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.

Religious Restrictions Rising (Pew)

A recent Pew study shows that religious restrictions have risen for over 1/3 of the world’s population between 2006-2009. More than 2.2 billion people – nearly a third (32%) of the world’s total population of 6.9 billion are facing greater religious restrictions. See Executive Summary for more details.


Among the five geographic regions covered in this report, the Middle East-North Africa had the highest government and social restrictions on religion, while the Americas were the least restrictive region on both measures. The Middle East-North Africa region also had the greatest number of countries where government restrictions on religion increased from mid-2006 to mid-2009, with about a third of the region’s countries (30%) imposing greater restrictions. In contrast, no country in the Americas registered a substantial increase on either index.

In China, there was no change in the level of government restrictions on religion, which remained very high. But social hostilities involving religion, which had been relatively low, increased substantially from mid-2006 to mid-2009.

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 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.


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.

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.


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

Continue reading

Evangelical polarization between social action and evangelism—some historical perspective (Ralph Winter)

I was downloading an article for a contextualization of Acts class I will be teaching Friday, when I came across this gem by Ralph Winter: Understanding the Polarization Between Fundamentalist and Modernist Mission. In this article, Winter gives some historical perspective on the tension between social action and evangelism-only thinking among evangelicals. His most interesting insight may be that Evangelical emphasis on evangelism over social action may have been more the result of massive conversions among uneducated working-class—who were powerless to change society—than any theological reason. [All emphasis added.]

They weren’t up for social action or social change. They didn’t have the potential for doing that. And neither did the working-class masses of Evangelicals in the 1920s. As a result they sub-consciously or deliberately chose a theology originating mainly from J. N. Darby, which described the world as getting worse and worse until Christ would return. Darby’s thinking was no recipe for challenging worldly problems in the name of mission. But it fit in with their limited capabilities as workingclass people.

Thus, you can see the cause and effect between social status and choice of theology. Very often philosophers and theologians boast that their thinking changed history, when actually, much more often, turns of history changed their thinking.

Back to the beginning of the article.

We often hear about the “Great Reversal.” The phrase refers to the early 20th century reduction of 19th century broad evangelism (including good deeds in this world) to narrow personal evangelism. In this regard we have talked about the tension between social action and evangelism. [Several more excerpts below.]

Continue reading

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.

Missions and how we portray the people we serve (Under the Baobab Tree)

Under the Ba0bab Tree points out two possible perspectives of people who do cross-cultural work–changing our perspectives. He is writing about the translation world, but I think it equally applies to missions.

…The first type of person … tells you of the large cultural divide, but he does so in order that you can understand him and the difficulties that he has in his work. He puts you in his shoes.

The second type of person also realises that he is a bridge between you (the listeners) and the community. But unlike the first person he helps you to understand and relate to the community. He tells you of the immense cultural differences, but he does in order to help you to understand and identify with people. He puts you in their shoes.

But I think it goes deeper than just the things we say. The way we talk about people ultimately shows what our perspective is – how we perceive them, and what we believe about them…

The problem for the first person is that he …judges the success of his work, not by how the local people perceive him, but by what his friends “back home” think. He sees his value in the work that he can do and the tasks that he can accomplish before he returns home.

The second person views himself from the perspective of the people he is serving amongst. He doesn’t see them as different, but rather sees himself as different. He respects the local people, and is more aware of the cultural offense he may cause to them than the frustrations he feels. He sees cultural differences not as an obstacle to overcome, but as an opportunity to learn, albeit often very difficult lessons, from people who have a vast amount of wisdom.

He works hard, but realises that the real impact that he will make will be in and through the relationships that he forms within the community, not in the tasks that he completes. He sees himself just as one small part of a bigger picture – a picture that has been developing for hundreds of years, and will continue long after he leaves…

Some people make the transition from the first perspective to the second relatively quickly; others never seem to. Sometimes I feel a bit schizophrenic when I’m trying to present one of my worlds to the other–I find myself being the first person all too often (and the cultural differences of my worlds are meager in comparison to many). This post might help give me a better handle on that, but I know some of my main issues lie in the arrogance of my own heart.

