There is no talk of Black History without faith, especially the Christian faith. PBS recently released a fascinating Henry Louis Gates Jr. documentary on the Black Church. What some dubious people tried to oppress and suppress black people with became the very thing that liberated us and is now giving us a global leading edge.
Africa is the most Christian continent in the world today. The year 2018 was the first in history where there were more Christians in Africa than on any other continent in the entire world! (Johnson 2018) THIS IS A BIG DEAL!—this is a one-thousand year record held by Europe that has been broken by Africa in our lifetime. That makes me super excited about Black History Month this year because history is being made right now. As you read this, a number of continental Africans and those of African descent in the diaspora have synergized to birth a new network known as Send Africa to promote further faith formation among ‘unreached people groups’ around the world.
At the formal launch of this Send Africa Network online on February 24-25 during this 2021 Black History Month, my Kenyan friend, Sam Ngugi, and I will be launching a ground-breaking book entitled Africa to the Rest to celebrate this huge feat of Africa becoming a leading global force of faith to the rest of the world. This book is to “celebrate this momentous occasion in world history that has been inadequately highlighted by mainstream missions and missions. It traces some of God’s goodness to Africa in the Bible and throughout history until now to make clear that Africa and Africans have been central to God’s missional purposes; not an afterthought.” You may register for the Send Africa Summit here.
CAPTURED & DISTORTED HISTORY
Of course Africa features in the Bible from start to finish. There were actually two black guys (among the five) that played hands on the apostle Paul and commissioned him on his missionary journeys (Acts 13). Africa is the cradle of monasteries and ecumenicsm. The term Trinity came from Tertullian the Tunisian. St. Augustine was from Algeria, and not a European as we were made to believe growing up in Africa.
As Sam and I state in our book, “People consider Christianity as the white man’s religion to oppress the African due to the last 500 years of Euro-American missionary activity mixed with colonialism without realizing that the first 500 years A.D., Africa was so synonymous with Christianity that one of the most common terms for Christians in Arabic sources is afariqa–indicating a significant degree to which “Christian” and “African” were synonymous concepts (Merrills 2004, 303).”
In fact, the subtitle of our book is “from mission field to mission force (again)“ because Africa(ns) as a mission force first impacted Europe with the Gospel! That notion that Africa first evangelized Europe is the essence of Thomas Oden’s book titled How Africa Shaped the European Mind. “My core hypothesis,” Oden himself says, “is that much intellectual history flowed south to north: from Mumidia to Sicily to France and Italy. It flowed from the Nile to the Euphrates and the Danube. It flowed from Pelusium to Gaza to Cappadocia. …There is ample evidence available that the seeds of African orthodoxy have been lifted by high winds to distant northern climes. Only much later have they returned to Africa in a Western guise.”
Only a century ago, at a world missionary conference in Edinburgh, not only was there no continental African there as a delegate, we were described as “heathen” in need of being saved. Today there are more Anglicans in Kenya than in England. At the time, the continent had 9 million Christians while Europe was home to 406 million. Today, Africa has over 630 million Christians, a clear 30 million more than Latin America in second place with Europe in third place with 571 million Christians. And it’s not a nine-day wonder, for by 2050 (Deo volente), there will likely be more Christians in Africa (1.25 billion) than in the next two continents combined! (Johnson 2018)
It is good to know that Africa leads the world in something. There are churches that began in Africa and are in 198 countries now. The largest congregations in Europe are pastored by Africans, like Sunday Adelaja’s in Kieve, Ukraine. The most multinational congregation in the world—108 nationalities—was founded by and pastored by my good friend and mentor in Vancouver, Canada, Dr. Sam Owusu. I could give you a list of about 10 global mission organizations–including the Navigators, SIM, Langham Partners and SIL–currently led by Africans!
Why is all this important? For many reasons but three will suffice for now. First, black people have been part and parcel, even central, to the purpose and mission of God unlike others have tried to make us think. We are equally made in the image and likeness of God as anyone else. We ought to rejoice and while not bragging about ourselves, ‘make our boast in the LORD.’
