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What we can learn from African Christians

Africa is a beautiful continent. There is stunning scenery—the mountains, valleys and lakes of the Rift Valley—and world-famous wildlife. It is also poorer and much less developed than in the West. The majority of people live in villages. There is a shorter life expectancy, and a tragically high incidence of HIV-AIDS. It is less politically stable than countries like Australia. But, most significantly, sub-Saharan Africa is one of the most Christian places on earth!

European Protestant mission really got going in sub-Saharan Africa in the 19th century. Names like David Livingstone (“Dr Livingstone, I presume?”) and CT Studd (the former English test cricketer) are synonymous with this endeavour. Today there are high rates of church attendance. I have gained the impression that on any average Sunday roughly one-third of the people in East Africa are in church. There are lots of denominations, church leaders are quoted respectfully in the news, and many shops have Christian names.1

The original focus of Christian mission was on evangelism and the establishment of churches, education and medical assistance. Mistakes were made, but a lot of great work was done. Today, in the 21st century, Western missionaries still travel to Africa but there has been something of a shift. While education and medical work remain prominent, there has been a change of emphasis from evangelizing Africans to the training and discipling of African Christians. Given that Africans are culturally the best equipped to reach other Africans, and given that the church has already been planted in this region, this focus on training Africans to reach and teach their own seems wise.

In my own extremely minor way, I have been involved in this training of African Christians. For the past ten years I have helped run the snappily titled International Certificate of Biblical Studies in South East Africa Program (ICBS in SE Africa Program). This program is a joint initiative of Sydney’s Moore College External Studies Department and African Enterprise (AE). It aims to provide high-quality, low-cost, short-term theological education to untrained African church leaders—of whom there are many! Sub-Saharan Africa is full of fine Christian leaders who, usually for reasons of a lack of money or opportunity, have not had the chance to receive much (if any) theological training. In eastern or southern Africa we teach Moore College Preliminary Theological Certificate (PTC) subjects in intensive two-week courses. The aim is to teach students the six basic PTC subjects over a one- to three-year period,2 qualifying them for the ICBS Level 1 Certificate.

The idea of the program is to teach the teacher—to train the trainer. We are not there to tell them how to run their churches—they know their culture better than we do. Rather, we are there to help them better understand and apply the Bible.

Over the ten years, about 20 of us have taught well over 600 people in Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Malawi and Tanzania. The teaching is always very well received, the students are very grateful, and the need is obvious. It is humbling to find oneself in the position to be able to so usefully assist Christian leaders, and thus the church, in another part of the world.

Talking to Christian colleagues back here in Australia, particularly with a growing awareness of the importance of the African church, the need for (and value of) the program is quickly appreciated. What is less well known, and what all of us who have taught in Africa have found, is that we have a lot to learn from African Christians!

Of course, from my humble observations, Christianity in Africa, like Christianity in Australia, is far from perfect. There are the particular dangers of false teaching and sexual immorality. One prominent African Christian described Christianity in Kenya as being a mile wide and an inch deep. It also has to be said that we Western Christians, thanks to God, have our strengths. However, it seems to me that we have a lot to learn from African Christians in a few areas. What follows is not a comprehensive study; rather, it is a collection of reflections and generalizations based on my own experience and those of people to whom I have spoken.

1. Evangelism

But in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Pet 3:15-16)

African Christians are very ready to give the reason for the hope that they have. They are better evangelists than we are. They are more enthusiastic, quicker to take the opportunity, and, in terms of numbers, more successful.

One Christian in Malawi recently told me that Christians often get up in buses and preach. I expressed surprise, and suggested that that sort of thing would not go down too well in Australia. I asked him what the Malawians on the buses thought. He responded that the people were usually happy to listen.

African Enterprise often holds small- and large-scale missions. One standard evangelistic method they employ is to simply set up in a market place, provide something like singing and dancing, and then someone gets up and gives a talk to the gathered crowd.

I heard the story of one young Kenyan AE ministry apprentice. He was arrested for failing to wear a seat belt in a motor vehicle and was put into police custody for three days. He took the opportunity to evangelize the others in the cells and about 20 people came to Jesus.

