Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why are we not sending out African missionaries?

One experience that often refreshes my heart when I visit the USA is when I meet Christians telling me that they are sensing a call to go as missionaries to Africa or Asia and are actively praying and preparing to that end. I often ask myself the question, “Why don’t I hear this back home? Why are our own people not thinking about taking the gospel to far away lands that desperately need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ? Doesn’t God want to use Africans in missions too?”

The individuals who speak like this are often young couples raising very young families. They speak about going to places where they will be far away from their families and friends, where they will forego many of the comforts of Western life, and where they will be exposed to disease and danger. Yet they speak with great excitement and anticipation. It is something they want to do for Christ and for the gospel. They sense that this is what will bring fulfilment to their lives.

We can easily say, with a very judgemental spirit, that these are individuals who have failed to make it in life in their own country, and so they want to get out onto the mission field in order to survive. Let us suppose that was true about some of them. Well, then, why don’t those in our circles “who have failed to make it in life” come forward asking us to send them as missionaries into our rural areas or into impoverished and dangerous countries in Asia? Even that is not happening here!

We are still a receiving church
I think that there are a few reasons why we hardly experience this phenomenon in Africa. To begin with, we are still very much a receiving church. We still see missions as something the white man does. After all, they are the ones who brought the gospel to us so many years ago. Due to this unconscious view, we do not feel guilty about this sin of omission. It is like children in a home who do not participate in raising funds for the education of their siblings even when they have started working. “It is the responsibility of mom and dad. After all, they are the ones who brought us into this world!”

David Brainerd preaching to the American Indians
Missions is absent in our worship services
I also think that it is because the subject of missions does not occupy any meaningful part in our regular worship. I have noticed that in many churches in the USA, there is a deliberate effort to focus prayer on specific countries of the world that are most needy spiritually. This is often also included in the church bulletin for that particular Sunday. Hence, children grow up in church thinking about the worldwide needs as far as gospel work is concerned. This bears fruit as they begin to wrestle with what to do with their lives in their late teens and early adulthood.

That is not the case here in Africa. The average church in Africa does not have any specific section of its worship dedicated to the subject of missions. Everything is inward looking. Even when you come to the church prayer meetings, the requests are about sick uncles and aunts, travelling mercies for those going out of town, money for school fees, etc. It is not God’s worldwide agenda at the centre of the prayer times but individual needs within the church. Missions is conspicuous by its absence!

We think we are too poor
I think that another reason is that we see the lack of money as a real hindrance towards the work of missions, especially when it involves crossing lands and seas. How can I find myself in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, or Uzbekistan, without having a pocket full of money like the Americans? We think, “If I am already struggling to survive financially in a place where I have friends and relatives, how much more if I go to a place where I do not know anyone and the people are hostile to the Christian religion?” Hence, the work of missions is not an option.

What we fail to realise is that most Americans who have to make their way to Africa or Asia (or anywhere else in the world) spend an entire year or more going from church to church to raise their support. Many of their supporters give small amounts regularly. They often have to survive with very little support coming in. They also have to spend some of that money to keep their supporters well informed as to what is going on in the field so that their financial and prayer support can continue. Sometimes disaffection creeps into their relationship with their supporters and the tap runs dry. However, despite all this, the missionaries still want to serve the cause of the gospel abroad.

We lack African role models
We also lack role models. Whereas we have church pastors serving in African churches, we do not have African missionaries who can come to our churches with reports of how God is extending his kingdom through their labours in foreign lands. We do not even have such biographies in our bookstores for our young people to read and be inspired. All our missionary biographies are about Western missionaries, and so we relate to them the way in which we relate to movie actors. We are mesmerised by what we read but we conclude that these are not men of like passion as ourselves.

That is not the case with our American friends. They read biographies of men like David Brainerd and Adoniram Judson and can relate to the towns where they grew up and the schools they went to. They can understand the sacrifice that they made to leave their own world to go and serve among the local Indians and the Burmese across the oceans. They sense that the same God is also calling them to leave their comfort zones and go into places of poverty, disease, and danger for the sake of the gospel.

Adoniram Judson
So what should we do?
Therefore, there are a number of challenges that come to us today, those of us who are pastoring churches in Africa. We need to teach our people regularly that the days when the church in Africa was an infant are over. The days of receiving must give way to days of giving. The Great Commission is as much our responsibility as it is the responsibility of Christians in the West. We also need to serious make space for information from the mission field and prayer for missions work in other countries—especially the most needy countries of the world. There will never be a burden unless statistics are known.

