Understanding the Dynamic of Partnership between Christian Schools in Africa and the West

My objective in this paper is to formulate a Christian education vision for Africa, using Christ-centered biblical principles for constructing a viable society for the well-being of all Africans. We live as Christians at the crossroads of the biblical story (with its call to faithfulness), the story of postmodernity, and the African story, defining its own identity through renewal and transformation. We live in a culture where Judeo-Christian values are criticized for being intolerant; our culture endangers the very lives of our families and communities. Sadly, over the years, Christians have withdrawn from the public square into the “safety” of church sanctuaries and Christian school classrooms.

There is a crucial need for African transformational Christian education. No constructive development work on the African continent can be conducted without a working knowledge of the continent’s history.The powerful history of Africa has a direct impact on the present challenges facing the continent. We can look at the process leading up to development in education in Africa as a drama in three acts.

Act 1: Africa’s Transformation

The main challenge faced by educators in Africa is to decolonize the minds of both black and white learners by ensuring that they are able to define their identity and reality in their own terms. There is a need to unmask the myths that were used by oppressors to dominate and dehumanize some sections of the society. To respond to this challenge, we need to design a process that reverses the trend, which dominated the troubled history of African education and training for ages. We need to value the uniquely African ways of relating to one another and defining identity.

Africa has many communal and relational cultures. These cultures demand the interconnectedness of fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters, as brothers and sisters in Christ. Within these relationships people can disciple others. These people are the essential resource in shaping a new future in Christ. This is the reason why ACSI is focusing first on developing leaders.

In African culture, your place in the community defines your role. The success of leadership in developing effective networks depends on who they know, and not only what they know.  These networks consist of churches, ACSI, schools, NGOs, and sponsors. These networks, consisting of overlapping circles of relationships, result spontaneously as people touch hearts and become friends, and these networks are essential to the success of transformational Christian education. That success also requires the development of leadership in all areas of life. Kinoti and Kimuyu captured this theme clearly:

Among the nations of the world, Africa has become synonymous with poverty, political chaos, social disorder, and general backwardness. But I believe that we can overcome our problems and bring peace, prosperity, justice, and dignity to this continent. To do so we first need to understandthe severity and the causes of the crises facing the African people. Then we need to catch the vision for a better Africa and actto bring about its material, social, moral, and spiritual well-being (1).

Act 2: It is Africa’s Time!

It was already predicted some thirty years ago that the agenda for Christian thought and action would be set increasingly by growing Christian movements from the global South. Today the signs of that trend are much more prevalent. Historically, the great questions and issues for Christian thought come from the front lines of the Christian mission in the world. In 1900, 80 percent of the world’s Christians lived in Europe and North America. A century later, nearly 70 percent of the world’s Christians live in the global South, and it continues to grow in that part of the world. In other words, what is happening in Africa, Asia, and Latin America will have a growing influence on Christianity worldwide, and it will be Christians in those regions who will be the representatives of the twenty-first and twenty-second century Christianity.

With this movement, Christians in the West will now have to learn to work as partners with their brothers and sisters in the South, where the churches are becoming powerful forces in society. This partnership will strengthen Christianity in the West, but it will need to be a new brand of Christianity. We need a dialogue between West and South that assumes we all have evolving and open religious identities. This approach invites all to come and learn from each other, and thereby be changed.

The Western churches will need to give up their “instinctive desire to protect [their own] version of Christian faith or even to seek to establish it as the standard, normative one.” They will also need to avoid the seductive postmodern option, which is “to decide that each of the expressions [of the faith] is equally valid and . . . that we are therefore each at a liberty to enjoy our own [version] in isolation from all the others” (Walls 72–81). In contrast, the gospel option, as laid out in the epistle to the Ephesians, is that we all together make up the body of Christ and that only in Christ does completion and fullness dwell.

We are at a point in time where Africa and the West need each other. For educational renewal to occur in Africa, we need an interconnectedness of all Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to disciple others through proper relationships. In Africa, we need to grow people who will be resources and who will be participants in shaping their own future in Christ. Out of those relationships, Christian schools will grow, and leaders and resources will emerge to support sustained development.

Let us base our transformation on hope. The writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us that hope is the firm and secure anchor for the soul (6:19). Without this anchor, we will drift in every wind of cultural change that blows in our direction. Hope creates vision. The apostle Paul in Colossians reminds us that the mystery of the gospel is that Christ in us is the hope of glory (1:27).

