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Reverse missions

By Tshepang Basupi

Throughout history, migration and Christian missions have gone hand in hand. In the book of Acts, we notice that the persecuted believers in Jerusalem started sharing the gospel as they migrated (Acts 8:4). Andrew Walls notes that:

It is easy enough to point to historical situations where migration forwarded the spread of the faith. The earliest spread of the faith beyond Jewish Palestine owed much to prior Jewish migration across the Mediterranean world, as well as into Mesopotamia and beyond. The Jewish communities in the diaspora provided the networks by which the message about Jesus spread.(1)

Africans have been migrating across the world, including to the West. As these believers migrate, they also carry their faith. This is similar to how European’s migrants brought the gospel to many parts of Africa.(2) Following the same trend, Africans are bringing the gospel to Europe and North America, a phenomenon known as reverse missions.

The first recorded missionary initiatives by Africans to the West were in the nineteenth century. For example, Sumner Chapel in Peckham, London, was established in 1906 by Ghanaian businessman Brem Wilson, who migrated to England in 1901.(3)

This African missionary movement differs from earlier missions to Africa by Europeans, who came in coordinated ways, often sent through churches and missions societies. African Christians and churches are going as individuals in response to migratory pressures. Others go because they feel called by God to reach the Western world. The implications of a lack of structures is that these efforts are not necessarily coordinated, so individuals and congregations are planting churches without being aware of each other.(4)

This is very much like the biblical accounts of believers in the book of Acts who shared the gospel spontaneously as they moved. They were not sent in a coordinated way, but obeyed their Lord as they moved. One of the fruits of migrant believers fleeing persecution in Jerusalem was the planting of the church in Antioch (Acts 11:19-21).

Many African Christians are thriving in highly secularized places like Europe. The recession of religion in Europe is a call to re-evangelize Europe and re-establish Kingdom principles.(5) Many African believers who migrated to Europe believe that God is giving them an opportunity to spread the good news amongst those who do not have a relationship with Him.(6)

Though some may not define African migrants as missionaries, they play a critical role in missions. They initiate the process of evangelism and church planting.(7) We also need to recognize that every missionary is a migrant and every Christian migrant a potential missionary.(8) Some African churches have been able to utilize their migrant members as missionaries without necessarily heavily investing in them to do so.

Africans are already on the move. If churches and mission agencies could envision those who are moving to consider sharing the gospel and planting churches wherever they go, we will see a huge number of churches planted by ‘ordinary’, obedient African believers in the West.

Tshepang Basupi serves as the Southern Region Executive Director for Africa Inland Mission (AIM) International. He and wife Queen have two children. They are currently based in Nairobi, Kenya. He can be reached at tshepang.basupi@aimint.org.

(1)Andrew Walls, 2002, Mission and Migration: The Diaspora Factor in Christian History, Journal of African Christian Thought 5:2 (Dec 2002), 3-11.
(2) Hanciles, Jehu, 2008, Beyond Christendom, 4.
(3) Babatunde Aderemi Adedibu, Reverse Mission or Migrant Sanctuaries? Migration, Symbolic Mapping, and Missionary Challenges of Britain’s Black Majority Churches. 2013.
(4) Israel Oluwole Olofinjana 2020, Vol. 37(1) 52–65, https://bit.ly/3DnNZLk.
(5) Asamoah-Gyadu Kwabena. 2006. “African Initiated Christianity in Eastern Europe: Church of the ‘Embassy of God’ in Ukraine”, in International Bulletin of Missionary Research, vol.30. no.2, 73-75. https://bit.ly/3DjWCXy.
(6) Hanciles, Jehu. 2008. Beyond Christendom: Globalization, African Migration and the Transformation of the West. New York: Orbis Books.
(7) Anim, Emmanuel. 2019. ‘Mission in the Diaspora: The Role of Migrants (Refugees) as Principal Bearers of the Christian Faith’, in Spiritus: ORU Journal of Theology, vol.4, no.1, 131-140. https://bit.ly/2ZUB71Q.
(8) Hanciles, Jehu. 2008. Beyond Christendom: Globalization, African Migration and the Transformation of the West. New York: Orbis Books.

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