I had personally been travelling with some Kenyan AE ministry apprentices the year before. We were on a short holiday and were going to drive around a game park one afternoon in our minibus. A park ranger got on board to serve as our guide. By the end of the afternoon the ranger had prayed a prayer committing his life to Jesus.

A senior AE leader from Kenya, who had set up a school for orphans on the outskirts of Nairobi, recently arranged to have extensions built. This Kenyan man told me that he was planning to have a meeting with the builders to talk to them about salvation. He explained to me that, unlike in the USA or Australia, it was natural to do this sort of thing in Kenya.

It’s clear from many of these examples that African culture is far more receptive to evangelistic encounters than Western culture, and some of these situations may well play out quite differently in Australia. That said, the African Christians I have spoken with know that they still have to prepare for opportunities and take them when they come. A Malawian AE ministry apprentice told me that most of the time before he goes out to evangelize he goes into prayer and fasting for two or more days. This is not the practice of a senior Christian figure—the man in question is just over 20 years of age! This brings us to our second point.

2. Prayer

…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication
for all the saints. (Eph 6:18)

African Christians are better prayers. In fact, I’ve become increasingly aware that they put most of us to shame. They pray on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and supplications.

One of my Ugandan students was the head of an African denomination. He achieved very good marks in his PTC exams. He is also a man of prayer. He once told me, “Prayer is my very breath in the day—in every single hour of my life. I pray in the mornings, and at other available times throughout the day as I walk on the road or am sitting at my office desk. It is my strength for the day and for my ministry.”

This man’s church, located in a poor area of Kampala, regularly has overnight prayer meetings and prayer fasts. They often enter the New Year with prayer fasts in the first week of January. He is always emailing me, enquiring about my family and telling me that they are praying for us.

It seems that church prayer meetings are reasonably commonplace. During the first week on a recent trip to Malawi, one of the AE leaders was speaking each morning before work at a daily prayer meeting in a local church. He told me that overnight prayer meetings were common, and that his own church (a Presbyterian church) devotes public holidays to all day prayer meetings. Can you imagine that happening in Australia? Is it a coincidence that the church is growing in Africa?

3. The spiritual and the l al

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal 6:10)

An issue sometimes discussed amongst Christians in the West is whether evangelism or social action is more important.3 My simple observation of mature Christians in Africa was that they were flat out ministering to both spiritual and social needs. They were seeking to do good to all people, especially those who belonged to the household of faith.

One of AE’s Kenyan leaders is primarily an evangelist who has spoken throughout Africa and around the world. He and his wife have also helped to run a church in one of the poorer areas of Nairobi. There they arranged for small loans to assist people start small business enterprises. More recently they have set up a school for orphans.

As the Ugandan denominational leader mentioned earlier explained to me: “Although spiritual ministry ranks number one here in Uganda, there is no way we can separate the spiritual needs from the social needs of the people to whom we minister. As a pastor, I am often faced with the need to provide for children’s school fees, church Sunday school expenses, medical bills for sick church members, house-rental bills for elderly and some single ladies, and clothing for needy children. The eyes are often on the pastor for any such emergencies.”

In the first class I ever taught in Africa, one of the Kenyan female students asked me one day whether I thought that Christians should help people with HIV-AIDS. I asked her why she asked. She told me that some Christians in Kenya viewed AIDS as the judgement of God, and felt that such people should be left to their fate. I strenuously disagreed with this view, wrote a short paper on the topic, and suggested that if Jesus were walking the streets of Nairobi today, he would be spending time with those suffering from the disease. She has since started up an organization to minister to those with HIV-AIDS. She has also more recently been involved in a church plant.

4. Hospitality

Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Rom 12:13)

Finally, African Christians excel in practising hospitality. When I first taught in Africa, I stayed behind afterwards for a short holiday. One of the Kenyan AE leaders offered to put me up in his house with his family. He was also putting up a South African girl at the time. Since there was no spare room, he locked the front door and, with the aid of a sheet, converted the entrance hall into a small living space with a bed. In the short time I was there, the house was also host to a Congolese evangelist and a couple of South African backpackers. This man recently explained to me that as he grew up, his parents’ house always had more than their immediate family members. The same was true for his wife’s family. As a result, this has gone on to be the practice of his family.