One of the key questions might be, “Where d0 your personal loyalties and affinities lie?” or ‘Where are your closest friends?” One big complication may be that while our heart may be fully engaged in one world, we are depending on a different world (with different agendas and priorities) to pay the bills, and we know where our bread is buttered.

Give the whole post a read–changing our perspectives. Two of my blogging friends who model this second perspective for me are Eddie Arthur and David Ker.

False dichotomies in mission (C. Wright)

False Dichotomies in Mission by Christopher J.H. Wright (Koinonia)
 Part 1:

…I do not want to be only negative, or to stigmatize our whole evangelical movement, but I was asked the question, and here is an honest answer! I think that as evangelicals we have tended to make some false dichotomies, or to separate things that ought to be kept together (because the Bible holds them together), and then to give one priority over the other. And this unbiblical separation has had some regrettable bad results.

1. We have tended to separate the individual from the cosmic and corporate impact of the gospel, and to prioritize the first. That is, we put personal salvation and individual evangelism at the centre of all our efforts, (and of course individual evangelism is an essential part of our commitment.). But Paul’s order of the gospel message…

2. We have tended to separate believing from living the gospel, and to prioritize the first. That is, we seem to think that there can be a belief of faith separate from the life of faith, that people can be saved by something that goes on in their heads, without worrying too much about what happens in their lives. So long as they have prayed the right prayer and believed the right doctrine, nothing else ultimately matters, or at least, whatever happens next is secondary and distinct.

Yet in the Bible faith and obedience are inseparable. Paul…keep reading part 1

Part 2:

3. We have tended to separate evangelism and discipleship, and to prioritize the first. In fact, we speak of the Great Commission as an evangelistic mandate (and of course it implies and includes the necessity of evangelism – for if people are to be baptized, they need to have responded to the proclamation of the good news), when in fact the primary explicit command is "Disciple all the nations". It has been said, the New Testament is written by disciples, for disciples, to make disciples. Yet our emphasis has often been on getting decisions and converts, making Christians. Actually

4. We have tended to separate word and deed, or proclamation and demonstration, and to prioritize the first. But again,

5. We have tended to separate evangelism from ecclesiology, and to prioritize the first. That is, when we talk about "the whole church bringing the whole gospel to the whole world", we see the church only as a delivery mechanism, a postman delivering a letter. It doesn’t really matter if the postman… Read all of part 2

Does global Christianity equal American Christianity (an interview with Mark Noll)-CT

No one doubts that American Christianity has had a profound effect on the shape of world Christianity. It’s figuring out the exact nature of that influence that still requires investigation and fresh thinking.

Christianity Today’s David Neff interviews Mark Noll author of The New Shape of World Christianity (IVP). Book excerpts are available on-line.

PDF Introduction »
PDF 2 The New Shape of World Christianity »

What have been the most common misunderstandings of the influence of American Christianity in overseas missions?…

You argue that we need to study American-style Christianity if we’re trying to understand indigenous Christianity in other cultures. Why?

Much of the world is coming to have social structures like those in which Christian faith grew in the United States. That social structure is after Christendom. The development of Christian communities in the U.S. was the first large-scale effort to found, establish, guide, and nurture Christian communities after Christendom.

… Under Christendom, colonizing powers sometimes tried to keep their missionaries away from the indigenous people. Take, for example, the British in India.

Yes, missionaries were seen as disruptive. It was not just that they messed with local religions, but also, if missionaries were successful, new Christians would want self-determination, and that would be hard to control.

India, of course, is hugely complex, but what was going on with the Catholics in the 16th century and with Protestants from the 18th century on was indigenization. Indian Christians tried to demonstrate to their fellow citizens that Christianity could be an Indian religion.

What elements of American-style Christianity are appearing elsewhere?

