An African's Response to TGC's "Why Africa Still Needs Western Workers"

I haven't posted on my blog for about 4 years,  so many life changes including being a working momma has kept me busy. But last week I read an article on TGC which is by the way one of my favorite ministries that I highly admire, but it disappointed me so much that I had to share with the world why I whole heartedly disagree.... so here is my response to this article
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/why-africa-still-needs-western-workers

Dear TGC,

I’m writing to inform you of the huge and damaging impact your recent article about why Africa needs western workers can have on myself, and my African community, please carefully read my response and reply accordingly.

1st) I am an Ethiopian who came to the U.S. to pursue my full time ministry calling, went to a large Christian University and have worked for 3 mega churches which are majority white Churches.  I tell you this to say that I have the honor of discipling westerners (to use the Article’s terms) and understand where the intent to call for more missionaries comes from.

2nd) I have lead 2 mission trips to my own country which were pivotal in me getting a grasp on how the types of short term missions we were doing were damaging, a waste of money and an unnecessary phenomenon therefore, my husband and I shifted our support to Long Term Local missionaries who are natives and have been blessed to build a church wide partnership with our previous church which is still currently sending short term mission trips of pastors to train pastors and strengthen the men and women who are doing the work of ministry in its own cultural context and penetrating  high profile positions even to the level of the Parliament seats in Ethiopia…this organization is doing the amazing work of redeeming people’s hearts for Christ through an appropriate way of discipleship.  I use the term appropriate because these people are not asking people to change their culture, language and livelihood to follow Jesus, but are helping them understand how Jesus can be a part of their world and slowly helping them grow into disciples who forsake all to follow him whole heartedly.  This type of work takes years and years of dedication, a love and calling to a specific group of people, a sincere desire to know and understand their history and culture, and we are blessed to have such partners we are proud of.

3rd) I’m writing as a by product of an African Christian mother who raised me to fear God, who prayed on her knees day and night for her children, who is still a prayer warrior and has left the finger print of JESUS on my heart that I knew I could do nothing but to follow him.  I’m writing as the daughter of my dad who is a Coptic Christian and who believes we’ve been scammed by the “white man’s religion” and have abandoned our roots of true Christianity.  And who still believes that the Gospel as taught by a white man is only so they can take our land and abuse our people there fore we need to protect ourselves from “them”.  Because of the damaging work of some long-term missionaries, our churches have been persecuted and I’ve lived through the torment of living in a home with a divided view of christianity growing up.  My dad who accepts Christ’s Lordship refuses to go to an evangelical church because leaving his church means abandoning his heritage, so I walk in that space trusting God’s saving work in his heart and letting him worship God the way he knows best even though I’d much prefer he’d go to church with my mom and be baptized and proclaim Jesus as his savior.

4th) I’m writing as someone who believes that missionaries are needed but not just westerners, and I actually believe that the best American missionaries to Africa might be African Americans since I've seen them go with an awareness that they need what Africans have to offer which is their cultural heritage and roots as much as they’ll go to share Christ with them.  Africans are very proud and strong people and we open up only to those who come with a learning posture.  The problem with this article is that it self exalts the white man and tells us that “these savages need our civilization and way of life” rather than the lost men and women of Africa need Jesus.  What I love about my interaction with African Americans in the U.S. is that they have the learning posture, they are genuinely curious about Africa, where they come from who their people are, how they can be a part of the beautiful culture and maybe even trace their lineage back to a specific country so they can adopt the culture as their own.  They go with an attitude that says teach me, which is the only attitude that a servant of God needs to have in going into someone else’s home to hopefully subversively share the Gospel. Does that mean White Americans don't qualify for the job, NOT AT ALL but I think there is a deep heart work of racial reconciliation and awareness of privilege that needs to be a part of their journey.

5th) Starting from the Introduction the article paints a dark and desolate picture of Africa I was wondering if I was reading about my Africa and quickly decided that’s a westerner's idea of Africa, which is very offensive, unwelcomed and disrespectful. The article seems to totally over look the fact that there are many churches doing the good work and making disciples…It doesn’t quote a single African author or Pastor…It just talks as if westerners some how are a spiritual authority over the ENTIRE CONTINENT. 

