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Africa: lessons, blessings, and partnership

These are my notes from the talks at Summer Encounter, the annual conference of CMS in South Australia.

Steve Maina is the national director of New Zealand CMS.

I was excited to see him popularising some of the new thinking about mission that we’ve been getting at college. We were also excited that he didn’t slam Western Christians, as it can be easy to do, but showed us how to take our place in mission. He’s not a jaded African who has ‘outgrown’ Western strictures, but an African who recognises that it is increasingly the Western Christians who are feeling inadequate, and has the generosity to build us up.

2. Africa: lessons, blessings, and partnership

As Westerners, we only know bad news about Africa. Africa still remains for us ‘the dark continent’ — no longer because it’s uncharted, but because it seems cursed. Most of the 20 poorest nations are in Africa. Many African countries are high on the corruption index. Africa’s highest HIV rates are all in sub-Saharan Africa — the most Christianised parts. Why is Christianity not changing Africa? And there’s a great deal of bad news about Africa that we don’t even receive.

Yet despite the brokenness, Africa is a place of extraordinary promise. It has unimaginable abundance through its sheer size. Check out the graphic at right: Africa is bigger than China, USA, India, and Europe combined! There are vast mineral resources. Plus, the sun shines for most of the year.

The greatest blessing of Africa is its people: more than 1 billion or 15% of the world’s population; more than 3700 people groups; more than 2000 languages. Human and social capital make up some 75% of wealth, according to the World Bank — we must be prepared to see Africa as rich!

If Christianity was conceived in the Middle East, then Africa was its womb. And God has not forsaken Africa now. In last 100 years, the church has grown from 8 million to almost half a billion. The impact of Western missionaries has been huge. Steve’s own story reflects this: within four generations of British missionaries arriving in Kenya, Steve has come to serve in NZ.

From ‘Windows on the World’ video clip: Christianity in Africa is dynamic. Christians represent every sector of society and sociopolitical leaning: rich, poor, conservative, progressive, Westernising, Africanising. Christianity is a source of both conflict and reconciliation. God’s work can’t be exaggerated — the growth is unprecedented. The population of Christians has grown 40% in past 100 years and now makes up more than half of the total population of Africa. 18% of African Christians are evangelicals — more than any other continent — and have grown fifty-fold in last 50 years. Christians from Africa are moving out all over the world. Following the breakdown of traditional social units under the pressure of urbanisation and war, Christian communities have become the new focal points for social responsibility.

3 key issues for the new Africa

1. Leadership. There are many leaders but there’s a big gap between rich and poor, equipped and unequipped. The dichotomy is heightened by huge migration to the cities: in Kenya, 500 people move into cities each day. And Africa’s people are young: 70% of the total population is under 30 years of age, and 50% is under 18 — about half a billion people. Yet Steve hasn’t come across a single institution with a good training structure for the youth of the future. Education often goes to those who are older than 50, who are responsible for leadership — but what about the next generation?

2. Discipleship. The church has grown rapidly, but Christianity in the marketplace is a massive issue. How can a country that is 80% Christian be so corrupt? There’s little translation of biblical values into everyday life: commitment, integrity, strategy. There’s a desperate need for models: the Christian businessman, the Christian policeman, and so on. The big ethical questions are about daily living amidst poverty — handling church funds when it’s a struggle to feed your own children, for example. The question is not how many churches are being planted, but what kind of churches they will be.

3. Stewardship. How can Africa’s huge resources be harnessed — including its people? Africa is indeed rich, as Time Magazine highlighted: investment in Africa has now well outstripped aid money, and Africa is now generating some of the world’s highest returns — no wonder China is pouring in its interest. Africa is well and truly open for business. But the question remains: How can Africa, become a destination for true investment rather than a recipient for donor money, as if it’s still just begging? Africa does not need money but investors: people who believe in the potential of Africa and new opportunity. These are the new kinds of missionaries and entrepreneurs needed!

