Africa: God’s story, our story

Africa is emerging from its historic role as a place missionaries go to and becoming a vibrant sending area.

For centuries, missions in Africa has conjured up pictures of western men sharing the gospel message with people in small villages, but that picture is rapidly changing.

“If you look at where we are coming from, Africa was known to be only a mission field where you send missionaries. But now we have seen this trend changing where we see more people going out for missions within and outside Africa,” said Melvin Chiombe (Zambia), area leader for OM in Africa.

Melvin coordinates about 450 workers in 14 countries across the sub-Sahara region and is excited to witness the shift as Africa moves from being a receiving location to becoming a sending one.

“This makes me excited because it just shows that each part of the body of Christ has got a role to play, and also, there is growth that takes place even now. We want Africa to come to a place where we say, as Africans, we have something to offer to world missions.

“This is why we need to tell God's story, which is our story. Christianity is not new to Africa — God has been working in Africa from time immemorial. But we are saying that even before the Western countries came, God was already working in Africa.

“You'll find that in the Bible, they refer to Africa and the people of Africa who were part of God's story. Even when (western) missionaries came to Africa, there were (local) people that were working alongside them as their disciples.”

Africa is invited

Mpumi Maweni (South Africa) left his home in Soweto to join short-term mission teams in Europe in 2011 and has been Director of Mobilisation at OM in Canada for more than four years.

He believes that to encourage more Africans into global missions, they need to understand God's narrative.

“We believe in a grandeurs God,” he said. “When you are in awe of God’s magnitude and supremacy, you're not going to be easily impressed by a materialistic worldview. You can bypass that. Therefore, changing any narrative begins with understanding who you are in God.”

He admits that he had to change his mindset when he left Africa, but he has always known that he has a place in world missions.

“I knew that I was invited –– Africa is invited by God to missions; they're not on the fringes. For that reason, I felt invited, I was no longer waiting for someone from a western context to hold my hand,” he said.

“Also, I knew from a godly perspective Africa is included. I am cognisant that in the world we live in, to be invited does not mean to be included. However, in God’s story, Africa is invited and included by God first.  

“Therefore, with this mindset, I had the freedom to be myself and remain true to my African heritage whilst a missionary to the West. The freedom to inspire, teach and preach like an African. The cultural heritage to be communal, relational and scriptural. When I was sent to serve as a missionary to the West, I was sent with the message that God’s story is our story. Therefore, the uniqueness we Africans bring to any setting, it comes from God.”  

Seeing real change

Simon Marijani (Zimbabwe) has seen a shift in attitude towards missions in Africa within his lifetime. He said: “Over the last 20-30 years, there has been real change. Africans serving in the field may not call themselves missionaries but they are going out in obedience to make disciples of all nations.

“The African stereotypical understanding of a missionary was of someone who came from Europe or the United States, someone who had a lot of money. They came to Africa, bought land and established a nice modern school with a very big church where people would not only worship but also get help. So, from this mindset, Africans never thought of themselves as missionaries but rather as recipients of missionary work.  

“But we are starting to see a mindset shift. People are beginning to understand missions as obedience to serve others instead of big buildings and projects done by foreigners.  

“In the context of Zimbabwe, we are witnessing young Christians going on outreach during their gap year, churches serving their communities and individuals going overseas through their denomination or parachurch organisations to serve unreached people groups.”

Both receiving and sending

Melvin is looking forward to seeing more Africans accept the call and join missions both within the continent and further afield — as well as continuing to welcome foreign workers to the continent of Africa.

He said: “We are no longer just a mission field. We are both a mission field but also do mission work alone. We need far-culture missionaries from other continents to train our people in things that they may not know, but also we have come to a place of maturity where we feel African missionaries can reach effectively to their own people, and also we have seen more Africans who have gone to Europe and the other western countries where they are having an impact.”

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