By Rev. Dennis Tongoi (CMS Africa).
It’s natural to look to Africa for mission success stories. The first Christian mission workers went to Africa in the seventeenth century and by 1900 ten million Africans were believers in Christ – that’s 10% of the population. By the year 2000 there were 360 million African Christians – that is 46% of the population! In fact, the number of professing Christians in various sub-Saharan nations exceeds 80% of the population.
Africa, the most evangelised continent.
Africa, the most churched continent.
Yet, there is another side of the African story. Africa is almost synonymous with corruption, poverty, bribery, disease, violence and injustice. In Kenya alcohol and drug abuse is growing at epidemic rates. For South Africans robberies and muggings are a daily reality. Nigeria is world-renowned, not because it hosts one of the world’s largest churches, but for its internet scams. And in the current conflicts in South Sudan, tribes have risen up against tribes despite a majority claiming to be Christian.
Africa, the impoverished continent.
Africa, the corrupt continent.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Of course this problem isn’t unique to Africa. We could just as easily point to parallel issues in South America, the United States, Asia, Oceania, and Eastern (and Western) Europe, not to mention New Zealand. The gospel has spread significantly in many parts of the world, yet in many cases society remains largely broken.
If the gospel has reached so widely throughout Africa, why are things as they are? Is something wrong with the gospel? Has the Kingdom of God failed?
For years international aid and development agencies have tried to deal with these problems—with limited success. A predominantly animistic worldview holds sway over the minds of many Africans—a worldview that sees humanity as a victim of nature, of other people, or of fate. This mind-set shifts responsibility for Africa’s social ills to the spirit realm, leaving individuals little hope or motivation for working towards a better future.
The church has been on the continent for nearly two thousand years—and has experienced tremendous growth over the last two centuries. This growth holds incredible potential for the healing of Africa. Yet, all too often, the church is disengaged from the crying needs of the community, focusing exclusively on ‘spiritual concerns.’ The gospel has spread in breadth, but not in depth!
The solution may be closer than we think.
The church is the solution. It is God’s principally ordained agency for social and cultural transformation. It is perhaps the single most important indigenous, sustainable institution in any community, with members in virtually every sphere of society (the arts, business, governance, education, etc.). This is particularly true of Africa where an estimated four million churches exist.
Yet, for the church to effectively advance God’s intentions, its leadership requires fresh vision and equipping. We, as God’s people, need to recognize that our mission is to see God’s Kingdom spread in both breadth and depth. Since 1999, a group of dedicated Africans have been doing just that—serving church leaders across the continent, providing them with a fresh vision for the church as God’s principal agent of social and cultural transformation.
The training goes beyond envisioning. It equips church leaders with simple tools that enable them to apply what they have learned immediately, thus beginning the transformation process in their own communities with existing resources—no matter how poor they may be. The training emphasises the importance of mind-set transformation and presents the Christian worldview as the catalyst for social and cultural transformation. The key for transformation is not more activity or programmes – Africa is jam-packed with well-meaning, God-focused activities that have failed to bring lasting change. The key to cultural transformation lies in the transformation of a people’s worldview. Dr. Tokunboh Adeyemo puts it bluntly: “Africa has been evangelized but the African mind has not been captured for Christ.” Ideas have consequences – Africa has been taught how to ‘get right with God,’ but Africa’s biggest problem is that the church hasn’t been taught how to think right. The solution for all these issues is between our ears!
Churches that have received the training are making remarkable contributions to the transformation of their communities. They are effectively addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic; responding to conflict with biblical peace-making principles; and actively engaging in social, political, business, agricultural, and environmental issues. Not surprisingly, they are also more effective in their evangelistic outreaches.
Today, these African trainers have banded together under the name Samaritan Strategy Africa to advance this tested training programme into every corner of the continent. Samaritan Strategy Africa is not a formal organization but a network of trainers and activists affiliated with The Disciple Nations Alliance (DNA).
Why the ‘Samaritan Strategy’?
Most of us are familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. But there’s one detail we often overlook. This unnamed man used his own bandages, his own wine, his own donkey, his own coins. He used what he already had in his hands to help the wounded man.
The Samaritan Strategy is about helping communities recognize what they already have, what God has already gifted them with. Rather than relying on donor aid for everything, Christian groups are challenged to see what they can do with the resources that are already in their hands. Time and again they discover an abundance that they can immediately put to use in their communities.
The hope is that Samaritan Strategy training will produce a multiplicity of fruits wherever it is offered.
In the Church:God is glorified as local churches increasingly reflect his comprehensive redemptive agenda (Colossians 1:19-20) and respond compassionately to profound human need in their communities and nations Increased obedience to “all I have commanded” (Matthew 28:18) Church growth driven by the witness of love The church increasingly influencing every sphere of society (government, business, education, arts, agriculture, and sciences) with a distinctively biblical worldview
In Communities and Nations:Greater justice, less corruption Greater respect for human life (particularly women, children, foreigners and the poor) Greater self-governance and social order, less crime Greater prosperity, less poverty Decreases in disease rates Better stewardship of creation Local churches increasingly esteemed in their communities as indispensable assets in community transformation
In New Zealand and Beyond.
New Zealand is a nation with a rich Christian heritage. Yet growing numbers of children are being raised in poverty, domestic violence is a significant problem, prisons are crowded, marriages are failing and suicide rates are among the highest in the world. If you were to shine the spotlight in your community what would you find?
We want to see the church in New Zealand empowered to foster change in local communities. That’s why we’re hosting a Samaritan Strategy Vision Conference. If you have a heart to see the Kingdom of God spread in both breadth and depth, this is for you.
Vision Conference: 3 – 7 November 2014 Day seminar: Saturday 8 November 2014 At Manukau City Baptist Church (9 Lambie Dr, Papatoetoe, Manukau)
For details visit nzcms.org.nz/dna
This was originally published in Intermission (September-October 2014).