6th) Africa is depicted as one country rather than a continent with 54 countries, thousands of tribes, languages, dialects and cultures.  This is a horrible generalization and oversimplifies the complexity of the work that needs to be done to reach such a complex and diverse people group.  It leads us to believe that if we can just go there then they’ll listen, without sharing the facts about colonization and Africa’s history of suffering in the hands of westerners, there fore how unwelcomed they can be in some areas.  The local Pastors who are doing the real work really don’t want westerners there long term, but they’ve learned that to get the resources they need they need to play nice with them so they let them stay.  It’s like a necessary evil and comes with the territory. Sometimes I wonder who is going to tell these people who are spending decades in another country that they’re actually not wanted, only their resources are and their temporary presence. They need to equip and let the locals lead.   To give you an idea, I spoke with one of our local partners about how much money he'd need per month to reach the entire country of Ethiopia with the intentional discipleship method that's been effectively working and he said $3000/month would support their entire staff all around Ethiopia.  That'll cover their salaries, travel expenses, food and even supplies they need to provide for the locals.  $36,000 a year and they could effectively reach the country with the Gospel, make disciple makers but they still have yet to find the income sources. Since then, they've had several short term missionaries visit them. 

7th) The article portrays Africa as being first reached by the Gospel by these martyr white men and completely ignores the fact that the First Missionary to Africa was AFRICAN. The Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 who was searching the scriptures for himself, the Holy Spirit sent Philip to him and helped him understand the Gospel, he got baptized and took back the message back to Ethiopia.  It says nothing about the Coptic Church and the beautiful heritage we have the early Egyptian churches and current spirit filled churches that are producing an army for Christ.  It only talks about prosperity gospel and totally discredits the work God has been doing for more than 2000 years and our fathers and grandfathers who gave their lives for it!

8th) This type of thinking of missions is the perfect example of when helping hurts.  The article diagnoses Africa’s problem as (savages that need civilization) it reads “These early men and women laid down their lives to disease and a hostile population for the sake of the gospel. As historian Ruth Tucker notes, “Africa has claimed the lives of more . . . missionaries than any other area of the world.” Yet still they came. It was these 19th-century missionary pioneers, Tucker writes, “who risked all to open the way for Christianity in Africa.”…my question is, what's compelling us to serve? A desire to see people's heart turning to Jesus and glorifying God in their lives or a desire to be the hero in the story?  A book that opened my eyes about the right approach to missions is "The Celtic Way of Evangelism: by George G. Hunter" we need to love the people of Africa as they are before we can share the Gospel.

9th) This article is written to appeal to the white savior complex, and it works for unfortunately the majority of western Christians because it affirms the notion that we are perfect as westerners, let’s go change the world.  To me, being an African missionary to the U.S. I’d like to challenge that thinking by simply asking American Evangelicals to search their hearts and consider to spend a week or two in the red zoned districts of their cities.  To first deeply be convicted of their own racially divisive and man centered theology and repent, …reconcile with their black brothers and sisters and reclaim the Gospel of Jesus as the Good news and not the rich white people’s country club.  Then, go to someone else’s continent and learn on how you can be a part of what God is already doing.

10th) I’d argue that the way prosperity Gospel is described as evil in Africa in this article is the same as how black Christians would describe Patriotic Evangelism in America.  Both are blinding, so appealing to the needs of a man’s heart to self-exalt and self-serve.  I don’t deny most of Africa is struggling with prosperity Gospel but one thing we can learn from those false teachers is that, they are letting people live where they are, and going and “evangelizing” to them in their own language and culture.  They’re not trying to “civilize” them and make them confirm to their way of living.  It’s one thing when missionaries go into villages to build hospitals and schools to help what’s already there but the article appears to be demanding westernization and even has the audacity to demand religious freedom. 

11th) Religious freedom is a privilege Americans have but think it’s a God given right because that’s what privilege let’s you believe.  The Gospel is not supposed to be something we share to make this side of heaven perfect, civilized, simple to the liking and understanding of simple minded man’s heart and mind, it’s supposed to cost us our lives, we’re supposed to be persecuted for our beliefs…and Africans understand that and when we give our lives to Christ we do it with that in mind therefore our walk with Christ is full of deep pursuit and dedication to the Lord. Because we actually lost something to follow him, every breath we take with Christ on this earth is worth something to us, another day to do his work faithfully. 

