by Faustin Ntamushobora
The author looks at similar values between African Americans and Black Africans that can lead to spiritual and social bonding and missional opportunities between the two groups.
This article brings insights about the rendezvous of giving and receiving in missions between African Americans and Black Africans. This rendezvous should be encouraged, especially when done with humility, mutual respect, and reciprocity. The purpose of this article is to encourage more African Americans to come back to Africa to minister to their “cousin” Africans during this time when Christianity is shifting its center of gravity from North to South (Jenkins 2002). What similar values between African Americans and Black Africans could lead to spiritual and social bonding? How can this similarity be used to form mission bridges that can be beneficial to both people?
It all began in 2004, when a church situated in Houston, Texas, sent a team of missionaries to partner with African Leadership And Reconciliation Ministries, Inc. (ALARM) to train pastors and women leaders in Bungoma, western Kenya. The team was led by the senior pastor of the church. Being their first trip, some members had problems adjusting, but soon they loved and bonded with the Luhya people. They ate their food, sang their songs, and danced their dances. During their second trip a year later, the team bonded on an even deeper level. The third year, the partnering church in Houston came along with facilitators from four other African American churches from Houston and Chicago. The fourth year, the team came with a pastor from the Bahamas. On June 15, 2007, ALARM graduated one hundred pastors whom the friends from America (in conjunction with their fellow Africans) had been training for the last four years in the program called “Pastoral Leadership Training Institute” (PLTI). Teams from other states also came to join their fellow African facilitators to train African leaders in similar ministries in Sudan and Burundi.
Bridges for Mission Opportunities
I have noted five elements that could draw African Americans and Black Africans to each other in ministry.
1. Quest for identity and selfhood through history. Most of the Africans who were transported to the New World as slaves came from sub-Saharan Africa’s northwestern and middle-west coastal regions (Bigelow 1995, 18). Most African Americans and Black Africans are descended from the same motherland (i.e., Africa). It’s no wonder that when African Americans come to Africa they want to know all about the continent (especially the history of slavery and colonialism in Africa) in order to compare African history with their own. For instance, African Americans like to hear the stories of Nkwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, and other independence heroes who liberated Africa from colonialism. They like to hear about Nelson Mandela, who fought against apartheid and who led South Africa to independence. On the other side, Africans also like to hear stories about the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865), “the most devastating war ever fought on American soil and the most deadly in terms of individuals killed, fought by those who opposed slavery, black and white” (Asante and Mattson 1991, 78). Africans like to hear the story of Martin Luther King, Jr., “known for his policy of non-violent protests during the civil rights movement during the decade of 1957-1968” (Mabunda 1996, 328). For African Americans to go back to the land of their ancestors could be a source of healing and encouragement. On the other hand, Black Africans are also happy to see their fellow “Africans” with whom they share color, similar values, and comparable history.
When one of my African American friends traveled to southern Sudan to train pastors in 2004, an old Sudanese man (who was told my friend was an American) said, “No! This is our young man who got lost in that far land called America. He was a Sudanese, but because he grew up speaking the foreign English language, he was called an American.” The old man urged my friend to stay in Sudan and promised him a wife, dowry, and land. The old man’s thoughts and feelings were motivated by some commonality he saw in the young African American man.
From the above examples, it appears the similarity of history and values could be a bridge used for African Americans to minister to Black Africans and vice versa. For instance, as Africa goes through wars, tribalism, and apartheid, we need African Americans who have overcome hatred and racism to share their testimony of forgiveness with Black Africans who are suffering from bitterness and unforgiving attitudes. We also need Black Africans who have overcome tribalism and who understand that forgiveness is a liberating power to go to the States to preach to African Americans that forgiveness is a must for their well-being and for the generations to come.
2. Passion for charismatic worship style. African Americans are generally known to be good orators. Marcus Boulware quotes Benjamin Brawley when he states,
The Negro is peculiarly gifted as an orator. To his magnificent gift of voice, he adds a fervor or sentiment and an appreciation of the possibilities of a great occasion that are indispensable in the work of one who excels in this field. (1969, 8)
It has also been noticed that Black Africans, like African Americans, tend to be drawn more to action rather than meditation during worship. This can be noticed through their singing, preaching, teaching, prayer, and any other form of worship. It seems that when African Americans attend worship services in churches in Africa, they feel at home. The same applies to Black Africans when they fellowship in African American churches.
