Africa Instituted Churches in 21st Century

On Nov 11 2013, CWC hosted Rev Nicta Lubaale, the Secretary General of OAIC. He gave a Public Lecture on the relevance of AIC churches in 21st century Africa.
In November, CWC invited Rev Nicta Lubaale, Secretary General of OAIC to give a Public Lecture to the AIU community. He talked about the relevance of AIC churches in 21st century Africa.

A few weeks ago, the government of Kenya initiated a polio vaccination campaign after an outbreak was reported in one part of the country. One those evenings, media broadcast an encounter between health officers and members of Kanisa la Mungu (Church of God) in Nakuru county, an encounter of spirited resistance to the vaccination exercise. They claimed it is not God’s will for them or their children to take medicine. They rely on prayer and faith for divine protection against sickness. A newspaper also featured a more ominous account of Kavonokya movement where a number of children died from curable ailments. Their parents would not take them to hospital because their religious beliefs prohibit them. Who are these churches? Are they a stain on the landscape of the thriving African Christianity? What place do they have in the 21st century?

The “white garment or brightly colored churches” are among the least understood churches. They appear as a rather eccentric sight on Sunday mornings as they dance to the beat of drums in white, purple, blue or some other bright garb. Some set base at any open ground and hold a worship service. Their decrepit church structures are a more common sight in informal settlements. Kalu notes that there is a huge variety of them throughout Africa, but the familiar names are Aladura in Yoruba, meaning “the praying people”, the Abaroho in East Africa, meaning “people of the Spirit”, Zionists in South Africa, Sunsum Sore in Ghana, meaning “spirit worshipers”. “AICs”, representing “African Indigenous or Initiated or Instituted Churches” has become their descriptive term. What distinguishes them from other Christianities is embrace of certain elements of African culture, ritual practices, prophecy, apparent possession by the [Holy] Spirit and use of symbols; much of this is based on a privileged reading of the Old Testament.

According to theologian John Pobee, AICs have represented one of the cutting edge dynamics of the shift in gravity of world Christianity from the global north to the global South. From the middle of the 20th century, AICs attracted spirited research from many quarters. Significant works included Bengt Sundkler’s Bantu Prophet’s in south Africa; John Peel Aladura: A New Religious Movement Among the Yoruba; Harold Turner, The Church of the Lord Aladura among many others. More recently (2001), Allan Anderson has referred to the AICs as an African Reformation in his book by the same title. He sustains an argument that AICs have contributed significantly to the growth Christianity in Africa.

Akorino, an AIC groups in Kenya

Akorino, an AIC group in Kenya

For one, they have the longest history of indigenous innovation. They were the earliest to question missionary Christianity’s depiction of African culture. They sought innovative answers from the Old Testament on matters of ritual cleanliness, polygamy, rites of passage, use of symbols, relationships to ancestors and other issues. Long before theologians talked of inculturation, indigenization or contextualization, AICs affirmed that one could be both an African and a Christian. Kalu argues that AICs and Pentecostals are bedfellows, although the latter tends to criticize the former because of their embrace of aspects of African culture. He sees both movements for their innovative emphasis on the pneumatic dimension of Christianity, at once affirming the African primal worldview and biblical work of the Holy Spirit; it is only their approaches that tend to differ. Their differences notwithstanding, AICs are to Kalu the precursor of the current vibrancy of Pentecostalism.

Although academic research on them has fizzled, they persist as a feature of African Christianity. They are significant for their numbers. At the beginning of the 20th century, Pobee notes they were about 42,000. By 2000, there were 54 million. Current, The Organization of African Initiated Churches (OAIC) estimates that there are about 60 million AIC members throughout Africa. But they are also significant for another reason: They are found among the poorest of the poor in slums and rural areas.

A couple of months ago, the president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta whose religious roots are Catholic, participated in two noteworthy ceremonies of one of the larger AICs in central Kenya, the African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa (AIPCA). One was the inauguration of Spiritual Leader Rev Amos Kabuthu. Flanked by government dignitaries, the President asked the church to complement the work of the government in building peace and unity. The other event was in opening Theological College of the AIPCA church. It sounded a bit like an oxymoron to mention AICs and theological college in the same breath, but AICs are adapting to the needs of the Mission of God in changing times.