Act 3: Africa Needs an Education of “Shalom”

Shalom is described as a state where people live in right relationship with God, themselves, each other, and nature. In a community of shalom, all the members have a full and secure place. It embraces all its members, and uses truth, reconciliation, and forgiveness as vehicles of justice and peace.

Christian education that seeks shalom can serve to bring solutions to Africa’s problems and issues. It must take advantage of African ways of knowing as we counteract the colonial impulse to elevate the Western cultural inheritance over others. We need Christian education that guides students how to make a life as well as a living, to be critical of the status quo, and to be wise and discerning, as well as proficient. This is an education that honors Christ’s lordship over all of creation and over all the realms of thought and action.

Our educational institutions must become effective learning centers, places that teach and model the living, breathing gospel of Jesus Christ. We are called to build relationships that transform people and, ultimately, transform culture and society. We can start to do this by addressing three core questions in our Christian education, first articulated by Bennie van der Walt.

Question 1: Why Are We Here?

The type of Christian education that we offer should equip our students to live a life without fear. We acknowledge that our greatest fear is not the fear of death, but of life without direction, of captivity to an empty existence. We cannot live without having an answer to humanity’s most urgent question: Why do I exist?

It is not that we do not know enough. Knowledge is overflowing, but in too many cases it is, unfortunately, flowing meaninglessly. We need to teach in the way that will help our student to understand what life means and give them reasons for what they are doing. In other words, we can no longer be satisfied with teaching them to know; we must help them to understand what to do with what they know. This requires the framework of faith.

Question 2: Where Are We Going?

This is a teleological question—a question of direction and destiny. We are living at a time where this question is frequently answered in terms of success, efficiency, competition, and achievement. We are motivated by the promise of more wealth, and too often we teach our students to seek more money, recognition, and prestige. Questions about the deepest meaning of life, however, are seldom asked and seldom answered. As a result, too many of our young men and women are not truly successful. There are many dropouts—some the result of poverty, and many others because of a profound sense of the meaninglessness of life. Even those who succeed are often not happy because they have been pushed into the endless and meaningless circle of getting more and more wealth, power, and prestige.

What our educational programs should be focused on is the equipping of young people with the understanding that Christ has conquered the threatening meaninglessness of our time, that they do not need to be wanderers to nowhere. They need to know that is only Christ who can lead us to our final destination, which is not death, but service, shalom, and joy. They need to realize that shalom provides life-giving meaning for them and for society. Peace and justice, wholeness and equality, freedom and joy are the marks of meaning.

Question 3: How Then Shall We Live?

The third question about meaning does not deal with our origin, or with our destination, but with the present reality as we are on our way from origin to destination. If we do not answer the questions of why we are here on the earth, we cannot answer the questions of who we are and where we are going. If God does not exist, the Creator-creation distinction is lost, and the world becomes completely explicable. But if God does exist, creation retains a deep mystery, full of awe and wonder, and the call of shalom can break into creation as an answer to the question about how should we live today.

In other words, God’s Word provides solution to this third question. Scripture equips us with the necessary guidelines for life’s journey, and offers us the answer for our last question: we are called to live in love. “Love your God with all your heart and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself,” we are told in the gospels. It is only in love where we can understand God’s creation, and it is only in love where we can understand what we are doing and how we should live. In fact, loving God and loving neighbor are so closely intertwined that we might say that we love God through loving our neighbor.

In conclusion, slavery, colonialism, apartheid, and ethnocentrism have failed to answer for us the core questions on meaning. Those failed answers have too often tied us to modernity and marginalized us, including Christian schools movements, by making us irrelevant at best and complicit at worst. Postmodernity, though not without its own perils, can nevertheless give us opportunity to develop an integral worldview shaped by shalom. The time to learn from our past mistakes is now; the time for the Western Christians to learn from their African sisters and brothers is now; the time for Africans to learn from the West is now; the time is now to learn from each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and differences is now.

Works Cited

  • Kinoti, George, and Peter Kimuyu. Vision for a Bright Africa: Facing Challenges of Development. Nairobi: IFES and AISERD, 1977.
  • Smitherman, Ken. Transforming the Future. Colorado Springs: Association of the Christian Schools International, 2003.
  • van der Walt, Bennie J. The Eye Is the Lamp of the Body: Worldviews and Their Impact. Potchefstroom: ICCA, 2008.
  • Walls, Andrew F. “The Ephesian Moment.” The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2002.