2 responses to the new Africa

Africa needs two sorts of people.

1. The stranger. Matthew Parris claims, ‘Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa’s biggest problem — the crushing passivity of the people’s mindset’. Africa needs the stranger, the outsider! As Kenneth Bailey says, the gospel is not safe in any culture without a witness from beyond that culture itself. The gospel is in constant danger of being sucked into culture, yet other cultures can see the dangers and can call the church back to authentic faith. This is the blessing of the stranger — they can see the blind spots! Some of the most effective missionaries in Africa are not recognised as preachers in Australia!

Steve took 5 people from NZ a short term trip to Kenya. What could that group possibly do? They were new to Africa. Steve had low expectations: ‘Just come to learn’. However, they met three people in the slums who were all doing similar work, but didn’t know one another. Through these outsiders, those three got together and started working together.

Africa doesn’t so much need skills, which are already there in overflow. 600 Kenyan nurses arrive in Europe every year looking for work, and 20 000 teachers cannot get jobs in Kenya. But Kenya does need strangers — as partners and friends to walk alongside them.

2. The welcomer. From Matthew 10: ‘Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at that person’s house until you leave. Let your peace rest on it.’ Now, what if we read this passage not as the ‘going’ of the gospel, but as the receiving of the gospel? Imagine yourself in this passage not as the ‘goer’ but as the gracious welcomer. In receiving the prophet, you have received Jesus himself!

The African diaspora is huge. Every year, there are all kinds of Africans arriving around us in Australia. (Most of them are skilled workers — all eminently useful people!) God is sending these people into our suburbs, our neighbourhoods, our schools! Are we receiving them?

There are so many Christians amongst them — but are they finding a welcome in our churches? These could be the prophets of our day — and in turning them away, we turn away Jesus.

What will it mean for us Westerners to receive the strangers we need? We will be receiving the little ones, the weak ones — we who have never received anything, we who have always been so self-sufficient.

All the traditional mission organisations were set up to send. Now there is a new call: to be receivers!

As CMS people, the ones with the missiological and cultural expertise, we must be the ones to set the standard for our local churches to become receivers and welcomers. Then, like Daniel, a prophet in a fallen land, we may begin to see what God is doing in our midst. NZCMS received one such couple. They speak 7 languages between them — and that’s normal! They’ve brought 300 new members with them into NZ CMS! They’ve brought new energy, new fire! They’ve been immensely beneficial to NZCMS, opening people’s eyes to what NZCMS could be doing differently. These strangers are from God — but only if we’re ready to welcome them. Those of us in missionary organisations must lead the way!

Africans arriving in Australia often end up in their own enclaves — so how can we get them connected with Australian churches? One Australian church has organised a staff-swap exchange program with an African church. What will we do? Perhaps open our home to a student, perhaps find a partner church in Africa, perhaps…

Let us not miss the blessing! May we see a new day of mission in which people go from everywhere to everywhere to glorify God as we wait for the day! May God open our hearts! God promises to bless us: he who receives a prophet will not lose his reward.

Arthur: Here in Melbourne, the Sudanese Christians, along with Zion Church, were overjoyed to connect with us last year. Tamie and I had never known what African Christians were doing in Australia! The Zion people have come to bring the gospel to our land. They say, ‘Look again!’ Let’s partner with them!

Categories: Tanzania Written by Arthur

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Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

1 reply

  1. When I was in Uganda I was wondering why they wanted Aussies there to do some kids ministry when there were lots of capable Christians in Kampala. We did provide encouragement for the churches and an example of what they could do themselves.

    One discouraging thing I have heard a lot lately is lack of integrity of African Christian leaders.

    On the Australian front, I’ve long been excited by the opportunities presented by the influx of Africans, as there are lots of churches around here that have had their younger ranks boosted. But I am less optimistic these days as I’ve seen lots go wrong.

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