Mennonite missionaries and African Independent Churches: the development of an Anabaptist missiology in West Africa: 1958-1967
Yoder, Robert Bruce
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This dissertation analyzes Mennonite missionary engagement with African Independent Churches in West Africa. The engagement between missionaries and indigenous churches gave rise to a novel mission interaction with a non-western form of Christianity. It led to the early development of mission strategy and theory from an intentionally Anabaptist perspective. Based upon close analysis of archival material, the dissertation examines the extended encounter between missionaries and Independents in southeastern Nigeria between 1958 and 1967. It places the encounter within the context of the religious history of both groups and outlines the influence of the experience on subsequent mission work. This case study sheds new light on the emergence of African indigenous Christian movements and western Christians’ interaction with those movements during the period of decolonization and African nationalism. The history that this study constructs shows that the religious and missiological assumptions that each party brought to the encounter complicated their relationship. The Independents’ religious history led them to expect missionaries to establish traditional mission educational and healthcare institutions that would reinforce their well-being. Missionaries Edwin and Irene Weaver and their colleagues were hesitant to do so, since their experience in India had convinced them that such institutions caused dependency on foreign funds and impeded indigenization. They focused, rather, on encouraging better relationships between estranged Independents and mission churches, capacitating Independent churches through biblical training, and reinforcing Independents’ indigenous identity. Yet some Nigerian Independents insisted on a traditional mission relationship and its accompanying Mennonite identity. Missionaries borrowed mission theory about indigenization from the wider missionary movement, but applied and modified it over time, finally incorporating it into an Anabaptist missionary approach for work in Nigeria, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and the Republic of Benin. This study suggests that while relationships between streams of the Christian movement are conditioned by their different religious histories and cultures, they nevertheless generate missiological insights. Through this engagement missionaries articulated an Anabaptist missiology that became influential throughout Africa. In turn, the Mennonite missionary presence enabled some Nigerian Independents to network successfully with the world Christian movement via their Mennonite affiliation.