As missionaries prepare for the missionary task, I recognize that they have a long list of things to consider. My intention isn’t to be burdensome or unhelpful. Instead, I’m sharing my experiences as a Cameroonian, who grew up and is now pastoring in Central Africa.
More importantly, I am writing to you in confidence and hope of the ultimate triumph of the missionary task (Revelation 7:9–12). I believe that those who are called to herald the magnificent gospel of Christ in central Africa will do well to bear the following in mind.
People are Quick to Affirm Christ’s Lordship, but Not His Exclusivity
The vast majority of African Traditional Religions—including those practiced in Central Africa—are polytheistic. The unwritten presupposition is that “in an abundance of gods there is safety.” No one particular god ever rises above all the others to claim supremacy or exclusivity.
The gods are considered to be more complementary with each other rather than competing against each other. The weaknesses of one god are believed to be compensated for by the strengths of another.
For that reason, biblical truths like “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” are worldview-shattering for central Africans––and really for all humans (Acts 4:12). But if such truths are not set forth clearly, many are happy to embrace Jesus, as one more addition to their pantheon.
The Fear of Evil Spirits is Strong
In much, if not most, of Central Africa, people are afraid of Job-like calamities. This is why many flock to individuals who purport to have the ability to relate with, placate, or control the spiritual realms for human benefit.
Fear of spiritual harm has made the lie of the prosperity gospel an almost irresistible force in Central Africa.
This fear of spiritual harm has made the lie of the prosperity gospel an almost irresistible force in Central Africa. Tragically, this leads many to fear addressing sin in the life of a church leader, who in many cases will lose no time to exacerbate the fear by saying “Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!” (Psalm 105:15).
The liberating truth of Hebrews 2:14–15 runs and wins against these lies. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Surely, we can have confidence as Christians against these things.
Tribal Allegiances Are a Very Strong Force
In Central Africa, it is generally easy to determine someone’s tribe of origin, usually just from learning their last name. Their first language is an even surer guide. In Central Africa, tribal origin and loyalty are powerful forces. They influence, if not determine, political affiliations, employment in the public and private sectors, the development of business partners, and, unfortunately, even the election of church officers.
A compelling political vision, competence, and meritocracy, are more influential than godly character in deciding who will serve in the offices of elder and deacon. People may at best give lip service to these realities, and, at worst, completely ignore or even reject them. In some cases, tribal loyalty factors into who can or cannot be given corrective church discipline. In such situations, the criterion is not that someone sinned and was unrepentant, but that they come from a certain tribe.
The Friendliness of the People Does not Equal Gospel Acceptance
In much of Central Africa, disagreeing with someone’s idea is more than just disagreeing with an idea. It is viewed as rejecting the person who holds the idea. This is why many can give a glowing verbal profession of faith to keep from offending a Christian who presents the gospel.
As the reformers emphasized the importance of understanding saving faith, so should those evangelizing and serving in Central Africa.
When you are sharing the gospel in Central Africa, you must make sure that the content of faith is understood, and either embraced or rejected on its own terms.
When you are sharing the gospel in Central Africa, you must make sure that the content of faith is understood, and either embraced or rejected on its own terms. You should try to determine if any assent is rooted in an understanding of the content of the gospel. Finally, you must make sure that these new converts are marked by personal trust and reliance in Christ’s finished work.
But over and above all these things stands an indomitable truth: “All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God” (Psalm 86:9–10). In that confidence, we must labor with hope that God will bless our work in Central Africa.