Secondly, the Christian faith is authentically African. As one scholar put it, Christianity is a beggar looking for clothes in whatever culture it goes into. The fact that it was captured by Europeans and Americans and tailored as a tool of oppression of blacks in slavery, colonialism etc. is simply not right (not the authentic Christian faith) and doesn’t make the faith the preserve of the white man either.
Finally, the business world and other sectors in Africa that are trying to make a mark on the world stage could learn a thing or two from the African Church that leads the world in faith today, hands down.
THE FUTURE HAS COME
I come from a long and rich family history of black (hi)story tellers. My grandfather was an emeritus professor of ethnomusicology and my mother is a professor of history with a specialization in the slave trade. I feel privileged to take my turn to tell stories of African leadership, and in this particular case, leadership in faith, church and missiology.
The assassinated Congolese nationalist leader, luminary and first Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Patrice Lumumba, must be smiling in his grave that the day he prophesied is here: “The day will come when history will speak. But it will not be the history which will be taught in Brussels, Paris, Washington or the United Nations… Africa will write its own history and in both north and south it will be a history of glory and dignity.” The day has come!
For those of no faith and saying to themselves “who cares if Africa is the most Christian continent?” because we’re yet to see it tell on our socioeconomic indicators or the millennium development goals, just you wait. Works soon follow faith. Unless it’s not true faith; because faith without works is dead.
Johnson, Todd M., Gina A. Zurlo, Albert W. Hickman, and Peter F. Crossing. “Christianity 2018: More African Christians and Counting Martyrs.” International Bulletin of Mission Research 42, no. 1 (January 2018): 20. doi:10.1177/2396939317739833.
Merrills, A. (Ed.). (2004). Vandals, Romans and Berbers: New Perspectives on Late Antique North Africa (1st ed.). Routledge, 303. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315235127
Oden, Thomas. 2007. How Africa Shaped the European Mind, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, p.71.
Perbi, Yaw & Sam Ngugi. 2021. Africa to the Rest: from mission field to mission force (again). Forthcoming. Xulon Press.
Here is the entire preface to the 2020 version of YouthPower! in Soweto for your enjoyment and edification. This book was first written 15 years ago upon a life-transforming visit to South Africa in 2005. The anti-racial protests in 2020 were like a 1976 déjà vu and inspired me to get this re-release going for today’s generation to remember and soldier on.
“It is better to die for an idea that will live,
than to live for an idea that will die.”
The Definition of Black Consciousness, I Write What I Like, 1978
It is 2020. The pandemic year. The epochal events of this year, on both sides of the Atlantic, have had such significant parallels with the youth uprisings and protests in apartheid South Africa in 1976 that after procrastinating the republishing of this book for years I finally got the umph to do it.
“Police brutality.” “Systematic racism.” “Peaceful protests turned violent.” “We are dealing here not with a spontaneous outburst but with a deliberate attempt to bring about polarisation between whites and blacks.” “This government will not be intimidated and instructions have been given to maintain law and order at all costs.” Do any of these phrases and sentences sound familiar? Yet these are not from 2020; these are all 1976 words and phrases!
With the world slowed down, even locked down, we all had the time and bandwidth to take in the slow slaughter of an American young man, George Floyd, by those paid “to serve and protect” him. The aftermath of #BlackLivesMatter protests in the United States and around the world seemed like a coordinated tsunami. Perhaps no other year has there been more concerted protests against police brutality, systematic racism and no-nonsense towards anything or anyone glorifying an apartheid, segregationist, slavery or colonial past.
At a point, the confluence of 400th year anniversary of the first slave setting foot in America, a plague (COVID-19) and protests by the oppressed made me wonder if this was not a modern replay of the biblical Exodus, the liberation of Israel from Egypt.
Then just when things seemed to be settling down, #endSARS happened. Nigerian youth wouldn’t take the brutalization of their kith and kin anymore either. The well-organized air war (via social media) and on-the-ground protests did result in the dissolution of the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) that had been unleashing untold mayhem on the Nigerian people, especially youth, for years. Some paid the ultimate price for daring to express their Youth Power! May they rest in peace. May their death bring life.
