More… Following Tamie’s earlier post, as we keep thinking things through before our first visit.
In the 1970s, as I mentioned earlier, John Gatu called for Western missionaries to leave Africa. What need does Africa have for the West? Can’t Africa stand on its own two feet?
There have been many responses to Gatu’s call and people are still talking about it. One detailed response comes from two professors in Nigeria, Adamo and Enuwosa. Although they acknowledge the many difficulties and complexities that came with Western missionaries, they deny Gatu’s claim. Their main response is twofold:
- The gospel means mission, and mission means missionaries.
- Christianity is a global, universal movement.
They also note that Gatu’s claim was somewhat academic: it never reflected the popular feeling of African Christianity.
Adamo and Enuwosa want to acknowledge the positive contributions of Western missionaries as reflected in African Christianity today: it does not just receive missionaries but sends them. ‘It is a sign that the church in Africa has attained great maturity. Whatever mistakes and omissions the missionaries have made, God has used them to bless Africa.’ They ask simply that missionaries ‘be tolerant and learn to give and receive’.
For Westerners to repudiate Western involvement in Africa may be just as paternalistic as any nineteenth-century imperialism!
Colin Reed writes as an Australian working in Tanzania. Here, he responds to the observation that Australians have been sending missionaries to Tanzania for over 100 years — hasn’t the job been done by now?
Firstly, Reed questions the original pattern of Protestant missionary societies. They believed that missionaries should work themselves out of a job, founding churches and then moving on, perhaps like Paul. Their end goal was to establish a self-sufficient indigenous church, at which point they believed they were free to leave.
That’s not our time, however. Today, as Reed says, ‘the world-wide church shares together the whole work of mission’. In fact, this was part of John Gatu’s call, and Western Christianity has been waking up to it. There is no longer any legitimate sense in which the Western church is superior. Today, ‘overseas mission’ must mean partnership, mutual reliance, and trust. The question is not whether ‘our’ work in a place is finished, but how it stands with the people of that place!
It turns out that Tanzanian Christians want missionaries — not because Tanzanians are ‘needy’, but because they want to partner with others from their worldwide family. In particular, Tanzanian churches want people who can train new leaders and teachers. Tanzania’s population has quadrupled in the space of a generation, and the church has grown rapidly too!
Of course, the implication of this partnership is that the West needs Africa! As Tamie and I have already begun to realise, mission is not a one-way process, but one in which we ourselves must be learners who are deeply affected and changed by the riches that our brothers and sisters bring. Africa cannot stand on its own — and neither can the West. Africans know, as I’ve been learning from Sudanese friends, just how spiritually bankrupt the West is. Western Christianity, for all its rich heritage and resources, is in many respects spiritually withered. The Western church needs Africa, along with all its worldwide family, to be spiritually revived. I’m thankful that this is already underway!
Reed also observes that mission is never just about local church work: it’s holistic. This is partly where our own journey fits in. What if a society’s corruption and oppression could be dealt with one person at a time? What if a whole generation of university graduates were moved by Jesus to live lives of love and service? What if they entered the workforce overflowing with excellence and integrity? What if a huge wave of teachers, doctors, engineers, lawyers, and civil servants were together ushering in the Kingdom of God? What a transformation for that nation! We may not end up in Tanzania — but wherever God takes us, he’s given us that vision for the next generation of a nation’s leaders to become gospel torches in their society.
Africa is not a ‘problem’ to be ‘fixed’. But if we Western Christians really care about partnering with our brothers and sisters in our global backyard, we’ll want to do more for them. It is all too easy for Westerners to send money — we have it coming out of our ears! What if we sent ourselves instead?
Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.