by Solomon Aryeetey
Three principal areas to look at when talking about mobilizing Christian Africa to touch the world for Christ.
The missions community is becoming increasingly aware of the vital role that indigenous, national missionary enterprises in the so-called Two-Thirds World can play in completing the task of the Great Commission. Some have likened it to a volcano, pregnant with molten lava, begging to explode. The African church, more than ever before, is gradually preparing itself to take its rightful place in missions.
When one considers previous attempts at mobilizing the African church to missions, one comes face to face with the intractable challenge of the lack of adequate resources to sustain a long-term, truly comprehensive, and truly indigenous missionary enterprise. Some have chosen to find a solution to this dilemma by way of a simple equation: Western missionary dollars + African availability and zeal = missionary enterprise. They talk in terms of how far missions dollars can go using this equation.
True, some efforts have been made based on this model. However I suspect that results from this attempt are bound to be, at best, minimal, because the levels of funding that are needed are far in excess of what the West is ready and willing to contribute.
This model is simplistic. It attempts to address the problem, but in the process it has the potential of killing the very same African initiative that it purports to bring about. For us, it is of the utmost importance that this enterprise be truly indigenous.
The experiences of the past have convinced us that unfortunately, indeed even in missions, it is accepted practice that he who pays the piper calls the tune. The African church must be prepared to shoulder the bulk of the resource needs if indeed this African initiative is to be truly indigenous. If we have come of age as we say we have, then we must own every aspect of the vision. We must see it as primarily our responsibility. If the West wants to come alongside and help us in partnership, that is acceptable. However, we must be prepared to take charge properly by our willingness to pay the bills ourselves.
Let us consider an alternative. First of all, we have to look at three principal areas when we talk about mobilizing Christian Africa to touch the world for Christ. These three areas are mobilizing human resources, a strong support of prevailing, intercessory prayer, and a strong financial and material support base locally. We must go forward using a three-pronged approach that addresses each of these areas.
HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT
There is a dire need of another kind of Western missionary in Africa. One who recognizes the potential of the African church, and is willing to partner with us to train missionaries, not simply pastors. One who accepts the wisdom in empowering the African church to initiate viable, small- to medium-scale, self-supporting projects, and is willing to teach us how to do business correctly. We need missionaries who are not afraid to trust God to do new things. We want to know the how of missions. We are asking for the kind of Western missionary who will insist on preaching missionary sermons on the mission field itself, not only when he is on furlough. Our people are eager and zealous. But we do not know how to go about it. We need the kind of Western missionary who is discerning of what the Spirit of God is about to do in Africa. We want to put a high premium on hands-on, on-the-job apprenticeship type of training in real-life missionary situations.
MOBILIZING A SUPPORT BASE OF PREVAILING PRAYER
It is virtually impossible to mount any credible missionary endeavor into Africa without taking great pains to adequately undergird that attempt with biblical, prevailing prayer, accompanied by old-fashioned fasting. Ours is a continent steeped in the unabashed, whole-hearted worship of host demons. The world view of the African is filled with awe and reverence for ancestral spirits and the lesser gods. Many individuals have been ritualistically offered to devils. Idolatry runs through the fabric of traditional African society so extensively that we need tomount apersistent, concerted effort of prayer: the kind that pulls down strongholds and lets captives go free.
MOBILIZING A STRONG FINANCIAL AND MATERIAL BASE LOCALLY
More than in any other area, we believe that the whole question of launching a bona fide, sustainable missionary enterprise in African churches hinges on this one issue. The time-honored principle of not just giving us fish but actually teaching us to fish is key to this discussion. The African church should not look for handouts. We need people who will stand with us, carefully study our situation, and come up with simple but practical solutions. There are missions dollars in Africa. Western Christian businessmen, I believe, should begin to be a bit more discerning and deliberate about seeking out investment opportunities in partnership with sections of the African church that have a proven track record of sound biblical stewardship. With very simple, small-scale ideas and some small commercial loans to deserving Christian entrepreneurs, this problem can be tackled.