When I preached in an African American church in the States in 2006, I felt at home. In June 2007, when the team from the U.S. came to train pastors and women leaders in Bungoma, one of the African American pastors on the facilitators’ team was given an opportunity to preach at the Limuru Town Baptist Church in Kenya. The entire congregation appreciated both his emotion and the depth of his message. Indeed, there are very competent African Americans who are good in both content and delivery, and history has proven that (see Foner and Branham 1998). Let more of them come to preach the transforming word of God to their “cousin” Africans!
3. Similarity in need for contextual theology and social transformation. Another issue that could draw Black Africans and African Americans together is the similarity of their needs for contextual theology and social transformation. It seems that most African Americans, like their fellow Africans, would like to hear about a theology of holistic transformation. African Americans feel sympathetic when they notice that Black Africans remain poor (despite their fertile lands and other resources) because of bad leadership. When African Americans hear about the scourge of HIV/AIDS in Africa, they compare the situation in Africa with that of their people in America who are the most infected by the deadly virus compared to the rest of Americans. M. Belinda Tucker and Claudia Mitchell-Kernan confirm this when they say, “…AIDS is increasing faster among African American females than any other group in the country” (1995, 355). According to Pastor Oscar Muriu, Black Africans and African Americans like to hear about Jesus, who sets people free, transforms communities, and overcomes the “giants, the Goliaths” they are facing (Stinton 2004, 260). Like their fellow Black Africans, African Americans would like to see God respond to their needs in a socio-politico-economic dimension. They are unable to identify a dichotomized theology that claims salvation of the soul without saving the rest of the person and without transforming the society in which the person is living.
There is a need for African American leaders to come together with their fellow African leaders to exchange ideas about leadership challenges in their respective communities and learn from each other. This can only happen when there is a deliberate partnership with a clear vision and purpose. Given that the Church is the best agent of community transformation, African American church leaders and Black African church leaders should have a strategic partnership to address common issues and to encourage each other in their fight against their situational challenges.
4. Readiness in time for the fulfillment of the Great Commission. To the above three bridges, I would like to add the nature of the time in which we are living. The twenty-first century calls for urgency in mission worldwide; this could, therefore, be another bridging factor for Black African and African Americans to minister to each other. We are in a period of great urgency to finish the unfinished task of reaching the unreached in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Africa received the gospel through Europeans, and today European Americans continue to proclaim the good news in Africa. The time has come for more African Americans to go to Africa and do the same. Tom Telford and Lois Shaw point out that in the past
…there have been many outstanding people in African American missions, such as John Marrant, who was a missionary to the American Indians; George Leile, who formed the Jamaica Mission Society; and Lott Carey, who was the first missionary to go to Liberia in 1821. (2000, 128-129)
Telford and Shaw conclude with the following challenge: “The African American Church needs to renew its commitment to world evangelization.” For me, African Americans are already involved in world evangelization; we just need to encourage more churches and individuals to participate in the task. In reciprocity, we also need more Black Africans to come to the States to preach the gospel to American people, whether black or white. This readiness of time for the fulfillment of the Great Commission is another bridge that can bring Black African and African American people together. Let the bridge be built and let people from both sides start crossing the ocean.
5. “Sleeping giant” women ready for transformational ministry in their communities. Africa is experiencing the rise of talented and gifted women, such as the Kenyan environmentalist, Prof. Wangari M. Mathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate; and Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, nicknamed “Liberia’s Iron Lady” by BBC News. Many of these women are dedicated Christians who are serving the church and community. There are also many outstanding African American women who played key roles in leadership and brought about positive change in their communities. I was thrilled to read the biography of Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) and her role in the Civil Rights Movement. Bethune is said to have provided encouragement to people of African descent, using the political system to her advantage, and participating in freedom-fighting organizations. With highly acclaimed accomplishments, oratory, and courage, she inspired her racial kin to hold on and fight for the time when color was irrelevant to opportunity. (Collier-Thomas and Franklin 2001, 13).
