This is an article from the November-December 2011 issue: Africa in Crisis


Hope in the Midst of Darkness


Africa is a huge mess. It is riddled with wars, six million dead in the Congo alone, famines, AIDS, poverty, corruption and more. Yet the gospel has made tremendous gains in the 20th Century. How is it that so many have put their faith in Christ and yet the situation does not seem to have improved at all? Should not the transformational power of the gospel have made a greater impact? What went wrong?

Africa is an object lesson and a case study of all the things you should not do by both the global world powers and the Church. The global powers, seeking access to Africa’s vast natural riches and human capital, have sought to control the continent for their own benefit. Colonialism and slavery have resulted. Even after the colonial powers left, there is still fierce competition for Africa’s resources, leading to further bloodshed and corruption. In their attempt to fix what they have broken, the global community has flooded the continent with foreign funds and resources, thereby destroying local markets and creating ongoing dependency, and enriching the corrupt leadership of the various countries. It is a lot for any people to overcome.

The Church Is Part of the Problem

The global Church, on the other hand, has worked very hard to help African peoples with the best of motives but also with many of the worst possible mission strategies. Yes, the mission strategy that one employs does make a huge difference. Missionaries came to Africa with their foreign culture, funds, strategies, and structures that in many cases created dependency and prevented the gospel from becoming truly indigenous to the people of Africa. In general Africans failed to take true ownership of the gospel and the mission to take it to every tribe and tongue of Africa and the world. As David Taylor reports on page 6, one ray of hope is that this is beginning to change.

Our friend, Glenn Schwartz, who writes regularly for us (see p. 28), saw first hand the devastating impact of these poor mission strategies on the people of Africa. He has spent decades teaching the global Church about self-reliance and the dangers of dependency so that the mistakes made in Africa will not be repeated elsewhere. We feature him in each issue because the global Church must learn from its mistakes and employ the most effective strategies for the establishment of self-supporting and self-propagating church-planting movements in every people on earth. Unfortunately, there are still mission organizations that continue to promote the same mission strategies that created dependency in the African church. As a result we see an ongoing need to focus on this subject in each issue of MF.

Proclaiming an Incomplete Gospel

For the gospel to have its full impact in transforming a people and their culture there must be a transformation of each person’s worldview. The Christian faith cannot simply be laid on top of a more foundational worldview. If all we do is get people to “pray the prayer” so they are bound for heaven and get them to go through the motions of following Jesus, then we should not be surprised when there is a lack of transformation in their lives and the surrounding culture.

In general, when the first missionaries came to Africa they did not come with the goal of making the gospel indigenous to the people and applicable to every aspect of life. All they knew was to present the gospel in the way that they had received it along with all the cultural baggage and limitations. Ken Turnbull talks about this problem in his article starting on page 16. He says,

African theologian Dr. Van der Poll summarizes well the result of this dualism:

Because the Gospel was not brought to the people as a new totally encompassing life view, which would take the place of an equally comprehensive traditional life view, the deepest core of the African culture remains untouched … . The convert in Africa did not see the Gospel as sufficient for his whole life and especially for the deepest issues of life. For that reason, we find the phenomenon across Africa today that Christians in time of existential needs and crises (such as danger, illness and death) fall back on their traditional beliefs and life views. It is precisely an area where the Gospel should have most relevance, yet the Gospel does not mean much in practical terms for the African.

Professor B. J. van der Walt states,

We cannot ignore the fact that perhaps the dominant type of Christianity on our continent is of an escapist and pietist nature.  Their Christian faith is something of another world, without any relevance to the burning issues of Africa. However, if we want a new Africa, we need a new type of Christianity.... Our eyes have to be opened, our vision broadened, we have to know how to serve God in every part of our existence.

This points out powerfully that it is not enough just to send missionaries to every tribe and tongue. If we bring an incomplete or culture-bound gospel along with an ineffective model of doing discipleship, then we have failed. Our job is to make disciples who can make disciples, not just to get people saved but to bring every person into a life transforming relationship with Jesus that is able to bring transformation to all of Africa. We must proclaim a gospel where every aspect of life is submitted to the lordship of Jesus.

Hope in the Midst of Darkness

Mistakes have been made, the damage has been done. How should the global Church move forward in helping the African church? We must focus on working with African leaders as servants to develop strategies of ministry with the end result in mind. Our goal should be to see rapidly multiplying Church Planting Movements within every people group in Africa. We know enough now about what God uses to create these Church Planting Movements. We should apply these principles and expect God to bring them about in every people with the resulting personal and societal transformation.

The most encouraging reason for hope in Africa is that a growing number of leaders seem to understand what many around the world do not—that world evangelization is impossible without reaching all of the unreached people groups. David Taylor points to this on page 6,

The country of Kenya has led the way by becoming the first country to engage all of its unreached peoples with national missionary teams. It is very likely that based on the momentum we are seeing in Africa, all of the unreached peoples on the continent will be fully engaged and reached in the next decade. In spite of all they have been through—in spite of wars, plagues, famines, and natural disasters—the gospel of the Kingdom is being preached to every ethne and the finish line is well within view. For the first time in history, this generation of Africans will actually be able to say, “every nation, tribe, people and language” on our continent has been reached.

In the midst of all of the suffering Africa has gone through God is bringing about a victory in mission strategy that bodes well for the future of Africa.

