I remember the very few history classes I’ve taken between Grade 7 primary school and Form 2. I remember being taught briefly about Rev Chilembwe, Dr Banda, Dr Bakili and Dr David Livingstone.
When it came time to talk about the history of Christianity in Africa/Malawi we were told how the missionaries brought Christianity to us right alongside colonization and slavery.
After I became a Christian not much changed, I read a lot on western Christianity and Church History. Even here nothing changed much, Africa was hardly ever mentioned and African theologians were never quoted. And the more I read the more I started to ask myself why everything I read on African Christianity starts with the western missionaries. The result of that is some people believing that Christianity, slavery and colonialism came together on one ‘boat’. And that the white people used the Bible and Christianity to colonize us.
All this has led some to ask is ‘is Christianity is a western religion?’. Did Christianity come to Africans/Africa only after the first missionary came? Was there Christianity in Malawi before Livingstone? What about African theologians? Where are the African theologians? Should we have to wait for the ‘west’ to co-sign them before we can pick up their books?
All these are questions I’ve been asking myself lately and to be quite honest I haven’t found answers for all of them. But I’m looking and I’m reading.
I believe that culture is God’s idea, ethnicity is part of Genesis 1, God created all human beings in his image, but he also designed us to be uniquely different. It is God’s creation and imago Dei, and it’s beautiful the way He made it. My culture is beautiful, my African-ness and my Malawian-ness is a beautiful thing hand woven by God. When he redeems us, I believe even the things that make me unique as a person are also redeemed the same thing with my tribe and culture (Redeemed in the sense of how I look at them through a biblical lens).
My journey to appreciating being African goes hand in hand with appreciating God’s work on the continent. They are inseparable, the fact that God loves African people makes me love being African. He has included us in his plan for salvation. We have been in the Bible from the time of Moses (his wife was African), Jesus came to Africa (Egypt) to escape from Pharaoh. We also see recorded in Acts 13:1-3 listed among the teachers and prophets was a man from Cyrene which is now a place in Libya. The first missionary to Africa was probably an African if you recall the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-40. “God has been engaging Africans with the gospel centuries before Livingstone” – Malamulo Chidongo, Commentary on Acts 13:3.
We’ve always been taught about African Christianity as if it was the “white mans” idea but really Christianity has always been and will be God’s idea. Christianity was in Africa way before any white/western missionary was. Africa has so many great theologians, hymn writers, pastors, evangelists that preached the gospel to the rest of their kinsmen.
Christianity is not a western religion, it’s also not a religion that is alien to Africans. If there is anything that African Traditional religion can teach us is that God has indeed made “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. – Romans 1:19-21”. “God has placed eternity in our hearts” Ecclesiastes 3:11, and he has placed us here that perhaps “we may seek him and find him” Acts 17:27.
God has used various ways to bring Africans to Himself, He has used western missionaries and continues to do so. But we must not overlook the incredible work of sharing Christ that African natives who have heard the gospel has done from the beginning and continue to do. So to go back to that question, no Christianity is not a western religion neither is it African. Although I do think that it some cases it takes a western form. I hope that more people will learn to appreciate who they are as African Christians that we would not be ashamed of being both nor feel like we are a mistake or that everything that has to do with “African Christianity” is bad. I am personally on that journey, and to be quite honest I don’t think African Christianity (African Christians) look(s) one type of way because we all don’t fit in one box. Christianity in North Africa will be different than West Africa and same goes for the other different parts of Africa. We are beautifully diverse because God made us so for his glory.
I hope we will learn to appreciate who we are in Christ and learn to appreciate what God is doing on our continent. Better yet let’s be part of serving our countries, let’s join the list of locals who are working to build the church in Africa. There are so many ways to be involved, from evangelism to translation. Now more than ever there is a need for relevant Christian materials and even the Bible in our own languages. We are the labours He is sending to the field, let’s work!
You can learn more about what God is doing in Africa through are54.com
Written by Dee for her personal blog at http://iamnotagoddess.com/