OAIC LogoThe OAIC (http://www.oaic.org/) is the umbrella organization that is helping these churches find their footing in 21st century Africa. OAIC seeks to strengthen beliefs that simultaneously affirm Africanness (the vision of the founders), while leading them to develop more mainstream evangelical theology centered on the cross of Christ and deeper engagement with scripture. To this end OAIC networks the churches and also seeks to reduce tensions with other forms of Christianity. They do this through theological training of AIC church leaders. OAIC is also mobilizing AICs to engage sociopolitical realities. They conduct workshop among AIC church communities to raise awareness issues of inequalities and political injustices. One important initiative concerns healthcare, where they train church communities to integrate their beliefs with modern medicine. As their members tend to come from the poorest of the poor, they also equip communities to start projects that can improve livelihoods.

CWC hosted Rev Nicta Lubaale to give a public lecture at on AICs at Africa International University. In his concluding remarks, he called on mainstream Christians and theologians to acknowledge the biases that have evolved around AICs. These have isolated them as “the other”, God’s less favored sibling of African Christianity so to say. There are two choices: we could bemusedly spectate their altercations with the modern world. Or perhaps like the president of Kenya with the AIPCA, it is time to call a truce to our biases,  sit at a round table and open the gifts that each brings to the Mission of God in Africa.

“The Currencies of Contextual Missions”

A Class with Oscar Muriu,  Senior Pastor of Nairobi Chapel in Nairobi, Kenya

Oscar Muriu
 
In June 2013, Prof Diane Stinton brought five ladies from Regent College in Vancouver to CWC-AIU for a theological exchange class. Besides other experiences, the class met Christian leaders who are on the cutting edge of ministry, one of whom was Oscar Muriu. Oscar is the senior pastor of Nairobi Chapel, a church that grew from 20 people in 1989 to over 3000 people in 2000. In 2005,  Chapel divided into five churches and spread around city and now has a combined membership of more than 14000 people. Besides his leadership at Chapel, Oscar has traveled and spoken widely in churches and conferences around the world. He gave a very rich lesson to Diane’s class which we have decided to share with our CWC networks. His talk was a response to the question, “What must one be aware of to engage in contextual ministry in Africa?”

Relational Economy as the currency of ministry:  Ministry, as with most business in Africa is all about a relationships. In the West, time and money are the currency on which the economy runs. Choice, individual rights and personal boundaries are valued, and the culture is assertive and direct. To effectively engage in ministry in the African context, the most important thing to understand is the value and nature of relationships. People become involved in projects and make, or don’t make, commitments because of relationships they have built, or burned. Face-to-face leveraging is vital to get things done. Efficiency and productivity are not the primary influences in decision making. Money is not the primary influence in decision making, even in some business transactions. Decisions are made with the necessity of maintaining, building and preserving relationships in mind. The relational economy produces a shame-based culture in which the worst offense one could make would be to shame someone. When someone has taken the time to reach out and share something important with you, to reject it would be to shame that person.

Africans usually take a posture of poverty when in conversation with people from western culture, because the western standard of wealth is money. But don’t let that fool you. African culture still holds great beauty and contains wealth that is difficult to find in the West, such as the emphasis on relationships over time and money. One’s networks of extended family and friends are more valuable to kingdom work that cash because these can be depended on. Acknowledging, respecting and capitalizing on these alternative riches that Africa has to offer is key to effective ministry on the continent. Money is important but has less currency on how things get done here.

Powerlessness embedded in a history of domination: Pastor Oscar believes that Africans don’t speak out against grave injustices in their society and culture because of the pervasive sense of powerlessness that is the legacy of the colonial enterprise. African countries began gaining independence from colonial powers in the 1950s and 1960s. However, a deeply scarred and wounded culture lingers across the continent. The empire mentality of colonialism, compounded by the long-lasting effects of the Atlantic slave trade, left a sense of inferiority in the African psyche that will take time to change. Oscar sees this sense of inferiority as so deeply engrained that many Africans will look down on their own African values or products while they embrace what comes from other cultures outside of Africa, particularly the west. “You hear Kenyans say things like, ‘if you want a job well done, give it to a mzungu, give it to a while man’.”