Even today, I am sure there are many other courageous women like Bethune. I would encourage African American and Black African women to visit each other and encourage each other. This could help women in Africa and in the States to play an active role in transformational leadership and positive development.
Differences in Partnership
It is important to acknowledge that partnership between two communities is always intercultural, thus involving some issues of difference. Among such issues, I have observed the following:
1. The influence of American media in decision-making. African Americans are Americans and thus have an American worldview. They therefore depend upon information received within their own nation, which influences their decisions regarding participation in missions in Africa. While I understand how their media forms their ideas regarding Africa, it would be important to acknowledge that not all information by American media is correct. There is therefore a need for African Americans to consider the American media and compare it with the information given by their Black African hosts on the ground.
2. Ministry as a rendezvous of giving and receiving. Coming to Africa should not be a one-way journey of giving as some would consider it; rather, it should be a two-way blessing of giving and receiving (that is why I used the term rendezvous). Many missionary teams who have come to Africa have gone back changed. The trip is both a mission trip and a mission school. African Americans who go to Africa should therefore respect their fellow Africans as colleagues who have something to offer them in return, and should also invite them to come to the States to bless the American congregations.
Africans have a lot to give. It is true that financially most Africans are less blessed than their fellow African Americans, but Africans are blessed with faith, generosity, endurance in suffering, hospitality, and more. Some of these values are less observable in the lives of African Americans because of the Western philosophy of materialism and individualism. Black Africans are still communal; “they are because they belong” (Mbiti 1969, 108). Their greatest source remains their faith in the Imana,1 the creator of heaven and earth, who is the healer, the provider, the protector, and the savior.
My purpose in this article was less a study of the anthropology of African Americans and their fellow Black Africans than (1) a presentation of a rationale for a partnership between the two peoples for mutual ministry enrichment and (2) a demonstration that there are many bridges that could provide entry to that partnership. The bridge of search for selfhood and identity is part of the worldview, which can tie the two peoples together. The bridge of passion for charismatic worship style is part of the desire for spiritual empowerment, which should enable African Americans and Black Africans to make their own people (and the rest of the world) disciples of Jesus Christ. The bridge of contextual theology, social transformation, and mutual encouragement among women from both the Black African and African American societies contributes to the challenge for striving for each people, and should motivate each other for mutual consultation to address different needs in each respective society. The bridge of situational time, which gives readiness for the fulfillment of the Great Commission, is a compelling force for partnership in mission between African Americans and Africans, and any other people of the world. Let the two peoples use these bridges to cross the ocean and to bless each other!
1. Imana is the Kinyarwanda name for God the creator. That is why many Kinyarwanda names end with “Imana” such as Hakizimana (God the healer), Hatangimana (God the provider), and Harindimana (God the protector).
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Boulware, Marcus. 1969. The Oratory of Negro Leaders: 1900-1968. Westport, Conn.: Negro Universities Press.
Collier-Thomas, Bettye and V.P. Franklin. 2001. Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement. New York: New York University Press.
Foner, Philip and Robert Branham, eds. 1998. Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900. Tuscaloosa, Ala.: The University of Alabama Press.
Jenkins, Philip. 2002. The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. New York: Oxford University Press.
Mabunda, Mpho, L. 1996. The African American Almanac. 7th ed. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research Inc.
Mbiti, John. 1969. African Religions and Philosophy. London: Heineman Education Books.
Stinton, Diane. 2004. Jesus of Africa: Voices of Contemporary African Christology. Nairobi: Pauline Publications in Africa.
Telford, Tom and Lois Shaw. 2000. Missions in the 21st Century: Getting Your Church into the Game. Wheaton, Ill.: Harold Shaw Publishers.
Tucker, M. Belinda and Claudia Mitchell-Kernan. 1995. “African American Marital Trends in Context: Toward a Synthesis.” In The Decline in Marriage among African Americans: Causes, Consequences and Policy Implications. Eds. Belinda Tucker and Claudia Mitchell-Kernan, 345-359. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Faustin Ntamushobora is an ordained minister from Rwanda pursuing his doctorate in educational studies at Biola University. Faustin is executive director of Transformational Leadership in Africa (TLAfrica, Inc.), a ministry that equips African leaders to serve their churches and communities.
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