Will Africa Ever Get It Right?

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Africa might not be doing well economically, but the church there is thriving!

This disturbing question, which headlines a recent article in The Economist (April 26, 2007) magazine, is a question that an increasing number of observers have been asking lately. The article laments the fact that, on average, real income per person in the 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa rose by only 25% between 1960 and 2005. By way of comparison, over the same time period income in East Asia rose by 850%! The more recent history is even bleaker. Real income per capita in Sub-Saharan Africa actually dropped by 4.4% between 1980 and 2005. That's right, the average person in Sub-Saharan Africa is poorer today than twenty-five years ago. Will Africa ever get it right?

I spent the last five months of 2006 living in Uganda and Kenya with my wife and three children. We saw the devastation of AIDS, the gnawing hunger in the eyes of malnourished children, the omni-presence of debilitating malaria, and the havoc wreaked by civil war. We did not even come close to seeing the worst of it, yet we saw enough to feel a sense of despair and hopelessness about the magnitude of the problems around us. We often thought, "Will Africa ever get it right?"

But amidst the carnage, there is incredible reason for hope in Africa, a hope that originates in the church. In The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, historian Philip Jenkins notes that by 2025, in terms of numbers of adherents, Africa will have replaced Europe and the United States as the center of Christianity. And by 2050, Uganda alone is expected to have more Christians than the largest four or five European nations combined. What is causing the explosion of the church in Africa? Jenkins observes (p. 92):

"None of the reasons why churches have been growing so astonishingly in the global South [Africa, Asia, and Latin America] is likely to change in the near future. These emerging churches work so well because they appeal to the very different demographics of their communities, and do best among the young and displaced migrants in mushrooming mega-cities. The most successful new denominations target their message very directly at the have-nots, or rather, the have nothings."

Jenkins' observations should come as no surprise. God is in the habit of working with those whom the world considers to be at the bottom. In fact, it is a strategy God has been using successfully for thousands of years:

"Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before Him. (I Corinthians 1:26-29)"

While the Chalmers Center plays a miniscule role in what’s happening in the church in Africa, the real story is God's glorious plan to call a people for Himself from every tongue, tribe, and nation, including those from the continent of Africa. Of course, the church in Africa is full of problems. So are the churches that you and I attend. But I hope you will join with the Chalmers Center in seeing that perhaps the right question is not "Will Africa ever get it right?" but rather, "Will the church around the world ever learn from the amazing things that God is doing in the church in Africa?"

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