Those of us who are pastoring churches in Africa also need to network with other churches, both within and outside Africa, in order to raise funds for the work of missions. Yes, in comparison to our Western friends, we are poor; but if we can pool our resources together we can do something. Where our Western friends are sending out thousands of missionaries, we will send out hundreds of indigenous missionaries.

And finally, we need to seriously look for African role models. Surely, we should have a few dynamic men and women who have left the bright lights of the African cities to plant churches in rural areas. We must have a few African men and women who have quietly gone into Islamic and Communist countries to spread abroad the aroma of Christ. We need to know them and put their heroic examples before our people.

The Zambian Annual Reformed Family Conference and School of Theology this year is on the theme, “Missions—Not Beyond Our Reach.” It will be addressing this very matter. So, if you are able to join us, please mark Monday 27 to Friday 31 August in your diary. We need to put our heads together and turn the tide around. We as an African church need to take our place in the grand purpose of God in world missions. We can do it. Missions is certainly not beyond our reach!


  1. Yes yes yes! I am so thankful to see you write this, and so thankful to read the list of "stan" countries you put forth as well! I pray God will raise up African missionaries to get into those very places!

  2. Dear Brother... What a blessing to read you and others taking the lead in this. I couldn't agree more. And while you're doing your planning for missions, you might want to consider the USA as a potential mission field! With Christian love from your friend and brother, David (Lipsy)

  3. This was great to read. Challenging and exciting at the same time; something to be praying about and sharing with fellow African believers - those living on the continent and off it.
    Thanks, Pastor Mbewe.

  4. I like what HeartCry is doing with indigenous missionaries. I know one guy that came from Africa and planted a church in Vinita, OK of all places. (A very small town). I also no a man in Uganda his name is Bill. He is so solid but receives very little support. I hope that you can meet him one day. He travels to neighboring countries some times but he has planted a small church that he is being persecuted for. I could tell you lots of stories but maybe I can get this brother to tell you instead. In the mean time I will pray that Africa gains a heart for missions and that God provides the means to spread his word. Thank you Pastor Mbewe

  5. Spot on! We (African churches) seem to give all sorts of excuses for our disobedience! We have been given so much that we indeed need to share accross the continents and preach the gospel. Oh that we may awake from our slumber and preach Christ and Him crucified

  6. Two role models for Africans are Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheately, who were both taken from Africa as slaves in the 1700s, but then God used their testimony to spread the Gospel and to eventually help abolish slavery in later years.

  7. Inspiring article, Pastor Mbewe, and soul-searching too. It’s time the church arose to this challenge and also to that of reading and writing. I believe there are many gifted Christian writers in Africa who just need to create time to pen down stories of those missionaries from Africa who have gone out. Just recently, I was reading about Pastor Nsenduluka’s mission work in Botswana, Namibia and currently in India.

  8. There are a great many domestic missionaries; at least in Kenya where I the professional sense of missionary. By this I mean a Kenyan person doing mission work in Kenya.

    However we are all called to mission work of some kind, ie: spreading the gospel (the person and work of Jesus Christ) be it in our walk, talk, manner of dress, exchanges with neighbors. So in that sense I think there are many missionaries that are African people. More so than Americans maybe!

    Lets talk about finances for a moment, too. As an American I would have to raise a certain amount of money in order to serve the Lord as a missionary in Kenya with a particular organization. The financial amount is set by that organization according to their set-up and advanced knowledge of country, area, and ecomonics that I will be moving into. From an American stand point the annual amount needed for a missionary in Kenya is less than poverty level (according to the US Fed. Tax amounts). Now for a Kenyan person striving to raise money to be a missionary in the US or UK or Austalia, not only would they have to work against an exchange rate that is not in their favor, they also would have an enormous cost of living difference that they would also need to raise just to provide at the poverty level in the US. I'm not saying it can't be done or that the Lord can't provide because He certainly can; all I'm saying is, the financial amounts need to be raised can be staggering when going from a developing country to a developed country. And in a country with 50% unemployment, high numbers of HIV orphans and widows; a person looking at all that money can see how many more people it can help at home than to take it all for one person or family overseas.

    Just a few points to consider. I have been in Kenya since 2005 and do not claim to be anything more than an obedient servant of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

  9. It's worth connecting this post with the report of the recent "Chosen Generations Missions Conference" held at the beginning of July in Malawi:

    Exciting times!

  10. My Brother, It its so overwhelming to read this write up. I am a young African Missionary in Botswana. All the points you raised are soo very true. Its my prayer that the church in Africa will wake up to its responsibility and Go out. as the fastest growing in the world we should have moved from being a receiving continent but should be sending out missionaries with this blessing of Salvation.