12) This article talks about young people as a selfish, self centered and irresponsible group.  It says nothing about the movement that is within the African Diaspora, those of us who are starting businesses, churches and moving back home to take up the leadership of our fathers and grand fathers. It makes Africa seem helpless in need of saving.  It’s simply not true, we have an army of young leaders who are taking up the cross daily and following Christ whole heartedly.  We are fighting false teaching with truth appealing to our youth’s heart by keeping their dignity in tact.  We speak their language, love them the way they understand best, don’t demand them to become something Christ doesn’t ask of them.   We are missionaries, transplanted around the world and praying for our neighbors.

Do we welcome missionaries; we do and just to be clear I have many of them, one in particular a sister I've known since college in Uganda who is doing an amazing work of equipping young girls and teaching them to study God's word and how to teach it to others, she's been discipling these girls for several years and I get her newsletter every month and pray for and with her.  The difference is she's there to serve and not to dictate. I think it’s very problematic that TGC is allowing a westerner to diagnose Africa’s problem as lack of westerners and offer a solution which says more westerners.  It’s offensive to say the least and doesn’t even touch on the tip of the ice burg. 

For me, being someone that loves and follows TGC and use it in my day-to-day ministry and discipleship, I find it very hard to believe this post as one vetted by people that actually are Africans.  I’m curious if Thabiti Anyabwile has seen this article? I’d like to ask for his input and feedback to be considered in deciding what to do next.

I’d also like to offer my help if it’s ever needed to vet these types of posts for the future.  You can call or email me and I’ll be happy to help in any way possible.  I am a student at a seminary and a part of the Institute for the Study of the Black Christian Experience that is launching this fall and will be honored to serve in any capacity I could. 

I believe Africans need to lead these conversations, to diagnose the problem of our own nation and to come up with solutions and we need to invite westerners, middle Easterns, Asians...etc in to that process…doing it the other way around goes back to a really bad history we have with the west and it discredits everything Christ stands for and gets in the way of unity and furthering the Gospel.  


I hope my assessment and opinion is taken into serious consideration.  I hope you’ll respond appropriately and I hope this article will be taken down and TGC will issue an apology for being a part of perpetuating a very negative view of Africa and contributing to the stigma that Africa is a Dark place.  It is the most beautiful, colorful, dignified and diverse nation.  Let us tell our story.



Update: After receiving so many requests to share my blog, and hearing the feedback of some godly men and women in my life, I've edited my original letter to TGC and have added some explanation to my points.  I've also removed anything that directly addresses the author as I do not know him and cannot assume anything about his intent.  I am sure whoever would spend several years in another continent doing ministry could only do it with God's call on their lives and my heart in this is not to discredit the work he's doing.  But I also want to be sure that my righteous anger is not masked by a desire to please people, I think there is space for all of that and speaking my mind and beliefs in this area is something I stand by whole heartedly. I hope this educates and edifies my brothers and sisters in christ and cause them to think twice about Africa and Africans when they engage in these conversations. 

Comments

  1. I think this is a great response, and I especially like points 7 & 10. A lot!

    I've actually had to study prosperity gospel issues in Togo at a secular university (case study, not field work) approaching it from a non-religious standpoint. Interestingly enough, the little I've read paints a more nuanced picture of the more prosperity-leaning congregations that don't always easily fit in the box in which they're usually described and critiqued.

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    1. All this is to pretty much reaffirm, "It only talks about prosperity gospel and totally discredits the work God has been doing for more than 2000 years."

      I'm pretty confident He's been finding ways to work in areas we haven't recognized.

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    2. Thank you so much for reading! It's humbling!

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  2. You raise some valid points and many of them are well worth putting into consideration. I am just wondering if you read the bio of the author of the TGC article, it's at the bottom. It might help tone your approach.

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    1. Yes I have and that's why I'm baffled by the article, please Goole the term tone policing. Thanks!

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  3. Remarkable and well documented! Thanks for the response!

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  4. printing this out now to take with me to an editor at TGC in the morning! Your voice is being heard -- thank you for sharing!

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  5. Yes to all of this. Reading that article actually made me feel sick... it's like nothing has changed in 200 years of colonization. It especially hurts when this type of ignorance is spewed by so-called Christians. I would love to read more about your thoughts on how you've witnessed short-term missions as damaging. Personally I've always had a bad gut feeling about short term missions but I though hey, as long as they're spreading the gospel, right? But I know it should be much deeper than that. Blessings!

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    1. Lily, thanks for reading and sharing your heart! It's been such a whirlwind but God is up to something here as I see it resonating with so many people!

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