It is now more than forty-five years since our mission work began among the African people. Ever since, it has been the object of our missionaries to train the African to bear responsibility. Throughout this division, men of leadership have been developed, so that in every field we have men of sterling character and loyal aims. As the years have passed, these men have been ordained to the gospel ministry, and at present we have a large group of African ministers who are wholeheartedly engaged in carrying the third angel's message.
I was born and reared among the African people, and I have long studied their languages and customs. I have come to the conclusion that the question as to who is right—the African or the European—in many things of everyday life, would be debatable. For instance, we use knives, forks, and spoons at mealtime. The African uses his fingers. But you will find that he always washes his hands before eating, a thing that many Europeans fail to do. Many times our African ministers still use their fingers at a table set in modern fashion, even though they own spoons. Should we condemn them? Certainly not ! God gave us clean fingers long before spoons were used, they claim! We must not misjudge those for whom we labor merely because their customs are different from our customs. We must strive to see their viewpoint.
In preparing material for Africans to use, one must bear in mind their historical background. For generations, most of the tribes have had no reading material, and even today literature is very limited. When we prepare sermon outlines, we have to keep this in mind, because it is of little use to give references from various authors and books that mean nothing to them. It is only of late years that the educated native has been able to use literature in English to any extent. The African is a logical thinker, and he reasons from cause to effect. Although he may appear to act like a child in many things, yet his qUestions can baffle the best-educated men. Sitting around a campfire, conversing with them in their own language, soon convinces anyone of this fact.
It has been a great blessing to the people and missionaries in every land to have the Bible translated into the native languages. Of course one must keep in mind that there are many difficulties which confront every translator. In presenting the message to the people of Africa, it is necessary to know the Bible which the people use, and to become acquainted with the errors and omissions of translation. Fortunately, in most cases, if clear proof can be found in the Bible to substantiate the truth you are presenting, the African Mind is easily convinced. However, if the texts are missing, or there is an error in translation, it is most embarrassing to try to press your point by elaborate explanations.
To illustrate the difficulties of translation, Matthew i8:ii is entirely missing in one Bible, but fortunately the same scripture can be found in Luke 19:1o. Again, Hebrews 9:28 is the only verse in the Bible which contains the words "appear the second time," and yet that very clause is left out in a number of the dialects. Then again, in one of the chief languages, Daniel 8:14 is rendered, "unto two thousand days," the three hundred being left out. Thus a simple presentation of the sanctuary question is not given. Once when a Christian worker was speaking to a certain tribe about the love of the Father, using the text, "Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?" it was found that this particular tribe knew nothing about eating fish. But they did enjoy eating pythons; so one has to adopt the Scripture to the native custom and say, "Or if he ask a serpent, will he give him a fish?"
It has been found that the African is capable of growing under responsibility. In a number of cases, men who were seemingly hopeless and yet were willing to be guided, have been placed in certain positions, and have developed into strong leaders. The African is capable of bearing trust. He compares very favorably with his fellow European director. His first lesson is to learn the purchasing value of money, and to work within his mission budget. Once that is mastered, progress can be seen. His second lesson is to learn to work with others, and plan for the future of his particular field. He must be a peacemaker, a counselor, a father, a minister. One of our African mission directors has as many as three organized churches, sixteen village schools, and five prayer houses under his care. Besides this, he oversees the operation of a large mission. To assist him, he has two ordained ministers and twenty teachers. His flock possibly consists of more than a thousand baptized members, with two thousand or more in the Bible classes.
To inspire confidence on the part of his people and to develop a desire for their field to be more nearly self-supporting in tithes and offerings must ever be the aim of the native worker. Then, too, in view of many unpleasant experiences of the past, connected with the coming of the European into Africa, the African minister must awaken a spirit of trust and confidence in church organization and European leadership, without prejudice to race or color. When the African worker is thoroughly converted and consecrated, his aim will be to win his people to the message we proclaim. He must carry the burden of shepherding the flock, caring for the sick, and wooing the backslider. In addition to this, he must plan for the work of evangelism in the unentered territories. He, with his district committee, must bear the responsibility of leading in soul-winning campaigns, and it is our duty as European leaders to encourage and develop the indigenous worker to shoulder this responsibility.
No missionary has accomplished his task until he has trained African leaders to carry the responsibility of bearing this message to the thousands who are still waiting. As signs foretell, we as a people believe in the very near return of our Saviour. We know not how soon the time will come when every European missionary in these distant lands will be withdrawn. The question arises, What will happen to the work then?
Once when a representative from the General Conference visited our field he spoke to a group of fourteen African pastors. After listening to these men relate their experiences, he told them of world conditions, and stressed the fact that European leadership is not very secure in many countries. In closing he said, "The time will come when that condition will prevail right here. Then what will you do?" The reply to this question made by one of the pastors was this, "By God's help we'll carry on." Thank God for an African leadership that is able and willing to carry on.