The Church in Africa
An epic conflict is raging through-out Africa. It is the battle for the soul of a continent. Animism, communism, Islam, and Christianity are locked in a war of worldviews.
In some countries this conflict is visible and physical. Tens of thousands of Christians have been killed and hundreds of churches burned down by Muslim mobs in northern Nigeria. The Christians in southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains endured decades of jihad by the National Islamic Front government of Sudan. Churches, schools, and hospitals were bombed by the Sudanese Air Force. Pastors were crucified. Children were kidnapped from Christian homes to be enslaved and raised as Muslims. In Zimbabwe hundreds of churches have been burned and bulldozed by the Marxist regime of dictator Robert Mugabe.
In the course of my missionary work I have seen literally hundreds of churches burned down by Marxist regimes in Mozambique and Angola, by the Muslim government of Sudan, or by Muslim mobs in northern Nigeria. I’ve also waded knee deep in corpses in churches in Rwanda and come under aerial and artillery bombardment while preaching in services in Sudan.
To those involved in the spiritual warfare of seeking to win souls to Christ in Africa, it is apparent that much of the violence is in retaliation for the success of Christian missions. Some of the worst atrocities and most intense violence has taken place in countries where the church has made great strides in winning people to Christ from animism, secular humanism, or Islam.
There has been a revival amidst persecution in Sudan. Tremendous sacrifices have been made. One church in Kauda, in the Nuba Mountains that I have frequently visited, endured eighteen aerial bombardments from the Sudanese Air Force within a twelve-month period. In one bombing, nineteen children and two adults at their school were killed. Yet the people continue to gather and overflow their church for Sunday worship.
The cathedral in Lui, the birthplace of Christianity in Moruland, has been bombed ten times. Three times the cathedral was destroyed; yet each time it was rebuilt, restored, and filled with joyful Christians bringing a sacrifice of praise.
I have seen Sudanese evangelists, continue to take the gospel to their neighbors despite having an arm amputated or feet axed off at the ankles. One pastor I know had the joy of adding over fourteen thousand people to his congregations in less than five years. Numerous pastors have multiple congregations to care for.
The resilient Christians of Sudan have stood up steadfastly against the onslaught of Islamic jihad. Not only have they withstood the assaults of Islamic jihad, but they have also succeeded in winning many of their enemies to Christ.
Some reports claim as many as five million Muslims in Sudan have turned to Christ in the last twenty years. One Sudanese evangelical leader observed: “People have seen the real Islam, and they want Jesus instead!”
In Nigeria, despite the twelve northern states enforcing Sharia (Islamic) law and frequently attacking Christians and burning churches, many tens of thousands of Muslims have come to Christ.
In Algeria, the Muslim government recently closed down thirteen Protestant churches, including a 1,200 member congregation. Algerian Christians have been imprisoned for “insulting Islam.” Missionaries have been expelled for “trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.” The Evangelical Protestant Alliance in Algeria claims fifty thousand members.
In Morocco, Muslim newspaper articles openly complain that up to forty thousand Muslims have turned to Christianity in recent years.
A leading Saudi Arabian Muslim leader, Sheikh Ahmad-al-Qatanni, reported on al-Jazeera TV that everyday “sixteen thousand Muslims convert to Christianity.” He claimed that Islam is losing six million Muslims a year to conversions to Christianity. This he described as a tragedy. We, of course, must allow for the fact that the Sheikh is inflating these numbers to incite Islamic violence against Christianity (he could be confusing those who are merely leaving Islam with those who are becoming Christians). Nonetheless, something momentous is happening in the Muslim world. Much of this is in Africa.
I have seen Muslims coming to Christ in Sudan and Nigeria. What used to be a rare event is now becoming a mass movement to Christ. Millions of Christians worldwide come from Muslim backgrounds. The Scriptures are being fulfilled: “The desert tribes will bow down before him and his enemies will lick the dust…all kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him” (Ps. 72:9–11, NIV).
Even in central Africa, in what was the heartland of animism and oppression under dictatorial communist regimes, we are seeing mass movements to Christ.
The Congo must be one of the most difficult mission fields in Africa. The logistical complications, vast distances, endemic lawlessness, and corruption frustrate many travelers. Approximately fifty-five million people, in an estimated 450 ethno-linguistic groups, live in the Congo. Its vast mineral resources and agricultural potential were squandered by post-independence chaos, corruption, and mismanagement. Now, most of the once efficient road and railway systems are impassable. A succession of dictators have plundered the nation’s resources. Civil wars, assassinations, and incredible brutality and cruelty have devastated this long-suffering nation. Millions of people have been slaughtered in the violence. Yet our mission has had the joy of conducting extensive evangelistic outreaches even along the massive Congo River, and thousands have attended our leadership training courses there.
As the civil wars have ended in Portuguese-speaking Mozambique and Angola, tremendous opportunities for missions have developed. Once, Protestants made up less than four percent of the total population of Mozambique. Now Protestants make up more than thrity-four percent of what, under the Portuguese, was an officially Catholic country, and then for twenty years was officially atheistic under the Marxist Frelimo regime. The church has also grown spectacularly in communist Angola.
In Zimbabwe we are soon likely to face a critical turning point in history, similar to that in eastern Europe in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down. The Marxist dictatorship of Robert Mugabe is in its last days as global and nationwide resistance to his tyranny increases. Our mission teams are preparing now to conduct biblical worldview seminars, God and government seminars, and reformation and revival seminars in order to assist Zimbabweans in the reconstruction of the country. We have already reprinted ten thousand copies of the new Biblical Principles for Africa book in preparation for this nation’s transformation.
Africa is a continent in conflict. The opportunities for fulfilling the Great Commission in Africa are tremendous. The openness to the gospel and hunger for Bible teaching throughout Africa is intense. Bad times are good for spiritual work.
As missionary C.T. Studd declared, “Some like to live within sound of church or chapel bell; I would like to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.”
The greatest spiritual needs in Africa at this time are good Bible-based discipleship books, CDs and manuals, and leadership training — particularly Bible teaching. All of these could be made available for Bible College libraries throughout Africa. Therefore, we are doing all we can to ensure that solid Reformed books are strategically donated to college and seminary libraries throughout Africa.
Most pastors in Africa have no formal Bible training. Most pastors have no access to a library, and most own only a few books. Many do not even own a full Bible. Operation World reports that one hundred million Christians in Africa do not even possess a copy of the Bible.
Numerous leaders have gone on record as saying that Africa’s greatest need is discipleship. As one pastor put it: “The church has done a good job of evangelizing, but a poor job of discipling. Christianity here is a mile wide and an inch deep!”
The challenge for missionaries to Africa is to learn from their Reformed heritage and to give high priority to literature and leadership training. We need to ensure that pastors, teachers, evangelists, and chaplains are strongly grounded in Reformed doctrine and piety. We need to ensure that our preaching deals with head, heart, and hands. We need to be involved in the renewing of minds, the transforming of hearts, and the practical application of the lordship of Christ to all areas of life.
As the psalmist wrote: “They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; And his enemies will lick the dust…Yea, all kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall serve him” (Ps. 72:9–11, ASV).