By Paul K. Williams
In modern times the earliest preaching of the gospel in Africa that I know about was when H.F. Short went to southern Africa in 1922. He and his family went to Rhodesia and continued there until his death more than 50 years later. His son, Foy Short, lived and preached there until he went to America about ten years ago. Foy continues to make preaching trips to Zimbabwe, which is the modern name for Rhodesia.
In South Africa preaching began about 1949 with a radio program sponsored by the Central church in Cleburne, Texas. A number of American preachers then came to South Africa and churches were established all over the country. Preaching was done in other southern African countries (Nyasaland [Malawi] and Northern Rhodesia [Zambia]).
The split over institutionalism occurred in the mid-1960s. Old H.F. (Papa) Short was liberal, his son, Foy, was conservative. So the pattern of the split in the U.S. was followed in southern Africa.
At present in South Africa there are at least six American gospel preachers and seven white South African preachers, together with about that number of fully-supported black South African preachers. The churches in many places are entering a mature state, though there are no elders in any of the churches.
Some preaching is being done in Namibia, Botswana and Mozam- bique, all of which border on South Africa
Nigeria is the other country in Africa where a great deal of gospel preaching has been done. At one time I heard an estimate of 30,000 Christians in that country. For the last 25 years no American gospel preacher has been located there, though a number of brethren have gone there for preaching trips.
A few years ago Paul Ayres and Alan Turner went to Kenya. There are a few faithful churches in that country now.
I do not know of preaching in other countries of Africa. North Africa is solidly Muslim and preaching of the gospel is forbidden. I don’t think there are any churches of the Lord in the countries which were formerly French or Belgian colonies.
Africa is a continent of poor people. It has been evangelized by denominational missionaries so that in most places the Bible is respected and people believe in Jesus. But they usually mix their traditional religions (usually the worship of their ancestors) with the “Christian” message. The missionaries were from the traditional European denominations — Church of England, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, Roman Catholic — so they are well-represented in Africa. The Pentecostal denominations appeal greatly with their promise of miracles and spiritual gifts. And Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and even Mormons are actively making converts. Some of the biggest denominations are indigenous mixtures of ancestor worship and the worship of Jesus.
Ancestor worship governs the lives of most Africans. Young converts almost always have trouble from their families who regard their children as traitors to their culture when they leave ancestor worship. Most denominations tolerate ancestor worship among their members.
Sexual immorality is the rule rather than the exception. Children are often, perhaps usually, sexually active from the time of puberty. Many more than half of all children are born to unwed teen-age mothers. AIDS is spreading like wildfire as a result. The denominations tolerate their members living in fornication, and when we preach and enforce the message that Christians must not commit fornication, we are standing virtually alone.
How the Gospel Spreads
Because of their poverty and thirst for knowledge, young people love to write the correspondence Bible course. When we put up tents in rural areas they flock to attend. Most of the ones who respond to the gospel are young people.
There is a large fall-away percentage. However, there is a minority who truly give their lives to Christ and are faithful day in and day out. The result is growing churches in most areas.
Just as the new churches in Bible times needed much teaching and encouragement and admonition, so it is in Africa. It seems there will never be enough teaching. How thankful to God for those who have come from America to preach here, and how thankful to see Africans growing so that they are becoming faithful and effective gospel preachers. But, oh, so much needs to be done.
Pray for Africa.
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