Posted by: jacobgillard | April 19, 2011

What is the biggest hindrance to mission work in Africa today?

Lusaka ICLC April 2011 group photo

Finns, Kenyans, Congolese, Americans, Zambians, and a South African rounded out the approximately 30 participants of the April 2011 International Confessional Lutheran Conference in Lusaka, Zambia.

Last week I flew to Lusaka, Zambia and attended the International Confessional Lutheran Conference hosted by the Lutheran Evangelical Church in Africa (LECA) and The Lutheran Evangelical Association of Finland (LEAF) at the Lusaka Evangelical Bible School.  It was my first trip to Zambia.  We really didn’t get out much to get a feel for the city but it was great to study together, learn about Lutheran work to the South, meet friends old and new, and eat new foods!

There was a panel discussion on the last day and the first question posed was: What is the biggest hindrance to mission work in Africa today?
I thought you might be interested in hearing the answers.  They were intriguing, anecdotal, and by no means scientific—but they were informed by decades and decades of experience.  The panel was a mixture of Africans, Europeans, and an American; it included both missionaries and Africans.  Each of the 5 participants (Lukkarinen, Rodewald, Mbwanya, Dachi, Huhtinen) offered more than one answer and here’s what they had to say, in approximate order.

  • Tribalism and disunity
  • The advance of Islam
  • Dependency on western funds
  • Ordination of women and practicing homosexuals. And liberal groups come and bribe with money and projects to get you to ordain those people.
  • Traditional cultural practices. Our missionaries don’t know about all of our cultural practices. But for us we read the word of God and we can stand on the word of God.
  • Pentecostalism
  • We may preach the pure Gospel but often we don’t bother to investigate if those listening have truly heard the message.  Once we realize that a communication failure has occurred, the opportunity to witness has often already passed.
  • Lack of resources
  • Tax increases in America may result in less aid coming to Africa
  • Tribal inclinations. E.g. a Dinka doesn’t want to be served by a Zande pastor.
  • Political leadership—the government may not like that you are vocal so they may give you an envelope to silence you.
  • The teaching.  The students graduate from a basic training program but after that the continuing education opportunities are few.  Basically, the church workers are not friends with the bible.
  • Climate change
  • Disagreements that lead to schisms
  • The growth of Islam all over the world.  They bribe people to become Muslim.
  • Worldwide, the bible is not taken seriously as the word of God.  In Africa, it is a challenge to get African churches to move from dependence to co-work to independence.
  • Conviction.  It is not something we can buy and sell.  Faith is something that we have to be convinced of by God Himself.
  • Resources for the work.  And not just for the needs in Africa, but also for the 20 million Lutherans in Africa to serve and be a blessing to the world.
  • Illiteracy, lack of education


  1. Thanks, Jake. I was intrigued by the factors cited as hindrances to mission. A couple of reflections) . 1) There seemed a tension between concern about dependency but also concern about less aid coming to Africa. 2) The growth of Islam was cited several times, and it’s a worldwide reality and concern. I bet, though, if Islamist leaders were asked the same question, they’d say the worldwide growth of Christianity. 3) It’s interesing that both liberal (Christian?) groups and Islam are criticized for proferring bribes. 4) Most of the factors seemed to be external, ranging from climate change to tribalism; the two spiritual concerns noted are need for conviction and for continuing education. I’d be interested what the gathering decided to do, given the factors listed. + Shalom +

  2. These are some great reflections to chew on. Number 3 is ironic. I think number 4 is dead on. The external factors are one thing, but in my mind the spiritual growth is the silver bullet. It was only a 90 minute panel on the challenges. Unfortunately, we never got around to solutions.

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