In my estimation, if we are to talk about an area in which the Western missionary enterprise in Africa had a weakness, it must be the area concerning teaching of a balanced, biblical view of money and entrepreneurship. There was really no comprehensive, long-term, deliberate strategy to so empower the churches that were planted that they would become truly and largely self-supporting. Many of the older missions, I am certain, must have wrestled with this perplexing state of affairs of the African church, but as of now, there has still not been any wholehearted, comprehensive effort to tackle the issue.
Interestingly, current definitions of the term “unreached” take into consideration not only the question of adequate numbers of believers, but also sufficient local resources, both financial and material, to sustain a truly indigenous missionary enterprise among a given people group. I yearn for the day when this kind of thinking will be considered, and appropriately addressed, in Western missions circles.
God is moving by his Spirit. He seeks to empower his people in Africa to take their place in the front lines. There is a mighty army out there waiting to be trained and properly deployed. Let us stand together as the body of Christ and pray that the Lord will give this rising tide more momentum as we work diligently to complete the task before he comes.
Jay Lykins response
Solomon Aryeetey is right when he says the African church must be prepared to shoulder the bulk of the resource needs. We might even consider taking it one step further: The African church must not only be prepared, but it should shoulder the bulk of the resource needs. Simply being prepared is not going to get the job done. I don’t say this pointing a finger at the African church, but rather at the West.
We talk of indigenous ministries and building the church in the Two-Thirds World, but the way we handle money and responsibility speaks volumes, and we are guilty.
Just as we have created a welfare state in our inner cities, we have created a “welfare church” in the Two-Thirds World. It has become dependent on foreign missionaries, foreign dollars, and foreign control. When, on the other hand, we don’t like or agree with the decisions of nationals, we withhold our dollars, restructure missionary posts, and relinquish control without providing necessary resources.
To help create something indigenous means giving away what we have, allowing the recipients to piece together what they can use in their society. Some things may be rejected, some altered, and some used just as they are. We should counsel and provide advice, but we should not insist. Our job should be to present biblical principles and alternatives, not to own or possess. We should support the people, even if we don’t support their decisions. Our help should be “strings free.”
We should not create an atmosphere of dependency. Therefore, we should decrease our services over the long term. This is not a lackof commitment. Itsimply means that another avenue must be found to take this advisory role. Preferably, it will be a role provided in-country by committed nationals.
We should not offer services that only we know how to provide. We should teach others how to do all that we do, so that when we leave, our expertise remains. We should believe in and practice “giving it all away.” This calls for community involvement. Our right to participate and be heard should come about through mutual trust, support, and accountability, not because of strings and possessiveness.
Of course, I believe in assisting nationals to set up model projects to begin laying a financial foundation for reaching the lost worldwide. Economic development should be a missionary service, recognizing the need to minister to the whole man.
Our work needs to support the church at large, assisting Christ’s work in the Two-Thirds World, the U.S. inner cities, and limited access countries. How? By discipling men and women, and helping to establish small businesses, which are the biggest job creators. Businesses with one to 10 workers create up to 80 percent of all jobs.
In this type of ministry, we would see business people grow in their Christian walk, see profits from business enterprises helping to support local and national ministries, and see the employment of church leaders, who in turn can support Christ’s work and see individuals grow in Christ.
Small businesses enable needy families not only to help themselves, but to support local ministries. By helping start businesses, we address some of the problems created by dependency and help give people dignity.
Scripture provides us with solid principles for business. Our concern should not be merely helping to establish a small business or being Christians in economic development, but doing it from a biblical perspective. Discipleship is key.
Good, solid business principles and practices should always be taught, but as interpreted from Scripture. We should be in the business of teaching and presenting alternatives to the world’s way, not simply condemning that way.
My encouragement to the African church is, yes, you have the missions dollars in Africa. You have Christian business people. You have the wisdom. You have the knowledge. Are they the same dollars, people, wisdom, and knowledge we have in the West? No. These things are not better or worse; they’re different. They’re African. We both have the same tool: God’s Word. Build the church.
JAY LYKINS is president of Global Reach, Pleasanton, Calif.
EMQ, Vol. 33, No. 1, pp. 34-39. Copyright © 1997 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.