In all the standing up to, shouting out and marching against, the core demographic has of course been Young People. Youth Power! at work again; just as in 1976. In fact, my favourite picture of the 2020 protests in the U.S. so strongly correlates with a scene from 1976 although both events are seas and decades apart. On the streets of America in 2020 the youth held placards that read, “We are not our ancestors. We will fuck you up.” In Soweto, 44 years earlier, the youth had asserted similarly, “Our parents are prepared to suffer under the white man’s rule. They have been living for years under these laws and they have become immune to them. But we strongly refuse to swallow an education that is designed to make us slaves in the country of our birth.”
It seems to me that like the Boomer generation of 1976, the Millennial, Gen Y and Gen Z generations alive and kicking in 2020 have also taken seriously their mandate to leave the world better than they found it. “You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”” [said a certain wise man]. I believe that was the Youth Power! mindset in 1976, replayed in 2020. Here’s to celebrating Youth Power! from Soweto to Minneapolis to Lagos to the ends of the earth.
I am humbled by my very rich family history of Black story-telling. My grandfather, J.H. Kwabena Nketia, was an emeritus professor of ethnomusicology whose lifework was dedicated to documenting the songs and drum language of African peoples while my mother, Akosua Adoma Perbi, is a professor of history with a specialization in the slave trade, indigenous and trans-Atlantic. It seems my turn has come to continue a family tradition.
I can understand those in my generation who feel Black people are too yesterday-focused and are pushing for this month to be Black Future Month instead of Black History Month. A word of caution though: we must know our history well–although not dwell in the past–if we are to be and do today what will make our tomorrow better than yesterday. As a wise man once said, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” 2020 has proven that history tends to repeat itself.
‘Shit hole’ status is not the preserve of any people group, state or nation. Seasons change. Kingdoms rise and fall with terrific and terrible leadership respectively. Great civilizations have come and gone. If Africa continues on a trajectory of principle-centred, values-based, effectual leadership and America continues on her trajectory of shit-based leadership for long enough the tables will turn!
Bit by bit we’ve seen the shroud of so-called American exceptionalism come apart. Rent piece by piece, she’s revealing her warts to a watching world, stuck at home. What she’s done well for over 200 years to conceal—and not wash her dirty linen in public either—a combination of democratized social media, a TRUMPeting emperor with no clothes and a plaguing pandemic have conspired to expose. Lynchings like George Floyd’s are not new; it’s the handy smart phones and social media apps at the finger tips that capture and broadcast these which are.
Last Wednesday’s attempted coup d’état at the U.S. Capitol was the nadir of the last four years’ declivitous decline from apparent democracy to real shitocracy. I am not one to use the s-word; I’m only playing on the words of the supposed most powerful man on earth. Many aspects of the attack on the ‘people’s house’ by armed rioters a.k.a. domestic terrorists dropped my jaws (and kept my mouth agape) but the most shocking was literally the filthiest of all: desecration of the House with faecal matter, well-known in ‘shit hole countries’ as ‘shit bombing’. Just when you thought America could sink no further.
The shit-hole-country-conferring president of the Divided States of America inspired this group of shit bombers.
Let me tell America(ns) how we, Africans, got shit holed: LEADERSHIP! A long string of shit hole leadership like you’ve now gotten in the Black House (it’s only painted white and so-called but we know it was built by Blacks). If Africa continues on a trajectory of principle-centred, values-based, effectual leadership and America continues on her trajectory of shit-based leadership for long enough the tables will turn! You know how I know? Because “everything rises and falls on leadership,” E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-NG, shit and all. And that is a principle; a timeless, fundamental law of the universe that is no respecter of persons: red or yellow, black or white.
‘Shit hole’ status is not the preserve of any people group, state or nation. Seasons change. Kingdoms rise and fall with terrible and terrific leadership respectively. Great civilizations have come and gone. And I mean, greater civilizations than America, and that dominated for much longer than the toddling USA. America could be tomorrow what we call “ancient Egypt” today. Or even the beggarly Greece today, yes, Socrates, Aristotle and Plato’s Greece of yestercentury. In the last decade Portugal found itself borrowing money from her former colony Angola.
Meanwhile, my Ghanaian-Canadian children today wonder what is so ‘Great’ about Britain. Brexit? As for America, in the last few weeks we’ve spent more time at our Family Altar repeatedly praying for political peace in America and for the eradication of ignorance and disease (COVID-19) there than we have prayed about any of these for Africa!
