Billy Graham Center
World Congress on Evangelism, 1966
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The Rev. Nicholas B. H Bhengu

The African Setting

In South Africa where I was born, in fact, throughout most of the continent, the people have long known and believed in the existence of a Supreme Being and referred to Him by their various linguistic names. To them He was the creator and preserver of all things whose abode was somewhere up above. This God, they felt, was vitally interested in all human affairs. While they believed that at death everyone goes to God in the spirit, they did not believe in resurrection and judgment. They also believed that the spirits of the dead irrespective of their life and conduct while on earth had special contact with this God as their mediators and intercessors: They knew absolutely nothing of Jesus Christ. All evil deeds were punished in this life by way of retribution and not in the hereafter.

The Early Missionary

The first foreign missionary found the African people steeped in superstition and darkness. Tribal wars and conquests were rampant. It took years for the light of the Gospel to penetrate. No sooner had the messengers of God come, however, than greedy conquerors also arrived; a fact that was somehow associated with the missionaries. This made the task of evangelizing in Africa a very slow and sometimes hopeless process. Besides bringing Christ to Africa the missionary also had the task of learning and reducing the African languages and dialects into writing. This led to the establishment of schools and, later, of colleges.

Church Membership as a Substitute for Salvation

Education plus the dynamic Western culture as well as superior weapons attracted quite few Africans. Many professed Christianity but, alas, lacked true knowledge of salvation. The finished work of Christ on the Cross was more or less buried in sacraments instead of being a matter of faith and experience. Many rules and laws had to be introduced and thus the Gospel became something more negative than positive. Weak and uncertain church membership was often the case. Professor Busia of Ghana put it: “The Gospel of Christ or Christianity did not penetrate the heart and soul of the Africans but was taken as a better religion and as a covering without blasting the old.” The African accepted Christianity as a better religion with better advantages. The sweetness of God’s love in providing salvation through atonement was missed completely.

Apathy and Suspicion

Western conquest, and colonialism caused the Africans to blame Christianity for the loss and destruction of their tradition and culture. Strong opposition, apathy and suspicion resulted and a formidable barrier developed between Christians and non—Christians. The daily contacts and dealings with certain white colonists did nothing to improve the situation. Nonetheless, even if slowly, God’s work made progress.

Foreign Ideology

Communistic tendencies and propaganda took advantage of this deficiency - magnified it, in fact. They told the proletariat that capitalists invented the idea of God in order to protect themselves and their wealth. Against this kind of background we are called to preach Christ who is the heart and center of evangelism. Africa is at the crossroads, being torn by nationalism, Communism, Mohamedanism, racism and animism. What a privilege it is to prove the power of the Gospel in Africa! Christ is the answer!

Denominational Differences

Bigotry and prejudice, often fired by politics and race consciousness, resulted in a multiplicity of religious groups throughout the continent. In some parts of Africa it is quite difficult to get denominational cooperation for an evangelistic crusade - there are signs here and there, however, of growing ecumenical awareness.

The Preacher and His Message in Evangelism

1. A born-again Spirit—filled preacher cannot be replaced by a man—made or college—produced orator who has no definite experience with God.

2. The evangelistic preacher must have deep-rooted convictions concerning the deity of Christ, the efficacy of the shed blood of Christ and. all else that comprises sound evangelical doctrine.

3. He must be trained in the Word of God in order to know what he is presenting to the masses, and to know why, when and how to preach.

4. My experience has shown that sincerity, intelligence and courage win the support of even the most stolid and prejudiced listeners. Dependence upon rhetoric, eloquence and psychology brings only temporary results.

5. Unless a preacher in Africa has a definite call from God and a genuine commission to save the lost souls of his fellow— men, he will be caught up in the snares of materialism, nationalism and political upheaval.

6. Preachers who lose fellowship and communion with God but continue a program of artificial, commercial evangelism have no lasting spiritual results or abiding fruit. The preacher who fellowships with God in prayer will draw the masses like a magnet.