That said, Oscar puts the dysfunction in African society in perspective by comparing it to the state of affairs in a country such as the USA. Most countries in Africa have only been independent for roughly fifty years, some less. The USA has had two hundred years, and yet it still has lots of issues! It is not fair to compare African countries as they exist today to Western countries. They are not historically at par. In fact, most African countries have done very well by western standards. For instance, the USA took over one hundred and fifty years to officially end racial (ethnic) bias. Even so, race relations are still thorny in America. One should evaluate some of the conflicts in Africa from this perspective. The same applies to other issues, such as economics, politics and so on. If Africa which has just had decades to get itself together is judged based on the state of Western countries, that is not an equal measure. Give us a break.

Acknowledging the history of powerlessness in African society is vital in one’s approach in ministry. A Western Christian arriving in Africa could easily perceive a seemingly inferior attitude as incompetence or unintelligence. Such a one then takes a dominant and authoritative attitude over those he or she is working with. It takes a conscious effort to humble yourself, to avoid accepting the position of superiority and to submit yourself to local leadership.

Generations of Christians

Pastor Oscar identifies three generations of Christians in Africa, who are the legacy of the modern missionary movement in Africa.

The first was the missionary generation, which has now largely passed away, evangelized by missionaries. They were taught to be compliant and to value whatever was presented by the Western Church as ideal. Missionary churches were Western replicas, a sentiment that still lingers in some mainline churches in Africa today though not in all. African expressions of worship were rejected as pagan, and so cultural expressions were exclusively Western.

The next generation, the children of the missionary generation lived in a time of increasing nationalism and great hope for independence. Christians from this generation began incorporating African styles of worship into their faith, and reclaiming their cultural roots. These changes were embraced and nurtured in movements such as the East Africa Revival, but were rejected by the missionary generation which still held onto church leadership positions as fellowships and prayer meetings. Eventually most of them evolved into churches that became thriving Pentecostal churches such as deliverance church in Kenya. At the same time, the more elite class rejected the white missionary and the colonial enterprise; there was a massive departure from the church after countries began gaining independence. Many maintained institutional affiliation but not devotion so everyone will tick on a form that they are Christians but can remember the last time they went to church.

The Uhuru generation was born after independence, and so they have not experienced colonialism firsthand. They have adopted a more moderate view than the previous generation; without wholesale acceptance of the missionaries of the colonial period, they choose to accept much of what the previous generation had turned its back on in its widespread rejection of anything Western. The “Children of Uhuru” have begun to process the history and cultural experiences of the previous generations, and to discern what is valuable and what needs to be rejected as cultural imperialism. They embrace their Africanness and have filled the airwaves with popular African Christian music and movies. Contextualisation has became a hot topic in Christian circles as this generation discerns what needs to be rejected from traditional African culture and what should to be accepted or reclaimed.  There is an upcoming 4th generation which is growing up in the globalized world and less aware of the issues of previous generations and their traditional African realities. Styles of worship are changing to reflect this next generation of Africans is increasingly influenced by the West. This will have a great impact on the church in the years to come.

If one comes to Africa but doesn’t understand the above dynamics they will not be effective. According to Pastor Oscar, there is a problem with how the West is still doing missions, even among major churches and mission boards in the west.  From his experience of engaging missionaries from some of these he laments, “ A lot of western churches don’t have a clue into what is happening globally so mission is still being done the way it was done two hundred years. They don’t realize the train left the station and left them behind”

In his experience, many mission teams coming to Africa still want to call the shots on the ground. They are focused on getting a return on their investment rather than on building long-term relationships. Unaware that the gravity has shifted to the southern hemisphere, they hold onto a triumphalistic mentality. He notes however, that the Anglican and Catholic churches are doing very well in catching up with the changing tides of missions.

Oscar Muriu speaking at Intervasity's Urbana Conference, US

Oscar Muriu speaking at Intervasity’s Urbana Conference, US

The currencies of mission

One key aspect of missions that must change is the currency on which it is run. In Jesus and Paul’s missionary enterprise, the currency of missions was not monetary. Hospitality was the currency of the day. It became very important that the church learn how to be hospitable. You pick that a lot in the gospels and Paul’s letters. Their support of his ministry flows out of a culture of hospitality.

