God’s heart for Africa has been evident since the beginning of the Church Age. In the Book of Acts, an angel told Philip where to find the Ethiopian eunuch — a North African — who was seeking God (Acts 8:26-40). The man believed and was baptized in water, marking the beginning of Christianity on the continent.
Early AG missionaries spoke of Africa as “the dark continent.” Their dedication to Christ and perception of danger motivated many of them to ship their belongings in caskets. Some paid the ultimate sacrifice, and their gravesites serve as memorials to national church fellowships today.
As the work flourished, missionaries accepted indigenous church principals and realized that a self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating fellowship needed trained leaders. They began literacy and Bible training programs and established Bible schools in the local languages. The work of the Holy Spirit and supernatural signs and wonders gave authenticity to the message. People were baptized in the Holy Spirit, delivered of demon possession and healed of life-threatening diseases.
At the end of the 20th century, African church leaders initiated efforts that fully embraced the Decade of Harvest challenge to evangelize the lost and plant churches. At that time, 2.1 million people from 28 countries worshipped each week in 11,800 churches. African church leaders called for nation-wide prayer vigils and greater evangelism, both within their own nations and in neighboring countries. Unprecedented growth followed.
The increase is the result of fervent prayer, evangelism and discipleship. Compassion for the lost has inspired leaders, pastors and laypersons to reach beyond their tribal grouping and take the gospel to the unreached.
The Burkina Faso fellowship formed in 1944 and is the largest church in the nation. Its 6,000-plus churches and preaching points and more than 1 million believers are a testimony to God’s faithfulness in this economically challenged and rain-deprived country. Besides emphasizing home missions to the nation’s 58 distinct tribal groups, the Fellowship has sent and supported missionaries to Niger, Senegal, Mali, Benin, Guinea, and Belgium. Their enthusiasm for missions has spread to surrounding nations. Women’s ministries with its focus on prayer and service also have played a significant role in the growth and stability of the church.
Tanzania Assemblies of God is focusing on reaching the nation’s 160 cultural groups and 120 tribes. Its concerted church planting strategy and cross-cultural home missions training have been significant in the fellowship’s growth. In 1980, TAG consisted of 275 churches and preaching points. Today that number has mushroomed to more than 3,200 with at least 100 churches in Dar es Salaam, the capital. Nearly 500,000 adult believers attend AG churches each week.
The Pentecostal message was first preached in Kenya in 1921. Now, nearly 3,200 churches and preaching points have been planted around the nation. National ministers and missionaries are reaching every segment of society, including the Maasai and internationals, through evangelism and church planting efforts, children’s and compassion ministries, discipleship and leadership training. The Fellowship’s general superintendent has challenged pastors to plant a church within walking distance of every person in the nation.
Believers in Nigeria have faced persecution and political unrest for many decades, but the Fellowship continues to grow at approximately 400 churches yearly. With 2.5 million people worshiping in more than 10,000 churches and preaching points, the church is the largest AG fellowship in Africa. The Nigerian AG has been instrumental in the development of the Pentecostal church in Niger.
Today, fully qualified national leaders are guiding fellowships in 44 African countries. Nearly 43,000 pastors minister to the continent’s 14 million Assemblies of God believers. To meet the demand for more laborers, 82 Bible schools and 140 extension schools are training new workers. As in the Book of Acts, God continues to add to the church daily.
UNREACHED PEOPLE GROUPS
millions of Africans claim Christ as their Savior, hundreds of people
groups are considered largely unreached. Diverse languages and
cultures, illiteracy and nomadic lifestyles are barriers to presenting
the gospel and establishing churches. God is calling people to
sacrifice and reach those who have not heard the gospel.
- Approximately 15 million Fulani live in West Africa. Only about 5 percent are literate, and an even smaller number claim to be Christians.
- More than 6 million Moors are scattered throughout North Africa. Less than
- 0.01 percent of this proud, self-sufficient group follow Christ.
- About one-third of Senegal’s population is Wolof. Only 50 people are known to be believers.
- More than 3 million Pulaar live in Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Guinea and •Mauritania. Primarily nomadic, they speak at least 41 dialects, and fewer than 1,000 are Christians.
- Less than 1 percent of the Maasi and Sonji tribes of Tanzania are believers.
- Only a handful of the 4.5 million Kanuri of Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon are believers.
- These groups are a small representation of those who are yet to be reached with the gospel. Missionaries are seeking ways to minister, and African believers are sacrificing to train and send national missionaries to learn local languages and plant churches.
Although the continent has great natural resources, most Africans live in the shadow of poverty. “War, political instability, drought, starvation, inflation, weak economies, HIV/AIDS, poverty and polluted water are but a few of the problems people, including believers, face daily,” says Mike McClaflin, regional director for Africa.
The needs are staggering.
- About 22.5 million sub-Saharan Africans are living with AIDS.
- An estimated 1 million people die each year of malaria; of this number, about 90 percent are young children.
- A decade of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has claimed 5.4 million lives.
- One-third of Angola’s population is illiterate.
- Only 40 percent of people in Madagascar have access to clean water.
- Continentwide, malnutrition causes stunted growth in 22 percent of children under 5.
ADDRESSING THE NEED
“The problems we face in Africa do not cause us to despair,” says McClaflin. Missionaries are partnering with the national church to meet the needs.
Compassion ministries are opening doors for the gospel. Soon after the HIV/AIDS crisis became public knowledge, missionary Don Tucker wrote Edward the Elephant, a children’s evangelism and AIDS booklet. Since then more than 16 million copies have been distributed. As the HIV/AIDS crisis grew, the Africa regional office established Cry Africa in 2003. The initiative empowers and equips missionaries and local congregations through awareness and prevention education and helps establish support services for those infected and affected by the disease.
Other ministries are addressing both the spiritual and physical needs in Africa. Through the generosity of U.S. AG believers, Africa’s Children is initiating projects to help educate boys and girls and provide them with food and shelter. Africa Oasis Project began in 2005 to help the millions of Africans who lack sufficient safe water for drinking, sanitation, cleanliness and cultivation. Each project involves the cooperation of leaders from both the church and community.
Education is essential to continue the dramatic growth of the African church. Africa’s Hope works with national fellowships to assist Bible schools in training Spirit-filled leaders. In addition, Acts in Africa conferences are training believers in the power and work of the Holy Spirit.
Missionaries also are assisting fellowships through evangelism and church planting programs. Each of the 2,000 churches in Malawi is endeavoring to plant a church every year. To assist these types of initiatives, Africa Tabernacle Evangelism partners with local congregations to provide prefabricated steel structures for church buildings.
HOW TO PRAY
Despite immense problems, missionaries and believers in Africa continue to trust God to meet their needs and reach the lost for Christ. You can join their fervent prayer.
- Revival will sweep the continent, bringing repentance and forgiveness.
- God will bring political stability to African governments.
- Rain will fall on drought-stricken areas.
- Unreached people groups will be open to the gospel.
- God will provide wisdom, strength and health for missionaries.
In Revelation 7, the apostle John wrote that people from every nation, people and language will be gathered around God’s throne. This includes Africa’s 2,461 people groups representing more than 2,000 languages. National believers and missionaries are partnering to reach every corner of the continent. Together they will share in the joy of seeing Africans shout, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:10).