Hospitality goes further in extreme situations. I once travelled down into Rwanda for a couple of days after teaching in Uganda. By arrangement, I was met at the border by a Rwandan Christian. Making general conversation, I asked about his family, and how many children he had. His answer was something like: “One of my own, and 35 others.”

~

While, as I said earlier, African Christians are just as flawed as we are in the West, I always come back from the continent personally encouraged and personally convicted by them. We have a lot to learn from African Christians.

  1. The main street of one Ugandan town in which I taught boasted the ‘Blessed Trinity Supermarket’, the ‘Hope and Trust Drug Shop’, and the ‘Alleluia Tea Room Amen’.
  2. Introduction to the Bible, New Testament 1, Old Testament 1, Doctrine 1, Ephesians, and Promise to Fulfilment. See http://external.moore.edu.au for more details.
  3. Matthias Media has helpfully addressed this issue in its MiniZine Evangelism and Social Action.

18 thoughts on “What we can learn from African Christians

  1. Pingback: What we can learn from African Christians | A disciple's study

  2. On the subjeect of evangelism, I had the experience of going to West Timor on a short term mission trip and was astonished to discover that when doing walk-up evangelism in the local market that the overwhealming majority of people were very happy to talk about Jesus with a complete stranger. It was an exciting experience but utterly different to similar efforts conducted in Australia. Perhaps part of the reason Australian Christians are less enthusiastic about evangelism is that it is human nature not to like repeated ( and vigourous ) rejection by those one might seek to evangelise by even the attempt to expound a Christian message. (many Australians take offence at you preaching to them at all – quite regardless of what you might be preaching) I dont know what the solution is – or if there is one – for evangelism in Australia, but it is certainly much harder to evamgelise in Australia than in other cultures.

  3. This is all very encouraging. However, as someone who’s just completed 5 years in Kenya, mostly in the Rift Valley, I’m sorry to say that it’s also not representative of reality. This is a typical and understandable short-term visitor’s perspective, but represents only a superficial understanding of the state of East African Christianity; and unfortunately one which is damaging when allowed to spread.

    As outsiders, short term visitors interpret what they see and here, as if they were seeing the same things in a Western context. The author of this post has his heart in a very good place, but he is not aware of how to interpret the different phenomena that he has seen and experienced with understanding. He is not aware that what is said and shown to short-term visitors is carefully selected and scripted. To give a trivial example: “He is always emailing me, enquiring about my family and telling me that they are praying for us.” And indeed there are plenty of African pastors who are continually emailing visitors from the West, and combining that with utter neglect and disregard for their own flock (apart from dispensing some goodies now and again, in order to maintain their positions of respect and power). Why is that? Because short term visitors from the West are wealthy, powerful and hence useful to a local pastor looking to get on, whereas their own flock are usually useless in that regard. Is the writer’s contact of that kind? I cannot possibly know, of course. But I can know that the overwhelming majority are.

    Many times we have met short-term visitors, who have had limited contacts with a few select local pastors. They have their own impressions of how wonderful those folk are. As residents, we are able to tell them what the folk they are working with are really like, and what they really get up to when visitors aren’t looking at them. This is unpleasant fodder to hear, I well realise. Are the writer’s contacts like that? Again, I have no way of knowing. But I do know the Christian scene in the Rift Valley of Kenya, and by report from residents from beyond. The writer has come back accepting the superficial image that is projected – but the state of Christianity on the ground is utterly different, unfortunately. The phrase “a mile wide and an inch deep” is not applied so often to East African Christianity for nothing. Most short-term visitors come away believing that this only applies to other projects than the ones they happened to visit. I’d advise folk to pause and wait until they have a deeper insight into how this dynamic works.

    I say all this not to depress anyone, but because these superficial impressions are so harmful to the real gospel work that is going on. The idea that East African Christianity is booming ultimately leads to more easy money being pumped into the hideous religious marketplace which our investments have created, which in turn increases the number of people without a heart for Christ or his cross coming into that marketplace, and exacerbating the problem.

