A conversation with Wendell Broom
“I thought that was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard,” Broom said.
The young minister sat down to write Horton a letter expressing just how bad an idea it was, but after several drafts he decided that he couldn’t think of a good reason not to go.
So, in 1955, he and his family moved to the West African nation and served for five years. During that time he took teams of evangelists to help plant churches in Cameroon and Ghana.
In the decades since, Broom has advocated tirelessly for missions in Africa and around the globe. As a professor at Abilene Christian University, he helped establish missionary training programs.
He helped launch the Teachers of Missions Workshop in the 1970s and the Africans Claiming Africa for Christ conference in the 1990s.
Broom was born in Oklahoma City. “It is reported to me that the first Sunday she was home from the hospital, my mother had me in Sunday school,” he said.
During 60-plus years of ministry Broom also preached for churches in the Northeast and Hawaii. He and his wife, Betty, celebrated their 64th anniversary recently. They have six children and 11 grandchildren. Their sixth great-grandchild is due in August.
How have Churches of Christ grown since you went to Nigeria in 1955?
Churches of Christ in Nigeria have doubled almost every 10 years. There are now 20 schools of preaching in Nigeria — 90 percent of them run by Nigerian, experienced preachers.
There now are more churches in Nigeria than there are in Texas and Oklahoma combined. There are more churches in Africa than there are in U.S. and England combined.
To what do you attribute this rapid growth?
No. 1: We trained Africans to train Africans to train Africans — to plant churches that plant churches that plant churches.
No. 2 is this: In the gospels, all the Beatitudes are addressed to people that Western democracy views as downtrodden. The blessings are pronounced on those considered to be the downtrodden of earth. The curses are pronounced on the people who are the leaders.
Africa is hungering and thirsting, weeping and mourning. Jesus says they are blessed. So they receive the message of Christ. They were living in desperation, and they accepted the hope they received in Jesus.
In the West, we are fat and full, and we have everything a people could need. And the church is dying in our laps.
What misconceptions do American Christians have about African Christians?
Africans have been taught by Bible Belt Americans. And we automatically have taught them what Bible Belt Christians believe Christianity to be. That includes a lot of blind spots.
We tried, as most missionaries do, to divest our message of all of its Americanism, all of its Bible Belt-ism, and to give them the fullness of the gospel of Jesus without the polish of Americanism on it.
Despite our failings, the Africans have taken Christianity without our American varnish.
They do have their own biases. Almost all Nigerian Churches of Christ have women sitting on one side of the church. Women always insist on having a head covering.
Has American support of African ministers been good or bad for churches in Africa?
Supporting African preachers with American money has been a major warfare all over Africa. Naturally, a preacher likes a big, fat American church that pays him usually more than he could make in any other profession.
We had in the neighborhood of 150 to 200 Nigerian preachers on American salaries. We saw some serious dangers involved. We terminated all American church support for the men.
There were a lot of African preachers that would gladly have cut our throats for doing that. That was in the late 1950s. Since that time, a generation of pharaohs grew up not knowing Joseph.
But the main motivation for ministry I see in African preachers isn’t money. It is strictly spiritual motivation — “I have found the grace of God, and I want to tell the grace of God to my people.” I can give you case after case after case of preachers who have struck out on their own, preaching and planting churches without American support. Many have done it self-supported. They make money teaching school and do ministry on their own.
What was the motivation behind Africans Claiming Africa for Christ?
A group of us realized that a little handful of Americans is not going to evangelize the whole continent of Africa. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen because African church leaders are doing the evangelizing.
Americans helped organize the first meetings. Now the emphasis is coming entirely from African leadership.
The Americans are on the sidelines, cheering. The conferences help Africans share resources to reach new countries.
It’s been an amazing success.
If money and time were no object, what would you do with the years you have left?
I don’t have many left! I’m 86 and I’m losing my vitality. I’m losing my gifts. I can now walk no longer than a half-mile. Physically, I am restrained.
If money and time — and age — were no object, I would continue to do what I was doing. I would continue to urge African churches to teach their own people to go out and plant churches. There’s still a lot to be done.
I am Patrick, a member of the Bomso Church in Ghana. A group of young men have decided to trace and document the history of the Church in Ghana. I have been searching for information and literature. It is pleasant to read these pieces from your site. we shall be very pleased if we could be linked to any of the surviving pioneer missionaries so they can fill us in on the past. Again, if there are any materials which would help us, we would be most grateful to have them.
Thanks very much and I hope this would be the start of a fruitful association with you and all who may wish to be involved in this important endeavor.
-Patrick KumahPatrick KumahBomso Curch of ChristKumasi, Ashanti
GhanaJuly, 26 2011