Can the African Church Claim Africa’s Islamic Rim?
American and African Leaders Express Their Views
The Question: Do the national churches of Africa have the vision and the resources to penetrate Africa’s Islamic Rim?
Africa’s Islamic Rim (AIR) is formed by more than 80 Islamic people groups on the continent’s coastline, stretching from Sierra Leone on the west, across northern Africa and down the eastern coast to Mozambique. In this area, more than 100 million people are without an adequate witness of the gospel.
Recently I read a fascinating book titled “Can Africa Claim the 21st Century?” Published by the World Bank, it presented a positive affirmation of the countries and people of Africa and projected three axioms as a foundation for its conclusions: (1) Multiethnic states can grow as fast as homogeneous ones if they sustain participatory political systems; (2) The fate of Africa in the new century will be determined not by outsiders, but by Africans; (3) African solutions to African problems should not be seen as an excuse for international disengagement.
These axioms certainly apply to the African church and mission organizations working with them. A key word is “participatory.” High levels of participation by national and local churches, leaders and laymen will be the cement that produces a strong foundation. Missionaries need to nurture and affirm determined African leaders as they assume greater responsibility and accountability.
Key missionaries and Africans were asked, “Can the African Church Claim Africa’s Islamic Rim? Here are their responses:
“I respond with a hardy YES.
“There is a strong solidarity movement that appreciates the distinctives God has given the people who inhabit this unique continent. People have an attitude that says, with the help of the Lord—and a little help from those outside the continent—we can do it.
“Many powerful national churches across the continent have a heart for reaching Africa for Christ. They have the people and passion to accomplish the task. Some have resources to assist their people in ministering cross-culturally.
“The national churches and partnering missions need to be made aware of the challenges of the Islamic Rim. Then the national church needs to speak to its pastors, students and laity about responding to God's call to serve in the Rim.
“Those who believe God is calling them need training and testing. Devising a simple but adequate curriculum and training context will be a priority.
“Financial support methods need to be developed, including a combination of tent-making and church-based giving. Support also needs to come from partnering missions.
“Developing sodalities will be necessary to facilitate multinational teams of workers in Rim countries where no church exists. These sodalities will need to help provide strategies for ministry, assist in distributing financial support, and offer encouragement in the face of spiritual and physical resistance.”
“The thought of encouraging stronger national churches to minister among the least reached people groups is great. Two things can and should happen. First, encourage churches to vigorously mobilize prayer for these people groups. Second, start sensitizing believers to the possibility of going to the Islamic Rim with a specific strategy.
“I further suggest partnership in adoption. Perhaps two national churches could adopt a least reached people group.
“The next hurdle will be proper and strategic training for pioneers in these areas.”
“I think the question is less ‘CAN’ the African church claim Africa’s Rim and more ‘WHEN’ will the church claim Africa’s Rim.
“God continues to fan the flame of missions in the African church. Churches and leaders are slowly discovering that God’s plan for missions includes Africa, not just Western or wealthy nations. All believers are called to participate in taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. As this new awareness permeates the church in Africa, God is calling missionaries from across the continent and they are already venturing into the Islamic Rim. Unfortunately, the church as a sending platform is lagging. Often missionaries receive the call without the capacity to respond because their churches are not ready to send.
“Some churches lack response because of ignorance. They don’t understand the incredible need of the least reached people of the world. As the church gains knowledge of the Islamic Rim, the Holy Spirit will burden hearts to send missionaries.
“Others don’t respond because they feel that the church in Africa is too poor to do missions. Yet when looking at the numbers, the tremendous potential of the church in Africa is clearly evident, despite the poverty. When every believer participates on the level of individual ability, the collective outcome provides the finances to do missions. The issue is one of vision and partnership, not of poverty.
“Momentum is shifting. More and more churches in Africa are responding to the challenge of missions and the Islamic Rim.”
Jerry, Research Consultant
Thank you for clearly expressing your confidence in the ability of African national churches to claim Africa’s Islamic Rim. You outlined a number of things that need to take place: create awareness; present the need; develop curriculum, training and financial support methods; and developing sodalities where needed.
Several of those items have received preliminary discussion and have been dealt with in some measure, either at the regional or continental level. However, two points have received little attention.
1. Awareness of the Islamic Rim and its unique challenges.
Yesterday a veteran U.S. missionary looked at Patrick Johnstone’s map showing the concentrations of Islam and Christianity across Africa. As he viewed the statistics, he told me, “I have worked with Muslims and heard many statistics, but until I looked at this map I was unaware of an Islamic Rim.”
In an attempt to alert the African church to this need, a teaching resource kit dealing with Africa’s Islamic Rim is being distributed to Bible schools and other missions-minded individuals. This is a beginning, but it will take a lot of time and effort to create an overall awareness.
2. Develop sodalities that can facilitate multinational teams of workers.
It seems those sodalities would need to provide an “easy to enter” structure to accommodate multiple African national churches and establish a format that functions among people groups where no believers or churches exist and among people groups/countries where there is some Christian presence.
Thanks for your insightful response. Prayer is certainly the number one priority! I just read a definition of prayer by Joy Dawson in her book “Intercession.” She wrote, “Prayer is bringing God into every situation and asking Him to change it from something natural into something supernatural so that He can get all the glory.”
I like the adoption idea. It's fresh. Nigeria has used this concept effectively in reaching people groups within its borders.
Your belief in the African church is evident. Perhaps one of the challenges is to see that same kind of contagious confidence arise in the hearts of ordinary African believers and leaders.
Perhaps when speaking of "vision" one needs to include structure and strategy along with an awareness of spiritual need.
We can do a number of things to help people "look" at the Islamic Rim, but only the Lord can touch their hearts and move them to action. I have been impressed recently with Luke 24:49: "The Lord opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures."
Your projection of a united effort on the part of local and national churches is a necessity. However, across Africa a variance may exist in the amount of money available. For example, South Africa may have more financial resources than Cameroon, which might alter the structure and objectives of their individual mission programs.
Questions Posed by Participants
1. Should one or two significant people groups be prayerfully selected and serve as a role model for other future efforts?
(Jerry) I think this is an excellent idea. Perhaps select one on the west and one on the east,
allowing workers to gain a little experience before placing them on the northern section of the
Islamic Rim. Would this require a decision by a continental committee, or do you see one national
church leading the way and inviting others to join them?
(Doug) For the countries where we have no church (e.g. Somalia, Djibouti), we could talk of churches partnering to reach a people group in these countries.
But where we have a viable church (e.g. Kenya) could we talk with national leaders, missions organizations and Bible School personnel about adopting and targeting at least one RIM people group living along their coast?
Could Tanzania do the same? Could Malawi partner with Mozambique to do the same, etc.?
2. How would one go about generating prayer support for AIR?
(Doug) Perhaps missions and national church administrators could be included in this dialog.
The next hurdle will be proper and strategic training for pioneers into these areas. In reference to resources, are there any that can be used for sensitization and mobilization?
A key question is this: What can we do to help the church gain the knowledge and vision needed to respond more quickly to the missions challenge in the Islamic Rim?
(Jerry) The Africa's Islamic Rim teaching resource kit prepared by Africa's Hope includes four
maps, a CD that contains a PowerPoint presentation for classroom use and a 5-minute video clip. These are the clearest presentations of the Islamic Rim currently available.
Profiles of the various people groups on the Islamic Rim can be obtained at www.joshuaproject.net. (Click on “Unreached,” then "Profiles," and select the country and people group).
(Doug) Could countries where there is a national church receive the AIR teaching resource kit? Could someone go to either/both the church leaders and the national Bible schools to present the need and the kit?