    • Thank you for your courage and wisdom in replying very well to this post. I can tell you took your time and removed personal emotions from you message. You confirm much of my perspective on the difference between short, mid and long term ministry on the continent as well as other areas in the world. Please continue to voice this message as it is very rare to find someone who does so with grace and truth well balanced.

      And many blessings in all of your work.

  4. Thanks Stephen for this – really enjoyed reading your article, and I completely agree that we ought to be thinking hard how we can learn from other Christians from around the world. One of the great strengths of the 21st Century church is our ability through travel/technology to do that so easily and benefit from our mutual interactions as a global community of Christ. There is much we can learn from many African believers, not just in their conduct and attitudes like you have drawn attention to, but in their approach to, and understanding of, Scripture.

    That said, I think David (Anderson – commenter above) is onto something. I’ve only lived in Uganda or 18 months (teaching at a seminary here) but I did 9 short-term (mostly 3-8 weeks) trips before this to East Africa, and I thought I knew what the church was like. Boy was I wrong. The reality is that any (especially white) visitor from abroad brings with them enormous, enormous expectations of opportunity. One relatively small (from our perspective) gift or sponsorship offered, that hardly makes a dent in our bank account, can be more than that person would earn in a year or even two years. That immediately means that the public presentation of the church/ministry/individual here is often very different to what happens when the visitor returns home, because the potential rewards for impressing the right people are huge. In fact I know many Ugandan believers, (good, well-meaning brothers of sisters) who have hosted so many short-term Western visitors that they have a remarkable ability to show and say exactly what they know the visitor wants to see and hear. Live here for longer, or turn up unannounced, and often things look very different.

    For example, when we Westerners get amazed at how willing people here are to speak with us about Jesus, it may be worth remembering that they’d be just as willing to speak to us about the weather, Man United, or British politics! We’re fabulously rich compared to most East Africans, and most are not stupid. Everyone here knows someone who has been sponsored to go through college by a Westerner…and they want their turn too! I’m not saying it’s always as purposefully cynical and calculated as this, but, well, it’s much harder for a Ugandan person to walk around the shops talking about Jesus than it is a Westerner, let me at least say that.

    Another example, preaching on a bus? I read messages in the newspapers all the time about how annoyed people feel by this. The vast majority hate it, it’s just that this is a passive culture…people don’t complain, although that is starting to change, and you sometimes hear stories of folk throwing these bus preachers off.

    The ‘crusades’ people do here attract big crowds because often people are bored, so so bored, and free dancing, singing, and loud preaching entertains people! I’ve known people who have ‘been forward’ for conversion anything up to 10 times at different events like this. They’re often promised wealth and ‘blessing’ and, when it doesn’t come immediately and they’re still stuck in grinding poverty a month later, they presume that God didn’t accept them and so they go up again for conversion at the next one too, and the next one…

    Christianity here is, for the large part, materialism dressed up in religious clothes. In fact I’d go so far to say that I never realised how materialistic humans could be until I came here. God is so often the means to an end, and that’s why more and more wealthy people are leaving the church – for some here, when you get money, God’s usefulness is finished.

    Another common misconception from the West about the Ugandan church is that it is bravely holding on to a true biblical understanding of sexuality, particularly in the are of course of homosexuality. But I’ve been appalled at many Christians attitudes here to homosexuals…sometimes very vicious and even violent. We need to be careful about suggesting in the West that we should ‘take the lead’ from the Ugandan church. The Christians in Uganda have no different views often to the non-Christians.. When the church has to stand against culture on this one, then we’ll be able to assess truly to what extent it is committed to a Biblical view.

    Ultimately I thought leaving the UK I was leaving a ‘morally corrupt’ culture to one that still had the gospel at the heart. Wrong. Very wrong. Compared to Uganda the UK is a moral haven! The level of theft, child-abuse, wife-beating, adultery, greed and anger is breathtaking. But invisible to me before I lived here. The gospel has not penetrated very deeply at all into the lives and behaviours of many church-goers in Uganda.