The American tendency has been to see authority as self-created rather than inherited; to read the Bible for oneself rather than just to accept biblical interpretation from others; to create organizations to meet a need rather than simply to inherit organizations; to empower laypeople, first laymen and then laywomen, as opposed to being super-clerical; and to use the forces of the market for the church rather than to worry about the forces of the market. The American tendency has been populist, and sometimes democratic, rather than aristocratic.

Another way churches in other countries have become like America is that they’ve become missionary-sending bodies.

You see that most notably in Nigeria, Brazil, and South Korea. But Northeast India sends many cross-cultural missionaries to the central part of India. Many African Christian communities now do missions work elsewhere in Africa. But then also, and this is a wonderful reversal, back to London, back to France, and back to the United States. It is mostly to diaspora communities, but increasing in a general sense as well.

The big geopolitical reality is that the Western imperial era did not last very long. It lasted roughly from the last third of the 19th century to 1960. All of us who came of age during that period felt that there was something natural about Western control of the world, but that was just a short time. In our post-imperial situation, it’s easier for missions theory and missions practice to relate to local conditions and to realize that no one size is going to fit all people.

Years ago I attended a meeting of missiologists from 30 countries. It rapidly turned into 29 countries versus America. They criticized U.S. missions for being too technique oriented, too concerned about measurable results, and too concerned about getting the maximum return on missions investment. Are those aspects of American Christianity going to spread?

I put in the book a wonderful comment that I first read in an Andrew Walls book, a comment from Kanzo Uchimura in the 1920s. He said Americans are great people but they just don’t understand religion. They have to count everything. But certainly some of the strong mission groups active in the world today—maybe Nigerians, maybe Koreans—would have something of that same desire for technique and counting…

How has missions strategy changed over the decades, in America and abroad? …

Does this shift have something to do with the rise of the church-growth movement in Southern California in the 1970s?…

American missionary efforts today are mostly the work of evangelical denominations and interdenominational agencies. How does that shape missions strategy today?

One of the things I’m most encouraged by in modern American missions history is how sophisticated the evangelism-minded groups have become. Sophisticated cultural analysis is now proceeding alongside a strong evangelism missions mandate. The 19th-century missionary pioneers in the U.S. were quite sophisticated in understanding culture and cross-cultural communications, compared to their own day and age. At the height of the imperial era, by contrast, say 1880—1950, there was a serious decline in cultural awareness and sensitivity in all the groups. But since World War II, there’s been a strong awareness among everybody, including the strongly evangelistic groups, of the need for language training and cultural understanding, as well as for gospel urgency.

Read the whole interview here.

A couple of thoughts:

On his last point, I’m sure cultural awareness has increased, and I know a lot of missions are doing more training in this area, and it varies from place to place/person to person, but on a more general level, I’m not sure how sophisticated our cultural understandings are—especially about getting at deeper, worldview levels of cultural thinking. A lot of the missionaries I see and the gospel they present still tends to come in pretty Western cultural packaging.

On an earlier point, I’m surprised to read, “Another way churches in other countries have become like America is that they’ve become missionary-sending bodies.” Imagine yourself as a European, for example, reading that statement. How many of our famous missionary biographies are about Americans? (Just for fun, name a famous American missionary 😉 The church as missions sending agency is as old as the church itself. But I suppose Americans and their historians are happy to take credit for it. The same probably applies to the point he makes about the relationship of missions to democratic thinking. Couldn’t we just as easily attribute all these attributes to the outflows of the Reformation?

From this interview it seems to me like this book will be a very America-centric reading of world Christianity through the eyes of an American church historian who I happen to highly respect. But I should read the whole book (which I don’t have) before passing these kinds of judgments. Maybe all he’s saying is that, as a scholar who has studied American church history all his life and who is now—thanks to the growing popularity of the topic of global Christianity—looking out at the rest of the world, he is seeing a lot of parallels (though he seems to want to say more). What does this say about how our environments and lenses shape the way we see the rest of the world? What does that say about the ways American Christianity sees the rest of the world? (We are the leading paradigm makers?)