At the fall of the Roman Empire, monasteries took on responsibility of missions. Monks could travel easily, depending on hospitality of strangers as they went. The Celts revitalized world missions by setting out on long journeys with very little to their names and no expectation that they would ever return home.  After the missionary enterprise passed through another dark period, it was the British Empire that took hold of world missions.  Livingstone, Carey and other British missionaries took the baton of mission as a faith enterprise based on what Oscar calls “Pax Britanica”. The colonial expansion of Britain and other European countries opened doors for Western missionaries just as the Pax Romana had for Paul and company.

Oscar notes that throughout history, the center of Christianity shifts as the global situation changes. Likewise, the currency of missions shifts: from hospitality, to Pax romana, to the poverty of monks, to Portuguese trade routes and the colonial railroads. Never before has money been the currency of missions, until the 20th century when mission shifted to Pax Americana. The Pax Americana, which has been adopted by other countries, model is dependent on the green buck, the dollar.  This model depends on functional economies and high levels of disposable income.  This has led to a decline in significance of relationships in the missionary enterprise; it is no longer necessary to depend on hospitality. It is possible to purchase the goods and services that you need, thus creating transactional instead of personal relationships. The faith factor that made the pax britannica missionary movement so successful has also diminished.  Admittedly, the Pax Americana had its place in the world of 20th century, and may yet continue for several more decades. But it is unsustainable because it has priced itself out of the market. For instance, the costs of travel, insurance, of maintaining a missionary family in the field and so on is prohibitive.

Pax Africana and the baton of missions in the 21st century

Oscar says the time has now come for the Pax Africana to lead in world missions. Pax Africana (including Asia and Latin America), coming as it is out of dysfunctional economies is dependent on three things: 1)youthful energy, 2)poverty and 3)African creativity. Africa (as does Latin America and Asia) has a great resource of young people who are ready to be mobilized for missions, within their own countries, around the continent and beyond. Most of these do not have to go as missionaries per se. They go as students, or in alternative professions. Secondly, surviving the hardships of the African context means that an African can thrive almost anywhere in the world without the costly safety nets that westerners require. Thirdly, even though Africans don’t have structures and systems in place, they still get things done. Africans have learned to innovate in any circumstance and this is a resource for mission.

Oscar concludes that as the African church continues to grow and mature, raising up theologians and church leaders eager to transform the continent, they must lay hold of these resources they have in abundance and make the most of them for the cause of missions.

“New Cities and New Jerusalems”

A consultation on Emerging Patterns of Christian Identity in Urban East Africa.

July18-21st, Nairobi, Kenya.

Given Christianity’s shift southwards, world Christianity has entered an era of expansion and staggering diversity. The venerable Andrew Walls refers to this as the “Ephesians Moment”.  CWC exists to recognize, announce and extend the Ephesians moment by among other means, networking and partnering with centers that promote the study of World Christianity. We have a significant partnership with the Center for the Study of World Christian Revitalization Movements at Asbury Theological Seminary. In October 2012, we entered into dialogue about holding a consultation on Christian revitalization in urban East Africa.  The consultation included several phases.

Case Studies: At the start of the year, a call for papers was sent to identified researchers to write the stories of five Christian movements around East Africa. These were:

  • George Atido, a PhD candidate at AIU wrote a case on the Living Stone Movement Bunia, DRC.
  • On contingency, Atido wrote a second paper on the vision and mission of Bunia Theological Seminary.
  • Rev David Omona wrote a case on The Ministry of All Saints Cathedral in Kampala, Uganda.
  • Maggie Gitau, also a PhD candidate wrote a case on Mavuno Church in Nairobi.
  • Daniel Karanu wrote on Fellowship of Christian Unions (FOCUS), Nairobi.
Philomena Mwaura addressing the May 27th Luncheon gathering. Mark Shaw in background

Philomena Mwaura addressing the May 27th Luncheon gathering. Mark Shaw in background

Introducing CWC to local Christian leaders: On May 27th 2013, we assembled 22 local pastors, theologians and parachurch leaders for a luncheon at the Serena Hotel. We shared the vision of CWC—to network, empower and resource the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in this context. Professor Philomena Mwaura of Kenyatta university gave a keynote address on emerging patterns of Christian revitalization in Kenya. Guests were then invited to return to Serena on 21st July to continue the conversation.

THE CONSULTATION, 18-21st JULY

After many months of joint planning with the team from Asbury, we brought together 35 international and local guests at the Ressurection Garden retreat center for a two day colloquium. The Asbury team was led by Jim Miller, professor of New Testament Theology at Asbury Theological Seminary. Jim has lived and taught in Kenya for many years. We’ll have feature on him in this blog.

