say they personally like Western entertainment.
  • In most countries, more than half of Christians believe in the prosperity gospel – that God will grant wealth and good health to people who have enough faith.
  • By comparison with people in many other regions of the world, sub-Saharan Africans are much more optimistic that their lives will change for the better.

About the Report

These and other findings are discussed in more detail in the remainder of this report, which is divided into five main sections:

This report also includes a glossary of key terms, a description of the methods used for this survey, and a topline including full question wording and survey results.

HT: Roving Bandit — “Probably the best economics blog in Southern Sudan”

A tribute to Tokunboh Adeyemo (1944-March 18, 2010)

Dr. Tokunboh Adeyemo passed away last night.  Among many other accomplishments, Dr. Adeyemo was the editor of the Africa Bible Commentary. He had also served as general secretary of the Association of Evangelicals in Africa.  Moses Owojaiye, a Nigerian student here at NEGST, has written a very nice tribute on his blog – Christianity in Africa. You can read more about Dr. Adeyemo in his post,  The fall of an Iroko Tree.

UPDATE: A memorial service for Dr. Adeyemo will take place in Nairobi on Tuesday, 23rd March, at 10:00 am at Nairobi Pentecostal Church, Valley Road.  The family will accompany his body to Nigeria on Wednesday 24th, and the burial will take place on Friday 26th in Ibadan, Nigeria.

Other Links:

Memorial Service:  The Memorial Service will take place on Tuesday 23rd March, at 10:00 am at NPC, Valley Road.

3. The family will travel with the corpse on Wednesday 24th to Nigeria, leaving on the 7:00 am Kenya Airways flight.

4. Burial:  Burial will be on Friday 26th in Ibadan, Nigeria

The Western Captivity of African Christianity (Black)

UPDATE: Onesimus Online no longer exists.

Yesterday I introduced Bill Black’s blog, Onesimus Online, but I thought his posts related to The Western Captivity of African Christianity deserved a little more attention (especially for those of you that are skimming titles; I see Eddie beat me to it ;-).

… however well-intentioned our motives, we Western missionaries in general, and Western theological educators in particular, are engaged in nothing less than the colonization of the African church on a massive scale.

When the British sent out their surveyors across the savannahs and forests of Africa to map out their newly claimed territories, their apologists sold it in part as a vast humanitarian project to bring the ‘Three Cs’ of Christianity, Civilization and Commerce, as David Livingstone put it, to the poor benighted negroes of Africa. Of course the unquestioned assumption was…The resulting mess has completely warped African reality at every level and in every direction and will likely never be undone.

We missionary types don’t seem to have learned very much from the past two centuries of experience, because we are insisting on doing the very same things in our own spheres of influence. Oh, but we have the best of motives (for the Lord and the advance of his kingdom!). And who could ever accuse us of racism? We are all about partnership, all about taking into consideration the [fill in the blank with Kenyan, Ethiopian, Nigerian, etc] context, all about project sustainability, all about reducing dependency, all about working ourselves out of a job, raising up African leaders, etc, etc. We are up on the latest trends in globalization, we go to all the international conferences on servant leadership (whatever that means)…

…. my job is to teach Africans what the Evangelical [and thus ‘right’] position is for whatever the Bible addresses. But in doing so, I’m forced to make my African students into proper North American Evangelicals [one could just as easily insert ‘Presbyterian’ or ‘Reformed Baptist’ or ‘Pentecostal’ or ‘Methodist’].

…Not only are we forcing Western Evangelical categories on African students as the measure of all that’s true in the world, but we have simply assumed that our model of theological education itself is the baseline for all subsequent thinking on the matter…

…We theological educators in Africa are doing a bang-up job of reproducing North American Evangelicals for Africa, replete with our ways of thinking about and practicing Christianity. But in doing so, I’m not at all certain that we are either being true to New Testament Christianity or engaging effectively with the people of this continent as they really are…

Read the whole post: The Western Captivity of African Christianity

And again, (The Erosion of Inerrancy?)

…the fights (theological and hermeneutical) that have set the boundaries assumed sacrosanct by our best North American Evangelicals (or even British, though there is a huge difference even here) seem increasingly irrelevant over here.