In the PDF Introduction, Noll writes.

Its focus is on Christianity in the United States, but

Continue reading

Poverty tourism (Christian Science Monitor) & short term missions?

I’ve written about a similar topic before in relation to short-term missions (missionary tourism and the poor). Here is an article that I think anyone planning short-term missions might want to read.

Jina Moore (Christian Science Monitor) – June 29, 2009: Does peeking at how the other five-sixths live preserve culture—or comodify it?

. . . From the favelas of Rio de Janeiro to the townships of Cape Town, well-to-do Western tourists are plunking down serious dollars to see how the other five-sixths live. Like all tourism, this experiential off-roading can be a mixed bag for the local people, damaging the environment and threatening the authenticity of culture.

The bad kind has earned a seedy-sounding nickname – “poorism” – that means to suggest what experts say can be little more than a voyeuristic excursion to see just how poor the poor really are.

But there’s a more compassionate kind of poverty tourism, known by a spectrum of labels, that delivers more money to the countries tourists visit and puts more of their cash in impoverished locals’ pockets. The best of these programs take foreigners into local communities and expose them to authentic, indigenous ways of life, while taking heed of the cultural and environmental costs of tourism. . .

. . . “Often, rich Western tourists are interested to see people who have a strong cultural and social ethic – which they often don’t have themselves,” he says. “One thing that’s clear is … that the economic poor are often culturally rich.”. .  [or faith]

[Keep reading]

Thanks for the tip: Scarlett Lion who writes: “The debate about “poverty tourism” rages on the blogosphere on the pages of the HuffPo, Bill Eastery’s blog, and elsewhere. But, as Jina Moore (previous Context Africa feature), who wrote a great, nuanced piece about this for Christian Science Monitor, says,

If it’s that easy to be flip, you’re probably missing something.

Gordon then features the work of photographer Samantha Reinders, who is currently based in Cape Town, South Africa. Her take on Township Tourism shows that nothing is as straightforward as it might seem and even something as divisive as “poverty tourism” can be looked at with nuance. [Great interview and photos as part of the Context Africa series!!]

Township Tourism, especially when it just became popular in the mid 90s, got really bad press in South Africa. And admittedly I was swept up in that. I thought the concept was horrible. A Brazilian friend in town was determined to do one of these tours and I went along with him and had a surprisingly good experience. So I decided to do a story on it and investigate the industry in a little more depth. As time went on I changed my mind about Township Tourism. Whilst there are definitely negative impacts on the communities involved when tours are run badly and mismanaged, I saw the positive impacts out way these in many cases. I left the project with a more 50/50 view of the industry. . .

See previous Context Africa posts:

9 Marks on Missions

For those of you follow American discussions of missions , 9 Marks (put out by Mark Dever, Capitol Hill Baptist Church) has an edition about missions- PDF version of the July/August eJournal. I have not, nor will I have time to read these articles in the near future. So, like many or the other things I post, please don’t take these links as a full endorsement of what is written in the articles. I’m posting them because I happened across them and think some of you might be interested in knowing about them and engaging them for yourselves.

For example, from an initial skim, the first article (Pragmatism, Pragmatism Everywhere!) appears to me to be written by someone who is thinking about missions—not someone who is out in the field. (Don’t read too much into that statement the wrong way.). While I understand his concerns, I feel like he sets up several false dichotomies (either/or’s) including, for example, a dichotomy between “what works” and what is “biblical” (note a previous post about putting “biblical” in front of our arguments.) The more I learn about the cultural contexts that Acts and the letters of Paul were written in, the more I see them presenting a lot of “what works” in ways that fly in the face of the standard “biblical” interpretations of their own time (the Galatians controversies are but one example).  Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the realities of engaging the Gospel in the real world forced them to rethink a lot of their scriptural and cultural paradigms. The second article: Putting Contextualization in its Place gets at some of this, but I would probably go further in the ways Paul challenges reigning “biblical interpretation”.