    I know this must sound very negative, so let me be clear that I agree with much of what you say Stephen – especially in the area of hospitality. Amazing, and humbling. I learn a lot. There are other areas too. But I just feel that we are too quick sometimes to enjoy a form of ‘escapism’ from the struggles of being a Christian in the West and look to other places for inspiration when, in fact, those other places may be struggling just as much but just in different, perhaps more hidden, ways. As David points out, that results in a huge influx of money from the West that often does more harm than good. It also sometimes means churches are less willing to support long-term mission here when, in fact, I think it is one of the neediest places. I also think we’re raising expectations to high – I strongly believe the Ugandan church will shrink significantly, hugely, in the next 50 years, and we don’t want the world church to have so high a view of the church here that our confidence in the gospel is damaged if/when that happens. Sadly here, like anywhere, Christians are still sinners, mission is still hard work, and the growth of the true church is painfully slow. But hey, we crack on, trusting in the grace of God and the riches of his inheritance. Thank you Stephen for writing so well and helping us all in this! Your obvious passion for helping people to teach the Bible here is so, so important and I praise God for your commitment to it, and the humility you show in doing it…a good model for us all, so again, thank you.

  5. Pingback: Learning from African Christians | Journey To More

  6. Sadly I have to agree with the comments made on this article more than the article itself. Having spent several years as a missionary in East Africa myself the reality of this world and its sinfulness was driven home deep. There is no mystery place on earth where people are just kind, loving, and open to the gospel. As christians we tend to suffer from a “it’s greener on the other side of the hill” mentality. This is then used to try and shame us here at home into action. (And giving) Stories of healings and great faith are told of far away places that can’t be verified and then we are made to feel guilty because the same thing is not happening here. (Where ever “here” is.)

    Africa is 3 times the size of the United States. The openness to the gospel will vary widely depending on where you are at. Almost 1 million people were hacked to death with machetes in Rwanda and Berundi in the 90′s. The Lord’s resistance Army is still operating in Northern Uganda and Southern Sudan. If you are a young man and the LRA comes to your village you have two choices, be killed, or kill your own parents and join their army. All I can say is come Lord Jesus.

  7. This is indeed a very interesting article and more so for me an African christian. It good to see and hear other people give opinions about what they know and see when they visit your place.

    I think in all fairness Stephen stated from the on set that the Church from Africa has issues(plenty of them I should add), and he also confessed that his statements and observations were generalisations. The objections and scenarios that have been brought up are equally generalisations and do not tell the whole story.

    So the question we should be asking is, is there some merit in the observations of our brother or he is totally wrong and inaccurate? The point is can the world learn anything good from African christians or not? If not then the article is completely wrong.

    The other thing to bare in mind is the article is not in any way suggesting that African christians are super spiritual and sin less nor is it saying Africans are without sins, as it has been pointed out there are many. But to suggest that all African pastors are after money, deceptive do not sherperd their flocks well is a huge generalisation that is far from the truth.

    • There are always many perspectives we can bring to a given situation (including the state of the church in East Africa, the UK or Australia!) The thing is, we will always bring all that has formed us into the construction of those perspectives. The question is what do we do with what we believe we have seen? As the blind man in John’s Gospel said to the Pharisees who were cross examining him all he knew was that he was blind and that now he could see. There is much to be learnt from listening to each others’ stories rather than judging each others’ perspectives. Christ loves his church despite our imperfections. The challenge will always be can we do the same?

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  9. Pingback: What we can learn from African Christians | The Briefing | Church News from Christian Web Watch