…with the explosion of Christianity in Africa, Latin America and Asia, these presuppositions are increasingly exposed for what they are – presuppositions that unnaturally and unnecessarily limit what is understood as appropriate, to what is understood as appropriate if you have grown up in the West and been trained at one of its leading theological institutions. For that reason, systematic theology, for example, is difficult to teach in my present context as anything more than what certain Evangelicals understood at a particular time given their particular intellectual and religious contexts. To attempt to dress up Kenyan Christians in Evangelical clothes is attempt what the British did by insisting that Kenyans must adopt trousers, shirt and tie in order to appear civilized (never mind that…

…Africans can certainly wear western-style clothes, but we got to this point as a result of a certain amount of cultural imperialism that did violence to already existing cultures and perspectives. Anyway, the idea that the traditional Evangelical doctrine is eroding amongst Evangelicals may be true in the West, or at least a more or less valid observation. Our needs and concerns on this side of the world make such word play seem like yet another Western game. Playing ‘your’ game is a luxury ‘we’ can no longer afford. Anyone interested in playing our game?

And yesterday, What is your Game?

…Salvation too often means getting Africans to accept that our problems are their problems and that our solutions must be their solutions. For example, most Western missionaries assume that Christ has come to save us from our legal problem before a holy God; namely…

…while Western missionary Christianity misses the mark in terms of addressing African realities, the New Testament itself, along with the earliest expressions of Christianity as it spread throughout the Roman world, engages the pre-modern world view with dramatic and life-changing answers.

Eddie Arthur, Wycliffe Bible Translators, has a nice 14 minute video on the topic of missions, culture, contextualization, and African theologies (see also this post for more links).

Eddie Arthur of Wycliffe Bible translators talks about the importance and implications of contextualising the Gospel.

Onesimus Online: a blog to stir your thinking (Bill Black)

UPDATE: Onesimus Online no longer exists.

Ask any of Bill Black’s students here about him, and they will probably say: “he provokes; he really challenges us to think.”   Thankfully, for the rest of us, Bill blogs at Onesimus Online: history, theology, culture, the church, and other dangerous stuff. If you are at all interested in theology, theological education in Africa, global Christianity, missions, evangelicalism, American cultural Christianity, and other related topics, you might enjoy his blog–and having your thinking provoked and deepened. I know Bill appreciates the broader dialog.  Bill and his wife are both pastors, graduates of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, PhDs from Cambridge, and teachers here at NEGST.  Previously, they taught in Ethiopia. Plus, they are a lot of fun to talk to;  I’ve learned a lot from them.

Here are a few “sound bytes” from some of Bill’s posts to whet your appetite:

The passing of evangelicalism

…We Western Evangelicals thought we were the center of the Christian universe, only to discover that the glory seems to have departed and moved south to Africa, Latin America and Asia. Those tongues-speaking, hallelujah-shouting, other-side-of-the-tracks-dwelling so-called Pentecostals, even more derisively labeled as ‘holy rollers’ by the upstanding Christians in my home church who, of course, knew better, have become the most explosive force in the global expansion of Christianity ever. There is not a single individual person in my systematic theology class who would not identify themselves as either Pentecostal or Charismatic. On the ‘mission field’ at least, the old paradigms of missionary Christianity are in the process of being leap-frogged entirely. ..
…Anyway, the point of all of this is that things have changed. Radically. Decisively. The old verities and polarities don’t work anymore (if they ever did). The systems and structures which we created to manage the world as we knew it are being pressed into service beyond their capacity to cope. This is not a call to somehow change Evangelicalism. It’s actually too late for that. Its day has passed and cannot be recovered. Instead, …

A Plea for Civility, Sanity and Integrity in Theological/Political Debate (3 personal examples)

Theology is not safe:

…there is another reason why I am undertaking this blog. Theology is a dangerous thing. Theology that attempts to reduce God to what I can understand about God is an attempt to tame God. But the God revealed in the Christian Scriptures is untamable. Our Western theological traditions, both Catholic and Protestant, are attempts to mount God onto a specimen board, attempts to dissect and label God’s constituent parts, attempts to deduce divine physiology from divine structure. But efforts to catalogue the parts fails to apprehend the whole. Our orthodoxies miss the point…

…This blog then is becoming increasingly like my own incident at the fords of the Jabbok, my own wrestling with the one who refuses to be named and categorized…