Now to my fellow Africans. In the light of how backward America has proven to be recently, perhaps it is beginning to dawn on you that we may not be as backward as they (and some others) would like us to think! After all, when our ancestors were building pyramids their European forebears were but Barbarians (note: barbarian or barbaric is still not a fluttering word in the English dictionary today).
At the very time when there were prolonged pre, para and post electoral tensions in America, even with a sitting president refusing to concede but rather raising false alarms of a rigged election, Ghana figuratively and literally came from behind to vote, certify results within 72 hours and has already sworn-in a new president (an occasion the American president nominated American officials to attend). Now, look who’s shit hole!
Which is worse: being called shit hole or being shitty? It was America’s shitocracy that christened African countries as shit hole. But neither shitocracy nor shit hole is good enough for Africa or America. I have substantial interest in the prosperity of both peoples on both sides of the Atlantic–and so does the whole world stand to benefit. So upward and onward with godly, principle-centred, values-based, effectual leadership for the benefit of our peoples and to the glory of God. No more shit–shit holing, shit hollering or shit bombing. We were made for so much more than this.
Africa! America! African-Americans, arise, clean up and shine! Let our worst years be the last four; and our worst days among the last four too.
While I hope Ghana’s former president Jerry John Rawlings does Rest In Peace, his passing has evoked many memories and a slew of strong sentiments–the good, the bad and the ugly. My father was Chief Accountant of the Social Security Bank at the time of J.J.’s ‘revolution.’ I have often touted my dad’s integrity. Here’s one of his recent reflections on how his integrity and God’s grace saved his skin during the days of the ‘revolution’, quite literally.
After the apparent unfinished business in 1979, JJ came back onto the public scene by ousting President Hilla Limann on 31st December, 1981. The mindset was people were corrupt; more corrupt than the public acknowledged, and far more widespread.
Soldiers entered our premises where we were staying, at a place called Pig Farm, in Accra. Word must have gone somewhere that our landlady Mame Boatema was hoarding cloth. Her trade was selling cloth at Makola, and there was a concept called “ hoarding”: some sellers used to keep some of the items for sale away from public view, partly in order to create shortages and hence sell what they had at higher prices, and partly, on a much lower scale, in order to pass them on to their favorite patrons and customers. It did not matter whether the things in your possession were legitimately acquired by you or not; if the quantity constituted more than a certain perceived number, you were branded as hoarding, and you suffered consequences. Consequences; various consequences, from outright seizure of the items, to sometimes seizure plus beatings.
On this evening, we had closed from the office and were home when all of a sudden soldiers entered our house. We were then occupying the lower floor of a two-storey building, Mame Boatema the wife of the landlord occupying the top floor. Apparently the soldiers had climbed up, done their search, found nothing and upon descending opened our front door without knocking and entered. Ma gave them a questioning look; I signaled to her to keep calm. They went to every room, found nothing of what they suspected, and left.
When they left, Mame Boatema went to the entrance of the house and shouted to all who were in hearing range, and somehow addressed to neighbours across the road whom she suspected may have sent false information to the soldiers that she was hoarding cloth, how disgraceful they had turned out to be, seeing that nothing untoward was found in the search.
That was just one domestic scenario. There were several in several places, many receiving beatings etc. Soldiers were all over the place, with an agenda they only knew, but mainly looking for “ enemies of the revolution”: namely people who were profiteering.
I was then chief accountant of the Bank ( SSB), one of the departments under my purview being the Stores. SSB was a very popular bank those days. It had been set up by the late Dr Appiah as a subsidiary of the national pension institution SSNIT, and was intended to help fill some identified gaps in the banking industry. Its department called Consumer Credit Department specifically set up to offer workers loans to buy consumables – fridges, freezers, cookers etc- was very popular with workers. The inflation in the country was not only in double digits but also the changes were so rapid that workers were no longer able to source loans easily to buy their needs. Members of staff felt very much appreciated by members of the public- and apparently also envied and hated by some – notably those who could not access the credit for one reason or the other.
