The world in the past few decades has witnessed an unparalleled intensification of transnational migration. It has been estimated that by the mid-1990s, more than 100 million people would have taken up residence in countries different from the land of their birth (The Economist 1997, 81; Wiener 1996, 128). The process of globalization has simultaneously created constraints as well as opportunities for the world at large. Africans, as a result, have responded in ways that have turned them into active participants in this phenomenon of transmigration contrary to the popular secularization thesis which posits that religion will fade with the triumph of modern science and globalization (See Weber’s Religious Rejections of the World and their Directions, 1920 & 1946), the Africa Missions have capitalized on the same and have responded to the call of Missions and evangelization by establishing thriving African Churches in the Northern Hemisphere.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF AFRICANS IN DIASPORA
The migration of Africans, mostly to countries in the Northern Hemisphere, began in the 1960s. The early immigrants were mostly students and seamen. Later, the influx steadily swelled in the eighties and nineties. The economic mismanagement by governments (especially military dictators), the structural location of the continent in the global capitalist systems, and neo-liberal policy prescriptions from the international financial institutions, created extensive economic hardship for many African countries (see Smith 2003, Amin 2002; Cheru 2002).
Moreover, the situation became fused with civil wars, political instability, ethnic conflicts, and political persecutions. These factors compelled many young African men to move North. They initially came as refugees and asylum seekers. After some years, their families joined them and new children were born.
This has shifted their temporary situations into long-term migrants or settlers in the Northern societies. Some scholars in the North argue that these new settlers should not be branded as African Diaspora because of the marked difference between their voluntary exile and that of their counterparts who were forcibly uprooted from Africa and scattered around the globe through the traumatic experience of the transatlantic slave trade. Yet the new settlers see themselves as Africans in Diaspora.
AFRICANS IN DIASPORA: WHO ARE THEY?
Briefly, the Africans in Diaspora are:
- New Settlers who voluntarily relocated from Africa to societies in the Northern Hemisphere and whose communities are overwhelmingly urban. The majority of them live in the big cities of Europe, Americas, the Middle East, Asia and Australia.
- People who want to live close to each other.
- Mostly unemployed or under-employed. This situation is changing considerably because many of them are now pursuing professional studies, notably nursing, information technology (I.T.), and engineering.
- Over-represented in low-paying, manual, processing, and machinery occupations in the manufacturing industry.
- Faced with racism and marked discrimination.
- Take delight in mobilizing themselves into ethnic associations to address their settlement and integration needs.
- Very religious.
Most African immigrants left the shores of Africa as religious. In that regard, God, their maker, was drawn into all aspects of their migration processes. God was drawn into the decision to migrate, through visa application, securing airfare or walking through the Sahara desert without much food or water, to the arrival, and eventual settlement process. These immigrants use religion to counteract social, financial and moral shocks in their international migration.
According to Joseph Mensah’s work (Doing Religion Overseas, September 2007), of about 12,000 Africans from Ghana who migrated into Toronto in the late eighties, 93% were Christians; only 2% were Muslims; and 5% declared no religious affiliation.
Gerrie tar Haar, a pioneer in the study of Christianity among Africans in Europe in his work, (Religious Communities in the Diaspora, 2001), noted that human migration is something of all times and ages and that ‘religion has always been a significant aspect of it’. The societies in the North will now have to accept the “staying power” (Fryer 1984) of these religious African immigrants since ‘return’ associated with the diaspora does not exist in their vocabulary.
Unlike the Jews in Diaspora who could not ‘sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land’, the African immigrants are singing the Lord’s songs in foreign lands by establishing vibrant churches in the North
This paper, therefore, will endeavor to examine the characteristics of these African Diaspora Churches (Africa Missions) established and led by Africans and whose membership are mostly Africans or people of that descent. The paper will also try to expose the kinds of social services they provide; some challenges facing them; few suggestions to some of their problems; and the blessings they are offering to Christianity in general and the northern societies in particular.
The African Churches in Diaspora (Africa Mission) may be categorized as follows:
- African Initiated Churches (AIC or Spiritual churches),
- African Initiated Pentecostal Churches,
- African Initiated Charismatic Churches,
- African Initiated Baptist Churches (mainline),
- African Initiated Catholic Churches (mainline),
- African Initiated Methodist Churches (mainline),
- African Initiated Presbyterian Churches (mainline),
- African Initiated Anglican Churches (mainline),
- African Initiated SDA Churches (mainline),
- African Initiated Assemblies of God Churches (mainline), etc.
Typical examples of such churches scattered in many cities in the Northern societies are: The Church of Pentecost Churches, The Assemblies of God Churches, Redeemed Christian Churches of God, Kingsway International Christian Center (KICC), Christ Embassy Churches, Blessed Embassy of the Kingdom of God, Deeper Life Churches, Apostolic Churches, Christ Apostolic Churches, Baptist Churches, Ghana Methodist Churches, Ghana Presbyterian Churches, Nigeria Anglican Churches, Ghana SDA churches, etc.