 Opening lecture: The eminent Paul Gifford, Professor Emeritus of the Center for Oriental and African Studies at the University of London gave the opening address. Gifford who has researched and written extensively on Christianity in Africa, focused his address on what he calls the “enchanted religious imagination” that pervades much of African Christianity. According to him the engagement with the primal spiritual worldview is the greatest reason for the explosion of Christianity in Africa. He lamented that though pervasive, this reality is not given the attention it deserves in discussions of Christianity in Africa. His talk attracted a vigorous rejoinder from floor as participants both affirmed and refuted his claims on Christian activity in Africa. That address was a good a note as any to start the consultation on a realistic ground of awareness of the dynamism and diversity within Christianity in Africa. Watch this space for a feature on professor Gifford.

Table discussions: The heart of the consultation consisted two days of intensive discussions around small table groups. Professor Orobator, a priest with Jesuits East Africa gave an induction to the pastoral circle method that was used to analyse each case. At its heart, the pastoral circle is an intentional approach to explore “a word too large for any one person’s mouth”. Though the concept has roots in a different theological context, it resonates with the African palaver (Baraza in Swahili). A palaver is led by a council of elders, where the community sits under a tree to listen, to discover, to deliberate and through that process generate communal solutions to issues among them. As a theological tool, the circle takes social location, culture and change processes seriously. It identifies what is happening, assesses why it was happening, confronts the activity through the lenses of scripture and finally seeks to empower that activity with recommendations out of the process. And that is what the table groups sought to do with each of the cases.  Each table handled one of the five cases. A group consisted of the case writer, two activists from the case, and international, interdisciplinary scholars. Based on these discussion, the cases will be revised for possible publication to make them more widely available.

Sharing with local Christian leaders: The final piece of the consultation was a gathering of local pastors and scholars that we had invited to a luncheon earlier. We brought them in for high tea with consultation participants at Serena Hotel in the city. We shared some of the case study findings so to strengthen local ministries and encourage them to learn from each other.

Consultation Group

Consultation Group

We came away from the consultation humbled by the realization that the work of the Holy Spirit in urban East Africa is even greater than the famous East African Revival. It is not the initiative of any one person or a select few. The current move of the Holy Spirit is far more expansive, involves larger segments of the population, includes older churches as well as newer movements. Even though most of the movements and all the christian activity has a lot of room for growth, we believe that this revitalization will have far reaching effect in East Africa, particularly as it opens new possibilities of engagement with the public space.

In coming weeks we will post some personal perspectives from some participants at the consultation.  A number of collaborative projects among the participants will also be forthcoming in the months and years ahead. Watch this space.

CWC (AIU)-Regent College Theology Exchange Class

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The “Kenya Girls.”  Imagine the potential of student exchanges to renew theological education on both sides of the Atlantic. It is possible.

The Kenya Girls “Imagine” Experience

This ended season, CWC played host to an exchange class from Regent College in Vancouver, Canada. The exchange was an initiative of Diane Stinton, associate professor of Mission Studies at Regent. She is also one of our adjunct professors here at CWC. Diane has lived and taught in Kenya for many years, at Daystar University and Africa International University. When the Lord called her to Regent, she saw this as an opportunity to build partnerships  between theological educators and Christian practitioners across the Atlantic.

In June 2013, Diane brought five ladies, fondly “The Kenya Girls” to join several of our PhD students for two weeks of classes and immersion into contextual ministry.  Being very resourceful and widely networked, Diane marshaled theological educators of note as guest lecturers, including Professors Jesse Mugambi of University of Nairobi, Philomena Mwaura of Kenyatta University, Laurenti Magesa from Tanzania among others.

Jaki & Tina with children from Beacon of Hope, a HIV/AIDs ministry affiliated to Nairobi Chapel

Diversity out of class

The experience was enriched by encounter with ministry practitioners from around Nairobi. Oscar Muriu, senior Pastor of Nairobi Chapel invited the group for a two hour session at his church office. Muriu spoke of contextual sensitivity that should guide ministry between western and Africans Christians. The students attended worship at Chapel and had an opportunity to volunteer among children. Chapel also treated the girls to a sumptuous welcome luncheon.

