Reverse Missions: African Churches in Europe

There has been a recent shift in global Christianity from North to South. Christianity is growing day by day in the continents of Africa, Latin America and Asia, whereas it appears to be declining in the Western world. The expression of Christianity that is growing in these continents is Pentecostalism with its characteristics of healing, miracles, speaking in tongues, emphasis on the leading of the Holy Spirit and evangelism. Since the latter part of the nineteenth century Africa has witnessed various Pentecostal renewals which have changed the landscape of the whole continent. One of the results of these revivals is that Africans are now bringing the Gospel back to Europe and other parts of the world. This reverse in missions has been a recent phenomenon, and has been a fascinating subject for Missiologists, Church Historians, Anthropologists and Religious Scholars. In order for us to appreciate and understand this reverse in missions there is the need to first consider the efforts of European missionaries in Africa.

There is the general assumption today that Christianity first came to Africa through the European missionaries in the nineteenth century. This assumption has to be challenged in the light of the understanding that there is African Christianity which has its origin in North Africa. Two Patristic Churches which have survived till today are the Coptic Church in Egypt and the Orthodox Church in Ethiopia. African Christianity was so successful in the first three hundred years of the Church that it produced great theologians such as Tertullian (AD 150-225), Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (AD 200-258) and Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-431), whose works have defined and shaped Western theology till today. In addition, African Christianity produced monks, martyrs and theological institutions of their day. However, Christianity died out in North Africa except in Egypt and Ethiopia, and did not resurface until the middle ages.

During the middle ages attempts were made to plant Christianity in North Africa. This was majorly through Roman Catholic orders such as the Dominicans and the Franciscans. Their attempts were successful to some extent, but the Portuguese explorers of the fifteenth century succeeded more than them. These Portuguese explorers were Roman Catholics and they took the Gospel to the south of the Sahara. Exploration and proclamation of the Gospel went hand in hand. As successful as their attempts were, Christianity was not sustained for several factors, the major factor being the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The third attempt to plant Christianity in Africa was in the nineteenth century and this was by far the most successful missionary enterprise in Africa. The Evangelical revival in Europe inspired European missionaries to go to Africa, Asia and different parts of the world. In Africa, this age of mission witnessed the building of schools, hospitals, Universities, transport systems and communication networks. The missionaries were successful to the extent that African clergies and elites were produced. It was these clergies and elites who later fought for the emancipation of Africa.

After an overview of European missions to Africa, let us now consider the missions of Africans to Europe. It is erroneous to associate the origins of Africans in Europe to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Archaeological evidence suggests that North African soldiers were involved in Roman Britain towards the end of the first century. In addition, European contact with Africa through trade and commerce resulted in an increase in the number of Africans in Britain in the fifteenth century. One of King Henry VIII’s trumpeters has been suggested to be a black man. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade, which started with the Portuguese explorers, certainly brought many Africans to Britain and other parts of Europe. It was during the slave trade and its aftermath that African Christians such as Olaudah Equiano (1745-97), Ignatius Sanchos (1729-1780), Quobna Ottobah Cugoano (1757-179?) and a host of others appeared and made their contributions in speaking out against the injustice of slavery and racism that was so prevalent at the time.

The first Church founded by an African in Europe is a Pentecostal Church by the name of Summer Road Chapel. This Church started in Peckham circa 1906 by Rev Thomas Kwame Brem-Wilson (1855-1929), a Ghanaian business man. The Church later became affiliated with the Assemblies of God in Britain. The Church is today known as Sureway International Ministries and has relocated to Herne Hill in South London. The second African Church and mission agency founded in Europe by an African was the African Church Mission which started in Liverpool in 1931. It was founded by Daniel Ekarte (1890s-1964), a Nigerian who was influenced by the Scottish missionary Mary Slessor (1848-1915). Ekarte’s mission agency was successful in meeting the social, psychological and spiritual needs of Africans and other ethnic minorities living in Liverpool. His Church later became a homeless shelter for mixed race children who were rejected by the society. However Ekarte’s mission was cut short due to institutional racism and lack of funds. The mission agency was shut down in 1964, the year Ekarte also died.

The next phase of Church planting by Africans in Europe was circa 1960s when many African nations witnessed independence from their European masters. African Initiated Churches (AICs) as they are called were planted in London. African students, diplomats and those in search of better life migrated to Europe, especially Britain in the 1960s. It was these Africans who started planting Churches in Europe.  There are several factors why these African Churches were planted in Europe, but suffice to mention here is that exclusion from mainstream Churches as well as the conviction of missions overseas was at the heart of the matter. The 1990s witnessed the rise of New Pentecostal Churches (NPC) with African origins. For example, one of the largest Churches in Western Europe is Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC) founded in 1992 by Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo (Nigerian); also one of the largest Churches in Eastern Europe was founded in 1994 by an African, Sunday Adelaja pastor of Embassy of God in Kiev, Ukraine. African Churches in Europe are making many contributions and are bringing renewal to a continent that is fast loosing its Christian roots and values. The contributions of African Churches can be seen in the following areas; Church growth, social cohesion among ethnic minorities, community development, women’s ministries and discourses, immigration services, diaspora studies, revival, missions and a host of others.

African Churches in Europe are without doubt making their impact on the continent; however they do have their short comings. These weaknesses are, lack of ecumenical partnerships, transplanting African Christianity to Europe without contextualising, mono-ethnic mission strategies, abuse of prosperity theology, lack of involvement in global issues such as human trafficking and poverty. Nevertheless, it must be mentioned that these Churches, compared to European missions in Africa, have only been in Europe for a relatively short period and that they are still in the process of adapting and acclimatising to their new environment. Let us give them a chance

 

 

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About israelolofinjana

Rev Israel Oluwole Olofinjana is an ordained and accredited Baptist minister and has pastored Crofton Park Baptist Church (2007-2011) and Catford Community Church (2011-2013). He is currently the pastor of Woolwich Central Baptist Church, a multicultural church in south east London. He is Nigerian coming from a Pentecostal background. He holds a BA (Hons) in Religious Studies from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and MTh from Carolina University of Theology (CUT). Israel is the editor of “Turning the Tables on Mission: Stories of Christians from the Global South in the UK” and author of “Reverse in Ministry and Missions: Africans in the Dark Continent of Europe” and “20 Pentecostal Pioneers in Nigeria” He has spoken in a number of conferences regarding reverse mission and Black Majority Churches (BMCs) and has also contributed to academic journals and Christian magazines on the subject of Black Majority Churches (BMC) in Britain. He is currently co-opted as a member of the Baptist Union Council. Israel is also one of the Directors of Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World an initiative design to train and equip pastors and missionaries from the South. He is a member of the Global Connections council. When he is not preaching or writing he is playing with Lego! He is happily married to Lucy who works as an administrator and research co-ordinator for the Evangelical Alliance. She is a graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), earning a BA in Social Anthropology and International Development. Lucy loves baking and watching movies!
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One Response to Reverse Missions: African Churches in Europe

  1. Pingback: ‘A love I seemed to lose with my lost saints’: Mission and evangelical identity | Shored Fragments

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