Another aspect of SSB’s uniqueness was its opening of cocoa branches. These were new branches at cocoa farming and buying centres to assist cocoa farmers offer their cocoa sales receipts to the Bank for cash/credit. Prior to this, hard-working cocoa farmers after harvesting and selling their cocoa would only be given sales receipts which they had to hang on for very long periods of time and at the mercy of the traditional banks which were not many to start with, nor operating in thick rural areas. This made the Bank also very much appreciated by cocoa farmers.
In addition to this, warehousing finance whereby importers of goods, usually consumables, could access funds from the Bank usually to finance customs and clearing charges of imports by depositing the products in the Bank’s warehouse and have them released in bits based on how they were selling the items and paying the credit in installments was a very welcome initiative in banking.
The Bank’s warehouse was located at the North Industrial Area in Accra, while the Head Office where my office was was at Kokomlemle. On this occasion, I was told that soldiers had gone to the Warehouse and beaten one of the storekeepers. I wondered why, but almost immediately added “ If he did not do anything wrong, would they beat him? Maybe they asked to open the gates for them to see what was inside and he refused.” Little did I know that I was soon to eat back my own words later that night: being beaten before being heard.
People mingled around the frontage of the Bank wondering what was going on; it was near closing time, and I had also closed and joined the rest of the staff in wonder. Before long a military vehicle Pinz Gauer pulled up and with a couple of soldiers and policemen at the back drove up to the front of the Bank. While we were all at a loss as to what was up, I noticed I was pointed out and signaled to approach the vehicle. A soldier asked whether I would be able to answer some questions on the items in the warehouse and I confidently said “Yes.” I was asked to climb into the vehicle.
It was obvious it was most probable I was not going to drive home myself in my car that evening so I gave my car keys to one of the staff I identified and climbed in. We drove off, not knowing where they were taking me. We first went to a base near 37 Military Hospital, sat in the vehicle, wondering what was next. After a long time, and with dusk well settled and darkness in the atmosphere, we drove on, me little knowing where the destination was.
While going, some of the soldiers and policemen were exposed their beef as they expressed their disappointment with not being able to get some of the consumer items when they applied. I kept quiet, not being the manager in charge of that credit, but also being very much aware that no amount of defence would assuage their bitterness and anger.
Soon we were to turn into Burma Camp, and deeper into what I later got to know was Gondar Barracks. “Meat come! meat come!” were shouts that greeted us from soldiers at the camp, and apparently a couple or so other Pinz Guarers already parked ahead of us. “Meat,” as in reference to people who had been sent to the barracks who would be beaten. The prospect of beating civilians was being likened to enjoying some beef or similar juicy meat. I saw soldiers lifting their boots into the bodies of people, including their groins and any other part of the body they could reach with their legs.
Sooner or later it came to my turn. There was an office not far from the road where the vehicle had parked. When I was called, or rather signaled to enter the office, I descended from the vehicle and I heard one of them ask me to remove my eye glasses. Before I knew what was happening, two hefty slaps landed on my cheeks from behind me. I tried to make my way to the office, somehow convinced that there would be some respite there. It was like fighting unknown and unseen forces. While I tried hard to force my way to the office, I felt being restrained with some bearing. Eventually I made my way to the office.
An officer seated at a table asked of my designation . When I told him, it turned out that I was not one they were looking for. They asked me to go back to sit in the vehicle to be driven back. While waiting in the vehicle, some of the soldiers who had become somewhat apologetic said some people had even lost their lives so … apparently to console me that my fate could have been worse. When we departed to be sent to 37 area to find our way home, I opted to get off as soon as we exited the Burma Camp, and fortunately found a taxi that took me home to Pig Farm. Those were days of curfew: no one was expected to be on the streets from 6 pm to 6 am, later to be adjusted to 9 pm to 6 am.
A member of my staff Aggrey Fynn, himself a retired naval officer who was Stores Manager had also been sent to the barracks. I could only pray as to how he was going to be treated. Nursing pains in the cheeks the next few days and a red eye seemed a small price to pay for what was in store for the country, unknown to many, including even those who appeared to be “ in charge.”
Bank forgeries three years later and how some civilians were shot to death and my escape from it is another story altogether.
Reindorf B. Perbi
17 November, 2020