With the growing awareness of the spread of the Gospel in Africa and Eastern Europe just begining to dawn on many
of us here in Australia, we have sought the assistance of Brethren Marcus Heaster of the UK and Duncan Heaster of
Lithuania to tell us of some of this remarkable work. Also Sister Wieslawa Grzegorczyk, who lives in Poznan, Poland,
has written an article giving the background to the way the Truth is spreading in Eastern European countries, which
until a decade ago were under Communist domination. We are sure that you will find these three articles compelling
and, like many others, be awakened to the fact that we too often are blindly parochial in our outlook and awareness
of the great work of God that is spreading like leaven quietly throughout many countries in the world. We hope that
this may provoke a personal commitment by all to assist where we can in this work.

There are today something like 6000 Christadelphians in Africa—and the numbers are growing steeply. Indeed, so quickly that if present rates continue, within ten years there will be more black Christadelphians than white. This is something we need to be aware of. The Christadelphian community in the next century, if Christ tarries, is going to look a lot different to what we know today. Sitting where we are in “Western”, long-established ecclesias, it can be hard to take on board the wider picture that is now becoming more apparent. God is turning to the poor of this world, rich in faith. My own experience of preaching in Africa began in Ghana in 1953, and since then, by God’s grace, we have seen the Truth spread from country to country in Africa.

How Did It Start?

 In the 1950s we were into what could be called “poor man’s advertising”. With no funding for big advertisements, a series of letters were sent to various African newspapers, commenting on the state of the world, and offering a free copy of the Bible Companion, a reading planner written by a fourteen year old in far away Scotland in the last century (Brother Robert Roberts), to anyone who cared to write to us—and the response was amazing. Hundreds wrote in. But progress was slow—in those days there were no flights to most African states. It wasn’t until the late 1950s that the first brethren went over to visit these contacts, travelling six weeks by boat from England. We had no correspondence course in those days; we sent them Gestetnered chapters from Christendom Astray with a series of questions at the end, supplemented by booklets and leaflets. I suppose looking back we had those old colonial ideas about Africans—that they couldn’t learn the Truth so easily, etc. It took us years of correspondence to instruct them, and then after several visits the first baptisms occurred in the 1960s in Ghana and Nigeria. West Africa was where our focus was to begin, but work spread throughout the 1970s. Then in the early ’80s a new generation of young brethren arose, who followed the same pattern as had been set in the 1960s—the very same letters to the editors were sent to the African newspapers as were sent thirty years before. But now, with wider newspaper readership and better technology the replies were in the thousands, not the hundreds. I recall lying in bed early in the morning and the messages wafting up the stairs: 140 today! Now with easier and cheaper travel, visits were mounted throughout Africa: Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia being the main centres. Our preaching literature was overhauled to replace Christendom Astray, with the result that the Bible Basics course was produced. In the space of ten years, several hundred had been baptised and ecclesial centres established. With the passing of time and the Lord’s unstoppable hand at work, events worked out to the end that the majority of this large community then came into the Central Christadelphian fellowship (we had previously been in the Dawn fellowship).

Why This Success?

 It’s hard to say exactly why hundreds are baptised in Africa but relatively few as a result of our efforts in the West. The Lord calls His people unto Himself, and we know not the end of His ways. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth” (John 3:8). These words seem to be in a context of discussion about the call of the Gospel. And yet humanly, there are some reasons which seem to be relevant:

  • The lack of television, relative to the West.

This is a bold statement, purposely so. One can’t necessarily equate lack of television with interest in the Truth, but there is no doubt that television has cluttered the minds of the Western world with images and desires which take a grip on their lives. Serious reading and concentrated discussion have become outmoded by the screen-culture. For a man living in the African bush with no spare time “entertainment”, there is inevitably more time left for simply thinking about life . Once they are provided with the literature and correspondence course, there is a greater chance that they will see the truth of it and respond.

  • God is part of their life and culture. As Brother Ron Hicks observed in a recent issue of The Lampstand, everywhere you go there is evidence of an almost cultural interest in God. There is no shame to talk about religion or admit to one’s belief.
  • There is some connection between poverty and humility. Again, not across the board, but there is some linkage. And humility is the vital attribute which God is seeking. It’s the key pre-requisite for allowing God’s word to have power in the mind of the hearer. Our relative wealth has made Western people very hard to teach. Yet many Africans are open to teaching. Once the Bible has been established as the only basis upon which we can learn, they are generally willing to be taught.
  • The African ability to remember and meditate. I never cease to be amazed by their ability to quote Scripture. Indeed the older generation were often taught to read by “missionaries” using the King James version of the Bible. Some can quote whole chapters. It is a joy to interview someone who can quote Scripture at great length to support every answer.

