Threading Africa's Biblical Accounts to Early Christianity

"But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past." - Micah 5:2 (NLT)

It was once stated about history that there is a vast difference between the historical and the historic. Everything that happens within a given space, time and place is historical. But only the significant is historic. Something that is historic points beyond itself to something more greater - in this case something of Supreme Greatness.

The early church father Origen who wrote in 220 AD, documents that Christ was born at the right time, being in the right place. Rome ruled over what was known as the civilized world and it's reign took hold of massive amounts of real estate. By this they gained control which eventually developed means of transportation and communication. Jesus' birth leading up to His teachings and works then became revelations tied to events that was more than just neighborhood breaking news but rather spread to all corners of the empire starting from what appeared to have been an insignificant hill country better known as Galilee. Yet along these districts highways were constructed which connected Rome to it's far-stretched neighboring provinces. As we recall, Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem where His parents had had to go, like all others, for Roman census (taxation). And so here is where it all begins; According to the Gospel of Matthew after Christ was born His parents-for His own safety of being stalked down by Herod (district governor of the Romans)-had to flee to the continent of Egypt which we know is the northern region of Africa. This is the first New Testament documented tradition associating African soil with not just a pretty Christmas story but a fundamental event that shaped the momentum of early Christianity. Also keep in mind that Egypt was part of the Roman system. The Nile had been used as an important means of communication as well as an open route for lucrative forms of commerce. Mirrored as the advent to 20th century social media, it would be safe saying that the Nile River was then an impressive system that kept people in touch and informed.

Cyrenia and the Winds of Kingdom Expansion

The thread of the African story line intertwines towards the end of Jesus' life, which at the time gained strong fellowship with His disciples. The oldest known account of the New Testament, the Gospel of Mark who was an eye-witness of the Apostle Peter, says that after His trial Jesus was lead to the place where He was to be hammered to a cross. On the way there He encountered a black man named Simon from Cyrenia who was forced to share the burden in carrying the weight of that cross. Note this, by the way, that Cyrenia was a Roman province located in Libya which is the northeast coast of Africa. Mark also mentions that Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus which later we find the Apostle Paul's letter to the Corinthians that notes Rufus and others, like Priscilla and Aquila, were reputable Christians from the regions of Alexandria. Interestingly Rufus was singled out as being 'chosen in the Lord' who was a member of the fast growing Gentile Church that Paul was nurturing which was about to explode as being a pivitol igniting-post of the expanding missions to the Gentile nations. Another milestone of the Church's DNA tapestry mentions people from both Egypt (northern Africa) and Cyrenia sharing the Spirit of Pentecost where they received their commission to the mission fields accounted for in the book of Acts. And of course a popular story of a baptism of an important government official who served in a Ethiopian palace. It's believed that the probability of this place was a kingdom called Meroe (pictured). According to the 4th century Church historian Eusebius, this Ethiopian official went by the name, Judich. As the story unfolds in Acts, the apostle Philip was to go meet Judich in the Gaza where he was found reading a passage out of the book of Isaiah which unknowingly pointed to the Crucifixion of Christ. Philip expounded the passage to Judich and at his request to baptize him in a nearby river. Though uncertain as to the role Judich played in introducing Christianity to Meroe, yet history shows us that Meroe later developed into a prosperous and flourishing Christian kingdom in the Upper Nile valley. The apostle Luke chronicles the progress of these events mentioned in more detail.

God Reigns in the Blood, Sweat and Tears of early Missionaries! - 1400-1900

missionaryIn my final observation, it appears to me, that through out Africa's past history there were countless heroic efforts of reaching them via missionary work in places like the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Elmina, Axim, etc., that were fertile ground for ministry ventured in the western hemispheres of Africa. Much of it was faced with tandem factors of failure with success - factors such as the raising tide of 7th century Islam in the north that immediately conflicted established fundamental Christian doctrine , corrupt politics and ideology of religion and state, a developing untrust to the tyranny of colonialism and distractive incentives to lour missionaries into becoming business men to the then profitable slave markets. These factors, were at times, well intended to work into the schemes of reaching the spiritual aspects of Africa. But like oil and water that don't mix well it proved contrary to their original objectives of staying the course of being missionary. All of these presented oppressive economic circumstances for the faithful missionary projects all along resulting in the victimization of indigenous people shackled between religious political power games and the pursuit of the Great Commission. Compounding these challenges of the mid-eighteen hundreds was the spread of yellow fever, measles, small pox and Ebola finding Europeans, including priests and missionaries were among the dead. As to Africa's response to Westernization-Europe's presence in Africa brought a demand for western education but with hidden motives to appear beneficial for the African but rather geared towards ensuring European traders (trans-Atlantic Slave Stimulus) if a certain amount of Africans were literate, which unfortunately was encouraged. But through time and much travail change happened in favor for the African advancement as we shall see.

