by Joseph Sabageh
It is African literature that can speak most effectively to an African reader.
The end of colonialism in Africa does not merely mean the redrawing of Africa’s political map. The independence of African countries is far from being only a political phenomenon. It finds expression in all areas of life, especially the cultural and literary spheres. Africans today have a great desire to gain knowledge: Because of this desire, evangelicals have perhaps greater opportunities, challenges, and needs now than ever before to produce indigenous African Christian literature.
Unfortunately, the spread of Western Christian literature in Africa has, in some ways, hindered the development of indigenous Christian literature. Africans, possibly swayed by the professionally finished covers of foreign publications, tend to regard locally produced literature as inferior and provincial. Ironically, it is the African literature that can speak most effectively to an African reader.
THE POWER OF THE PRINTED PAGE
It is a well known fact that for centuries the printed page has been a powerful and influential tool. Acknowledging this powerful tool, Martin Luther circulated hundreds of thousands of pamphlets throughout Europe on the eve of the Reformation. Neither Karl Marx nor Lenin underestimated the importance and power of the printed page.
History reports that the Communist revolution succeeded in China because literature poured out of Red presses. Lenin, who led the revolution in the Soviet Union, once said, "Every communist must be actively engaged in the distribution of atheistic literature." The growth of communism and Islam on the continent of Africa is largely due to the effective use of the printed page.
The nephew of Mahatma Ghandi made this disquieting observation concerning India: "The missionaries have taught us to read, but the communists have given us literature." Author George Verwer wrote, "While the church of Christ slumbered peacefully, the communists built propaganda machinery which has succeeded in sowing its infectious seed in the minds of hundreds of millions of young people throughout the world."
THE GROWTH OF SECULAR AFRICAN LITERATURE
Today Africa has a growing body of secular literature, from the pens of African intellectuals, that is gaining respect at home and a place among the literature of the world. Sadly, much of it is largely critical of missions and Christianity. Many African writers equate Christianity with colonialism and neocolonialism.
Most of this literature is recommended reading in African schools and universities. In some of this literature the writers contend that much of the social change in Africa has resulted from the planting of Christianity on the continent. They emphasize that this social change brought discontinuity of culture. They paint a portrait of Christians as a people who are torn between their loyalty to the old community of kith and kin and the new community built around the church and its membership.
THE NEED FOR INDIGENOUS CHRISTIAN LITERATURE
The existing state of Christian literature-especially Western Christian literature-in Africa does little to alleviate misconceptions about Christianity. Western Christian literature displays a lack of understanding of the history and the conciousness of the various African social groups. Most Western publications display a persistant and appalling insensitivity to the social, economic, and religious realities that shape the recipients’ beliefs and values. They also display a naive adherence to the assumption that Western modes and styles are universally applicable. Some of the experiences in Western Christian literature cannot easily be translated into the African scene. Some of this literature is not easily readable or understandable to the average African Christian, because of its foreign setting. If Christian literature is to be relevant to the African, it must take into consideration his culture and social customs.
It is unfortunate that many of the Christian publications in Africa were written by missionaries. Much of this writing deals with elementary subjects like smoking, drinking, dancing, and the evils of having more than one wife. Often, the material was translated by Africans who had rather limited training.
There are growing signs within the African society of a shift away from traditional missionary literature to that which accommodates more local Christian experiences and backgrounds. If Christian literature is to compare favorably to secular literature, robust Christian literature must come from the pens of committed, well-trained writers dealing with the deeper implications of Christianity in African life. These writers could help mend breaches between culture and Christianity; they would be instrumental in steering their countries toward godly ideologies.
SOME AFRICAN WRITERS
Tokunboh Adeyemo, the general secretary of the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar, was concerned that not many works had been produced on the traditional beliefs and thoughts of African people. He realized that many books on these subjects were written by foreign missionaries who could not fully understand the ramifications and implications of African concepts. So Dr. Adeymeo wrote about some of those ramifications himself, in his book Salvation in African Tradition, published in Kenya by Evangel Publishing House, Nairobi.
Others have written helpful books, as well. Pius Wakatama, a native of Zimbabwe, compares missions operation in the West to those in Africa in Independence for the Third World Church. S.T. Ola Akande, a prolific writer and the general secretary of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, has had three books published in Ibadan, including Marriage and Home Making in Nigerian Society.
Missionaries have a unique opportunity to help promising Africans. John Ndeti Somba, the editor of "Kesho" magazine, published in Kijabe, Kenya, was taught the art of writing and editing by African Inland Mission missionaries. They also encouraged him to write a book to help young Africans who are spirtually groping, called Question Time. Somba later attended Daystar Communications, Nairobi, for a diploma course in education.
Architect and businessman Bunmi Adedeji was so burdened by the need for indigenous Christian literature that he wrote two books-one in English (The Crucial Choice), the other in Yoruba-though he has no formal training in writing.
Several African publications are working to meet the needs in this area. The African Press, based in Ghana, is doing much to inspire and encourage indigenous Christian authors. Challenge Publications, Kesho Publications, Baraka Press, and Scripture Union Publications, among others, are becoming increasingly involved with African writers. A good number of publications produced by these local presses are meeting real needs and answering questions young people are asking. But the struggle is not carried on without handicaps, like the need for trained manpower and finances.
TRAINING AFRICAN WRITERS
Africa desperately needs authors who will be recognized nationally and internationally for their literary prowess, and at the same time stand tall for Christ and his kingdom. Education is the critical problem standing in the way of this goal. Presently, Daystar Communications in Nairobi is the only institution of Chrisitan higher education in Africa that offers degree programs in Christian communications. I cannot overemphasize the need for such an institution in the West Africa sub-region.
Plans are underway to establish an African evangelical literature organization, with the aim and sole purpose of encouraging and seeking financial assistance for qualified Africans to be trained in Christian communications. Also in the plans is the Evangelical Communication Training Institute, for training national Christian writers across the continent. This institute would seek recognition and affiliation with a Christian college in the United States for exchange of training materials and personnel, and the awarding of diplomas from the college to the institute’s students.
Since training facilities are not presently available, the best way to assist the production of Christian literature by Africans is to help deserving nationals through sponsorship. Elim communications will be in a position to identify talented African Christian writers and make some recommendations for sponsorship. It is rather sad to know that the church in Africa has notefully developed its potential in communications, and has neither the educational facilities to train its writers, nor the funds to send them abroad.
The goal of developing indigenous Christian literature in Africa is not only to win souls, but to save minds. Because of the present deficiency in Christian publications, the area of creative thinking has been vacated to the enemy. The African mind has been assaulted by humanistic and secularistic literature, and we have too few African Christian communicators who can stand for the Lord in that battle.
With the sincere cooperation of evangelicals and missions everywhere, we can do a great deal for the promotion of this project. If it is true that there is a real need in Africa which, if fulfilled, would bring glory to God, then let us ask God to direct our attitude and show us the way in which he would want us to respond to this need.
Copyright © 1985 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.