Mass Evangelism in Africa

Mass evangelism is a new venture for Africa. In prescribed either independently or for their societies to launch campaigns. The power and success of mass evangelism in Africa today is unparalleled elsewhere mainly because of the novelty of the approach because, of course, the power of God is in it.

Personal Evangelism

In mass evangelism we have various kinds of converts, many of them emotional converts. These souls need planned and. close follow—up in order to consolidate and deepen the work of grace. Sometimes when people leave the intense and spiritual atmosphere of a large crusade they find the usual pattern of church life cold and lifeless despite the evangelical witness that is maintained. In personal evangelism I have found conversions to be more genuine and longer lasting. It is good to be swept into the kingdom but it is better to listen, reason, question and decide after carefully counting the cost.

Radio Evangelism

In South Africa, the most highly developed part of the continent, radio evangelism is a fruitful ministry. We do not pay for radio time. We are allowed to preach every day and are even paid for our messages. Many people have receiving sets; many have found Christ through the radio ministry.

Literature Evangelism

Literature plays a very important part in emerging Africa where the masses are learning to read, and is one way of counteracting Communism and Islam. Africans will snatch at anything to read. Money, time and energy spent in this ministry are not wasted.

Evangelism and the Spiritual Fervor of the Early Church

Our crusades held in comparatively small South African industrial cities usually begin with an attendance of two thousand people and finally attract about forty thousand. Certain aspects of these crusades are worth noting:

1. Special stress is given to personal salvation through faith in the finished work of Christ on the Cross.

2. Faith in God’s Word is emphasized over against feelings and emotions.

3. Much prayer and fasting precede these crusades.

4. Testimonies of those who find Christ are strong witness and weapon.

To have each—one—find—one is another emphasis in our work. We organize prayer groups, evangelistic teams in factories, on street corners; in stations, trains, buses, hospitals - wherever people gather in large numbers. All our crusades are city crusades. People reached there in turn reach others in rural areas when they go to their homes on week—ends and during vacations. This strategy maintains a high level of revival for a year or more.

A Good Examp1e

In East London attendance at our evangelistic meetings reached 42,000, and more than 30,000 made decisions. Many of the converts were channeled back to different existing churches. We soon became aware that these churches were not prepared to minister to converts from the underworld and from heathendom, so we made special provision for them. The first Sunday we baptized 1,400 people and dedicated 1,800 infants. We continued to baptize groups of 500 at a time until we had baptized more than 5000.

When the converts made restitution they brought three truck loads of stolen goods - including lethal weapons, arms and ammunition - to the police station. None of the gangsters and thieves were prosecuted. This story appeared in the press throughout the world. The crusade which turned into a revival swept the city and environs for over five years and affected all races. We rented a busy theater in the city which closed because of the revival and used it for our meetings. We finally built what is the largest church building in Africa at a cost of 99,000.00.

In fifteen years the work has spread like wild fire throughout the Republic of South Africa, adjacent territories and central Africa. This revival is a dominating influence in Africa. Over five hundred churches have been started by the converts themselves – un-appointed and unpaid - all of them on fire for God! Opposition and criticism have disappeared, our choruses have been accepted in public schools, Sunday schools and youth meetings o+ all denominations. Our Sunday schools range from 100 to 5000 membership. Our crusade converts are school teachers, policemen, ministers in different denominations, many kinds of workers. These converts have the zeal, the fire and the courage of the Early Church. This situation is without parallel in modern Christianity.

The success of the crusade here has baffled friend and foe alike; it has softened the authorities so that we have freedom and favour throughout South Africa. The power, the blessing and results of the Early Church are our heritage if we are prepared to pay the price and stop bickering and splitting hairs. In Africa we need a vital Christianity that can fill the empty African soul in quest for God. We need something that can break the power of the juju man who holds sway in illiterate Africa.

This, then, is our concept of evangelism in Africa, emergent Africa, the sleeping giant of the ages, the question mark continent. Whither Africa? The hope of Africa, as of the world, is Jesus Christ. We must spare no effort, time, money or talent until this vast continent is won to Him.

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Last Revised: 11/1/06
Expiration: indefinite

Wheaton College 2006