The "Wind of Change" In Africa
Apapa, Lagos, Nigeria
(NOTE: Bro. Diestelkamp; an associate editor of this journal, has spent almost two years in Nigeria, Africa declaring the Gospel to the people of that far-off country. He will soon return to us, and we anxiously await that return. As he draws to a close his work in Nigeria he looks to the future. Those interested in the future of Africa will be profited by reading this article. -Ed.)
No doubt you have read in the newspapers and magazines of "The wind of change" that is taking place in this vast continent. Politically nation after nation has been given freedom. Independence has been the new order of the day. In just a very few years, many new nations have sprung up, carved out of the colonial fortunes formerly held by European powers. You are aware that in some cases the freedom was given prematurely, and great and world-wide trouble has been the result. In some other cases law and order has generally prevailed and it seems certain that some of the new nations will soon take their place among the powers of the world as proper, legitimate and steadfast governments. Furthermore, it seems quite positive that the black race that dominates this continent will no longer be subjected to impositions of a foreign power and a different race.
But, religiously, too, Africa is changing. In this brief paper I want to point out what seem to me as certain signs, many . of which are not good. The purpose is not to discourage work here, but rather to stimulate it now, while we still- have opportunity. There are four very evil forces at work in this land, any one of which, and certainly all of which together, can darken the future of this people and can complicate the work of the Lord's people, making much-:more difficult the task of reaching the lost.
Go with me on almost any Saturday or Sunday into almost any town or city and we shall find the streets full of gaily dressed women, dancing furiously, being led by a few boys or men with drums and sometimes with masks. In other parades there will be great crowds of boys or men, some masked, drumming and dancing, marching up one street and down another. Some may at first think it is nothing more than a display of worldliness, but behind it all is paganism and idolatry. Somewhere nearby in each town, hidden away from common view, is a pagan shrine, and also a place of manufacture and sale for images, etc. Natives tell us that even those who become believers in God and Christ often "Go back to their Jit-Ju" in time of real trouble. They may "go to church" on Sunday but on Monday if their baby becomes sick they may get out that old image and perform the rites that are supposed to bring from it blessings and cures.
The extent of superstition is easily seen in the street preaching we do. After preaching, we allow questions from the crowd. Often someone will ask, "Why do the wicked live longer?" or "Why do the wicked prosper more?" Nigeria is one of the most enlightened nations among the African people, yet in 1960 as we approached that long-awaited independence day, and as plans for great celebrations developed, the public was shocked to learn that from high places had gone out a large sum of money to hire the Ju-Ju performers to prevent rain at the time of the ceremonies. Indeed there are changes in Africa, but one change that prevails too often is a reversion to paganism.
I never did take the Moslem faith seriously until I came to this Western Region of Nigeria. But in these months here it has become evident that it is far from the dead religion I had supposed. In fact, all over the world some signs are being seen, showing that it is a spreading religion. Here, many, many are joining in that movement, and their "prophets" are out preaching and teaching everywhere, using street-meetings, radio, newspaper, cottage meetings, and tracts as means of spreading their teaching.
Many people in Africa are attracted to the Moslem faith because of the following characteristics: (1) They are told: "Christians are divided; Moslems are united." In other words they do not have to make a choice between differing sects. Of course, in reality there are different groups among Mohammedans throughout the world, but at least here they can present a fairly united front. (2) The Moslem faith claims to fit into the African culture. In other words, the practice of polygamy is endorsed, making it an "ideal" religion for the "needs" of people who have always desired and practiced this evil. (3) Mohammedanism is a religion o f works, and these are spelled out, taking responsibility off the individual if he just follows the specified things (He must pray five times per day, prostrating himself in certain ways; if he does certain sin, then he must feed so many beggars to make up for his guilt). Because these works are specified, there is less responsibility upon the believer in making choices. (4) It is lawful, according to the Koran, for the Moslem religion to be spread by means of warfare or other forceful methods. For this reason many are now following that system because their parents were forced to do so.