That’s not to say that I believe the Gospel message needs to be watered down, and I’m certainly not into the “easy numbers,” homogeneous unit principles, or glossing over clear differences. God does surprising things when we tell the Gospel story in bold and direct ways. It’s not so much that I would disagree specifically what Johnson writes as much as I’m concerned about the tone, trajectory, emphasis, and what he doesn’t say. Missionaries on the ground are often led by the Holy Spirit in ways that challenges them to see what’s written in God’s Word in new and surprising ways—ways that often make their mono-cultural churches back home nervous about their actions.

[End of disclaimer; draw your own conclusions.]

Pragmatism, Pragmatism Everywhere!
Putting Contextualization in its Place
Lying, Hostile Nations and the Great Commission

Missions Partnerships from the Home Church’s Perspective

Missions Partnerships from a Field Worker’s Perspective

Sending Missionaries in Community

Cultivating a Culture of Missions in a Small Church

Developing Missions Networks Without a Denomination

**How American Christians Can Help Christians in Zambia (Conrad Mbewe)* [I was just thinking, so we have heard from all the white guys; do they know what the “recipients” of their missions think?] – see below for a couple of quotes.

How to Get Businesspeople into Missions
Guidelines for Deciding Whom a Church Supports

A Church Questionnaire for Supported Missionaries

Mbewa’s points How American Christians Can Help Christians in Zambia:

  1. Learn the local culture.
  2. Partner with the local church: “. . . I am not suggesting that there is no need for Western missionaries. We could do with many more hands! Rather, I am saying that if you plan with indigenous church leaders here the emphasis will certainly shift. . . ”
  3. Be accountable to and participate in the local churches
  4. Ensure equity in Christ’s body.
  5. Combat America’s chief and worst spiritual export—the prosperity gospel (TBN).

“Why is it that false teaching is often halfway around the globe before truth finishes tying its shoes?” I hope the readers of this article will, therefore, not just sit there but do something about it!”

RE cultural sensitivity:

. . . Sadly, we have far too many well-meaning Americans who climb off the plane for the first time wanting to correct everything they see. They don’t realize that the sensational view of Africa presented to the American people via CNN is often very superficial. A person needs to be on Zambian soil for some time, observing and asking questions about the presuppositions that make up African culture, before one can effectively minister here.

Space forbids me to apply this lesson to the huge area of modesty, decency, and propriety, especially when American young people are sent to Zambia on short-term mission trips. We often blush on your behalf!

However, let me say a little more about another area. Like most Africans, Zambians rarely want to give offence to anyone. Hence, when an American comes and appeals to his hearers to repeat a sinner’s prayer, many Zambians comply merely out of a desire not to offend him. The deceived evangelist goes back to America with glowing reports of the number of converts he has left behind on African soil. But the truth is that no sooner was he on the plane crossing the Atlantic than his “converts” went back to their life of sin. They were not converted at all!

About books:

If American Christians are really going to help Christians in Zambia, one other area that needs some serious thinking is the price that your books cost when they arrive on this side of the Atlantic. They cost an arm and a leg!

The biblical principle is that “he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little” (2 Cor. 8:15). That is certainly not what is happening. Books are priceless when it comes to the work of ministry, and Zambian pastors need books just as much as American pastors. Yet in addition to the discrepancy in salaries between pastors there and here, add in the cost of transportation and the books become too expensive for the average Zambian pastor.

I do not want to be unfair to book publishers and demand a pricing system that will put them out of business tomorrow. All I am saying is that there is need to implement the biblical principle of equity in Christ’s body if Christian books are not just to be a form of business but also a true spiritual ministry to the worldwide body of Christ.

