This July, the continent of Africa will host the Baptist World Congress for the first time.
Baptists of Africa in general and of South Africa in particular, will joyfully welcome the participants who come to the congress for worship and renewal, study and reflection, fellowship and networking.
In preparation for the event, one African Baptist commitment to evangelize their continent is noteworthy.
One of the great African Baptist leaders of yesteryear, James Tanimola Ayorinde, served the Nigerian Baptist Convention as president and general secretary from 1950-55 and 1964-75, respectively.
He is one leader who played an important role in helping the churches devise ways and means of fulfilling their mission responsibility in Africa.
When Ayorinde addressed the 8th Baptist World Congress in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1950, he announced that the light of Christ was shining in Africa.
Five years later, at the Jubilee Congress in London, Ayorinde said this: “Baptist foreign missionary effort has been unparalleled in the history of mission in Nigeria.”
He asserted that “if the teeming millions of Africa are to be won for Christ, they must be won by the African home missionary himself.” He added, “The Nigerian Christian must take an active role in the evangelization of Africa.”
The conviction that Africans have a responsibility to evangelize Africa still resides in the hearts of many Baptists on the continent.
Addressing the Baptist World Alliance Miami Beach Congress, Congolese Baptist leader Samuel Koli said that “the main work of the Baptists in the Congo is to show Jesus Christ the Lord to the Africans.”
For his part, Nlandu Mpanzu of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) told the Stockholm Congress that “the church is trying to take really seriously what it means to meet people where they are in order to proclaim Christ effectively.”
Meanwhile, Ademola Ishola of Nigeria urged participants at the Birmingham Congress to understand that the empowerment of the Holy Spirit is needed for ministry in “a world that subtly and brazenly seeks to mute the proclamation of the Gospel.”
The record of mission work being undertaken by African Baptist conventions and unions is a study in exemplary stewardship in international mission. Consider the example of Nigeria Baptists. They are engaged in a carefully planned mission program among fellow Nigerians at home.
On the wider African front, the record of the 18-month period prior to May 2014 shows the Nigerian Baptist Convention sending missioners to Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Tanzania and Togo. They have also ventured farther afield, in the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile, mission-conscious Nigerians who are permanent residents in North America and elsewhere have started churches aimed at mobilizing, especially fellow Nigerians in the Diaspora, for Christian witness and discipleship.
The record of other Baptists in Africa – in countries like Ghana and South Africa, for example – also shows the serious commitment of Baptists in Africa to engagement in Christian mission on their vast continent.
It is not surprising that contemporary Nigeria Baptist scholar Emiola Nihinlola has claimed in his book, “Theology under the Mango Tree: A Handbook of African Christian Theology,” that the church in Africa “has grown to the point of taking the responsibility to evangelise the [African] continent.”
Baptists in Africa are deeply committed to the evangelization of their fellow Africans.
Not surprisingly, in each of the following countries – Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda – more than a million Baptists can be found.
A strong case can be made for Kenya and Tanzania to also be included in this list.
In fact, Ethiopia would be included if the 7 million members of baptistic Kale Heywet (Word of Life) Church were counted among the people of Baptist persuasion in that country.
Today, members of Baptist churches in Africa make up 25.6 percent of the membership of churches joined together in conventions, unions and associations within the Baptist World Alliance.
In July 2015, when thousands of Baptists from many nations gather in Durban, South Africa, for the 21st Baptist World Congress, we are likely to meet many of the Africans who are doing exactly what was envisaged many years ago, namely, spreading the Good News concerning Jesus Christ among fellow Africans and beyond their shores.
As we gather under the theme, “Jesus Christ, the Door,” may the event mark a significant stage when Baptists renew their commitment to bear witness to Jesus Christ so that people from all nations may come to faith and discover the hope that is stronger than death.
Neville George Callam, a Jamaican, has been serving as general secretary and chief executive officer of the Baptist World Alliance since his election in Accra, Ghana, in 2007. A version of this article first appeared in the January-March 2015 edition of Baptist World – a magazine published by the BWA. It is used with permission. Callam blogs here, and you can follow BWA on Twitter @TheBWA.