Ironically, the above classifications spring forth some questions – should there be a Nigeria Anglican Church in Britain? And should there be a Ghana SDA Church in Washington DC, where the SDA has its international headquarters? These varieties of churches began as fellowship among the immigrants who felt unwelcomed in many mainstream Northern or “white” Churches on racial grounds.
Moreover, these African immigrants felt the spiritual and liturgical poverty of the worship life in these mainline churches in the North. They, as a result, sensed the call to establish varieties of Churches which expressed religion in ways that resonated with African and biblical pieties. Contrary to the claims of some scholars, therefore, these Churches sprang up not because the new settlers wanted to create religious spaces in their new environments, but it was because the missionaries’ churches continued to lose their spiritual fervor and sense of the supernatural.
It is no wonder that Methodism, Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism under the leadership of Africans in Diaspora have been geared towards new ecclesial identities, liturgical structures and styles of worship that differ markedly from those inherited from the missionary endeavors (Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, African-led Christianity in Europe, 2008).
AFRICAN DIASPORA CHURCHES: HOW TO IDENTIFY THEM?
Some marked characteristics of the African Diaspora Churches are:
- They are self-supporting, self-evangelizing and self-governing. Only few of them have missionaries from Africa leading them but such missionaries are paid by the Diasporic churches.
- They hardly receive support from the governments and agencies of the societies in the North.
- Most of them have solid ecumenical ties with churches in Africa. The Churches in Africa are known as ‘mother churches’.
- High visibility of women as devoted members.
- They are men dominated. Women are relegated to low and mid-level leadership positions. They mostly deal with traditional African women’s roles of children and youth ministries, singing / music ministry, cooking during conventions and conferences and cleaning. Even where women are at top leadership positions, they are regarded as co-Pastors with their husbands.
- Besides meeting on Sundays (Saturdays for SDA churches) for vibrant services, they meet at least twice in a week for Bible studies and long prayers. Some of them have the ‘cell groupings’ that meet at homes for additional Bible studies.
- They mostly use English and French as the medium of communication during services and meetings. But, surprisingly, most of the churches led by Ghanaians use ‘Twi’ with interpreters during services.
- While there are some variations in worship and liturgy styles, almost all their services are characterized by vibrant worship backed by musical instruments, singing, clapping and dancing.
- Most pay Tithe and give Offering at services. Two or more offerings are often taken at a service.
- Finally, they are very particular about their dress code. They want to put on their best attire to church, especially on Sundays. The men normally prefer to put on suit and tie. The women also take delight in putting on dignified African attire with matching colorful head gear.
AFRICAN DIASPORA CHURCHES: WHAT THEY DO FOR THE COMMUNITIES
At a time when Christianity is under siege in the lands it originated from and thrived, the marginalized Africans in Diaspora have emerged as “apostles” poised to expand the Christian mission and evangelization in the global spread of the faith. Furthermore, the African Churches in Diaspora have responded to the call of Jesus Christ to feed the hungry, house the homeless and cloth the naked by providing social services to the Diasporic communities.
Indeed the African Diasporic Churches approach these indispensable social services with great sense of urgency (Opoku, Onyina 2004, Pentecostalism and the African Diaspora). The services they render are geared mostly towards the new African immigrants but are also opened to all other communities. Some of such blessings are:
- English as a second Language (ESL) classes.
- Job search networking support.
- Helping members/others find affordable housing.
- Marriage Counseling.
- Giving ride/help with transportation.
- Help with immigration/refugee applications.
- Conflict resolution.
- Technology skills training, such as help with internet access and computer use.
- Youth and Children Mentorship and Tutorials, Summer School programs.
- Help with social celebrations.
- Sports programs.
- Bereavement/funeral assistance.
- Food Bank provision to the general public.
With the provision of such wide range of social services, the African Diasporic Churches serve as conduit of helping the settlers to adapt in the new societies.
AFRICAN DIASPORA CHURCHES: THEIR CHALLENGES
In the interest of balanced analysis, it is fair to acknowledge that the African Churches in Diaspora are not beyond reproach. Some of their challenges are:
- The African Diasporic churches are made up of about 99% Africans or people of African descent, and they are mostly reaching out to African migrants. There are only few exceptions like: Rev Sunday Adelaja’s Church – Blessed Embassy of the Kingdom of God for all Nations in Kiev, Ukraine which has over 90% “white” congregants. A million dollar question therefore is: if the Africa Missions in Diaspora indeed felt ‘called’ to world Missions and evangelization, then why are they not reaching up to people of all races?
- Most of the African Diaspora Missions have some built-in power imbalance regarding gender. Even though women constitute the majority of the membership of these churches yet they play ‘second fiddle’ to the men. They are always the minority when it comes to leadership positions in the churches. Are the churches also guilty of creating the problem of ‘minorities within the minority’?
- The high level display of wealth and class in terms of flamboyant cars, clothing outfits, shoes, and jewelries by leaders and members at Sunday Church services are becoming an eye sore.
- Normally, Africans are bad mix. Their social participation and integration into the wider societies in the North is very slow. Is the vast number of social services provided by the African Diaspora Churches to these immigrants a major factor?