The Western Captivity of African Christianity

…Not only are we forcing Western Evangelical categories on African students as the measure of all that’s true in the world, but we have simply assumed that our model of theological education itself is the baseline for all subsequent thinking on the matter…

…We theological educators in Africa are doing a bang-up job of reproducing North American Evangelicals for Africa, replete with our ways of thinking about and practicing Christianity. But in doing so, I’m not at all certain that we are either being true to New Testament Christianity or engaging effectively with the people of this continent as they really are…

Brain tumors, theological education and the church

The human brain is an unimaginably complex piece of work…Though my extended parable may be like the tumor it describes – a malignant profusion of words that obliterates the intended purpose – the purpose itself remains. The concern of this post is with theological education as it is actually practiced, especially at the higher levels, and its relationship with the church it’s intended to serve. My concerns come from my own experience as one who has benefitted from theological education and who has gone on to serve several churches in a professional ministerial capacity, and from my observations of theological education in actual practice…

…I think there are likely a number of reasons contributing to this fundamental dysfunction in our churches. First,…

….The breathtaking irony of all this is, having created such an institutionalized system for training our leaders (the theological education industry), a system that has succeeded in taking us further and further afield from that which Christ is calling us to be, we heedlessly presume our institutional model to be the most effective way to train Nigerians or Indians or Chinese or Ethiopians for the ministry…

Africa, Spiral Logic, Systematic Theology, and the Perils of Theological Education

The Indefensible Evangelical Habit of Shooting Our Wounded

Last week there was a gun battle outside our gate. Four gangsters had hijacked cars and shot drivers and the authorities finally caught up with them just over the fence from my house. In the ensuing firefight, two of the carjackers were killed outright, one escaped over the fence (and through my garden!), and the fourth lay wounded on the road…

Believers Baptism vs. Infant Baptism, Must it Matter?

Evangelicalism Inc.

…Not only are the Western Prosperity gods raking it in, but developing-world prosperity-god-wannabees are trying desperately to get in on the cash…Dare I even mention the Evangelical publishing industry, which seems to have taken on the role of God in conservative academic and popular religion circles, raising up this one and ignoring that one, and on the grounds of whether or not it is ‘marketable’. I can’t imagine Jeremiah being able to secure a publishing contract from this crowd…

…Then there are the incredibly large and wealthy Christian aid organizations poised globally to respond immediately to the latest front page disaster and who must raise gazillions of dollars not only to feed the starving, but to buy the planes and Toyota land cruisers and computers and iPhones and Blackberries and pay the travel fees for all the conferences and meetings and consultations that must happen in the background for the hungry to be fed…

Does this bother anybody else?

…I do not deny the good intentions of most (I hope) of my fellow Christians involved in these so-called ‘ministries’. But I can’t help but thinking that we Evangelicals have become like addicts hooked on methamphetamine. We’ve got to have more, more, more. We’ve got to be successful, or at least appear successful, because if we are or appear so, more people will be drawn to our ‘ministry’ which will make us all the more successful. But like the meth addict, this stuff is destroying us…We dare not take a genuinely prophetic stance on anything, because if we do, someone will be offended and we will lose support. We’ve become like Ahab’s court prophets, cunningly discerning which way the wind is blowing before committing ourselves on any issue, and viciously smacking down anyone who does not toe the party line.

We Evangelicals are seriously compromised. And seriously compromised people are like salt that’s lost its savor…

And much, much MORE.

My Book

Money, Power, and Radical Incarnation—a model for missions (Muriu, Urbana 09)

A little over a week ago, Pastor Oscar Muriu spoke at Urbana–a giant (16-20,000) missions conference for American college students.

[Vimeo vimeo.com/8450561]

Money and Power: Oscar Muriu from Urbana 09 on Vimeo.

For more Urban09 videos, click HERE

(We had the privilege of hearing most of it at Nairobi Chapel earlier in the year—just an average Sunday sermon for us ;-).

Muriu begins by saying that if he were God, he would have brought Jesus as a powerful ruler, or a wise sage. He would have employed the the best marketing and branding strategies for all the world to see. The way God did it was to slow, too low tech. While the world waited desperately for salvation, God sent his son as a poor helpless infant.

