Post-colonial pioneering?

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We talk to Harvey Kwiyani about a pioneering new course of study focusing on the impact of the African church in diaspora.

As Church Mission Society launches a new study route focusing on the African Church and its impact as part of our Pioneer Mission Leadership Training, Jenny Muscat from the communications team caught up with Harvey Kwiyani, who will be programme leader for this route.

Jenny: What is the new MA route launching this year?

Harvey: It’s a Masters focusing on world Christians in Britain, starting with the African diaspora. We bring three modules focused on African Christianity, and African Christianity in the diaspora, together with modules already in the pioneer Masters. Our students get the best of both worlds: to understand Africa and African Christianity better, but also to understand mission and leadership in the UK context better.

Jenny: Can you say something about the context of African diaspora Christianity in the UK? My understanding is it’s pretty vibrant.

“We are creating an intentional space within CMS where African and British students can learn together and learn from each other.”

Harvey: Yes, African Christianity in the UK is the growing part of the Church. If there’s church growth in the UK, it’s mostly the African Church and the African Church is growing because of migration, still, mostly. That also reflects the growing influence of African Christianity in world Christianity. We know that Africa has more Christians than Europe at the moment and there’s a shift in the centre of gravity. That shift has missiological implications – now Africans have to engage in mission in ways they have not done before. And the growing presence of African Christians in the UK and Europe becomes part of that story of Africans engaging in mission.

Jenny: What excites you about the course?

Harvey: Oh, quite a few things. I grew up in Africa, so I know what an empowered African church can do. And therefore, I hope this Masters will help empower and equip the African church in Britain, and that will help in the reevangelisation of Britain.

But I’m also excited that we are creating an intentional space within CMS where African and British students can learn together and learn from each other. I believe that theologically, we are always enriched when we have crosscultural discourse. Africans have some things to learn from Europeans and Europeans have some things to learn from Africans. And when we put them in a room together, to learn together, we expect that the conversations that come out of there are going to be very important for the wider body of Christ.

Jenny: Can you tell me a bit about the new modules?

Harvey: The modules are African Church history, African Pentecostalism and African traditional religions.

African Church history is designed to help both African and British students understand that Christianity has been in Africa for a very long time. Christianity reached Africa before it reached the UK. And Africans have been involved in mission in Europe before – during the first 600 years of Christianity, one of the strongest hubs was in North Africa, and missionaries would come from North Africa and work in Europe.

“Today, a missionary can be anybody from anywhere working anywhere in the world.”

The module allows us to go through the 2,000-year history and pick up themes that show the continuity and the changes that happened in African Christianity. This helps the British students to appreciate that church history is not necessarily European history. And for the African students, it helps them get an identity that connects them back with African Christians.

African Pentecostalism is important because chances are, if there is an African church somewhere in your neighbourhood, it’s going to be an African Pentecostal church. If British Christians want to learn about African Christianity, they have to learn about African Pentecostalism. For the African students, that module allows them to again claim their identity and be confident that it’s not wrong to be a Pentecostal. Let’s own this and figure out how this can help us be good evangelists in Europe.

Now, to understand African Pentecostalism, you also need to understand African religion. To understand an African, you need to understand the African worldview. And so, the third module, African traditional religion, goes after that question: What makes the African an African? What’s their worldview? What’s their culture?

Professor Andrew Walls said, “If you want to learn something about Christianity in the 21st century, you have to know something about Africa.”

And I am adding to that, if you want to learn about Africa, you have to learn about African Pentecostalism. And to learn about African Pentecostalism, you also have to understand African traditional religion.

Jenny: Beyond CMS, what do you hope might be the impact?

Harvey: The world of mission is changing. Fifty years ago, a typical missionary would be a white European working somewhere in Africa. Today, a missionary can be anybody from anywhere working anywhere in the world. That change has happened so fast that we are just beginning to catch up with it. And part of the catching up will be organisations like CMS being intentional about working with the diaspora.

So the hope is that with this Masters, putting together Africans and British Christians, we create a movement that will be able to articulate what’s going on for the wider body of Christ. People who will be able to work together across cultures, British and diaspora, to show what mission looks like in the 21st century.

We’re hoping to create a movement of post-colonial missionaries who will be able to work across cultures and races.

Harvey Kwiyani is a Malawian missiologist and theologian who has lived, worked and studied in Europe and North America for the past 20 years. He has researched African Christianity and African theology for his PhD, and taught African theology at Liverpool Hope University. Harvey is CEO of Global Connections, programme leader for the Africa-focused route of the CMS pioneer MA and founder and executive director of Missio Africanus, a mission organisation established in 2014 as a learning community focused on releasing the missional potential of African and other minority ethnic Christians living in the UK.

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