(Editor's Note: This submission is from Tony Das. He will continue as a guest contributor to Africa Matters from time to time.)
Many Westerners believe Africa is a continent of animists who worship multiple gods, and a smattering of Muslims. In fact, Christian website www.the-tidings.com http:/www.the-tidings.com/ reported that "Christian growth in Africa is nothing short of astonishing" and that Africans represent 33% of the planet's Christians. Europe, by contrast is the only continent where Christian numbers are declining "and will likely decline for the foreseeable future."
I belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Martin Luther started the Protestant reformation in Wittenberg, Germany where only one-in-four citizens now call themselves Christian (undoubtedly due to generations of atheistic communism in that former East German city).
In America, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reports that "the US is on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country". However, that report concedes that Catholics have been able to maintain a "steady" percentage of the Christian population due to the impact of Latino immigration.
Christianity is nothing new to Africa. By 500 AD there were three African-born Catholic Popes, all of whom made significant marks on Christianity.
Pope Victor I (AD 189-199), born in the Roman Province of Africa changed the liturgical language from Greek to Latin.
Pope Militiades (AD 311-314) was a North African Berber, a people who live west of the Egyptian Nile Valley. His Edict of Milan in 313 forced Roman Emperors Constantine and Licinius to tolerate Christians and return their confiscated lands.
Pope Galasius I (AD 492-496), also a North African commanded that the Eucharist be celebrated with both bread and wine; the latter had been prohibited by Persian Manicheans who claimed "dual identity" with the Christian church.
To escape King Herod's thugs Mary and Joseph took baby Jesus to Egypt, an African state for refuge. One of the first to be baptized a Christian by the Apostle Philip was a eunuch and aide to Ethiopian Queen Candace. Acts 8:39 says Philip went "on his way rejoicing."
In more recent years, Christian missionaries in Africa left local populations understanding that Christian charity is based upon providing those things that God has deemed necessary for what we now call "quality of life." Food, clean water, medical care and pastoral ministry during Africa's too-frequent natural and man-made disasters are not lost on the recipients.
I have been working in some of the most remote African locations - and some of the most violent - since 1978. I find that Christian clergy, missionaries and aide workers are among the most respected people on the continent. In 1982 as a foreign news correspondent, I covered the first Africa trip of the late Pope John Paul II. In Onitsha, Nigeria -- a country with the largest Muslim population in sub-Sahara Africa-- more than one million people walked as long as two weeks to attend his outdoor mass.
Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, who in 1965 became the world's youngest bishop at the age of 32, was by all accounts a serious contender to replace John Paul II after his death. Cardinal Arinze said at the time: "the great St. Augustine of Hippo, Algeria (again, an African nation), son of St. Monica was the earliest philosopher/theologian to …re-interpret the teachings of Christ, the Epistles and the Old Testament, thus welding together the old and new in honor of Christ".
To turn Western preconceptions of Africa's religious demography on its head: African Protestant and Catholic clergy have raised the concept of "re-evangelizing the West" by sending African missionaries to under-served Christian communities in Europe, their former colonial masters.
Tony Das has 30+ years of experience as a U.S. diplomat, foreign news correspondent and businessman in Africa. Now President/COO of Global Markets Consulting Group he has just been elected to Church Council at Prince of Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Orkney Springs, VA. He can be reached at: [email protected]