His point is that before we go for missions, we must undergo an attitudinal incarnation. This incarnation has four doors:

1. From pride to humility.

2. From power to powerlessness (Phil. 2:6)

3. From privilege into poverty

4. From the harmony and the unity of heaven to the brokenness and dysfunction of the earth.

Side Note: I haven’t been able to locate a smaller MP3audio. I understand that this is directed at a young, American audience, but I couldn’t help noting that the very nature of the video link (124MB by my count), means that many Africans—even many with “reasonably good” internet access—won’t be able to see or hear this message. Just another way that Africans generally can be marginalized (by the missions infrastructure) from “missions” thinking and discussions…even when Africans speak. At least Americans are hearing their voices now; I commend the speaker lineup.

[More detailed notes]

1. From pride to humility.

The incarnation of our attitude is more fundamental than geographical relocation. Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ (Phil 2). Before you go, we must undergo an attitudinal incarnation; consider others better than yourselves. Leave your pat answers, your degrees, your learning…and take on the attitude of a humble servant.

By way of illustration, Pastor Oscar talks about

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Nollywood’s booming Christian film industry

Nigeria: Christian movie capital of the world (CT):

Nollywood recently surpassed Hollywood in film production, according to a UNESCO survey released in May. The Lagos-based industry has existed for less than 20 years, yet produced 872 feature-length films in 2006, nearly twice Hollywood’s 485 productions. (Both trailed India, which produced more than 1,000 films.)

Most Nigerian films, almost all of which are low-budget affairs shot on location and released on DVD, are spiritual in nature. About 20 percent are Christian, according to Obidike Okafor, an arts and culture reporter at Nigerian newspaper Next. Others champion Islam, animism and witchcraft, or simple morality.

The Christian-themed movies often aim at encouragement and evangelism more than sheer entertainment. Groups or churches often screen the films and follow them with discussions or an altar call…

…"Half of the Christian movies are not done by faith-based organizations, but by directors who want to take advantage of the strong religious inclinations of Nigerians to sell [movies]," Okafor said. "The others do it to promote their faith."…

…Nollywood’s Christian films offer revelations into what one of the world’s fastest-growing Christian populations believe, [Philip] Jenkins said. "When people are discussing splits within [Nigerian] churches, or moral issues, it helps to know the supernatural vision underlying some of these concerns. … If you went to America in 1800 and wanted to find out about the nature of their religion, you’d listen to the hymns. These videos also give you a good snapshot [of what Nigerians believe.]"

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Systemic challenges facing African theologians

Following are some of my own observations about some of the systemic challenges my colleagues face in trying to do genuine African theology—dialogue between African cultures and the world of the Bible. (My experience has been largely with evangelical institutions, but many of the principles might apply more broadly.) Please feel free to add some of your own observations.

[no particular order; numbered to facilitate comments]

  1. Almost all formal theological training is done in the West or by Western-trained African theologians who have been indoctrinated to Western priorities and methodologies. (All of us are shaped by our mentors, and our mentors are shaped by their environments.)
  2. Many theological schools in Africa tend to depend on resources being doled out by Western institutions with Western interests.
  3. African thinkers are forced to write for Western audiences in order to gain academic credibility and get published.
  4. Whereas Western theologians have the luxury of being able to be essentially mono-cultural, successful African theologians (who wish to be published) have to have a sophisticated mastery both Western and African thought patterns and ways of communicating.
  5. Many of the best and brightest African academic pioneers have been snatched up by western institutions where they are forced to spend most of their time catering to white American audiences and explaining Africa to them (e.g. Sanneh, Tienou, Katongole).
  6. In any theological institution there are already strong, established feelings about “how theology should be done.”
  7. Evangelicals, especially, are very nervous about any new ways of doing theology.
  8. Specific denominational dogmas are so sacrosanct that all we can do is regurgitate acceptable “truth” (from the teaching vessel to the recipient student and hope it doesn’t experience any corruption in the process.)
  9. Seminary and Bible school programs and curriculums in Africa are almost exactly the same as their Western counterparts. (Accreditation is a factor, but not the only factor.)
  10. Africa is often perceived by and portrayed to outsiders as a dark, poverty-stricken, crisis-ridden continent. (What could it possibly have to offer?)
  11. The fear of syncretism—Christo-paganism. (While this might be a genuine concern in a few, rare cases, the fear of this extreme should not prevail.)
  12. Many of the most successful African academics are not in touch with their own traditional cultural heritage; they may not even speak their own mother tongues, which could help shape their theological thinking.
  13. Creative African theology is not given very much institutional priority in terms of grants and infrastructure support that frees African thinkers with the resources, freedom, and focused time to pursue research and writing African theology.
  14. The sheer number and diversity of different African cultures can be overwhelming.
  15. Genuine African theology requires cross-disciplinary expertise. In addition to the biblical studies expertise needed to understand the Bible in its original cultural context, ethnographic research along with anthropological and sociological analysis are needed to help immerse the theologian in different African cultural worldviews. (Doubles and triples the fields of academic expertise required.)
  16. We don’t have access to that many models of how African theology can be done. In some ways we keep going back to the same few pioneers who laid the groundwork; new creative efforts need to be encouraged.
  17. The younger, brilliant African theologians I know here are too busy addressing pressing community needs—pastoring churches, running NGOs, doing administration, working to change political leadership, etc. The ones that do teach in academic institutions tend to be teaching course overloads and are buried in administration—in addition to all the normal community pressures.