If Africa is to become a great world-power, then Mohammedanism shall also be even more significant force in the world. Already much of Asia and Africa are devoted to this system, and recent years have shown much more growth and development, and it is high time that people everywhere awake to this danger and become aware of the: vitality, zeal and enthusiasm of its devotees.
When I say that Communism is coming to Africa, it can hardly be classed as. a prophecy, but rather as a simple statement of fact. Of course Communism is a world-wide threat, and in some form or fashion it is invading almost every nation on earth today, but Africa is a significantly fertile field for it. For so very long these people have been in poverty-they have known nothing else, not only in this generation, but in every generation, for centuries-and they visualize a financial paradise in a system that promises to put down the rich imperialists and that talks loudly of the overthrow of all "Colonialism." (How sad it is that these people cannot see the deceit in Communism, and that it seems impossible to convince them that there is no greater oppressor and no more wicked "Colonialist" today than the U.S.S.R.)
But most Americans, and perhaps most people who believe in Christ today, assume that almost all of Africa is friendly to the `Christian world" and is strongly opposed to the Communistic forces. True, the common people in most places may still be so, but many in high places use every opportunity to praise Communism and every chance to lament and criticize "Christian nations." One popular newspaper columnist here advised, "If the Devil offers you .a scholarship, take it." Indeed, for a "mess of pottage" these people may sell out to Communism and only a few years remain until this is accomplished, or else I shall be a very bad judge of trends. Some will come under your banner, wave your flag, wear your name and "join your church" even if some friend has only hinted to them that some benefit may be derived for a while here on earth. This is not simply a criticism of the people. It is a statement of conditions that do exist, resulting from the environment.
Many unlearned African people surely almost think the Russians are black. All other (or almost all other) white people are wicked imperialists, but the Communists are the true benefactors of the poor, according to the press here. We have seen Communism surge forward in swift strides in Eastern Europe, in northern Asia, in Laos, in Cuba and other places. Watch Africa!
There is no vitality and very little real religion in denominationalism here. The work of the early missionaries was significant in helping to civilize the people, but that is about as far as it reached. It never did go beyond the work of civilizing very far. The institutionalized mission stations have been accepted by the natives as places where they could receive a few pills, a bandage for a wound or even perhaps a few months of schooling for a child. The missionaries taught them to be good, to deal honestly, etc., but the new birth into Christ, pardon of guilt, judgment to come are hardly known. The natives have learned to expect something to be given to them, but have not learned to give themselves. And, since they think of Christianity as a religion providing a physical reward for them, and very little more, there is often nothing more than a physical drawing power in it, and certainly little more than a material incentive for it.
Because these conditions do prevail, and because the future does not look too bright, then real Christians should be more concerned today. Tomorrow may be too late. Some doors are gradually closing now. Soon, no doubt, some countries will not admit foreign preachers. But today thousands will gladly hear the one who will go to them, proclaiming the salvation message. Of course some will ".follow" for ulterior motives. Many sincere ones will fall by the wayside in time of temptation. Family ties, traditional bonds and prevailing wickedness will cause many to falter. Yet, some will be true. Deep devotion, complete subjectiveness and consecrated service characterizes the lives of many converts.
I may only guess what the future holds for the gospel in Africa, but I can be certain about the present. Souls are ready to hear. Out of the multitudes some can be made to cry out, "What must I do?" Heaven's population will surely include some from this generation and from this land. If the evil forces I have mentioned must cause us to look to the future with dread and fear, even so today's abundant opportunities must make us hasten to reach just as many as possible while we can. Indeed, "The harvest is great, but the laborers are few" and the storm clouds are not far away that may soon end the work in the field of ripened grain. Let. us not fail to plant, cultivate and harvest now. The gospel will save and God will gather in many from this land in that last great day.
Truth Magazine, V:9, pp. 2-4