Technorati Tags:

What aid agencies can learn from missionaries

From Blood & Milk (Examining international

10 ways to make development work better:

1. Evidence-based development
2. Fund people, not concepts
3. More, smaller programs, more flexibility to change.
4. Longer funding cycles.
5. Focus on self-interest in international development.
6. Get real about donor coordination; it occurs primarily through individual relationships.
7. Recognize not all governments have the best interests of their populations at heart. You can’t have general policies for host country collaboration.
8. Tags, not categories.
9. Forget the private sector; learn from missionaries. Cultivate regional and technical expertise.
10. Kill off the development studies programs.

What we can learn from the missionaries:

I’m going to start with #9, because a lot of you asked about it. And I don’t want people thinking I was suggesting we convert people to, well, anything. No pith helmets, bibles, Korans, or books of Mormon here.

But missionaries do have a model we can learn from, at least the ones that I have met. They come into a country with a long-term commitment. They don’t just want immediate results; they want souls. Missionaries bring their families and children with them, and those children go to local schools. They live in houses that are nice by local standards, but not in the expat palaces your average foreigner lives in. They bring their stuff with them in suitcases, not container ships. [I’m not too sure about some of the details in the last two sentences–local schools and containers.]

Missionaries don’t try to do any soul-saving at first, spending a minimum of six months learning local language and culture. Mormons are renowned for their language skills. And once they have learned it, they stick around, spending years or even decades in country [Mormons??]. They devote themselves to work in one particular place.

Compare that to your average expatriate working in development, for a donor or implementing a project. The expat lives in a little bubble of fake-home, cushioned by consumable shipments, huge shipping allowances, and hardship pay. With air conditioning and heating to ensure they’re even in a different climate. And they stay in once place for approximately 35 seconds.

. . . I’ve seen USAID country directors come in and kill programs that they thought weren’t working. And they were, but they were also hard to understand. Too hard to figure out in a couple weeks of reading reports.

Host country donor staff make a major difference in institutional competence, but it’s a rare donor who lets national staff run their programs. The fear is corruption, mostly, but there is also a capacity problem. The people with the education and skills to really run a donor program aren’t working for USAID, World Bank, or CIDA salaries. . .

. . . More often than not, your funder’s representative doesn’t speak the local language and doesn’t even know the nation’s major cities before they land. No matter how smart or committed you are, you don’t have time in a few years to get up to speed enough to be really useful. One of the very few things we know about what works in development is that your interventions need to be precisely targeted to the local context. We can’t do that if nobody knows enough about the local context to make that happen. And how do you take a long view on development when no one stays for enough time to think that way?

So that’s what we can learn from missionaries. Stick around until you know what you’re doing. Project managers, and donor representatives, should have regional knowledge and language skills. They should be deeply steeped in local culture. We need incentives to get good people to stay in one place and become experts at it. . .

Read the  Whole post: What we can learn from the missionaries

HT: Texas in Africa who says in the comments of the above post:

You can’t learn local context on a two-year contract, so bad decision after bad decision after bad decision gets made. If you look at the work missionaries do, it tends to have a lasting impact. I study Congolese hospital systems that are still around after 70+ years (lasting through the collapse of colonialism, the euphoric post-independence years, nationalization, the collapse of commodities prices, the end of Cold War financial support, several wars, and a full-on state collapse), whereas the average NGO-supported water management/microfinance/whatever project tends to fall apart not long after the grant runs out.

A couple of other thoughts:
1. Part of this is possible because missionaries aren’t dependent on fickle trends in development and government funding; . . .

2. Missionaries often try to work themselves out of a job. The best ones look to turn over the management of programs and institutions to local leaders who’ve had the opportunity to get good training. And a lot of them leave when they know that locals can handle the institutional management on their own, with that consistent financial support from outside. The reason those hospitals I mentioned above are still around is that they’re run by locals who know what to do when horrible things happen.

Americans & missions (Wuthnow)

Princeton’s Robert Wuthnow (CT interview with David Neff):

. . . Since 2000, for instance, 12 percent of active churchgoers reported having gone overseas on a short-term mission while in their teen years. That is up from 5 percent in the 1990s, 4 percent in the 1980s, and only 2 percent before that. Currently, this represents about 100,000 congregations (or one-third of all congregations) every year sending teams that average about 18 members.

