THE continent of Africa, home of one of the most ancient civilizations to flourish beside the Egyptian Nile, today contains many of the world's youngest nations. About forty of them have been born since the year 1950. Before that year there were only four independent countries in this, the world's second largest continent. A three-month safari through these newly born nations lifts the curtain on a vista of challenge and opportunity for a missionary movement of dimensions that matches Africa's huge land mass. Africa is more than three times as large as the United States of America. It is five thousand miles from the Mediterranean sea board to the Cape of Good Hope, 4,700 miles from east to west. The impression of vastness constantly forces itself upon the traveler. Africa has the world's largest desert and longest river, the Sahara and the Nile.
One of the greatest surprises awaiting a visitor is the temperate nature of the climate in tropical Africa. Even on the equator the temperatures are modified by the altitude of the African tableland, which averages approximately four thousand feet. The city of Johannesburg is about six thousand feet above sea level and our Rwese Mission station is approximately seven thousand five hundred feet above sea level, therefore quite cool even though standing on the equator. Except for some areas, the population is sparse. Southern, eastern, and central Africa is kind to her people. The rainfall is adequate, the soil is rich, and the country surprisingly fruitful and most beautiful.
It was interesting upon landing in the city of Blantyre, Malawi, to see a sign in many languages informing incoming passengers that no miniskirts are allowed, by order of the president of Malawi. And there are persons assigned to watch passengers deplaning. If a woman is wearing a short dress, she is taken into a room where she has an opportunity to change to a longer dress. If she does not have one, she may purchase cloth to be sewn around the bottom of the short dress before she is allowed to enter the country.
A Complex Task
One soon becomes aware of the delicacy and complexity of the task the church faces in Africa today. For instance, at one workers' gathering ten separate language groups were represented. But after a day's drive to the north not one of these tongues was spoken or under stood. Africa has about eight hundred languages and dialects. In one training institute we had men from twenty-one tribes. In the ex-British territories English seems to be fairly well known by our ministers. Translation was unnecessary in Malawi, Rhodesia, South Africa, and Zambia. The understanding of English opens the door for ministers to a wealth of denominational literature denied to hundreds of workers in other language areas.
My host and traveling companion was Alvin E. Cook, Ministerial secretary of the Trans-Africa Division. An Australian by birth, Cook has spent his ministerial life in evangelism. He has been in Africa more than ten years. During his first four years he conducted public evangelistic campaigns in the leading cities of South Africa. Six years ago he joined the division staff; his intimate acquaintance with the territory of the division added much interest to our safari. Together we covered nineteen thousand kilometers (11,855 miles), about fourteen thousand (8,750 miles) of them by car, conducted twelve institutes with more than eight hundred Adventist preachers and workers in attendance from the Cape Conference at the southern tip of the continent to a lonely Zaire mission station that straddles the equator in the mountains of central Africa.
Planning for MISSION '73
Pastor Cook stresses that soul-winning methods for Africa must be geared to meet actual existing situations. The task is to Christianize, not westernize. How beautifully the teachings of the Sacred Scriptures suit all classes and conditions of men in all parts of the world! For the MISSION '73 thrust in the African unions, he has adapted the MISSION '72 sermons to be given by Africans with African illustrations. I was interested in the endeavor to put this philosophy into action and have no doubt that titles and materials such as "Africa in the Bible," "Why Is Africa Changing So Rapidly?" (signs), "Africa's Best Friend Today" (Christ in prophecy), "How Did Philip Baptize the Man From Africa?" and "A Day for Africa to Remember" (Sabbath), "Three Steps From Africa to Heaven" (conversion), et cetera will be effective. There are twenty-five titles in this set. Pastor Cook plans to provide other sets of sermons at regular intervals in the future for evangelistic and church presentations.
In like manner Pastor R. H. Kent, the Ministerial secretary of the South African Union Conference, has taken the sermons that were written in the United States and has adapted them for use in his union, substituting English or Afrikaner concepts rather than American illustrations or ideas. Pastor Cook is also working on an in-service training syllabus for preachers who have had little or no seminary training.
How difficult it must be for workers to prepare sermons without access to such research aids as Spirit of Prophecy volumes, a Bible concordance, the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary set, and other religious books and magazines. In these rapidly developing countries, it becomes more and more imperative that such study materials need to be available to satisfy the increasing thirst for higher standards in personal and public minis try. The men here are truly dedicated in their love for the Saviour and are determined to witness to the power of the gospel despite difficulties and limitations.
Our leaders recognize the urgent need of furnishing an opportunity for training qualified evangelists and pastors to challenge the masses of the great cities rising rapidly in all nations. They have a burden to enlarge ministerial training plans and are giving study at the present time to suitable seminary training facilities for the French-speaking unions. They are also cognizant of the need for a large variety of message literature in the vernaculars.
In Rhodesia, in our Lower Cwelo College of 650 students, a unique integrated program for the blind is operated the only plan of its kind in Africa. The blind children learn the alphabet in Braille, just as the sighted children their ABC's. Then they attend the same classes as the other children, but their textbooks are in Braille instead of print. The government is watching this program very closely and the idea is gaining favorable attention.
Our Matandani Training School has something to offer besides the regular schoolwork an industrial approach. The unions of the division furnish tools and equipment for the students and send men to this school to learn how to do such maintenance work as bricklaying, electrical skills, plastering, carpentry, cement work, plumbing, and all the practical things that are needed to maintain our hospitals, schools, and mission stations in good order.
Approaching 100,000 Members
Traveling through Rwanda and Burundi of the Central African Union, one would think he was in a combination of Switzerland and Colorado. The scenery there is breathtaking in beauty. But the most beautiful part is that they expect to have one hundred thousand members by the end of 1972. In these two countries alone last year 13,917 persons were brought into the church, and on one day, September 18, more than three thousand were baptized. This means that there is about one Seventh-day Adventist for every 36 people in that area, and when the Sabbath school enrollment is considered, there is about one Sabbath-keeper to every 16 citizens. Church officials expect to have more than two thousand evangelistic campaigns in that union for MISSION '73. A Seventh-day Adventist church can be seen on the hills on an average of every thirty miles surrounding the Rwankeri section.
Way back in the mountains of East Zaire is an area called Nyanitabu. Our work there is under African leadership; Pastor Ruhaya is president. There are 41,000 Sabbath school members, 16,000 baptized members. Their training school enrolls 470 students. Everything was well organized and operated. Most of the workers came to our institute here "by foot," some from as far as eighty miles. In this place I watched boys carrying a large block of solid clay on their heads. It took two boys to put the block in place on the heads of these young men. They then carried the blocks up the mountain where a dormitory is being constructed. And how they need it, for their old dormitory is just a one-room thatched-roof "building" where many individual groups do their cooking and sleeping, crowded one against another. Now their faces shine in anticipation of new living quarters.
I am confident that the consecrated workers of the Trans-Africa Division have an earnest longing to be more skilled, more efficient, and more productive in their evangelism for the Master. They desire and pray to be possessed of the Holy Spirit that they may preach the gospel so as to attract and win souls for the kingdom. They covenant with God to minister in such a way as to convert, encourage, and lead many to decisions for a higher and a holier life and to inspire and divert others in a fruitful service for the Lord.
This is true not only of the national workers but also of the dedication of the overseas missionaries and of their parents and families. One mother wrote in answer to a letter telling about the service of her daughter: "May I say that whatever sacrifice this has been, it is a willing sacrifice. Gladly would we give all of our five children to mission service. Of fourteen grandchildren, we would give all."