Early resistance in the Cape
It would be an obvious mistake to portray European involvement in Africa as entirely benevolent. But not all Europeans moving to Africa were baddies.
Likewise it would be false to give the impression that the communication of the Christian gospel was always welcomed as an ally to colonial interests. We must learn to separate European and colonial agendas in Africa from specifically Christian ones.
But even the ‘Christians’ hindered the impulse to serve local people. Sometimes settled European communities were extremely nervous about the Christianisation of Africans.
For example, Jonathan Hildebrandt, in his ‘History of the Church in Africa’, tells how the Dutch made the evangelisation of local people in the Cape practically impossible. Moravian missionaries were successfully building relationships, sharing the gospel and baptising new converts, but were very deliberately stopped.
The Moravian missionary George Schmidt baptised several Khoikhoi believers but this drew resistance from the Dutch church in the Cape.
‘They made a complaint in Cape Town that Schmidt had conducted the baptisms incorrectly and so should not be allowed to continue working in that area.
‘The Dutch made the work so difficult that Schmidt was forced to leave for Europe in 1744. He tried to return to South Africa to continue the work, but the Dutch would not permit it.
‘So the missionary work among the [Khoikhoi] came to an end. It was fifty years before another missionary came to work with these people.’[i]
Those who did return were Moravian (German) missionaries who were so successful that a church facility able to hold 1000 worshipers from amongst the Khoikhoi was built. By 1810 an established Khoikhoi Christian community was thriving.
The struggle to bring the gospel to modern Africa was tangible from the earliest era of the modern missionary movement.
This was also true of attempts to bring the gospel into central Africa, with disease and violent opposition as standard trials for those who came.
But more of that next time…
© 2011 Church History / Lex Loizides
[i] Jonathan Hildebrandt, History of the Church in Africa, Africa Christian Press, Ghana, p.71