- The African Diaspora Churches are gradually deviating from their traditional preaching and teaching emphasis on morality, humility, prayer, Holy Spirit and eschatology to the popular “prosperity messages”. Will this not impede or derail their global Missions and evangelization agenda?
- Their failure to attract the second generation Africans in Diaspora into their folds. Most of these second generation Africans started as children and youth in these churches but the overbearing influence of the Northern Hemisphere’s culture and values have drifted most of them from the churches into the hands of gangs, drug lords and eventually jail. Many of them face violence daily on the streets in the North. What agenda do the churches have for these young Africans?
- Inability to establish better training facilities, and also systematic communication and awareness among the leaders and members to minimize syncretism and mismanagement in the churches.
- Failure of leaders, both in the mainland Africa and of theAfrican Diasporic communities, to set better machinery to dialogue with the governments and leaders of the Northern societies on very pressing issues like:
- Racial discrimination due to the pre-fixed derogatory images of Africa.
- Restrictive regulations on immigration, employment, education, and the concept of multiculturalism by governments and agencies in the North.
- Tougher restrictivelaws enacted recently by governments in the Northern societies making it difficult, if not impossible, for the African Diaspora Churches to purchase and refurbish redundant church buildings and other building in the inner cities and re-dedicating the same for worship.
WHAT AFRICAN DIASPORA CHURCHES NEED TO DO ABOUT THE CHALLENGES
Few suggestions as to how the African Diaspora Churches can counteract some of the challenges are enumerated below as follows:
- The African Churches in Diaspora should pull their resources together and establish training facilities that will equip both current and future leaders of the churches. Firstly, equipping pious youth (future leaders) who have already taken on the culture, education and values of the North and could help the churches to reach out to the second generation Africans.
- The African Churches in Diaspora (Africa Missions) have been a great blessing to the African settlers. The churches have been able to use their religious beliefs and formats to empower the new settlers spiritually, morally and socially to counteract the cultural shocks, alienation, and discrimination they encountered in the North. Moreover they have managed to equip and enlightened them with their host of social services.
- The Africa Diasporic Churches, through evangelization and Missions, have been able to draw many of the African settlers from the curses of prostitution, drugs, human trafficking and terrorist activities to the saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (Christianity). Thus helping to populate Heaven and depopulate Hell.
The marginalized African settlers who migrated mostly in the eighties and the nineties to the Northern Hemisphere as students, seamen, refugees and green pasture seekers have managed to preserve their cultures and identities and also created emotional and spiritual support through the establishment of various thriving African Diasporic churches. These churches are mainly Pentecostal, Charismatic, and also mainline churches that have been re-initiated by Africans.
Africans and people of African descent are the majorities in these churches. Also the churches are self-supporting, self-evangelizing and self-governing with many having strong ecumenical and transnational ties with cognate missions in Africa. Even though the males dominate their leadership, women are the majority. Moreover, these churches are well noted for their vibrant and dynamic liturgical structures and styles of worship. To them ‘who says Church is boring?’.
They are also providing a host of social services to the helpless immigrants as response to Jesus’ call to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and house the homeless. Yet these African Diasporic Churches are guilty of not reaching out to many other races with the gospel. They are also not adequately reaching out to the second generation Africans who are also seeking identity and acceptance in the Northern societies. The individualistic tendencies and struggle for popularity and more followers on the part of their leaders are not helping the Diasporic communities and the churches either. They need to form a united front to dialogue with the various governments and authorities on pressing social, financial and moral issues confronting the Diasporic communities.
Finally, Africa Missions in Diaspora needs much commendation than condemnation. Through their missions and evangelization agenda, many people who were shunning Christianity (including Muslims) are now converting into the faith in the North. Moreover, they are using their brand of Christianity to empower the African settlers to stand up against the social vices in the North. Their followers are now saying ‘no’ to prostitution, illegal drugs business, crimes, gangs, violence and other social vices which are seriously tormenting the societies in the North. Can this be termed ‘mission in reverse’?
I will end up with these four questions for brain storming and for further research:
- Is it true that the Africans in Diaspora are using Christianity to maintain their cultural identity, and also amplify their human and religious rights to facilitate their settlements in the Northern Hemisphere?
- Does the African Churches in Diaspora (African Missions) have some significant negative undertones that need to be unearthed?
- Do African immigrants find it necessary to join the African Churches in Diaspora, if they are accepted as simply ‘Christians’ in the Northern churches?
- Will the African Churches in Diaspora continue to appeal to the African settlers especially the “second generation Africans” as they become well educated and richer? Or are the Churches going to fall into the same spiritual state as the missionary and mainline churches in the North? “African Churches in Diaspora” (Africa Missions, Africa Diasporic Churches); Diaspora; Northern Hemisphere (North); Missions; settlers (African settlers).
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* Published with permission from MANI
Emmanuel Owusu Bediako
Dr. Emmanuel Owusu Bediako (Apostle) was one of the founders and Senior Pastor of the The Church of Pentecost, Canada. He passed away in November, 2013. He presented this paper in the MANI 2011 Consultation.