Going from store to store Christmas shopping it’s inevitable that at some point you’ll hear the Band Aid track ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’ blaring out. Released originally in 1984 to raise funds for anti-famine charities in Ethiopia, the track was re-released in 1989, 2004 and most recently (with slightly altered words) in 2014 amidst the Ebola crisis in western Africa.
The song has raised tremendous amounts of money for charity and opened our eyes to some of Africa’s needs. But the song’s words do court controversy. As well as painting an inaccurate view of Africa, some of the lyrics risk giving the impression that the West has all the answers whilst Africa does not. A view that we would reject.
But it does also ask an important question. “Do they know it’s Christmas?” Sometimes it’s easy to consider all of Africa ‘reached’ with the gospel. We hear of large African churches and even of African missionaries coming to the West to evangelise as well as to inspire and encourage Western believers. That’s not the whole story though…
The continent of Africa is the same size as 13 countries combined, including the United States, Mexico, Peru, China, India and the whole of Eastern Europe. It’s home to 1.2 billion people but 28% of those people, around 300 million, don’t know it’s Christmas. They don’t know of Jesus, how he was born as a baby and died to save them. They don’t know because no one has taken the gospel to them. Yet.
Last year we launched Vision 2020 and reiterated our commitment to go to those who have still to hear about the true meaning of Christmas. That doesn’t necessarily mean going to the geographically difficult to reach places (although we want to share the gospel there too), it can mean going to vibrant, busy cities. Cities in Muslim countries where the authorities don’t welcome the message of Christianity, or to cities in east Africa where there are Islamic strongholds. The places where people don’t have the opportunity to hear the Christmas message.
Our vision is not just to send Europeans to share the gospel in Africa. Instead, we place Africans at the centre of our strategy. On the field you’ll find African team leaders, team members and thriving partnerships with the local African church. And some of those who serve cross-culturally in Africa won’t necessarily focus on sharing the gospel, instead they will serve the church, mobilising them to reach their neighbours with the gospel.
This Christmas when you hear the Band Aid track, remember those millions who don’t know about Jesus. And please consider how you can be a part of sharing the gospel with them in 2017…. Could you go, or pray, or give to our gospel ministry?