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  11. Thanks for this article. It seems to have stirred up some good discussion.
    My husband (son of missionaries to Africa) and I have been missionaries in Sub-saharan Africa for the past 12 years (urban ministry with Africans from many countries in addition to local folk) and I must agree that the comments on this article by David and Chris seem to far more reflect the truth of African Christianity than the article itself. Hopefully the author will not feel too ‘beaten up’ with so many contrary comments or discouraged in his vital ministry of assisting the African church with bible training that is so much needed.
    Firstly let me say that its good to have the witness of any other Christian be a challenge to our own hearts and walk with Christ, whatever culture they are from. But, while the author of the article, no doubt has met some wonderful, godly African Christians who we praise God for, and had very good intentions in writing the article, we must be very, very careful when we start making wide cultural generalities and then hold them up for emulation. We need to look beneath the surface and also be very careful about what message we are giving the average reader who has never been to Africa. Just because the Author has been introduced to some godly Africans this does not mean that the broader category of ‘African Christians’ has the same depth of godliness. This was not very strongly clarified in the article.
    And as we point to others to emulate, we again must be careful to look below the surface of the actions we see.
    I find it interesting that in just the previous issue of the Briefing, there was a superb article on “Marching for Allah” which very well addressed the issue of someone outside a culture misunderstanding the heart motives for actions within that cultural context. While that article looked at misunderstandings on we might percieve as ‘negative’ actions, our discernment must be just as active when looking at what we might percieve as ‘positive’ actions in another cultural setting.
    Although that article (Marching for Allah) had a footnote that Sub-saharan Africa is categorised as a ‘fear’ culture rather than a ‘shame’ culture, much of our current ministry (alongside a team of Africans and international consultants) is actually researching this issue. We are discovering that Africa is actually extensively a ‘honour/shame culture’. The implications of honour/shame are seen even in the comments of David and Chris above. (honouring the rich Westerner, outwardly honouring the preacher on the bus but actually inwardly being very annoyed – although Chris refers to it as a ‘passive’ culture to our western understanding, it is actually, from an African perspective, ‘actively honouring’. Even the rampant materialism in Africa is all about trying to achieve a status of honour within one’s community by what others see you wearing or driving or owning etc)
    It is so easy to misinterpret cultural philosophies that as Westerners we may not understand when we see what we think is godly activity. It’s easy for any person, African or Westerner to do what is going to be accepted by those around us, or will gain us personal honour, and all the more in an honour/shame emphasis society. Its easy to confuse what we see as being godly with what may be actually very self-centred.
    I could say a lot about a better balanced perspective on each of the topics raised but instead I’ll just comment on two.
    Prayer: As my husband and I discussed this article, one of his comments was on the mention of prayer and fasting and an African’s willingness to attend an all night prayer meeting. Yes, there is probably much more of an awareness than we have in the West, of the spiritual world and a need for prayer for God’s power if a person is going to be kept safe from the evil one. We might hope the reason someone comes to an all night prayer meeting is that they love God and want to pray for the needs of others. But, consider that it might be viewed as a personal disadvantage (shame) to not be seen to be at the prayer meeting. To give another example, a person may fast for a day or a week or a month or attend an all night prayer vigil, but then (as my husband experienced with his staff) they come to work the next day almost asleep on their feet, not thinking clearly, grumpy, totally unproductive and in no way giving glory to God in their work. When they are questioned, they see no problem because their reason is that they were at an all night prayer vigil.
    The content of the prayers is yet another aspect of this topic that could be addressed. Is it prayer that God is listening to? We shudder at much of what is classed as ‘prayer’. It tears at my heart to hear folk thinking they need to pray vain repititious prayers where every third word or phrase is “Mighty God” or “Father God” or “in the name of Jesus” like its the Christian equivelent of ‘abra cadabra’. Then many others will pray like they are commanding God to act, to heal, or whatever, and the phrases get repeated over and over and louder and louder as if God is hard of hearing. We rejoice greatly when we begin to see someone actually speak from their own heart when they pray rather than just repeat words that they have come to believe are magic ‘door openers’ to get God to do what you want.
    Hospitality: there is an aspect of African hospitality where it is just ‘normal’ to drop in on friends and family without an appointment and always squeeze one more in a bed or on a blanket on a spare patch of floor, but there is an aspect that culturally you must honour a guest, especially if they are an elder (ie someone older than you or a status higher than you), whether they arrive to visit for an afternoon or whether they arrive to assume to stay for months!…and if they decide to contribute to their expenses that is good, but often that is not the case and a younger person/relative cannot ask an older one for money – that would be shaming/dishonouring your elder! What does a young father do who is struggling to support his wife and children, and the unemployed uncle, aunt and 3 kids turn up to their tiny house, because he (the young father) is the only Christian in the family and the other aunts and uncles have had enough of the unemployed uncle’s laziness and refuse to house him anymore?
    Here is what one of our African Pastor co-workers wrote as he reflected on the article and the issue of hospitality in particular.
    “The concept of hospitality is of paramount importance in an African culture. This is based on the fact that a visitor is considered as someone who brings blessing to the community. The Setswana phrase says ( moeng goroga re kgore). It literally means that when the visitor comes the whole family will be fed. The African culture is a community based culture and takes pride in receiving strangers. This makes them to be more important than other communities around them because they are of so great importance to such an extent that strangers seek refuge and food from them. But there are certain disadvantage of this concept.
    1. They cannot refuse to accept a visitor even when they don’t have the resources to keep you in their community, they will go to an extent of putting themselves in debt in order to make the visitor happy. This is based on the fact that this is a man-pleasing culture. What the outsiders says matters more than what is going on internally.
    2. Being hospitable is taken as a showing up of other surrounding communities. It is incongruent to Jesus teaching where he express that what ever you do, don’t do it for you to be seen by men.
    3. The concept of washing the feet of the saints is foreign to African community because washing the feet of others is considered as a form of slavery or servant. And servant hood is seen as a form of shame.”
    The true body of Christ in Africa, yes, can in various ways be an example to us for sure. And a cultural emphasis on relationships, though often sinfully twisted, can challenge us in the West and help us re-examine our own lives in the light of Scripture and regain some balance to our perspectives. And within this great continent, are those who can challenge our own faith and are an example of Christ-likeness. But actually they are few, and although I think they would rejoice to see that their witness could be something that a ‘Western’ Christian could be encouraged by or learn from, they would be greatly disappointed for an article to stop there. They would want it to humbly inform others as to the needs of their continent so that their brothers and sisters around the world might better pray for them for such things as: boldness and biblical clarity in evangelism, perseverance and biblical truth in discipleship, much biblical prayer, love wth wisdom in hospitality, and the courage to honour God above culture and self.