Another dynamic personality who gave an eye opening talk to the students was Rev Nicta Lubaale, head of Organization of African Instituted Churches (OAIC). AIC constituents are largely among the marginalized of society. Initially started as movements of protest, Lubaale pointed out that AICs have moved towards more mainstream (evangelical) theology; some resemble contemporary Pentecostals. Also significant is that AICs are running projects for civic education, poverty alleviation and sensitization on gender and HIV/AIDs.

With Professor Bator, Jesuit Priest from Nigeria serving the society of Jesus in East Africa

With Prof Bator of Jesuits East Africa

Jesuit Priest and Catholic scholar E. Orobator talked about integrating his African heritage into his catholic faith and ministry. Bator shared how he is at home with the images and icons, church hierarchies, sacraments and celebrations among other historic practices of the Catholic Church because they correlate significantly with his Africa background.  That talk pointed to the relevance of inculturation theology; in some African contexts, Christianity will only make sense if it connects with cultural realities.

The class had a lesson with Cosma Gateere, a market-place Christian who has led a number of successful positions in the corporate world for many years. He now works for a government parastatal. He gave a talked on how he applies his faith in the secular corporate space. Over the years Cosma has trained himself to have a holistic sense of professional calling and excellence. He reads widely both in his professional field and in Christian literature that guides him to combine God’s word, God’s work and the needs of the world into his daily work. This has enabled him to be witness and earn favor with his employers and corporate colleagues.

Kg class

Suki and Brie in class with Evan Hunter (left) of ScholarLeader International. Evan attended this session as a guest.

The girls also visited with churches, community centers, bookshops and publishers and even fit in a city tour. After the exchange, they stayed a few more weeks for independent immersion and volunteer experiences.

The students went away challenged by the encounter. Their perceptions of Africa are no longer those of a poverty stricken, conflict ridden and needy continent. Regardless of the challenges, they experienced an Africa determined to define a beautiful destiny for its people; Christians are leading the way in that renewal.  As a center seeking to understand and give voice to what God is doing here, we came away from the experience deeply encouraged by the diversity of the work of the Holy Spirit here. It spills over into all kinds of spaces–in para church organizations, in the academy, in slums ministries, in middle-class churches, in government parastatals, everywhere. It is clear that God is working to establish his Shalom in 21st century Africa. Indeed, the giant sleeps no more, for the day is here, when “Princes shall come out of Egypt (Africa) bearing gifts unto our God, when Ethiopia (Africa) stretches out her hands unto God in prayer, saying, ‘Sing unto God, you kingdoms of the earth, sing praises to the Lord’”  (Psalm 68: 3).

Ahoy! PhD Researchers on Board!

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CWC PhD candidates with their supervisor, Professor Mark Shaw.

Congratulations to our World Christianity PhD Cohort for successfully completing the first phase of their studies. They are now are now PhD candidates! Way to go! Two years down, God willing and all things equal, two more years to graduation.

The first part of the PhD was designed as seminar cycles, with a cumulative total of 18 credit hours over the course of the two years. Some of the students transferred credit hours from their MTh courses. The seminar cycle culminated into the official rite of passage known as comprehensive exams which they did at the end of May 2013.  The comprehensives were three essay exams of up to 3000 words each, 9000 words in total! Their next rite was to defend their research proposal, which they did successfully and voila, into candidature.

ImageGeorge Atido is one of the fabulous five. Here is a brief synopsis of his research.

My Research Field: I’m studying changes in religious affiliation between mainline churches, Africa Instituted Churches (AICs), and African Traditional Religion (ATR). Issues of African Christian Identity and inculturation are key aspects of this field of study.

My Research Focus: My research focuses on the Alur ethnic group in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a demographic reported to be ninety-six per cent Christian. The mainline churches included in the study are members of an evangelical denomination founded by Africa Inland Mission in 1912, the Communauté Evangélique au Centre de l’Afrique (CECA 20).

My Research Methodology: I’m using the pastoral circle model, a holistic research methodology used to develop pastoral theology, community action as well as academic reflection.