I recognize that this portrait risks severe caricature, but perhaps it will stir some of your ideas. Catholics seem to have done a far better job of supporting African scholarship (most of the books on my shelf related to African theology—written by both Protestants and Catholics—are published by Catholic presses), but in practice, they seem to have institutional and hierarchical challenges that many Protestant churches wouldn’t.

Cf. bibliography for African Christianity or (by date) or the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians (e.g. Musa Dube, Nyambura Njoroge, Mercy Ouyoye, Isabel Phiri, etc.) for more African theologizing.

African theology’s window of opportunity

Like the theology of the early church fathers, genuine African (Christian) theological reflection arises out of the dialog between cultural ways of thinking and the Biblical story. African theologians today have a unique opportunity to enrich Christian theology in many of the same ways that the early church fathers did by authentically engaging and translating the gospel into new cultural frameworks (Kwame Bediako—Theology and Identity: The Impact of Culture upon Christian Thought in the Second Century and in Modern Africa (Regnum, 1992). During the era of independence, there seemed to be an explosion of energy for African theologies, but current efforts seem not to be getting the attention they could be.

Unfortunately, this unique window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

The very old African Christians who understand and appreciate their traditional cultures are dying off. Many of of the youngsters today either don’t know or don’t appreciate their traditional cultures. In some parts of Africa, it is already almost too late. Where we find third and fourth generation Christians, believers tend to be more conservative and Western in their Christianity—they grew up in schools of older missionary thought that condemned almost every component of the traditional cultures. The younger generation, which could be more open to incorporating African cultural values into their theology, has become so thoroughly secularized or westernized that most of them never learned their own traditions—some don’t even speak the mother tongues of their parents. There are still some older Africans who are in touch with their traditional roots and we should take advantage of their presence while we can. Some of these elders have thought deeply about how the Gospel speaks—or could have spoken—in ways that resonated better with the African worldview. (Some of their analysis has been generated by watching Westerners do inculturation of the Gospel badly.)

The sobering conclusion is that we may have a narrow window of opportunity within which to take advantage of some of the rich African cultural heritages to enrich global theology before the chance slips away forever (in some places 20-30 years before this older generation dies with their rich cultural knowledge). African theologians will continue to gain prominence, and the legacy of older traditions will always endure is many respects, but maybe not with the richness with which they are lived, understood, and remembered today.

The realization that certain theological insights from African cultures were slipping away hit me two years ago when I was interviewing a seventy-year-old Christian couple on the shores of Lake Victoria about eschatology. This couple clearly loved Jesus, loved the church, and had some incredibly rich reflections on how the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and power over death could have meaningfully transformed Luo burial rituals (while maintaining some of the core elements). The church of Western modernity had tried to scrap every aspect of the cultural practices wholesale. As this elderly couple talked, their fifty-year-old son entered the room. He was already a generation too late, and wasn’t aware of half of the things they were telling me; these things simply weren’t a part of his world of experience. That day, I left with an fuller understanding of the hope of the resurrection. I also left with a sense of urgency—that our generation might be missing out on an incredibly wonderful ideas.