  12. I am very grateful to Stephen Liggins for writing his article bringing to the attention of readers of the ‘Briefing’ the state of Christianity in South and East Africa. There is a great need for the church in the West to wake up to the opportunities and the needs to help our brothers and sisters there, especially those who are seeking to be faithful preachers and teachers of God’s word. For many of them the only role models they see are those in the TV ministries and the visitors holding the big campaigns. Most of them have received no Biblical or Theological education. As a recent quotation from the Gospel Coalition in the USA said, ‘85% of the leaders of the world’s evangelical churches have had no training!’ A large proportion of them are in Africa.
    Those promoting the ‘Word of Faith’ and the Prosperity Gospel are pouring money into countries like Uganda and leading the church astray. Islam continues to grow in influence with a goal, which is gradually being achieved, of building a mosque every 10km. Then there are the sects like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons who have a marked presence in most of the regional centres and provide financial aid to those who become adherents (the Mormons in Lira – northern Uganda – pay the people to be baptised).
    The work that Stephen is involved in is meeting the vital need. However, in my experience, this kind of ministry is under-funded in Uganda and also across East Africa. The pastor training ministry need is outstripping the ability of the occasional visitor’s ability to make a significant impact, especially in the areas away from the major cities and towns. These are the areas where the church continues to grow apace but where the Pastors have received little or no training. I know of one senior Pastor in his 20’s who has general oversight of over 100 village churches. These churches were founded during the days when the people of Northern Uganda were in the Displacement Camps, where good gospel work was done.
    Sadly I have to say that the responses from David Anderson, Chris Howles and Sandra Freeman are much closer to my own experience. I have been visiting Uganda since 2003 on behalf of Project Timothy, a Pastor Training initiative of the Proclamation Trust. The demand there, for help with understanding the Bible and for gaining confidence in the Scriptures, is more than we can meet. There is a hunger for Biblical Theology – the Good Book Company Bible Overview is greatly appreciated – and a real desire for help with preaching and teaching the different genre of Bible literature. Most of the Pastors we meet have a handful of sermons, mostly from the Gospels and climaxing in an appeal either to repent (which usually means to say you’re sorry to God today but with no sense of a need for radical transformation and dependence in faith upon the work of the Holy Spirit) and/or to give.
    On the matter of ‘Evangelism’ I have met evangelists, and some have even been working in dangerous settings like the North East, who have not had any clear understanding of the gospel. On the matter of ‘Prayer’ too often it is of the kind Jesus condemned with, “do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” On the points about ‘The Spiritual and the Social’ and ‘Hospitality’ Sandra’s comments about honour/shame cultures is spot on.
    My greatest help in gaining a better understanding of Ugandan culture (apart, that is from my closest Ugandan friends) came from a book which I unreservedly recommend, ‘African friends and money matters’ by David Maranz. It is a must read for anyone going to East Africa who will be involved in either short or long term ministry.
    My longing is that as a result of Stephen’s article, and the comments made by those who have experience of long term involvement in Sub-Saharan Africa, that the kind of ministry in which Stephen and his colleagues have been involved will be massively expanded and better funded. The evangelical church in the West is failing its brothers and sisters in Africa by withholding the resources which could provide the training their pastors so desperately need and in many cases long for. It is ever likely that the church in Africa is a mile wide and an inch deep. Please can we help the small town and village pastors who have next to nothing to live on, let alone next to nothing to help them in their ministry.

