Action : Africa - The sky's the limit

Pioneering partnerships are taking centre stage in the African mission scene - and a new day is dawning

To say mission in Africa is complicated is an understatement as huge as the continent itself. Take 840 million people speaking more than 1,000 languages, add a history fraught with imperial invasion, slavery and tribal warfare ... and things are bound to get confusing. 

For a long time, African mission was a mostly Western venture. But the rise of Christianity in Africa has encouraged Africans to take mission into their own hands. 

Yet even African organizations have had to feel their way along, each contending with cultural or economic barriers. 

That’s why when 12 young African Christians set foot in Garissa, Kenya this month, it will be more than a missions trip – it will be a sign that a new day is dawning for missions in Africa.

The outreach to Garissa, a predominantly Muslim area, is the first of four trips planned for 2006 by Mission Together Africa (MTA), a newly formed coalition of African missions organizations and churches, which is committed to catalysing mission movement across the vast and diverse continent. 

Many Africa experts agree that this alliance is definitely the way forward.  The initiative has been spearheaded in part by Dennis Tongoi, Africa Director at the Church Mission Society (CMS), which supports hundreds of people working in Africa. Those who have joined MTA include Sheepfold Ministries, FOCUS Kenya, and several churches. 

“Our main vision is to see a community of believers across Africa who are committed to God’s kingdom values, and living out that commitment to sharing and spreading the Gospel,” said Duncan Olumbe, MTA’s leader. 

To that end, MTA has lined up five programmes that focus on reaching a wide spectrum of African professionals, businesspeople, researchers, church members and youth, to get them excited about making mission a priority.

Olumbe’s eyes light up when he speaks of bringing African youth together for mission activity. “Africa is a youthful country,” he explained, “Young people in some countries like Kenya make up over 75% of the population.  The future of the Church in Africa really has to rely on the youth.”

Olumbe knows what he is talking about. He was a high school student when he became a believer in Jesus. Olumbe says many young people are challenged and motivated to share the Gospel and love of Jesus, but they have received little support: “They need assistance with practical things like visas for travel. They need preparation on how to share with people from different cultures.” 

“So far many mission agencies have been based on western models which do not always take into account the African context.”

MTA is committed to cross-cultural missions. Its leadership team is made up of representatives from all over Africa. 

“I’ve seen a number of Africans trying to do cross-cultural missions but ending up very frustrated because they were not equipped for it. I visited a Kenyan church that had a vision for cross-cultural mission but it was Swahili-speaking and not really touching that community,” said Olumbe.

He encountered similar struggles when he helped send Kenyan missionaries into Northern Uganda without making contact with mission agencies in Uganda. “When we did things our own way it was with disastrous results,” he admitted.

Olumbe is confident that problems like these will be eliminated when African missions organizations work together and share what they’ve learned. The result is that more lives will be transformed by the Gospel of Jesus.

The outreach to Garissa is just the beginning. Olumbe hopes that by giving young people missions exposure in various places they will develop long-term missions commitment in their hearts.

“We are eager to play our parts as African Christians on the global mission scene.”

Next, MTA will look to send young people to minister in Kibera, Kenya, where more than 800,000 people live crowded into one square mile. Reported to be Africa’s largest slum, Kibera is of particular interest to CMS, which has missionaries serving there already.

When asked about CMS’ contribution to the formation of MTA, Olumbe replies: “We are tremendously grateful for the partnership.” The seed grant from CMS will enable MTA to function as they seek to cultivate organic African support.

There is increased interest in MTA among African Christians as they catch the vision for a spirit of unity in sharing Jesus. As Olumbe says: “The ‘Together’ is the most exciting part of Mission Together Africa.”

Asked about MTA’s future potential, Olumbe laughed merrily, exclaiming: “The sky’s the limit.”

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