In 2013 at the Cross Conference during one of the breakout sessions, Dr. Conrad Mbewe said that “Africa stands on the eve of becoming probably the greatest missionary sending continent!” Was this just wishful thinking? Africa is generally considered a “poor continent.” It is in Africa that you find most of the “third-world countries.” Perhaps of all the continents in the world, Africa is the most affected by the health and wealth prosperity gospel and the word of faith movement. It is no longer a recipient of these heretical teachings; it is a major stake holder and producer of the same. It would be accurate to also say that most of the younger generation are becoming more skeptical towards Christianity because of the post-colonial Christianity that is very shallow and post-modernism that has been exported from the west through movies, music, etc. Which has also been propagated through the school curriculum in high schools and universities. Considering these few factors and perhaps many more, it would be absurd for Dr. Mbewe to make such a claim… or maybe not! I want to attempt to prove why he is not absurd in making such a claim nor being a wishful thinker by briefly looking at the history of missions from the 16th century to the 20th century.
The 16th Century Reformation and missions
At the heart of the 16th Century Reformation was the purity of the church and the clarity of the gospel for the glory of God which is at the heart of missions. Prior to the Reformation, the church had been infiltrated by erroneous teachings which hindered the advancement of the pure gospel. Roman Catholicism claimed autonomy in all matters of faith even above the Scriptures. They had redefined what salvation was and taught that faith was not enough and that works were essential for salvation. The Reformers contended against these teachings and re-established the church on the firm foundation of the Scriptures alone, that is, the Bible is the sole authority in matters of faith and life over and above the “church” and the Pope. This then would also redefine salvation, that is, we are saved by grace alone and not by any works; through faith alone and not through merits earned from any works; in Christ alone –his person and work and nothing of us or in us; for the glory of God alone. These tenets of the faith have been a bedrock for the purifying of the church and the advancement of the gospel since the Reformation to date. John Calvin was one of the most mission minded reformer. Dr. Frank A. James discusses Calvin’s participation in the work of missions extensively by “drawing upon personal letters and documents from Calvin found in the archives of Geneva.”
It is important that we never separate the work of reformation from the work of missions. As it has been said that the Church is always reforming, it is equally true that the church is always on mission! Why is this important? Because the church in Africa is reforming! Dr. Mbewe is one of the leading reformers in the African Church and perhaps also one of the most mission minded reformer in the African Church! Though the word of faith movement, health, wealth and prosperity gospel movements are causing havoc in the African Church, God is working mightily causing a reformation in all parts of Africa –from Central Africa to South Africa to East Africa and some parts of North Africa, God is establishing a faithful breed of healthy churches that will become the strong missionary sending churches.
William Carey’s booklet and the 18th Century Missionary Movement
William Carey is said to be the father of modern missions. He not only expected great things from God, but also attempted great things for God. Perhaps one of the intriguing things about William Carey and the Frontier Missions mobilizing of his day was that most Baptist ministers and lay people lived in poor conditions that participating in frontier missions work would require significant sacrifice. Despite the economic challenges, God still moved mightily and much was accomplished through the Baptist Missionary Society which he established with the help of Andrew Fuller. If we think that because Africa is poor therefore the church in Africa cannot participate in the sending of frontier missionaries, we are mistaken. History proves us wrong! We could go back as far as to the poor Macedonian Churches who gave generously and abundantly towards the work of missions (2 Cor 8:1-5). In his booklet, An Enquiry, William Carey had three exhortations to the church with regards to the financial plan to do the work of missions: the rich give generously; the middle class give 10% to missions; the poor give at least a penny a week. He also noted three reasons why not many attempts were being made by professing Christians to reach the un-reached: some think little about it; others are unacquainted with the state of the world; others love their wealth better than the souls of their fellow creatures.
Unlike William Carey’s day many pastors are open to the work of missions which is evident in the many church plants. Again, Dr. Conrad Mbewe is a good example of the church planting efforts in Africa. What would happen if like minded churches came together and worked to send out more missionaries to the un-reached people groups of the world? Carey’s exhortation applies to the African Church and the early Macedonian church is a great example for us! With the help of helpful resources in the internet like The Joshua Project, young Africans are becoming acquainted with the state of the world and awakening to the call to go. An example of such is Maureen Nyambura who is getting ready to go for frontier missions. Dr. Mbewe is not absurd nor is he wishful thinking!
The 19th and 20th Century Missionary Student Movements
Lastly, one of the greatest waves of frontier missions occurred amongst students in the 19th Century. Two events come to mind: the haystack prayer meeting of 1806 and the Mt. Hermon 100 of 1886. Both of these occurred in the College setting and resulted to the sending of hundreds if not thousands of students for frontier missions. It would be accurate to say that young people in those days –19th century were affected by modernism just as much as post-modernism is affecting young people in our day, yet God moved mightily in equipping and sending missionaries.
Today, every city in Africa has at-least one major university! These universities are a strategic place for mobilization. Campus Outreach is becoming a common ministry among healthy churches in Africa, again Dr. Mbewe is directly involved with this ministry and is investing a lot of his time and resources in reaching out to College students! One can never under-estimate what God is able to do through this generation of young Africans. Theological institutions are on the rise and many young Africans are getting equipped for great commission living. God is on the move in the African church, the sails are being set up and the wind is about to blow!
Dr. Mbewe is right on point. Africa stands on the eve of becoming probably the greatest missionary sending continent.