With Love From Kenya to Canada: What Canadians Can Learn From the African Church

by David Tarus 

When I came to Canada more than a year ago, and having briefly lived in the USA, I was deeply saddened to see churches that have been shut down.

From Sep/Oct 2014 p.36
David Tarus studies at McMaster Divinity College. He is married to Jeane and they have a son, Berur Keitany.

Just across the street from my apartment in downtown Hamilton are two churches that have closed. The other two neighboring churches are struggling to stay in “business.” Who knows if they’ll be around in the next few years? This is disheartening.

Back home in Kenya the Church is growing exponentially. Bible schools cannot train pastors fast enough for the growing number of congregations. My dad just planted a church less than a year ago, and they have close to a hundred people now. The congregation is already thinking of planting another church nearby!

Of course growth in numbers does not necessarily mean growth in depth. In fact it has been observed that the church in Africa was a mile long in terms of quantity, but only an inch-deep in terms of quality. Some elements of African Christianity can be quite disturbing – especially its tendency to mix different beliefs: becoming at times too syncretistic.

I am convinced that the vitality and survival of the Western church is possible, but it largely depends on whether Western Christians open up to being influenced by the Majority World.

Immigration has opened great doors for social interaction. Thousands of people from the vibrant churches of the Majority World who migrate to Canada each year provide fresh opportunities for the rejuvenation of the Christian faith here. Canadians don’t need to go to Africa to be able to learn from African spirituality. Africa has come to Canada.

Indeed, this was attested by a recent article titled, “New Canadians Promise Renewal for Christian Churches” published in the Edmonton Journal. This is what the writer of the article said: “Immigrants from the Southern Hemisphere are already altering Canada’s religious landscape, bypassing the shrinking mainline Protestant churches while infusing Catholic and Pentecostal congregations with devout newcomers.”

However, in Word Made Global: Stories of African Christianity in New York City (2011) Mark Gornik said that when he began writing his book he was not able to locate “a single article or book on the subject of African churches in North America.”

Does this indicate that little is being done to interact with immigrants and tap into their worldviews to enrich Western Christianity? This could be the case.

Let me humbly suggest what Canadian Christians can learn from African Christians.

Taking the Bible Seriously

African Christians take the Bible seriously. This could be because the world of the Bible is very close to African worldview. The Bible speaks to various issues such as polygamy, land conflicts, wife inheritance, sacrifices, hospitality, injustice, natural calamities, dangers, and fears. African Christians find in the Bible a message for every day experiences. For African Christians, the Bible is authoritative for all matters, especially in matters of morality. I sometimes hear Westerners say that they cannot take the Bible seriously because it was written long time ago, and they are completely divorced from its world. African Christians would hear none of that. The Bible is a live for us.

Taking Social-action Seriously

African Christians understand poverty and suffering. They have experienced firsthand dictatorial regimes, corruption, ethnic conflicts, the HIV/AIDS calamity, Ebola, and various environmental disasters. Regardless of overwhelming poverty, African Christians embrace hospitality and charity. We do not separate the gospel from social action. I think Canadian Christians can learn the value of charity and hospitality that stems not from plenty, but from inadequacy. Canada is a land of plenty. I marvel at how much food is wasted in Canada. I have occasionally been invited to carry food home after a party, because, my host would say, “these would be thrown away!” I find this sad because I see a lot of poverty in some parts of downtown Hamilton. The church should not separate care for spiritual needs of the people from their everyday needs.

Taking Community Seriously

African worldview emphasize togetherness, community, and interdependence. In Africa, it is not the Western “I think therefore I am,” but “I am, because we are; and since we are, therefore I am” that matters. The value of community affects how we look at Christianity – reading the Bible in community, understanding the church as family of God (the coming together of “relatives” of Christ), spiritual disciplines from communal perspective, emphasis on individual as well as corporate (social) evils, and the kingdom of God (read as KIN-DOM) understood communally. I see a lot of individualism in Canada. Sadly, even within the bounds of the Church, individualism seems to be the order of the day. Would Canadian Christianity be different if it focused more on community? What if spiritual disciplines were communal instead of individual? What if salvation was looked at from a communal perspective instead of from an individual perspective? How would that shape Canadian faith?