Problems and Opportunities

 There are of course problems associated with any success. The terrible poverty, the liability to be affected by natural disasters, the likelihood of death from war or disease epidemics—all these factors create a problem for both preacher and convert The convert can be tempted to join us for hope of material advantage, and the preacher is faced with an endless amount of potential help that is required. It simply has to be accepted that we cannot hope to raise the overall standard of living of our new brethren to that of the West. And yet a heart of true compassion, after the pattern of our Lord, cannot be untouched by their genuine needs.

And there are also problems relating to the eagerness of people for baptism. Baptism without a firm doctrinal basis leads to disaster for the individual and future ecclesias in the long term. One thing is clear: that we must rigorously teach the doctrines of the Truth and not just a sentimental message of the love of God. The simple mind of many Africans—simple only in the sense that it is uncluttered, relative to the Western mind—can grasp and absorb the doctrines of the Faith and hold on to them. There are brethren who can recite the whole Statement of Faith (and I wonder how many could do that in the West?). I’m not saying that remembering the specific wording of any statement makes us any more or less acceptable to God; but the point is, the African has a great capacity to hold on to the Truth. Let us not think otherwise. Let us not begin to think in terms of first and second class Christadelphians.

The unity of the body—and there is only one body—depends on a firm acceptance of the same truths which form “the Truth”, the one saving Gospel. Once these are grasped with both hands, there exists a bond between us which colour, language and distance cannot affect. Surveying the African scene, there are literally thousands of people holding out their hands eagerly to receive the Truth; disillusioned with Pentecostalism and the “Evangelical” sects, disinterested by the formalism and hypocrisy of the larger denominations, yet firmly believing in God and seeking to know Him more fully—the potential is fantastic. And the potential is not only wonderful for numbers of converts, but for the quality of the ecclesial life that can potentially develop.

Ecclesial Life

 New converts in Africa are all from other religions; nobody is an atheist. So anyone who joins the Christadelphians does so in full doctrinal persuasion of our position. Once a spirit of realising the importance of doctrine has been established, we can go on from there. The basic doctrines lead on to practical living of the spiritual life. Many have made big sacrifices for the sake of the Truth, and this means that they live the Truth with the knowledge and assumption that it requires a life of sacrifice. This is shown in things great and small. Examples fill the mind. Of a brother walking twenty miles through the blazing sun to meet us for the breaking of bread, wearing his Sunday-best tie all the way. Of another walk for hours through blazing sun to find a brother, running into serious problems of dehydration, and then having to go into a house and ask for water. We were sat down and presented with ice-cold beers from a fridge. I would have licked the condensation from the bottles. But the brethren said: “No. We are believers. We do not drink. Take the bottles away. Thank you. We will go to another house to ask for water”. These examples may be quaint and be felt extreme. Maybe they are somewhat, but they show something of that determined African spirit to hold on to the standards of the Truth they have been taught. And the same goes for other, more important issues of doctrine and life-style. This same dogged endurance is shown by the great popularity of the Bible Companion. It has become almost a law in the lives and thinking of many of our African brethren. In our preaching we have always begun with this little booklet, and encouraged the contacts to get into this habit well before they are baptised. I feel this is another reason for the success of the African ecclesias.

For many of our African brethren, the Truth is their lives—not just an add-on or a hobby or something they were brought up to believe, and then accepted it because it was almost easier to accept it than reject it. Their decisions to be baptised involved leaving churches—and those of us who have done this can say that it isn’t easy to leave a community you love and have gratefully known for years, even though you know them to be astray. Often their decision entailed breaking away from their families, in spirit if not physically. The Lord Jesus prophesied that the call of his Gospel would set men and women against each other and divide families. And it does just this when His call is not accepted by the whole family. Yet this means that they value so much the more the fellowship and family spirit which there is with other believers of the Truth. In all these things there are lessons for us which we in the West need to learn. So often we go out to visit them to help them, and yet return having been powerfully exhorted ourselves by their examples. “There’s nothing like the Truth”, as several African brethren have commented to me. Their lives make us know that, really, there isn’t.