Christianity in Africa: Past and Present, Part 1

Stephen Nichols (SN): On the next two episodes, I have a very special guest with me. Joining me is Reverend Ken Mbugua from Nairobi. Welcome to 5 Minutes in Church History.

Ken Mbugua (KM): Thank you for having me.

SN: You are the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church there in Nairobi. You’re also the Managing Director of Ekklesia Africa, and we’ll talk about that in a moment. But we’re going to talk about Christianity in Africa, past and present. As you look over the survey, we can actually begin with Augustine, right?

KM: Yes.

SN: We forget that sometimes.

KM: It’s true.

SN: Augustine was African. But as you look over the modern missions and we think about that period of Christianity in Africa, there were tons of efforts towards missions in the 1800s. You’ve now got the vantage point of seeing the fruit of that. What were some of the highlights to you? What stands out from that moment and from the past?

KM: Being from Kenya, and East Africa generally, two efforts especially stick out for me. One is by a group called the Africa Inland Mission (AIM). They came in late 1800s, and sacrificed greatly. My grandfather actually came to know the Lord through the efforts of the Africa Inland Mission, he was one of their first converts in a place called Kijabe.

SN: Oh, that’s a great story.

KM: It led to a history of his children being a part of God’s work of planting churches and being preachers in that very locale.

SN: Wow. What a great legacy.

KM: AIM great work in East Africa, and they spread up to other parts of Africa as well. Another group is the Scottish Presbyterians that came in.

SN: We’re very fond of the Scottish Presbyterians here on 5 Minutes in Church History, so this is great news.

KM: There you go. As a Baptist, it’s useful to acknowledge the Presbyterians.

SN: They do something good every once in a while.

KM: There you go. But I’ve been very amused by the longevity of the work that they did. In many cases, the first-round missionaries came in with the true gospel and they preached it, Churches were planted, but in many cases it got watered down or distorted after a short while. It’s always a huge task for the missionary to seek to transfer the 2 Timothy 2:2—

SN: Finding those faithful men to train and steward.

KM: Yes. It transferred and then it keeps on transferring. In many cases in Africa, you get the sense that the first group of missionaries, once they hand it over, it’s as though that group has a little less than what the missionaries had. And as it’s handed over, it just keeps being less and less. With the Scottish Presbyterians, it’s been amusing to me to hang out with people my grandmother’s age oftentimes when you attend funerals, and they are standing up to give a testimony about the person who has departed. And you hear such a clear understanding of the sovereignty of God. Here’s that old lady is speaking in the mother tongue, but a clear theology of suffering, a clear understanding of the hope that the believer has that lies beyond the grave. When we look at Africa as a whole, those are the truths that we are so desirous to see being preached, and sung, and held to by the church. But I’m really encouraged to see the old ladies who came into contact with Scottish Presbyterians holding onto those truths until today.

SN: So the Africa Inland Mission and Scottish Presbyterians. Well, there’s much more to Africa’s past, but we also have the present. We’re going to bring you back next week and finish the conversation.