My Research Problem: Christianity has sometimes been viewed as an imported religion in  the African continent. It is generally assumed that the AICs and ATR are much more African while the mainline Churches are much more Western and, therefore, alien. This tension is affecting membership in mainline churches from which important numbers of Christians are switching to AICs and indigenous religions. My study will examine the dynamics that are influencing Alur Christian mobility from a mainline evangelical church, to an indigenous evangelical church.  What I discover in this research will be useful in resolving existing tensions between Africanness and Christianity within African Christianity. I hope it will also contribute in the debate on African Christian identity.

Meet Dr. Elizabeth Koepping

elizabeth-koeppingAt CWC, one of our goals is to network with like-minded centers from around the world. In this regard we are blessed to have a growing catalogue of guest lecturers and researchers. This April we were privileged to host Dr. Elizabeth Koepping, the Associate Director for the Center for Study of World Christianity at University of Edinburgh. She is a senior lecture on World Christianity as well as in other disciplines.

Her visit doubled as a research trip on domestic violence and advisor to our PhD students. She gave a public lecture, run a session on field research and discussed research proposals with each of the CWC PhD students. She also spent a weekend at Nyeri interviewing women and students.

Vivacious, witty and transparent, that is Elizabeth Koepping for you. She calls it like it is. CWC staff took time to get to know her. Here is her interview.

You have been to a score of countries and still have more to visit for your current research. How did it all start? At the height of decolonization in 1966, aged 18, I went for a one year exchange trip in a little village in Borneo in Malaysia. It was in the middle of nowhere. I learned the local language and simultaneously taught basic history. My encounter of a community in the flux due to decolonization struggles, an ill-imposed, European-inculturated Christianity and the obvious resilience of traditional culture, all in this little village got the ball rolling. I have never stopped exploring other cultures to learn and understand people do what they do.

Were you always adventurous? You can say I started early. In the late 60s, I used to hitchhike from school at Edinburgh for 400 miles to where my parents lived. It would make them nervous and I had a couple of close calls, otherwise I was just fine. Once when I was in Malaysia, I was paddling a tiny, leaky dugout canoe out of a side creek. I was heading to the main river when I noticed a huge storm coming in. I knew there were crocodiles in the water. I shouted and shouted until a villager heard me, came and pulled my canoe to safety. We became lifetime friends. One time my family drove through northern Turkey in the heat of war between Turks and Kurds. At one point we stayed in no man’s land in Afghanistan where we could see the Russian rockets coming down on Afghanistan. Then we moved into Kabul and got marooned in a dicey situation with little external contact. The sort of thing you read in novels like “A Thousand Splendid Suns”, only this time we lived through it. All the while I was nonplussed—I simply concentrated on nursing my twin daughters and enjoying the repose (though we were on a newfangled, hair-raising research experience for my husband). We eventually got out safely.

How did you formally become an anthropologist? I did a first degree in anthropology in Edinburgh. Then I went to Manchester University for a master’s in anthropology. Later, family circumstances led me to Brisbane Australia where I became a full time tutor and also I began my PhD with research based on my adoptive village in Borneo, Malaysia.  My research was on Christian ritual, “adat”, which I compared with a similar local ritual.

Tell us more about Borneo. Though a humid delta, my life has been significantly marked by that little village. I go back there every so often to connect with the people calm down. I’m better known there than anywhere else. Also in the people in that village behave in the same way as they behaved in the village where I grew up in England. For instance you do not express displeasure by shouting. If you shout loudly you are a dog, without culture. People fight differently. I find that agreeable.

How did you end up teaching in World Christianity at Edinburgh?  At some point in Australia, I switched disciplines from anthropology to sociology because that was the opportunity that was available. I immensely enjoyed teaching sociology of education at the Catholic University of Brisbane for three years.  In 1991, my family and I relocated permanently from Australia to Germany where I was able to work again on Anthropology.

I applied for a job at Edinburgh based on my anthropologist credentials. I got it. They asked, “Could I mount a course of the history of Christianity in Asia?” Of course I could. “Would I please include the history of the Nestorians in the syllabus?” Yes of course. But what sorts of creatures were Nestorians? Had never heard of them, but I decided to flow with it and burned the midnight oil to figure it all out. Later, I was asked to edit books for Routledge. The project involved hundreds of articles. I didn’t know a thing about editing, but I did the legwork to meet the requirements in record time. It was hard work, took a lot of adjustments. I can say I have done that for many other projects but it works like clockwork every time. You just have to put your mind up to it.