FreemanSo, in midst of graven circumstances and sub-surface agendas there were many breakthroughs displaying the miraculous providences coupled with wonderful work done by the Methodist in Liberia, the Ivory Coast and west Ghana between 1913-1915. The Quakers, known as the Society of Friends had incredible influence in their campaign against slavery and it's trade with a fervent intensity to establishing Sierra Leone as a free settlement in West Africa. Also adding fuel to that fire were the tenacious collaborative efforts of the Baptist Missionary Society, the Nova Scotian settlers, and Presbyterians that picked up the baton being relentless in continuing momentum. A son of an African father by an English mother, Thomas Birch Freeman (pictured) ) was drawn to Africa and determined to make an impact on a Church working in Cape Coast...and that he did. Eventually he established the Wesley Girls' High School in promoting the Advancement of the African Woman. I felt that Freeman was a realist. His concerns where not just the spiritual well being but also the intellect of young Africans in preparation for the approaching (at times harsh), socio-economic and cultural transitions. In 1876, the Wesleyan High School was opened. It changed its name in 1905 to Mfantisipim. He also was a strong advocate of raising up Christian as well as educational leadership that evolved from it's own blood. It's been said that Freeman was so influential in the birth of Methodism in Ghana, he could justly be regarded as its papa (their words). His contribution, whether direct or indirect, his working in Ghana West Africa was huge. Finally bringing it home, Hope Chapel Honolulu has also been doing a work in Kenya building foundations for new churches as well as planting home churches, water systems and providing eye clinics for people with vision problems. I was recently informed that Samaritans Purse International trained men and women dry-land farming techniques as a response to its 2011-2012 drought in East Africa which I think is an appropriate addition to what's been transpiring in Africa today. This my friends is the type of history that I want to be a segment of; an historic legacy that points to the One who's Spirit was upon who declared the Gospel that blesses the poor, heals the broken hearted and setting captives free! I'm excited of being part of this team and it's legacy of carrying out our Lord's command to the preservation of remaining intentionally and authentically missional.

Wrapping it up...I promise!

In ending my brief research I'm convinced, in light of my own life, that it is historic of God who is known to work a good thing from the heaps of ashes caused by my ignoring His reality for my life and mislead religion. I eventually learned that in the Christian experience what appears to be odds working against us - may well be God that is working it for us to His glory. Though at times our faith will waver yet He remains to be faithful to carry out His purposes in the world and in our lives. And you know what? I am absolute in believing that history points to God in fulfilling these purposes behind the scenes of present and future world events. It may do us well to remember living in a inconsistent and insecure world that the character of God remains consistent to work things for the good and that He remains the same yesterday, today and forever...for our victory - because greater is He that is within us than he that is in the world. Amen!

I close this section with a quote from St Augustine and yet God's response to His ever prevailing sovereignty to the expansion of His Glorious Cities in Africa, the world, the Church and into our own personal lives.

St Augustine

The Church must bear in mind that among their enemies are hidden her future citizens; and when confronted with them she must not think it a fruitless task to bear their hostility until she finds them confessing the faith. In the same way, while the City of God is on pilgrimage in this world, she has in her midst some who are united with her in participation in the sacraments, but who will not join her in the eternal destiny of the saints...In truth those two cities are interwoven and intermixed in this era, and await separation at the last judgment."

The Apostle Paul, Romans 11:32-36 ( NLT)

For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so He could have mercy on everyone. Oh, how great are God's riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand His decisions and His ways! For who can know the Lord's thoughts? Who knows enough to give Him advice? And who has given Him so much that He needs to pay it back? For everything comes from Him and exists by His power and is intended for His glory. All glory to Him forever! Amen.

Anna Julia Cooper

The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class - it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.

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