During a PhD seminar here, a recognized scholar of the Pentateuch was talking about Leviticus and casually asked for some experiences with sacrifice from the various African cultures represented in the room. As the stories started flowing, he had to ask for pen and paper so he could take notes. It was clear to him that these students had a lot more first-hand information about ritual and sacrifice generally than he had been able to uncover in his extensive library research.

When we finally grasp the potential contributions of African cultures to theological reflection, will it be too little too late?

Coming up:  Institutional barriers to doing genuine African theology and quotes from African theologians.

Note: I had been saving this topic for a time when I could give it some extra attention, but some of my friends have urged me to post it “as is” in hopes that others (from my very limited sphere of influence) might help encourage the conversation.

5 books that helped shape how I read the Bible

I’ve been tagged by Karyn Traphagen with a book meme:

Name 5 books or scholars that had the most immediate and lasting influence on how you read the Bible. [Ken Brown has collected responses.]

I’m going to come at it a little differently than some. These books are more representations of communities and experiences that have shaped my reading of Scripture.  As you can see, some do not directly address how I read the Bible per se, but they had a radical impact on my hermeneutics in a contextual kind of way.

  1. Peter Enns – Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament along with classes by Doug Green and Mike Kelly at Westminster (also Kenton Sparks – God’s Words in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship.—though more recent (2008), he gets at many of the same issues.) I guess half of you will disown me at this point; sorry.  These same Old Testament professors helped me appreciate a redemptive-historical approach to the entire biblical canon–the whole Bible as God’s story of redemption.
  2. NT Wright – The New Testament and the People of God and Jesus and the Victory of God . (Also his most recent books, but the starting point was his article on How Can the Bible be Authoritative (or pdf)—the 5th Act elaborated more in his recent book on Scripture The Last Word).
  3. Michael Emerson and Christian Smith– Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the problem of Race in America (in conjunction with other books on ethnicity & race)  helped me see how a lot of “biblical interpretation” is driven by our sub-cultures and desires to preserve certain comforts and privileges. Social environment plays a huge role in our hermeneutical stance and which texts we choose to listen to or to ignore.
  4. Kwame Bediako – Theology and Identity : The Impact of Culture upon Christian Thought in the Second Century and in Modern Africa.
  5. Laurenti Magesa – African Religion: The Moral Traditions of the Abundant Life provides some African religious context as a worldview setting for reading and inculturating the Bible). Provides the bookend with #1 in the dialogue between cultures of biblical times and Africa today into which God speaks.

[And since I always cheat on memes, a few more]:

  1. Walter Wink – Naming the Power series (helped me piece together together my biblical, American, and African misunderstandings of the spirit world in a somewhat unusual way—more on that some time in the future.)
  2. Anything demonstrating the more Jewish orientation of Acts (Tiede, Jervell, etc.)
  3. Sperber and Wilson – Relevance: Communication and Cognition – This book actually does a very poor job of communicating or achieving “relevance”, but the ideas that emerge out of it are important for hermeneutics and communication. (Ernest Gutt makes it more clear in Relevance Theory Guide to Successful Communication in Translation )

My hermeneutical journey went something like this.

  • At Wheaton College, perhaps the most significant “eye-opening” experiences were learning Greek, Hebrew, and textual criticism. It helped me begin to see the Bible as a living document in different ways than I had been raised to believe.
  • After my BA, I thought that if I could only figure out how the early church father’s interpreted the Bible, then I might be able to solve many of the disputes we have over interpretation today.
  • Then I studied the church fathers and realized they were just as confused and driven by culture as we are (Bediako’s book gets at that)—back to direct exegesis of the Biblical texts.
  • Through Trinity and Westminster, I became disillusioned with presentations of systematic or dogmatic theologies. (I have a relatively long list of books that paradoxically convinced me that their way of reading the Bible was untenable. The harder they tried, the less convinced I became.)
  • Meanwhile the African-American brothers and sisters began to open my eyes to the racist sub-culture of American Evangelicals and their limited readings of the Bible. They helped me appreciate the Exodus story (Exodus/New Exodus readings of the Bible) and the the importance God places on justice throughout the biblical narrative.
  • Peter Enns (I & I) and the other Old Testament profs at Westminster (Al Groves, Doug Green, and Mike Kelly) opened up the biblical cultural worlds and methods of interpretation during the second temple period. The key epiphany there was the christotelic (towards Christ) hermeneutic of the apostles. (They also introduced me to N.T. Wright.)
  • N.T. Wright opened my eyes to the Second Temple context and a more “Jewish”—story of Israel—reading of New Testament texts. Wright further helped reframe my worldview.
  • More recently, Laurenti Magesa helped me think of contextualizing the gospel in different African cultures, and along with Bediako helped me appreciate how understandings of African worldviews can enrich our understandings of the Gospel and our readings of the Bible.