What is your view of World Christianity as a discipline? When I interviewed for the job, the center at Edinburgh was called “Center for the Study of Christianity in the Non-western World” which I thought was dreadful.  My telling question to the interviewers was, “Do you intend to change the name of the center?” They still gave me the job. The name was later changed to Center for Study of World Christianity.

I still don’t like how World Christianity is referenced as though it is only a global south—Asia, Africa, Latin America—phenomenon. European and North American Christianity is also part of World Christianity. Contextualization doesn’t happen in Asia and Africa only. It happens also in Europe. European Christianity was already contextualized when it was taken into Asia, Africa, and as you know it caused a lot of damage in some places.

World Christianity is everywhere. Currently, I’m writing a book called “Living Traditions”. I will give you an example of syncretism from England. In 1926, there was a practice called “well dressing” where people would take a big clay screen, put flowers in it, put a verse from the Bible about the well and the water, parade it around town, have the priest bless it, ostensibly to purify the well. Another practice comes from Germany at Easter. After Mass, women go to the well, fetch the water for healing; supposedly the Easter power of resurrection doubles the power of the water. Where does the practice from? When Christians came to England in 600, Augustine of Canterbury, wrote to Pope Gregory asking “What do I do to convert the heathens”, Gregory said, “Leave alone what you can, when they have holy places, make them into chapels or shrines.” That is how they incorporated but it was absolutely syncretic. Syncretism is not African or Asian. It is embedded in the Christian heritage everywhere as people try to make sense of the relationship between Christianity and their traditions.

Parting shot? For most of us, life will rarely hand us gilt-edge securities. You’ve got to work hard, stick with the process, find your way out of difficult mazes. A career in scholarship is no exception. If you make blunders in life, don’t get stuck on them. Learn to shovel the crap where it belongs, accept what’s yours, assume responsibility for your life.  But know you are loved and lovable by God as you are and keep you head in all circumstances.

Colloquium on Witchcraft Accusations at AIU, 6-9th March

Crazed by Nollywood

A couple days ago, a friend told me of an interesting incidence that occurred in her home in Nairobi Eastlands. A neighborhood boy solicits the attention of her 15-year-old daughter.  Mother discovers the illicit bond through a rather racy text message sent on the mother’s phone, which the girl had been allowed to keep on account of a household chore. Mother seeks explanation, but daughter pulls a weird trick—she claims to hear voices in her head and see strangers demanding to eat her heart. She runs all over the block as if pursued by deranged invisible forces. Daughter has everyone confounded but not mother, for she knows her daughter well. This last school break, this girl has spending inordinately large amounts of time watching TV, spellbound by Nollywood movies that have become a daily staple on our TVs. From them she has imbibed rather strange ideas on the dark world of witchcraft.

Now, for those who don’t know, Nollywood is Nigeria’s, in effect, Africa’s highly successful version of Hollywood. According to Professors Kuyinhop, Asamoah-Gyadu and Opuku Onyina, all who have carried out research on this area, the Nollywood Movie industry is a major carrier of ideas on witchcraft. Like most everything else in mass media, the subject is sensationalized to scratch at the basest instincts of viewers. Nollywood ideas on witchcraft appeal to the primal imagination of many Africans, filling gaps left by human curiosity, gossip from traditional backgrounds and biblical vagueness on the subject. (Of course the Nollywood industry also has many great ideas that connect powerfully with African worldview, thus its successful connection to the African realities).

Life unusual at AIU—colloquium on witchcraft

While Kenyans were watching grass grow during the vote tallying process, AIU lived life unusual.  The Intercultural Studies—Missions Department together with the departments of Theology, Education and Biblical studies and in collaboration with Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDs) hosted over 30 scholars from around the world for a four-day forum. The round table was a part of a growing effort to address to the escalating problem of witchcraft accusations all over Africa. The Center for  World Christianity was represented by several students, and some of our professors. Group photo AIU Witchcraft (2)

Although it is an ongoing reality in communities and churches all over Africa, witchcraft is one of the things we don’t openly talk about. Thus this first colloquium is part of a longer journey. At the end of the consultation, individual researchers and several teams were tasked to work on particular issues that were raised during discussions. The journey will continue towards helping the church, theological institutions and activists to develop pastoral responses, educational curriculum and interventions. A follow-up conference will be held in due course of time. READ MORE

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