Perceptions of Africa

Sunrise over orthodox church_1What do you think of when you think of Africa? Are your perceptions accurate? Up to date?

Some time ago I posted this photo on Facebook, asking people to guess where I took it. The building in the sunrise is an Ethiopian Orthodox church in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia. I took it while passing through on my way to Chad in November 2009.

Ethiopia has a population of 85 million, of which about 34 million belong to the Orthodox church of Ethiopia. Christianity became the official faith of Ethiopia in the 4th century, after being introduced three hundred years earlier. In the Bible book of Acts there is a story of a man from Ethiopia meeting the Apostle Philip and asking him questions, with the result that he asked to be baptized. According to tradition, that man returned to Ethiopia and began spreading his new faith. So Christianity was practiced in Ethiopia about 1500 years before it came to North America, and even longer than it has been in the United Kingdom. Ethiopia is an old center of Christianity. 3 of 10 Top ChristianIs that how you think of Africa?

More recently, Christianity has grown rapidly in many parts of Africa, so much so that some are calling it a shift in the center of gravity of Christianity. Just three countries in Africa; Nigeria, DR Congo, and Ethiopia combined, now have almost 200 million Christians; 9% of the worldwide total, according to a study by the Pew Foundation. To be effective in Africa, we have to understand it as it is, not as we imagine it to be.

Partnering with the “new” churches in Africa is key to advancing Bible translation, for example.

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Artist’s depiction of the Ethiopian Eunuch and the Apostle Philip

Expectations

On my way to Chad I had to overnight in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In the morning I looked out my room window and saw this. I assumed that the building was a mosque. Only when looking at the photo closely later did I see the crosses on the top, not crescent moons, so this is an Orthodox Church. Ethiopia has large number of Christians and the orthodox church has a very long history here dating from 330 AD. Its even has its own web site http://www.ethiopianorthodox.org/.

In fact, no more than nine countries in the world have more Christians (of all persuasions) than Ethiopia, and a large number are evangelical. In Chad, on the other hand, Christianity is relatively new having come early in the 20th century. Also, most Christians are in the south, whereas most people in the north of Chad follow Islam.

(This was first posted on a different site. It was republished here in March 2012.)