Discover more from Global Witness, Globally Reimagined.
On Christianity, Commerce, and Civilisation
And Europe's Changing Role in Mission
Welcome to my newsletter, “Global Witness, Globally Reimagined,” where I dream here about mission in a postcolonial world. Every week, I share one thought that has spoken to me in the week, two resources I trust will be helpful to you, and three exciting quotes about mission. I pray one of these will energise you in the coming week.
1. Thought I Can’t Shake Off
I spent the month of May re-reading some of the history of David Livingstone, learning again about his work, and appreciating the many sacrifices he made for the sake of the gospel in Africa. In so many ways, he was a great man. When he brought the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) in 1861 to Magomero in Southern Malawi, he could not have anticipated that someone will come from that place to England to try to reach his own people with the gospel. Yet, here we are. Livingstone has been dead 150 years now but his influence is ever-living. The most outstanding theme of his missiology was that European Christians (missionaries, settlers, etc) were to bring what he called the 3 Cs—Christianity, Commerce, and Civilisation—to Africa. His 32 years of service in Africa are a testament to his convictions about the impact the 3 Cs could have in the continent. Of course, the world has changed so much since then. The 3 Cs do not make sense today. Yet, a great deal of our missiology is still shaped by imperial interests, for commercial gain and, often, thinly disguised as wanting to spread Christianity. Livingstone’s 3 Cs led directly to the Scramble for Africa. As such, while we acknowledge these 19th-century ideologies of mission, we need to move on from them to discern together what the David Livingstones of our era will be doing around the world that will be relevant to our postcolonial context. But that is not what struck me about Livingstone’s story. I marvelled at the commitment of Livingstone and many others like him who, in their 20s and 30s, left Europe in the 1800s to share the gospel with the world. Europe may have become a mission field, but its role in mission is not over. It has simply changed. It is not time for the 3 Cs anymore, but there are still many around the world who need to hear the gospel and see it lived out. We need many more David Livingstones today, not only from Scotland but from every nation on earth. This is the new missional era. May God help us to raise them!
2. Resources I am Enjoying
David Livingstone has many biographies. His own journals are still in circulation today. However, as I prepared to refresh my memory of Livingstone’s life, I was reminded of Petina Gappah’s fictionalised historical account of Livingstone’s life. It did not disappoint. Petina is a Zimbabwean writer and lawyer (not a theologian or a missiologist). She lives in Zimbabwe. Over the past decade, she has won several awards for her writing. Out of Darkness is Petina’s fourth book, and it reflects her great experience in story-telling, having been 21 years in the making.
In Out of Darkness, Petina uses a lot of research to reconstruct a critical yet appreciative account of David Livingstone’s last trip in Africa, that of his body, carried by 69 people, from Chitambo in Zambia where he died to Zanzibar, 1500 miles away, from where his body would be transported to England for burial. Being part-fiction, Petina adds sinews and tissue to the skeleton of huge amounts of archival materials to imagine some of the events that unfold on this journey. She centres two key voices, that of Halima, Livingstone’s cook, and Jacob Wainwright, his translator. Through the voices of these two, we get to see how Africans responded to his mission, his life, and his message. In the words of Halima, we get to appreciate the “Nile madness” that caused Livingstone to leave his family in England and “wander about looking for the beginning of a river” in Africa. Jacob Wainwright, a Yao from Malawi, was very much an African European whose actual diary shows he tried to live like a European and write like Livingstone. He was the only African pallbearer at Livingstone’s funeral in Westminster Abbey in 1874. I learned from Petina that “Livingstone is the only missionary who still has monuments to his name in almost every African country he traversed.” He was, indeed, a great man. This book will make good summer reading, if you read fiction.
Migration has brought the world to the doorsteps of many nations. As such, one would expect that cross-cultural missions should happen now more readily and productively, beginning with those around us and then, to distant dwellers. Yet, this seems not to be the case. In this conversation, Usha Reifsnider addresses some of the assumptions that hinder effective cross-cultural missions and those practices that may enhance them, especially among migrants. Of course, Usha’s insights are applicable beyond cross-cultural missions among migrants. They are equally helpful in other contexts, where God’s mission is crossing cultural barriers.
3. Quotes I am Pondering
All God’s people have a missional reason for existence, not just a few who do mission work in a culture other than their own. — Mtukwa Gift
In order to do meaningful missional work, we must be willing to ask questions that unveil the cultural baggage. — Valerie Nkechi Taiwo
What is needed now is for Africans … to start afresh, beginning with the direct interaction of their cultures with the Scriptures rather than tagging along at the tail end of the long history of Western embroidery, and to restate the Christian faith in answer to … African questions, with … African methodologies and terminologies. — Charles Taber
I pray that you have a missionally faithful week.