By Rev. Garth Duke-Barton, Conference Secretary for Global Ministries
What is new to us is not really new. Long before we thought to send missionaries into the continent of Africa to share the Gospel message they sent messages and shared the Gospel with the world. Gifted writers, theologians and preachers took what they learned in Africa to the world.
One of the most well-known theologians of the early church is St. Augustine of Hippo. Augustine was born in 354 in what is today Algeria, in Africa. He was a well-educated man, even teaching Latin grammar to students while still a teenager. He was also a member of a group that taught against Christianity.
Augustine converted to Christianity at 31, after 20 years of prayers by his mother. He then began a prolific career as both a writer and speaker of the faith. Over the 50 years of his life as a Christian he wrote numerous sermons, books, letters, and articles telling of his understanding of the faith. It was estimated that he preached between 6,000 and 10,000 sermons in his lifetime. 500 or more still exist today.
Many people have come to the faith or deepened their faith due to the teachings of Augustine. Augustine influenced people like Martin Luther and John Wesley. John Wesley sent missionaries around the world. Some of those missionaries came to America. Here in America they taught others the faith. These men and women taught others who decided to share their faith across the world.
Some of these men and women went to Africa. In the Northern part of Africa, European Christians sent missionaries. In the Southern portion of Africa, missionaries came first from the United States and then from other African countries. Below the Sahara Desert there are now three central conferences, 13 bishops, 30 annual conferences, and two missions of the United Methodist Church in 26 countries.
These conferences are now some of the largest in all of United Methodism. The African Central Conference has more than 585,000 members. The Congo Central Conference has more than 2,901,000 members. The West Africa Central Conference has more than 1,900,000 members.
What happened in the past is happening again. Theologians, preachers and lay people from Africa are spreading the Christian faith across the entire world once again. God is still at work using people who are willing to serve.
Where can we serve? What will our legacy be?
Rev. Garth Duke-Barton, pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church in Jesup, also serves as Conference Secretary for Global Ministries.