In those famous verses in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus tells us to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. In this issue of Connect we consider the remaining task: the parts of the Earth still unreached with the good news of Christ’s salvation and the role that both Westerners and Africans have to play in taking the gospel to those who have yet to hear it. Kola Kehinde is an AIM Europe Board member and also serves as the UK Coordinator for Calvary Ministries (Capro). Here he sets the context for this magazine, gives us an insight into the African church, and provides a challenge for future ministry.
Much appreciation must be given to the marvellous work done over the centuries by Western missionaries to ensure what we have in the African church today. Their engagement raised many churches as well as very seasoned pastors, elders, and other labourers within the local churches.
However, many of the churches became inward looking as age-old denominational ‘differences’ became ingrained in each planted work. Compounding this is the destruction of trust, sown by slave traders among [and between] most African cultures whilst the slave trade lasted, and when the race for African resources by the West thrived. This muddied the evangelism plane for the nascent African church, as they struggled to find identity in the aftermath of these forces.
The church has also been tremendously limited by the lack of trust (from Western missionaries) to allow them to oversee their own churches, their peoples’ evangelisation and develop a local mission theology to drive their kingdom engagements. Steef Van’t Slot who served as a missionary with Worldwide Evangelisation for Christ (WEC) puts it very frankly: “The early missionaries did a great job in evangelism and church planting but failed to transfer the missionary sending vision. We thought we would be missionaries for another 100 years and never thought of the possibilities that Black people could become missionaries.” (Steef Van’t Slot, Occupy, Capro Publication).
Growth of indigenous missions
In the last 50 to 60 years however, a movement of African indigenous missions was raised by Western missionaries, willing to enable the African church to engage terrain by themselves. One such ‘radical’ missionary who has rightly been tagged ‘The Father of Indigenous African Missions’ was Sydney Graham Elton, popularly called Pa Elton. Completely yielded to the Holy Spirit and with an unusual understanding of God’s heart for areas unreached with the gospel, he saw Africans as the best missionaries to send among their own people.
Pa Elton sounded the mission trumpet on the university campuses, teaching and mobilising young Nigerians from the south to move to the north. He made it clear that the responsibility for evangelising Nigeria through missionary effort had been passed to Nigerians. He wrote: “In the past, it was the overseas missionary societies who found both the personnel and the money to evangelise Nigeria and we are reaping today what they sowed. We are grateful for their sacrifice in bringing us the wonderful gospel. But that is now changing; ‘the day of the white missionary’ is finished. God is changing that pattern and he is now putting the responsibility for taking that same gospel to the lost in our own country (Nigeria) on the heads of every Nigerian Christian. In accepting the blessing of salvation, we (Nigerians) make ourselves debtors to all men too.” This statement was revolutionary. Structure was deliberately put in place to impart the missionary vision to these young Africans.
One result of this clear clarion call is Calvary Ministries (Capro) which has pioneered an indigenous missionary movement from Africa to the world. Today, Capro works in 36 different countries reaching out to at least 117 previously unreached people groups, with about 800 missionaries on all five continents of our world.
The challenge of mission
Many though, in African churches, are conditioned to life in the local church with little to do beyond that context. Thus, they find God’s calling beyond the local environment very onerous and strange. The preparation becomes more difficult than it ought to be, especially where the ‘health and wealth gospel’ has added another layer of resistance. Who wants to venture out into the midst of difficult terrain, running with the ‘horsemen’, when he can ‘enjoy’ the proceeds of ‘prosperity’ in the land of peace? It takes a long time to develop true discipleship (a precursor to mission service in all its true ramifications) and once discipleship is in place, it must be tested first (in direct obedience to Matthew 28:18-20) in local evangelism. Evangelism must become a way of life before it can be done away from home. Next comes cross-cultural training, then mission experience in a more familiar setting, before being able to operate with a new team in the frontier.
Even though this is arduous and time-consuming, it is better in the long run as learning and adapting to a culture akin to yours is easier than bridging a totally distant culture.
Western and African missionary synergy
Our seemingly big churches, as many allude to in the West, do not always translate into the ability to reach the unreached in all contexts in Africa. The local church has local issues to focus on. Mission, many a time, comes last in the thoughts of administrators in the face of varied contesting needs within the local context. It becomes easier to train people to set up another flagship of the denomination where it can be seen in the city, rather than planting a church in a place so hidden away. Sometimes money spent on distant missionaries is seen as a waste or loss to the denomination. We need to deliberately budget and plan for mission outreach on a par with our plans for the local church. Much of the support now from the West should be logistical in nature to enable outreach.
If Africa still needs Western missionaries, it’s not because Africans cannot do it on their own – Africans are pioneering ministry without Western involvement. The main idea now is synergy. What a force we can be together to impact churches in Africa and churches in the West! The African churches can release missionaries for on-the-ground involvement on the home front and even in the West. At home, they have the language and culture for direct immediate engagement. Any mistrust that has built over time can be dealt with by true discipleship training that touches the heart (and not just the head) culminating in practical life change.