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Shall The Last Be First?
The African Century of Mission Has Begun
Welcome to “Global Witness, Globally Reimagined,” where we dream about mission in a postcolonial world. Every Thursday, I share one thought that has spoken to me in the week, some 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
Back in 1910, when the World Missionary Conference took place in Edinburgh, mission was, to a great extent, a Western affair. All in all, 1215 delegates gathered for the conference. 509 of them were British. 491 were American, 169 came from Continental Europe, and 27 came from what was then known as the white colonies of South Africa and Australasia. In addition, there were 18 Asian delegates. Notably, there was not even one African in attendance. Africa was represented by Europeans working in the continent. Africans themselves were not invited because, as Brian Stanley reports:
African churches were deemed to be insufficiently ‘advanced’ to merit their own representatives, not simply because these churches were young in years, but also because their members were thought to be starting from much further back in the process of human development than were Christian converts in Asia. The inhabitants of Africa were still in 1910 regarded as primitive, childlike, and at the bottom of the evolutionary hierarchy, relatively unimportant for the future of the world church.1
Participants were reminded that “two and a half times as many people await the Gospel in China as make up the entire population of Africa.” Of course, Africa was synonymous with animism, which meant it would be an easy mission field for “animistic societies could not sustain resistance against Christianity.” The only problem was they believed that Islam was “in many respects the more aggressive” than Christianity as “the absorption of native races (sic) into Islam is proceeding rapidly and continuously in practically all parts of the continent.” Thus, Africa was expected to turn to Islam.
Following the conference, Western mission agencies would invest most of their energy in Asia, sending their best missionaries to India, China, Korea, the Philippines, and other parts of Asia because, in their eyes, Asians had advanced and sophisticated religious systems and could, therefore, convert to Christians with less hesitancy. Andrew Walls once said, “European missionary agencies had never, as a rule, devoted their best resources or sent their ﬁnest and brightest to Africa.”
Reflecting on this in 2023, I am amazed at how wrong they were in 1910. In 1910, there were about 9 million Christians and 35 million Muslims in Africa. In 2020, Africa had 700 million Christians and 450 Muslims. God has a way of finishing stories in unexpected ways. Those who were written off in 1910 will lead in the 21st century. But, more importantly, I wonder, what are we believing today that will be proven wrong in a few decades?
2. Resources I am Enjoying
This podcast follows the discussion of last week’s newsletter on Mission and “Black Herstory.” I have unearthed a conversation I had with Pastor Modupe Adefala. She clearly embodies the voices that we need amplify in our theological and missiological conversations and endeavours, as we continue to reflect on mission in Black History Month in the UK. Pastor Modupe is a prison chaplain and pastor of the Word Fountain Christian Ministries, a Pentecostal church based in Oxford. This conversation sees her talk about her Master’s degree research on the pioneering efforts of five Nigerian women ministers in London. From her research and experience as an African woman doing mission in the UK, Adefala shares some of the challenges women face in ministry. She also touches on the importance of theological education for ministry and the need to include the younger generation among the voices that contribute to our theology, ministry, and mission as a whole. Indeed, for a wholesome mission, we must make room for everyone at God’s table.
3. Quotes I am Pondering
Commitment to reconciliation and peace is actually commitment to evangelisation. In other words, a better understanding of evangelisation is commitment to reconciliation, justice and peace, which are tangible signs of the presence of God among His people. — Ernest Ezeogu
… pneumatology and mission can never be separated, they are interdependent ... Therefore, the missionary, as the vessel of the Holy Spirit, works as the Spirit leads toward bearing fruits of the kingdom of God. — Lukwikilu Mangayi
To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people. Thus, the primary purpose of the missiones ecclesiae cannot simply be the planting of churches or the saving of souls, but rather, it has to be service to the missio Dei. — Nagaju Muke
I pray that you will be faithful to the mission God has for you this week.
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Brian Stanley, The World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh 1910 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), 13.