The “Christian mission” is one of the most important aspects of the current religious state in Africa. The Christian mission originated with the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the subsequent spread of his teachings. In its most basic form, the mission is essentially the attempt to render Christianity as being universal; as being the most relevant religion in the world. In relation to Africa, the expansion of Christianity began in Ethiopia. An Eastern style of Christianity was taught, but a lack of political framework led to its fall. In northern Africa, the colonial expansion of imperial Rome led to an evangelization of the area, but the decline and eventual collapse of the Roman Empire brought any influence it had on northern Africa with it. More attempts to colonize Africa brought limited success of the Christian mission in the form of missionaries teaching the ways of Jesus Christ, but without a central focus on the mission, it again did not take much root.
Beginning with the Portuguese and eventually the French, Methodists, Quakers, Dutch, and Anglican Evangelical Church, each group had limited success spreading Christianity, though only on the coasts of Africa. It was only after the exploration and colonization of the interior of Africa that the mission finally started to make its mark. Exploration was pioneered by the African Association of London, and then others such as Livingstone followed. The main purpose of colonization was for slave trade, but missionaries were also involved with the process. The early missions were considered to be “national” missions, linking the religion to the state. The mission was not universal; it associated with the colonial power. This prevented Christianity from having much success in Africa, even though the governments of the colonial powers aided the missionaries. The governments funded the building of churches and religious institutes. Thus, even though the missionaries envisioned more success in converting people to Christianity when not directly associated with their native countries, they did rely on them to build a foundation.
The second step in the spreading of the mission in Africa was the use of propaganda through various means, primarily literature. The missionaries taught of the good news contained within the bible. Compassion was also emphasized for the “poor black”, who was a victim of malady, slavery, and ignorance. The missionaries were openly against slavery, and this was a key point in gaining support of the African people. Groups such as the White Fathers and Daughters of Mary were formed, which campaigned against slavery and instead focused on humanity and charity. The propaganda of the missions focused on the youth, as it was more difficult to persuade the elder peoples. Christianity was said to overthrow the entire traditional social culture, and thus many older people were skeptical about it. Missionaries set up schools for the youth, so that along with educating them, they could feed them information about Christianity at a young age, and gain their support. Hospitals and dispensaries were also built with Christian undertones. This use of propaganda was successful in spreading the Christian mission, but the missionaries were still dependent on their colonial powers.
It was only when the churches in Africa became self sufficient that Christianity truly took hold. When the churches did not depend on their corresponding colonial power for economic and diplomatic support, they were better able to gain the confidence of the African people, and also expand. The African churches in the south became dependent on the African churches in the north, which showed how Christianity was now the emphasis, not the colonial power. The final objective was to then have the African people be self sufficient, and not rely on the missionaries to spread the word of Jesus Christ. The goal of the missionaries was not just to convert the African peoples, but to cultivate and transform them. They wanted them to transcend their original culture and initiate the mission themselves. The African peoples were to teach the new generations, in the words of Cameroon Bishop Thomas Nkuissi, that “Jesus Christ sets us free.”
I believe that the treatment of this theme is well justified. It seems logical that the Christian mission in Africa could not have begun without the colonization of the country. It seems necessary that the colonial powers would first have to establish themselves in the exterior and interior of Africa; otherwise the missionaries would have no basis to spread Christianity. The colonial powers set the foundation for the missionaries, by cultivating the land and subduing the African people, making it much easier for the missionaries to do their job. The use of propaganda by the missionaries also seems like a key point in the mission, as the Africans really had no reason to convert to Christianity. By use of schools, hospitals, and literature, the missionaries were able to gain favor of the African peoples. Finally, I agree that the mission was completed when the African people were in a way transformed and were convinced to spread the word on their own. They were the now the persons to initiate the mission, not the missionaries. These three treatments all appear to be major steps in the Christian mission.