And le voila; here I am: more confused than ever, but hopefully confused at a higher level. All in all, I have developed a far deeper respect for Scripture and how God continues to speak through it the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ to peoples of different times, places, and cultures. May God be praised!!

If they feel like doing some variation of this, I tag: Rombo Kins (who you’ll probably have to catch on Twitter); Eddie Arthur; Pastor M; David Ker; Michael Kruse; Brad Wright; the newly minted REV. Simon Cunningham; and David Bawks (who should be done with exams and student council business in a couple of weeks.)

The eagle and the African missionary

[A story from my brother-in-law’s newsletter.]

"Hello friends!" The stranger was beckoning to us. "Welcome! Please come inside." We had planned to hike the rest of the way to the top of the mountain and to make it home again before sunset, but this man was evidently craving some human interaction. He deserved more than just a wave and a smile.

He introduced himself as a Malawian pastor. He had reserved this little cottage on Nkhoma Mountain for a few days of solitude and prayer. "And where are YOU from?" he asked us. We explained that we are Americans who had come to Malawi to visit family and that we work as missionaries in West Africa.

The pastor followed my gaze to the stuffed eagle on the wall. "I don’t like that bird at all," he was quick to say. I noticed that he had picked the bunk that was the furthest away from the eagle’s perch.

stuffed eagle In North America, a stuffed eagle might be ideal for decorating the rustic interior of a cottage. Not so in Africa, where long-dead animals hanging on walls are more commonly found in the local fetish market and sold as ingredients for charms and amulets.

This particular eagle was probably a relic from when Dutch Reformed missionaries originally built the mission station at the base of the mountain in the late 1800s. Today, the station is a theological school and a hospital.

"To be honest, I’ve never spent two whole days alone before in my life," the pastor admitted. "So I’m glad you came today. It’s not by chance that I met you. You know something, I think you should come and work as missionaries here in Malawi."

That sounded like a superb idea as we looked out over the granite hills cropping out between lush fields of corn and tobacco. I wasn’t sure if the pastor was just teasing or trying to make us feel honored as guests in his country, so I half-jokingly responded, "Malawi is beautiful, but there are already many Christians here. Maybe you should come with us to the country where we work in West Africa, where Christians are a tiny minority."

I didn’t expect the pastor to reply with such earnest. "I would truly like to go to West Africa some day. I have a passion for missions. And I excel at languages. I learned Swahili in a matter of days."

As I exchanged email addresses with him, I thought about the prospect of Malawians joining the missionaries we currently work with in West Africa – the Brazilians, Swiss, Nigerians, Canadians and many other nationalities. To my knowledge, he would be the first Malawian missionary there, and he would be a welcome addition.

I also thought about the stuffed eagle, and the Western missionaries like me who had unwittingly hung it there. How many blunders of all shapes and sizes have we committed in Africa that will persist long after we are gone? God is in control, and the gospel has spread in spite of our mistakes, but the eagle reminds me of how foolish and blind we missionaries are. We badly need the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom and discernment.

African missionaries have a clear advantage in understanding their neighbors’ cultures and communicating the gospel on their own turf. However, they also face their own set of hurdles, especially when they venture out of their own communities. At the root of many of Africa’s conflicts are deep-seated tensions between ethnic groups. In many cases, the cultural divide between these groups is just as large, or possibly even larger, than it would be for any outsider coming to Africa.

