Early missionaries destroyed African values

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2009

OFTEN, we think of Christian missions as being led by mostly white men carrying Bibles to the remotest parts of Africa, preaching the gospel of salvation from sin.
In most cases, it was indeed the white man who led the missionary zeal not only in Africa, but in other parts of the world as well.
For example, when the Americans took over the Philippines, the Southern Baptist Christian Index of August 3 1899 said:
“Oh, let the stars and stripes, intertwined with the flag of Old England, wave o’er the continents and islands of earth, and through the instrumentality of the Anglo-Saxon race, the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ!”
European missionaries believed that Africans would accept the Gospel and embrace the so-called civilisation.
Ironically, the first American missionary to Africa was a freed African American slave called David George born in 1742 to slave parents on a plantation in Essex County, Virginia.
As a young boy, he sought freedom and successfully ran away to South Carolina. He then converted to evangelical Christianity.
Under the influence of a black preacher called George Liele who worked as a missionary in Jamaica, David George preached with such conviction about God and salvation from sin.
In 1776, George joined the British during the American Civil War.
In 1782 he was demobilised with other black loyalists to Nova Scotia, Canada, where he continued to spread Christianity.
The British then appointed David George as a leader of an expedition to repatriate the black people back to West Africa.
These African Americans with a slave history arrived in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in March 1799.
Their arrival signalled the beginning of the Christian movement led by William Wilberforce, the slave abolitionist.
As an abolitionist, David George was a tireless missionary with many roles.
In one history magazine of the early church, the writer notes:
“In Freetown George combined the roles of preacher, community leader, official representative with the British authorities, humanitarian campaigner against the slave trade, and lightning rod for missionary awakening among Baptists in England, where he visited in 1793.”
Later on it was George David’s success of the Sierra Leone movement which led to the abolition of the slave trade. His work in outlawing the slave trade and converting freed slaves became a powerful motive for setting up several of the Christian missions in West Africa after the slave trade collapsed.
Sierra Leone and Liberia then became colonies set up by freed slaves.
These two countries were important centres of Christian missionary activity in West Africa by the 1830’s.
Some of the freed slaves who arrived in these colonies came from America when they were already Christians.
They knew nothing of their past African religious traditions.
Some of the most powerful and prominent African Americans arrived in West Africa and preached about God to the Africans, telling them to turn away from ancient old religious cultural practices.
The strength of their conviction is captured well in missionary records.
In one letter to a Mrs Colson, a widow who had lost her husband in 1836, Liberia’s first black President J. R. Roberts, wrote the following:
“The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away.
“He works in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform, though it seems hard at this time, God does all things well for them that love and fear him.
“You cannot tell what cause he had thought proper to remove your husband from this world of bustle and confusion, for his part, he is gone to the realms above, he is gone to Abraham’s bosom and expects to meet you there.”
Apart from David George, the most well known African missionaries was Samuel Ajayi Crowther, who became the first Bishop of the Anglican Church. Crowther had been captured as a slave in 1822.
But the slave ship in which he was held was intercepted and he was freed and taken to Freetown.
Later on, he was educated and sent to London where he adopted the name Crowther from the member of the Church Missionary Society (CMS).
Crowther then left England and moved back to Africa to set up the Niger Mission. He supervised the mission in Badagry, and later Abeokuta in south west of Nigeria expanding outside Yoruba land in south west Nigeria and also in Onitsha, in the East of the territory.
Crowther was responsible for the publication of many Christian works including the first written grammar of the Yoruba language and first Nupe grammar. According to the missionary records, Crowther met Queen Victoria and read the Lord’s Prayer to her in Yoruba.
She commended that the way he spoke was ‘soft and melodious’.
By 1864, Crowther had risen within the Anglican Church to become the Bishop of what was called Western Equatorial Africa. 
One other African missionary to emerge out of Nigeria was the Anglican priest, the Reverend J. J. Ransome Kuti who worked hard to preach the gospel.
He was well known for denigrating African traditions with an unusual conviction. The famous Nigerian Novelist, Wole Soyinka in his autobiography, wrote about Reverend Ransome Kuti and the day he defiantly ignored the traditional day of worship.
One day the African traditional leader called the egungun arrived to stop gospel preaching.
Reverend Ransome Kuti ignored the egungun and kept on preaching.
Soyinka wrote: “The egungun, taking his followers with him, on passing the main door, he tapped on it with his wand three times.
“Hardly had the last member of his procession left the church premises then the building collapsed.
“The walls simply fell down and the roof disintegrated. Miraculously however, the walls fell outwards – anywhere but on the congregation itself.
“Rev J.J. calmed the worshippers, paused in his preaching to render a thanksgiving prayer, and then continued his sermon.”
This incident was seen as a demonstration on the power of the traditional leader, but it also showed the defiance of Reverend Ransome Kuti.
Two generations later, Reverend Ransome Kuti’s grandson, Fela Ransome Kuti, became one of the most famous African musicians, often defying Christian traditions and promoting an African sense of identity.
More than a century since the coming of African American missionaries, Africa is now home to many African preachers whose mission fails to recognise the value of our own African traditional religions.

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