Taking the Supernatural Worldview Seriously

This could be the most problematic thing to encourage Canadians to embrace because supernatural worldview is sometimes frowned upon and considered primitive. However, a belief in the supernatural is human; human beings are spiritual beings. In fact Christianity itself is a supernatural belief system. Supernatural worldview is part of the DNA of African peoples. It is therefore very common in Africa to embrace the supernatural elements of biblical faith such as vision, healing, and exorcism. The belief in the supernatural shapes how we think about spiritual warfare. We believe, in Africa, that spiritual forces are real forces. African Christians do not ignore spiritual warfare, they face spiritual forces head-on. Exorcism is a general part of the Sunday liturgy even among many traditional mainstream churches such as Presbyterians, Methodist, and Baptists.

African worldview is also very religious. Religion is interwoven into the fabric of everyday life. For many Africans, to live is to be religious.

Western worldview is characterized by Enlightenment philosophies that embraced the rational more than the supernatural. How might an acceptance of supernaturalism help shape Christianity in Canada? How would it shape how Canadian Christians do spiritual warfare? How would this help address human fear?

You only need to watch paranormal, psi, and monster movies to appreciate that supernaturalism is here to stay, even if academicians think otherwise. The quest to understand supernaturalism drives people (Christians included) to unbiblical sources which consequently leaves the door open to deeper supernaturalism. Perhaps Canadian Christians need to think of ways of addressing the deep seated human need to conquer the mystical dimensions of life.

The New York Times Magazine featured a cover story a few years ago titled, “Mission from Africa” about African Christians in the United States. The article asked this crucial question: “How does the West brace itself for something “different?” Or to ask it a little bit differently: Is the non-Christian West ready for the Christian Rest?

David Tarus is a PhD student at McMaster Divinity College. He was featured in the Sept/Oct Faith Today, in the article When Global South Scholars Call Canada Home.

10 thoughts on “With Love From Kenya to Canada: What Canadians Can Learn From the African Church”

  1. Hi David,

    Great article and your absolutely right. Recently I was living in Hamilton doing MoveIn (a form of urban mission with two objectives to live among the poor and make disciples). My friend Thomas (who lives on the corner of John and Cannon in Hamilton) just got back from Ghana where he was returning to a village he grew up in. He has started a ministry called living 4 life ministries (http://www.living4lifeministries.com/). He and I both have a sincere burden to not just go and support the African church but also bring it back here and apply what is imparted to us as we go there.

    In many ways your absolutely right, the church here merely “plays” church. I will say there is a fresh and healthy move of God in Hamilton. True city, GOHOP, 541 cafe on Barton, MoveIn, and Hughson st Baptist are just a few I have ministered with and seen God grow. I hope you continue to write and encourage the church here in Canada; we need it.

    1. Hi Brent.

      Thank you for commenting on this blog post. I agree with you that the Lord is moving in Hamilton. I can sense His presence here. I applaud you for your intention to not only contribute towards the growth of the church in Africa, but also to “bring” the African church here. My prayer is that the Lord will use you in that endeavor.

  2. Hey David,

    Just came across this article when I typed in our ministry name on google, and noticed our good friend Brent already commented on it. Everything you say definitely resonates would us. Would be great to connect with you sometime seeing as we are both from Hamilton.

    Be Blessed,
    Hassan (Thomas) & Melissa

    1. Hi Melissa.
      Thank you for commenting on the article. Yes, it will be good to connect. I would like to know more about your ministry. Sounds like you are doing a good job. Looking forward to that.

  3. David

    Thank you for your timely comments about the church in Canada. It is sad to learn that churches are being closed down instead of new ones being opened. The Great Commission does not say that we close churches but vice versa.

    Thank you brother and God bless you.

    Solomon – Kenya

  4. Hi David and Jeanne, nice to see your picture. We came across your blog sort of second-hand and saw your name. We are doing fine in S. Sudan, have been here for 3 years now. Tell us your news and plans. – Ray and Jill

    1. Hi Ray & Jill. Good to hear from you after such a long time. Glad that your ministry in Sudan is going on well. I will send you more information about on plans by email, hoping that you still use the same email that I have. Thanks a lot for your comment. God bless you.

  5. I agree with brother David’s comparative worldview. Africa as a community evaluates things contextually involving several parties whereas the West is lineal which limits its mind within itself due to self confidence which later leads to myriad assumptions that has tainted the face of Africa form the Western point of view (not all of them, but most).
    In matters of faith, the word faith to most of the Western believers is just another word among words its meaning and purpose overlooked. Where and how do faith work in a land full of food and its inhabitants counts it their effort? “Church” building is just another theater and I see the same thing stealthily creeping into Africa. That is one of the reasons you realize that some used-to-be church buildings have turned to salons among other stores.

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