KUMASI, Ghana — Two young preachers — one wearing a long-sleeve, blue shirt and tie, the other in a traditional African shirt with vivid, green pattern — wait patiently in the hall of the guest house where their American visitors are staying.
Smiles beaming, they greet their brethren from the West. “How was your journey?” “How do you find your accommodation?”
When the Americans ask them about their ministry, the preachers — Francis Nyamekye and Evens Amoah — unfold a hand-drawn, color-coded map that spans the coffee table, detailing the lands surrounding this West African city.
Check marks denote villages where Christians live, but worship elsewhere. Churches need to be established in those villages, the ministers explain. Other symbols represent locations of five-year plans for evangelism.
Nyamekye and Amoah are legacies of more than a century of Africa evangelism by Churches of Christ. In 1896 John Sheriff, a New Zealander and follower of the Restoration movement, settled in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). His first African converts were baptized in 1902.
One hundred years later, Africa was home to 14,669 Churches of Christ with a combined membership of 1,077,121, according to research conducted by Wendell Broom and Mark Berryman in 2002. Updated statistics are expected soon. Most of the continent’s church members live in its English-speaking nations.
“Africa is religious. It’s in our genes,” said African minister Isaac Daye. And the Christian narrative resonates with its people.
In the past, conflicts between African villages were resolved with human sacrifices, said Willie Gley, who ministers in Ghana and Togo.
“When you talk about somebody using a sacrifice to appease the anger of the gods, in our African context we understand that,” Gley said. “So when you tell an African that Jesus died to save you, we understand.”
Some of the first converts in Africa discovered Churches of Christ through Bible correspondence courses, including Texas-based World Bible School.
“World Bible School has found its greatest receptivity in Africa,” said John Reese, the ministry’s president. “Of an estimated 25 million who have studied our Bible correspondence worldwide, the overwhelming majority have been in Africa.”
In recent years, as some U.S. missionaries have returned home, African Christians have taken the initiative to reach the unreached among their continent’s 955 million souls. Church members have planted congregations where French, Portuguese and even Spanish are dominant tongues.
“Any missionary who has lived in Africa for a number of years will tell you that we have much to learn from the African church — just as they have learned from us,” said Henry Huffard, a former missionary to Nigeria who now works for Tennessee-based World Christian Broadcasting as senior producer for Africa.
African churches also can energize visitors to increase their mission efforts at home, said Dyron Daughrity, assistant professor of religion at Pepperdine University.
“To say you’re going to take a mission trip to Kenya is kind of an oxymoron these days,” Daughrity said. “You have to say, ‘I’m going to go get revived in Kenya.’”
Evangelism is difficult, and even illegal, in some of the predominantly Muslim nations of the north. African church members have experienced limited success in church-planting efforts in northern nations including Mauritania and Morocco. A small Church of Christ for
expatriates meets in Cairo.
English-speaking nations, including Nigeria and Ghana, have the greatest number of church members in the region. Accra, Ghana’s capital, is home to the Nsawam Road Church of Christ, one of the largest on the continent. In eastern Nigeria, “Many members in most congregations meet daily between 5 and 6 a.m. for morning devotions,” minister John Ekpo said. “Congregations cooperate for gospel meetings and evangelism on a monthly basis.”
Churches tend to be smaller and fewer in the region’s French-speaking nations, including Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. French-speaking Cameroon recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first church plant and now has about 200 congregations.
Congregations in the English-speaking countries send workers to less-evangelized parts of Africa, including the predominantly Muslim nations of Senegal and Gambia.
“We in West Africa feel like we are the Church of Christ, not ‘a’ Church of Christ,” said George Akpabli, a Ghanaian-born minister who works in French-speaking Benin. “West African congregations are more conservative than their East African counterparts. I can also say that the West African churches are independent in their thinking. Presently, there are very few American missionaries in West Africa. They are not controlled by sponsors. The West African churches have strong local leadership.”
Political instability and tribal conflicts have shattered lives and destroyed infrastructure in the
nations of Chad, Central Africa Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
As a result, “the mission work in the heart of Africa has been neglected,” said Worlanyo Bor, a minister in Bangui, the capital of Central Africa Republic, where four Churches of Christ meet. “In the midst of all this trouble and difficulty, we are committed to work hard to carry the gospel,” Bor said.
The massive Democratic Republic of the Congo has only about 15 congregations, missionary Doyle Kee said. A ministry training school in the capital, Kinshasa, has three full-time teachers and 17 students.
Workers have attempted to plant churches Brazzaville, capital of the neighboring Republic of Congo, but have had limited success, Kee said.
About 2,000 years after Philip baptized a eunuch from Ethiopia, the nation is home to about 900 Churches of Christ, said longtime minister Behailu Abebe. Church relief sent to Ethiopia during famine in the 1980s opened doors for evangelism. Now churches dig water wells in rural villages.
“In the past two months God has blessed us to plant six congregations in the areas where we completed water wells,” Abebe said.
Kenya also is home to hundreds of churches, several with memberships of more than 400, said Charles Ngoje, a native Kenyan who has done mission work in neighboring Tanzania. U.S. missionaries have trained workers, but much of the growth in the region is due to African-led evangelism, he said.
“Churches of Christ in Africa must be African to make effective and lasting impact in the hearts of Africans,” Ngoje said.
Some of the earliest Church of Christ missionaries to Africa worked in Zambia, now home to large churches and medical ministries.
In some parts of the region, church growth has slowed, said Theo Rappard, an instructor at Southern Africa Bible College in Benoni, South Africa. However, “there is now a movement into the international mission field,” he said.
Jerry D’Alton, a native of South Africa, has worked in ministry training in Namibia. Other church members are serving in Angola and Mozambique.
In the slender, landlocked nation of Malawi, an estimated one out of every 50 people is a member of a Church of Christ.
“We are in a support role — a Bible teacher role,” missionary Randy Judd said. “Americans have the best of many things, but God has the best way to make Christians.”