Take the example of another pastor friend of ours sent with his family to plant a church in the staunchly Muslim north part of his country. They haven’t left their own country, but they still suffer the stigma of being from the south. They don’t speak the local languages, they rarely see their extended family, there are no local schools for the five children beyond middle school, and some of their neighbors accuse the pastor of being selfish. Why? They say that he refuses to tell them the secret of how to print real money. Before I met this pastor, I thought that it was only Westerners like me in West Africa were accused of printing their own stash of cash! This Christian family is part of a rare breed in our part of West Africa, living outside of their own community and trying to impact Muslims with the truth of the Gospel. They have been able to reach out to other southerners posted in the north by the government to work as doctors, tax collectors and judges, but it has been tough for them to make any in-roads yet into the native community.

I think also of our Nigerian colleagues. Nigerians are routinely pegged as con-artists all over Africa because of the high-profile scams committed by a relative handful of their countrymen. One hundred and fifty million people (at least 1 out of 5 Africans is a Nigerian!) get painted with the same brush. Nigerian missionaries face this stereotype everywhere they go in Africa.

Please pray for cross-cultural missionaries in Africa. Some have crossed an ocean like my wife and I. Others are "indigenous" missionaries who have crossed the entire continent, like our Malawian pastor friend may do some day if he comes from Malawi to West Africa. Many more have never left their own country but still struggle to reach out across an ethnic divide.

Operation World estimates that in fourteen African countries, evangelical Christians made up less than 1% of the population as of 2001. Pray that the African Church would have the courage, whether they are in the majority or on the margin, to reach out to Muslims and others outside of their own communities.

But the task at hand is too big for the Global Church to leave entirely to our African brothers and sisters, any more than they can expect outsiders to do it all. This is a team effort, and we all need humility to submit to each other, to be guided by the Spirit and to consider each other better than ourselves.

May all of us who follow Jesus continue to look at the crowds around us who are harassed and helpless, and, like our Master and Teacher, have compassion on them.

"The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into the harvest field." Matthew 9:37b-38

Africa’s time for missions; responding to shifts in global Christianity (Nabwera)

This is a guest post from Patrick Nabwera, Kenyan Missionary to Mozambique:

Nabweras Recognizing the shifts in Christianity to the global south (Andrew Walls, etc.), many are saying that it is Africa’s time for missions. This can mean two things. It can be a claim that Africa (along with Asia and Latin America) need to become the main players in missions while players from the “West” retire, give way, or merely become supportive. Some insinuate that current mission structures are outdated.  Others feel like the only thing they need from the West is financial support. For those of us who prescribe to a theology of the kingdom where God has distributed his diverse gifts on all continents, this view is misguided. God expects every continent and people to put their gifts into the “mission basket”. Creation reminds us that all things belong to God. In serious war time, patriotic citizens give their all without caring what someone else is contributing.  (This is only true for those patriots who love their country more than themselves, fame, and popularity—).

Saying that it is Africa’s time for missions can also mean (and this is my view) that it is time for the potential in Africa (personnel, resources, skills, ideas, strategies, and even the often “unbalanced or misunderstood spirituality”) to be added to the “missions basket”. This implies that everyone contributes fully to missions. It is not a question of some retiring while the others take over.

The main issue is that Africa has not yet taken full ownership and responsibility for missions. Some still feel that missions (especially pioneer missions) belongs to the West. This affects even the kind of missionary that Africa calls for today. In my view, missions can no longer be the idea of a Westerner who labors while Africans admire the heroic example of leaving her own country for the poor African. Rather, each foreign missionary shares the calling of reaching nations with his brothers and sisters in Africa. It is now a question of working together as a family of God without respect to color, economic background, technological differences, or anything that would bring disparity. When it comes to missions today, Paul’s counsel that there is no Jew, no Gentile, no man, no woman…but all are one in Christ is vital. I say that there is no African, no American…but all are one in Christ, following him in his mission to the nations.

As Christianity shifts to the global south, questions for African missions become:

  • What does this shift mean for missionary outreach today?
  • How can the growth of Christianity in the global south be channeled into the missionary movement?
  • How can recognizing this growth empower Africa to move forward in missions?
  • What other potential can Africa release towards God’s global mission?
  • Are we satisfied with the number of Africans in missions–especially in pioneer mission fields?
  • Might God not demand more from this continent?

My heart aches when I meet Africans who are suffering alone in missions. This isolation is especially tragic given rich resources that God has given Africa.

In sum, Christianity’s southward gravitational shift in should make every missions entity encourage and empower  the church in Africa to take ownership and responsibility for missions.