Does Africa need God?

Below is part one of a series that I wish to share, taken from a news article. I’d like to use it as an introduction to the necessity for revival in the world today.

As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God. Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa’s biggest problem – the crushing passivity of the people’s mindset.

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it’s Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding – as you can – the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It’s a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn’t fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

First, then, the observation. We had friends who were missionaries, and as a child I stayed often with them; I also stayed, alone with my little brother, in a traditional rural African village. In the city we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world – a directness in their dealings with others – that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.

At 24, travelling by land across the continent reinforced this impression. From Algiers to Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Central African Republic, then right through the Congo to Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya, four student friends and I drove our old Land Rover to Nairobi.

We slept under the stars, so it was important as we reached the more populated and lawless parts of the sub-Sahara that every day we find somewhere safe by nightfall. Often near a mission.

Whenever we entered a territory worked by missionaries, we had to acknowledge that something changed in the faces of the people we passed and spoke to: something in their eyes, the way they approached you direct, man-to-man, without looking down or away. They had not become more deferential towards strangers – in some ways less so – but more open.

This time in Malawi it was the same. I met no missionaries. You do not encounter missionaries in the lobbies of expensive hotels discussing development strategy documents, as you do with the big NGOs. But instead I noticed that a handful of the most impressive African members of the Pump Aid team (largely from Zimbabwe) were, privately, strong Christians. “Privately” because the charity is entirely secular and I never heard any of its team so much as mention religion while working in the villages. But I picked up the Christian references in our conversations. One, I saw, was studying a devotional textbook in the car. One, on Sunday, went off to church at dawn for a two-hour service.

Part two to follow…

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4 responses to “Does Africa need God?

  1. I totally appreciate the contribution of Christian missions to Africa’s development – I am myself a product of Catholic mission schools. But I am a bit disturbed by the brand of Christianity that is preached to most Africans. The type that demands that you don’t use contraceptives even though you can’t afford to raise eight children. The kind that asks you not to use condoms even though AIDS is ravaging your community. The kind that makes you think that everything is God’s will – including your rather unpleasant life.

    I wish missionaries emphasized more goodness and duty to serve and less of the emotional spirituality and blind obedience to the “will” of God. Christianity is supposed to empower us, not enslave us to our spiritual needs.

  2. Thanks for your reply!

    But it sounds like your Christianity is dependent on abundance and prosperity.
    So if things go hard, then it’s not God’s will? Sure, I don’t think it’s God’s will, but God does allow it, so that we can further grow and mature in our spiritual life, and be strengthened.

    I’m not against contraceptives, unless it causes a microscopic abortion. But you have to remember that contraceptives are a man-made thing. It was not designed by God. Contraceptives is NOT God’s will. Who knows how many preachers, politicians, engineers we have forbidden from being successors simply because of our demand for contraceptives.
    God has his own natural contraceptive too. Un-timed/unwanted pregnancies can be prevented in natural ways, and I think this is what the Christians should be teaching and educating the people.
    By saying that, I don’t deny at all, that life is a blessed gift from God. Children are a blessing, and God DID command us to be fruitful and to fill the earth.

    And if I may also just comment on your opinion of condoms; condoms are a straight no, unless it is used between married couples, who have intercourse within the boundaries of marriage, to prevent transmission of STD’s.
    Sex before marriage is a sin. There’s just no two ways about it. Handing out condoms to everyone, including the unmarried, is an enticement to live immorally. Young people are not supposed to have sex. They don’t need condoms.
    Abstinence is the education that they need.

    And in this way, Christianity WILL empower us to a fuller life in Christ, and a joyful one, even in the hard times.

    Hope that is helpful. 🙂

  3. Sorry for jumping in Salome :O

    “Christianity is supposed to empower us”

    Sorry, man, but when I read your comments, I think you’re talking about a brand of Christianity that is masquerading as Humanism – which is no Christianity at all, but rather Communism disguised as Christianity.

    A missionaries primary role must be that of spreading the message of salvation that can be received through Jesus Christ AND not just leaving converts there, but discipling them too.

    The discipleship process may include lessons on sexual purity, respect for human life, respect for a neighbours property etc. The primary purpose of discipleship though is teaching the disciple how to make disciples (Matthew 28:20).

    The role of contraception isn’t to prevent pregnancy outside marriage, but to prevent pregnancy inside marriage (and not I believe as Salome suggested preventing spread of STDs in marriage). In marriage, we should be preaching marital faithfulness). Besides, before the 20th century, what contraceptive were there? None. It’s only our chemical generation that we have a pill for every occasion. I don’t think affordability should be the determining factor in using contraceptives.

    Contraceptives in my mind remain controversial and I’m not sure there is a correct usage for them – even inside marriage.

  4. I like your comment Brendon! Thanks. 🙂
    I’m not sure I always get it right to express my mind correctly. 🙂
    But I guess what everyone said does contribute to the clarity of the matter.

    This post however, was merely an attempt to emphasize the necessity of the Christian faith within the existence of the African culture. And I think that’s pretty clear.

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