A Brief History of the Churches of Christ in Africa
churches of Christ have had extreme success in Africa. Of the 609,000
members of the churches of Christ outside the borders of the United
States, nearly two-thirds of them, or 392,965 are on the continent of
Africa. This is a base that provides opportunity for tremendous growth
in the next two decades. Between 1989 and 2000 more than one hundred
million people will become first time followers of the Christian
religion. This is the projection of David Barrett, the chief church
growth statistician. The churches of Christ are poised to see more
growth than ever before.
in Africa is not new to us. The churches of Christ have been involved
in Africa for nearly one hundred and fifty years. The first missionary
of the churches of Christ to travel to Africa was a freed slave by the
name of Alexander Cross. The restoration preacher and strategist, D.S.
Burnet, had wanted to begin a work in Africa. In 1853 he received a
letter from Kentucky describing the evangelistic abilities of a slave.
Burnet asked the Hopkinsville, Kentucky congregation to purchase Cross
and his families' freedom. After a few months further training and
prayer, on November 5, 1853, Alexander, his wife and son, James, sailed
from Baltimore and landed in Monrovia, Liberia in early January 1854.
Upon arrival Cross began construction of his home which included poling
a canoe fourteen miles up river. The severe climate and malaria
devastated him and he died within four months.
next missionaries to Africa did not leave until after the turn of the
century. The task was difficult in the beginning. Decease and primitive
living conditions made the work extremely difficult for the pioneer
missionaries. They were not the only ones to experience hardships. Many
of the first converts were rejected by family and community and were
forced to live on mission compounds. This made growth crawl along at a
of the growth in the church in Africa has taken place in the past forty
years. In that period the memberships has grown from less than 20,000
to near 400,000. There is no other continent other than North America
which has more members. The Lord has answered many prayers and he
continues to work wonders there. Ninety-five percent of this growth has
taken place in just seven countries (see pie chart). Many of the other
twenty-one countries where the churches of Christ are working are new
works. Some have suffered from the lack of personnel. These, along with
twenty- three countries we have not entered, present the challenge for
the future on this responsive continent. The Lord has already done a
great work among us.
you look at the growth of the church in Nigeria or Malawi you are
looking at the greatest responses to the gospel in a century. In the
past forty years more than 150,000 Nigerians have become members of the
churches of Christ. The largest rural and urban congregations of the
churches of Christ are found in Nigeria. Rural villages among the
Ibibio and Efik are laced with a web of congregations. This movement
has grown to more than 1600 congregations. The growth in Nigeria has
come through periods of struggle and sacrifice. While thousands were
dying during the Biafran war (1967-70), tens of thousands were becoming
followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Currently members of churches in
the Moslem dominated north are facing fierce persecution. Buildings are
being burnt and Christians are beaten, yet evangelists are reporting
scores of Muslims coming to the Lord. Satin is being defeated.
is another success story. It is a small country, numbering only 9
million, but there are more than 75,000 members of the churches of
Christ there. Malawian evangelists have been missionaries for more than
three decades. They initiated the works in Tanzania and Mozambique.
This growth and dedication has come with a very small force of
missionaries and little American money. It is a movement to the Lord.
has been noted for its famine and war. The church was used by God to
bring famine relief to hundreds of thousands in 1983-85. Few know that
there are 417 congregations with nearly forty-four thousand members.
Most of this growth took place before the relief efforts began.
Ethiopia has never been a colony and the church there is fiercely
independent as well. At present there are no missionaries of the
churches of Christ in the country.
is the fastest growing mission work of the churches of Christ in the
world. Ghanians are found all over West Africa. Some brethren have
learned French and started the first congregations in Burkina Faso and
is one of the oldest mission works of the churches of Christ. The first
church was planted in 1909 by Peter Masiya, a convert of stone mason
cum evangelist, John Sherriff of Rhodesia. It was not until 1921 that
W. N. Short came as the first American missionary. Between 1940 and
1965 more than ninety percent of the missionary force was involved in
schools. The church was able to hand nineteen schools over to the
government at independence. Church growth was slow in the beginning in
Zambia. There were less than 1500 active members as late as 1968. It
was not until the mid-1960s and the arrival of trained church planting
missionaries that the work began to flourish. At present there are more
than 27,000 active members in Zambia.
Africa has fiercely strong and independent movements among the whites,
coloreds and indigenous populations. Some of the leaders have been
trained in the United States and many more have been instructed in
Bible schools within the country. South African missionaries serve in
Zimbabwe, Botswana, Swaziland, and Namibia. There is still much work to
be done in this very populous country.
has more expatriate missionaries than any country on the continent. The
work is also the newest among the seven largest. The Van Tate and Ted
Ogle families were the first to enter. Since that time more than one
hundred missionaries from the churches of Christ have worked in this
receptive country. Some rural teams have witnessed more than seven
hundred come to the Lord in one year. Over the past eight years the
rural and urban mission teams in Kenya have served as the training
ground for mission candidates from many universities.
Zambia, Zimbabwe and Nigeria have older works than most in Africa and are the home for some the most mature leaders:
Essien, an ex-policeman, learned of Jesus in a correspondence course in
1948. Beginning with a dozen village neighbors, he started preaching
and teaching men to preach. By the time resident Americans arrived,
there were an estimated twenty- five congregations. As more preachers
were trained, Essien continued to travel and preach among his Efik
tribesmen and neighboring tribes, including trips into Cameroon on the
east and Ghana on the West. In 1960 (only twelve years after his
conversion) brother Essien died of malaria at about forty years of age.
In that short time, 275 congregations had resulted from his work and
his converts. Thirty years later that number has grown to about 1600
congregations in all the states of Nigeria. Like other men of God,
"...his works live after him..." Kambole Mpatamatenga.
early stages of the work in Zambia the Holy Spirit set a marvelous
example in the life of Kambole Mpatamatenga. Soon after his conversion
Brother Mpatamatenga became an interpreter for W. N. Short. Kambole
wanted to plant congregations, but he hesitated to set out and leave
his family without a farm that could support them. God blessed
Kambole's dreams. within ten years he became a self supporting
evangelist among his people. At the time of his death he could look
over the country of Zambia and recognize congregations that he had
planted. Further, on his wall hung a certificate from the government
honoring him for have one of the finest farms in the district. As the
Spirit would have it, Brother Mpatamatenga's example is recounted in
rural villages of Zambia and numerous occasions at leadership meetings
McClanga is the chief officer for the government of Zimbabwe for the
exportation of that country's steel and iron. He has a B.A. from
Abilene Christian University and a Doctorate from Wayne State
University. Brother McClanga is on the board of trustees of Nowe
Mission and the preacher training school at Mutari. He is a major
supporter of both institutions. Washington is a member of the Avondalle
congregation in Harare.
has more countries with extreme human suffering than any other
continent on the planet. The plight of Africans has challenged the
church to be the hands and heart of the Lord. There are several church
of Christ aid agencies which have served well. Manna International has
funded water well drilling projects in both west and southern Africa as
well as famine relief wherever the need has arisen. Recently Manna has
initiated a program of loans for small scale farms and businesses. John
Abraham Memorial Christian Relief Fund has provided funding for orphans
homes, medical clinics, and other projects. Africa Christian Hospitals
foundation now overseas the management of three hospitals and serves as
a resource center for all medical missions on the continent. Bread for
a Hungry World has supplied food and seed for the most severely
suffering areas of Africa. Whites Ferry Road Church of Christ has feed
hundreds of thousands of hungry and made funds available for missionary
vehicles and printed materials.
Abilene Christian University