The rise in short-term missions accompanies a rise in giving to transnational ministry. U.S. church donations to both humanitarian and evangelistic transnational ministry now total about $4 billion annually. We see a similar rise in direct connections to congregations in the developing world, as modern travel and communications technology allow congregations to bypass denominational channels. . .

. . . The number of long-term missionaries has grown, the number of medium-term missionaries has grown, and the best guess is the number of short-term mission volunteers has grown. . .

“Some African countries, like Ghana or Rwanda or Kenya, are almost saturated with churches and ngos trying to help.”

Other points:

  • Congregation-to-congregation relationships are gaining more traction than old denominational connections.
  • Economic and educational development, technology, ease of travel, etc. has made it easier for Americans to connect more directly with “indigenous” churches.
  • The rise of foreign immigrants in America churches are fostering more cross-cultural and international relationships.
  • What congregations are learning:
    • There is no one-size-fits-all model. They’re learning to tailor their programs to local needs by listening better.
    • They are just one of many organizations, and so they have to carve out a niche.
    • Short-term mission trips are a mixed blessing. Do them, but you may want to say the reason we’re doing them is that they help us more than they help the host congregation. Or, we’re going to do it even though we know that it’s expensive and not very efficient, because it is a spiritual uplift to the people who go.

On Thomas Freedman, The World is Flat: “With Friedman, you miss what’s happening at the bottom of a lot of societies.”

Another thing to remember is the cultural and power differences, power in the sense of both political weight and economic influence. If an African church welcomes visitors from the United States and says, "We are so glad to have you here," yes, they’re sincere, but they also know that they’re welcoming people from America, who add some prestige and some finances. That may become a paternalistic relationship that goes sour for both sides, or it may turn out to be mutually edifying. It simply has to be done with eyes open and some understanding of the cultural, economic, and political differences.

CT: Wuthnow interview with David Neff

Boundless Faith: The Global Outreach of American Churches
by Robert Wuthnow
University of California Press, May 2009
360 pp., $26.95

a bad motive for missions

Rachel Willowby, Round Trip:

It was our sophomore year at Wheaton College, and my friend Anna and I were hashing out our reasons for applying to the HNGR program (Human Needs and Global Resources). The heart of the program is a six-month internship with a Christian organization somewhere in the Global South. It’s an intense and often difficult six months. As I talked with Anna, what emerged as my main reason for wanting to go was to be in an environment where I would have to totally depend on God. “I don’t want to be complacent,” I remember saying.

Anna looked right at me and said (and this is why I love her), “Even missionaries get complacent, Rachel.”

At that moment I realized that going overseas just to be challenged in my faith was both selfish and ill-conceived. If I felt too complacent in my nice suburban setting, the problem wasn’t the place. The problem was me. My desire to be close to God was a good one, but I was about to go to an impoverished place and essentially use it as a Petri dish for my own spiritual growth. It was selfishness dressed up in the trappings of love and compassion. . .

As usual, I posted this quote then kept thinking about it (I know better, but I can’t help it.)

  1. I wish more people were aware of their motives for doing “missions.”
  2. We will have to wrestle with the same issues regardless of where we are (great point by Rachel).
  3. Coming to Africa to have our faith shaped and challenged is not all bad. It’s certainly better  than feeling like we have it all together and wanting to help fix the world.
  4. We will be more effective (anywhere) when we recognize that we are broken people constantly needing to learn and change.
  5. Just because we are broken doesn’t mean we can’t contribute in meaningful and signficant ways. God has gifted many of us with special tools and experiences that are quite useful here, and cross-pollination can be great (as long as we Westerners see it as a mutual partnership.)

PS: A six-month intense internship is a lot better than a six-day fly-through. You have a lot more time to absorb and learn.

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.