Spreading the Vision

Thank you to all of you who have sent in gifts to help support the work of Mission Frontiers in spreading the vision of reaching the unreached peoples to Christian leaders all over the world. We have been asking our readers to send in gifts of $180 to help us send MF to 30 Christian leaders around the world. Our goal is to raise 1,500 of these gifts by the end of the year. We have now received gifts of various amounts equaling 283 of these gifts. This is an increase of 45 since our last issue. We also appreciate larger and smaller donations which will also count towards our goal.

Please consider sending a gift to help us keep MF going out to Christian leaders around the world. Just go to You can also give through Paypal.

Also please remember to send back your reply card located on the back cover. We do not want you to miss the next issue of MF.f


There are so many travesties going on in AFRICA, the more I learn about it, the more I hear about? It’s so hard to sit here in the USA happily when I know they are suffering. I am interested in learning more of the PLIGHT of the peoples in AFRICA&GOD;.

In numbers huge turn over in churches - small and large churches are booming like mushrooms, but why is it not addressing the tribal animosities and corruption in society? A Paradox!

Two things are needed in Africa: a decolonization of education and a decolonization of theology.  You’ve done well in defining the second one of these in this article, but we must get into the African schools and undo/rebuild so that the African will be able to have a voice, an identity, and discover themselves. God has not left Africa, there is hope.


Thank you for your comment. Africans must take full ownership of every aspect of their lives including the spread of the gospel. The problem is that they have been presented with models of ministry that were foreign and not indigenous. It will take time to clean up the mess that outsiders have made. We need to be ready to help them but they need to be the ones taking the lead.

@ Rick

I fully agree with everything in your response: but, I am of the opinion (and have Paulo Freire in agreement) that WE, who messed things up, need to help them “clean up the mess.”  We are the ones who have devalued their culture and dehumanized them as a people.  We, now, need to be part of the empowering and authenticating solution.  Just my thoughts.  Thanks for engaging.


I agree that we need to help them clean up the mess we made.  We just have to be careful that we do not come in and make the same mistake of the past of imposing our methodologies and structures on them that they are unable to take ownership of and run with.  The PEACE Plan which we feature in this issue is an example of a much more positive approach where the Africans are fully involved in the process even though there is significant involvement from outside.

Rick, America is a mess. Europe is really a mess! They are a mess in so many ways it would be foolish to begin the list. And what impresses me about your piece is its odorous pessimism. What’s the point?


The point is that the only hope is for people to catch the vision for God’s glory in all the Earth by reaching the unreached peoples and discipling the nations. That is what Africans are beginning to do and that is a great reason for hope. That is what this issue was all about. Before you can solve a problem, you first have to recognize that you have one. In every issue of MF we provide reason for hope through the strategic insights that are providing great results in various places around the world.

Dear Rick,
thanks for your openness on the observation that the Christian faith is almost as wide as the continent, yet often as thin as a blanket. Foreign missions have contributed to this spiritual poverty because of their pre-occupation with numbers and may be money-sourcing. I’ve worked as a missionary now for 18 years (in Malawi) and often wished I was sent to a place where the gospel had not yet been preached, as Paul commented. But I’m joyful and hopeful when I observe changes while I’m still learning. The Lord will continue to write His story. Presently I’m working on my thesis that the world-views deriving from Traditional African Religion (TAR) are still having a major impact on work-ethics on the continent, even among Christians. Not just superb Bible-teaching, training of Reverends and sound Christian gatherings, let alone mere education, will ever change the situation in my opinion. But developing a Christ-like, (and African!) life-style through discipleship, a willingness to be servants of our King, made alive by Gods Spirit, can and will bring cultural transformation from inside out; for this we also will need the help of Christian African intellectuals who appreciate the fact that the roots of TAR still need to be exposed, theologically examined and addressed accordingly. Lord have mercy.


Worldviews can and do change when people are discipled into the truth. When I say discipled I do not mean sitting in a church service. I mean a prolonged relationship with a more mature believer who is able to hold that person accountable for applying the truth from the Word of God. There are Church Planting Movements that are developing around the world based upon accountable discipleship principles. I encourage you to take a look at the T4T Process. We have had various articles in MF on this and you can read more about it in the book, T4T: A Discipleship Re-Revolution by Steve Smith and Ying Kai.

Unfortunately it appears that the author has not done his homework on what God is doing on the continent of Africa. Much of the premise of the article relies so much on what is in the public media. I would categorically say that God is already working amazingly in Africa. The author focuses on some worst parts limited to a few counties and generalized for the continent. If the contention is that there is economic depravity that is not entirely true. Yes there poverty but masses of people are coming out of poverty.over the past 10 years economic growth I. Sub Saharan Africa has been among the fastest globally. While many developing countries are struggling to generate any growth, growth in Africa is hovering around 5%. Several reports show a rise in middle class in the continent. Yes significant challenges remain but to suggest a sense of hopelessness undercuts what I believe God is doing on the continent. Christianity is spreading fast and along with I believe righteousness is gaining ground even among leaders. Take Rwanda ... Perhaps the only nation to do a Christian based purpose driven nation course. It is no surprise that despite its painful past its one of the star performers in terms of e economic growth even at a global level. I. 2011 it grew at 8.6%. All this to say your premise is incorrect and fails to see the work God is doing in the continent.








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