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  14. I am an African, born and raised in Zimbabwe, and now living and working in South Africa.

    Thank you so much for the article, and for the issue that it raises – learning from each other and thereby enriching the global body of Christ. The global perspective is often missing from many discussions about Christianity, and so it is welcome whenever I encounter it. We have so much to learn from each other.

    I must say though that I was disconcerted by (what appears to me to be) a lack of charity in the comments section. Yes, there are many flaws among Christians in Africa, much like that is the case with every other Christian from across the globe. Too many pastors are in it for the money; too many teachers just seek after power and prestige; far too many people on the ground don’t care about thorough biblical teaching, and some wouldn’t even know what that was if it smacked them in the face. There are, on the other hand, so many great people I know personally that are pursuing God, teaching the bible faithfully, loving their neighbour and their community and being great witnesses where they are. But the continent of Africa is large; I haven’t seen most of it, and I don’t know most of the Christians that form the body of Christ here. So my comments cannot be representative of anything other than my limited experience.

    I found that the comment section so qualified what the article was saying that it created the impression that there is very little to nothing to be learned from African Christians. This is very worrying for me. What is additionally worrying to me is that the solution most people are proposing is that more theological education from either missionaries, or organisations from outside the continent coming in to ‘partner with’ or just plain ‘educate’ local pastors is what is needed.

    What this says and does is this – on the one hand, it communicates that viable solutions are not forthcoming from Africans themselves, which isn’t true. A lot of grassroots training programs are springing up across my country as well as others – some funded from outside the continent, others organised entirely locally. On the other hand, while showing a seeming lack of charity toward African Christians, saying that the solution is more theological training from ‘outside’ parties shows a remarkable lack of self-reflection as well. What flaws are there in Western Christianity, and are these not being imported into Africa with missionaries and educational programs? The question is, “Why is flawed Western Christianity welcome, and indeed is one of the major solutions to strengthening African Christianity, while flawed African Christianity is critiqued to the point it doesn’t even make it out of the gate?” If we are meant to check the log in our own eye before we speak of the speck in our brother’s, perhaps it would be great to have a companion piece to this present article, entitled “What can African Christians learn from us?” that we can similarly critique and reflect on.

    Don’t hear me saying “Outsiders not welcome!” like some have done in the past. That would be very unAfrican, and not hospitable. Rather, hear me to be saying the playing field should be even – our commenting and reflection on the situations of others should be thought out and gracious, and come after thorough self-reflection and self-critique. Hopefully then we can see better to be able to help each other out.

    • Thank you for your gracious and measured response to the comments above. It would be wonderful to keep this conversation between the various speakers going so that we can really hear and learn from one another.

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