Editors’ note: TGC International Outreach is working to provide 100,000 free gospel-centered resources for English-speaking African church leaders through its Theological Famine Relief initiative. Learn more and consider making a donation to this important project. The first $25,000 will be matched dollar for dollar.
- Help Bring Reformation to Africa through Books (Bill Walsh)
Africa was once known as the “white man’s graveyard.” In the early days of the modern missionary movement, wave after wave of pioneer missionaries landed on the shores of this continent determined to establish a beachhead for the gospel of Jesus Christ. These early men and women laid down their lives to disease and a hostile population for the sake of the gospel. As historian Ruth Tucker notes, “Africa has claimed the lives of more . . . missionaries than any other area of the world.” Yet still they came. It was these 19th-century missionary pioneers, Tucker writes, “who risked all to open the way for Christianity in Africa.”
Today there are cures for diseases like malaria and dysentery, and many indigenous peoples in Africa have joined the urbanization migration. Still, the challenge facing our generation to bring the gospel to every corner of the continent is no less daunting than it was 200 years ago.
There are more than 340 million people in Africa living among people groups who have yet to be reached with the gospel. That’s nearly 30 percent of the entire population. Additionally, much of what is classified as “evangelical Christianity” in Africa is influenced to some degree by prosperity theology.
There are more than 340 million people in Africa living among people groups who have yet to be reached with the gospel. That’s nearly 30 percent of the entire population.
Other religions are competing with Christianity. Islam, for example, is aggressively spreading its doctrine across the continent. Of the 58 African nations, 34 have a measurable Islamic population.
Nor is religious freedom a guaranteed right in many places. On a visit to Somaliland (a breakaway republic in northern Somalia), I was assured by a high-ranking official that religious freedom existed in the country. I asked, “You speak of religious freedom in Somaliland. But what would happen if a Somali decided to leave Islam and embrace Jesus as Savior?” The official replied, “Oh, then there would be problems. That person would have to flee for his life.”
In many areas in Africa, deep cultural animosities exist between people groups. In the new Republic of South Sudan, the Dinka and Neur peoples harbor generations-old animosity toward one another, which has fueled a civil war. It would be extremely difficult for a Dinka missionary to move into Neur territory with the gospel. Given this embattled history between people groups, then, an outsider has fewer barriers to overcome in order to gain a gospel platform.
As African churches become more equipped to advance the biblical gospel, Western workers must continue to do so as well. This isn’t an “either-or” proposition, but a “both-and.”
Consecrated. Committed. Courageous.
A recent survey reveals three main reasons Christian young people aren’t even considering serving God as full-time missionaries:
- They aren’t willing to set aside their own self-interest and material comforts.
- The world is a dangerous place, especially overseas.
- They have too much debt (education, credit card, and so on).
We need to ask the Lord of the harvest to deploy men and women of consecration to fulfill the Great Commission in Africa. The unfinished task of reaching all the people in Africa must be seized by those who long for Christ to be magnified among its nations. These must be men and women willing to give their lives—over the long haul—for the cause of Jesus Christ. The remaining work can’t be completed by short-term trips and hit-and-miss evangelistic crusades. Africa needs humble, dedicated, planted servants of Jesus.
Let’s also ask for men and women of commitment. The unreached in Africa inhabit difficult-to-reach places, under regimes often hostile to the gospel. These people don’t know of Jesus, nor do they desire to know him. Workers are needed who are deeply committed to advancing his fame among these peoples.
Finally, let’s ask for men and women of courage. We have a missionary heritage passed down from the apostles and the early church, a heritage of men and women who believed “to die is gain” in the face of threats, persecution, and death (Phil. 1:21). Gospel advance in the face of African traditional religious beliefs and Islamic cultures will require apostolic courage.
The Great Commission has not been rescinded for the Western church. Another wave of pioneer missionaries is needed to advance the good news into regions of Africa where Jesus is still unknown, missionaries willing to lay down their lives if necessary to establish a gospel beachhead.
We must go to the world to preach the gospel, make disciples, and gather churches of growing believers who will reproduce themselves. Africa also needs Barnabas-like missionaries, willing to follow the pioneers and come alongside new churches and church leaders as encouragers, disciple-makers, and trainers for Christian ministry.
Praise the Lord for the beginnings of a solid gospel-centered missionary movement among segments of the African church. We need Christians all over the world to pray specifically for these growing African churches as they labor for the gospel. Let’s not imagine, however, that the missionary task across the continent is done. Western workers are still needed. God’s mission of gospel advance is not complete in Africa, not even close.