The Negro's Part In The Redemption Of Africa
BY LEVI J. COPPIN,
Bishop A. M. E. Church
[Note 29: Delivered at Cape Town, South Africa, February 1902.]
The land once lying in darkness, but now fast coming to the light, is
claiming the best thought and the best energies of the civilized world.
Africa, on account of a lack of coast indentations, has been the last
among the continents to be penetrated by the beneficent influence of
commerce; and this largely accounts for that long obscurity, during
which it was given the name, the "Dark Continent."
Its situation beneath the line of the Equator has had also something to
do with staying the onward march of civilization from without. The world
learned first to think only of the enervating influence of a torrid sun
upon the inhabitants of the great continent, and this was not inviting
Nations have reached their highest and best development, not by
isolation, but by taking advantage of whatever of good they found among
others. But as the years and centuries have passed, it has dawned upon
the world that Africa enjoys the unique distinction of occupying a place
in three zones, and hence offering the largest variety of climatic
influences that are favorable to life and health.
Abounding in mineral wealth, with millions of acres suitable for
agriculture, and with immense forests of valuable wood; with palm oil,
ivory, and other desirable products, Africa is now being sought by the
world's capital, and is giving rich rewards to combined capital and
But what of her peoples? When as a Christian Church we speak of the
redemption of Africa, we do not refer to her material resources chiefly,
though these are a means to an end. The one supreme thought with us is,
how the millions of her inhabitants may be reached by the light of the
gospel and saved. In their isolated condition, the people have for long
centuries become the victims of customs and habits not in keeping with
the better life which is the result only of Christian civilization. The
customs and habits formed and fixed by centuries cannot be thoroughly
changed by a few years of effort. The success already attained by
missionary enterprise in Africa is not to be measured by the years of
effort it has cost, nor by the amount of money expended. Missionary
records from other fields will fully justify this statement. In all such
work we may expect to have the exemplification of nature's course,
"first the blade, then the ear; after that, the full corn in the ear."
One hundred and sixty-six years have passed since the Moravians, as
pioneer Protestant missionaries began work on the Gold Coast. From 1736
to 1832, much effort was expended by a number of societies on the West
Coast, during which more or less progress was made, accompanied with no
little sacrifice, and a large death-roll of missionaries. But, at this
time the missionary field is no longer confined to any particular
section of Africa. The missionary has followed in the wake of the
explorer and planted his stations. In South Africa the work is most
hopeful. In West Africa, the foothold is permanent; in Central Africa
the work proceeds, and is not likely to stop until every tribe shall
read the story of the Cross in his own dialect.
Those missionaries who have studied the native tongues--of which there
are many--and translated the Bible in the vernacular of various tribes,
have done a work that is of inestimable value. The difficulty of
language, is, after all, the greatest obstacle in evangelistic progress
in Africa. If there were but one tongue to contend with, the work of the
Missionary would be comparatively easy; but there are many tongues. In
my own district in South Africa, we have the Bible in three native
dialects, namely: the Zulu, Bechauna, and the so-called Kaffir. Besides
these, we have the Dutch as well as the English Bible.
So much has been accomplished by missionaries, and at so great a
sacrifice, that it seems quite out of place to suggest a criticism or
complaint, and yet all the Christian workers should be ready to receive
any suggestion that would help them to achieve better results.
In carrying the Gospel to an unenlightened people, there is a strong
temptation to emphasize unduly the commercial element that very
naturally accompanies it. Civilization and evangelization must go hand
in hand, but the greater importance should always be given to the work
of evangelization. In our highest civilization are to be found
objectionable and hurtful elements, and these are likely to be the first
to intrude themselves upon an unsuspecting people.
It is ever to be regretted, that the civilization that opened the way
for the missionary, also gave an opportunity for the introduction of
evils, among which none have wrought greater harm than the introduction
of alcoholic beverages.
To what extent, anyone directly connected with Missionary enterprise has
ever been responsible for such a sad result, we do not know; but it does
seem evident that the idea of pecuniary gain has not always been kept
away from the Missionary field. The acquisition of lands for other than
ecclesiastical purposes, and traffic in native products, offer a great
temptation to the Missionary, some of whom have availed themselves of
these advantages, to the detriment of their legitimate work. It is not
always an easy thing for one to become so forgetful of himself in his
efforts to bless others as to be in his life, and work a perfect
exemplar of the Divine Master, whose Kingdom he seeks to promote, but
whose Kingdom is not of this world.
Professor Drummond, in a speech in 1888, among other important
statements upon foreign missionary works, made the following: "I was
taught to believe that the essential to a missionary was strong faith. I
have since learned that it is more essential for him to have strong
love. I was taught, out there in the missionary field, that he needed to
have great knowledge. I have learned that, more than knowledge even, is
required personal character. I have met men in mission fields in
different parts of the world who could make zealous addresses, at
evangelistic meetings at home, who left for their fields of labor, laden
with testimonials from churches and Sunday-schools, but who became
utterly demoralized within a year's time, because they had not learned
that love is a greater thing than faith. That is a neglected part of a
Missionary's education, it seems to me, and yet it is a most essential
one. I would say that the thing to be certain of in picking out a man
for such a field as Africa, where the strain upon a man's character is
tremendous, and the strain upon his spiritual life owing to the
isolation, is more tremendous, that we must be sure that we are sending
a man of character and heart; morally sound to the core, with a large
and brotherly sympathy for the native." These are the words of Professor
Drummond, and in my opinion he spoke the exact truth; and in making this
quotation, I am glad that it is from such an eminent authority; one who
could have no sinister motives for such utterances. He does not arraign
the missionaries as a whole but frankly states some thing that he had
learned from observation.
The native African, as a rule, is virtuous and honest. The uncivilized
tribes, in striving for the mastery among themselves, commit many acts
that would not be approved by the rules governing modern warfare: deeds
of cruelty, that made the need of the Gospel among them imperative.
But, in their individual lives, free from the exciting influence of war
they have rules and customs governing their home life that are entirely
in keeping with the highest state of Christian civilization. To them,
polygamy is not a sinful practise. Without light beyond that which comes
from their own fireside, they do not see the necessity of breaking away
from a practise that is peculiar to mankind in the earliest stages of
social life. But they hold tenaciously to the rule, that all men and all
women among them must respect the matrimonial customs by which they are
governed. These customs cannot be violated with impunity, and the
penalty for such violations is often death. They are disposed to be true
to their professions, and faithful in what they believe. When they are
persuaded that there is a better life, and induced to embrace it, they
bring with them their characteristic sincerity. How great, then, is the
need of missionaries who will not, by the deplorable example set by
their own unfaithfulness and insincerity, lower the standard of the
The spirit which impels one to work in the foreign field generally
leaves him without a choice as to post of duty. The first thought to him
is: "Lord what wilt Thou have me to do?" And hence the missionary goes
forth without questioning the race variety among which his lot should be
cast. But in this day of systematic method even in Christian effort, and
when missionaries from every race variety are being prepared for the
work, I think it would not be out of place to maintain a closer respect
for the laws of adaptation and fitness.
* * * * *
The religious field, and especially the great continent of Africa, seems
to offer the greatest opportunity for the man of color to do his best
work. As we stand in the open door of a new century, God is calling us
to new duties and responsibilities. The preparation for this work was
through a school of hard experiences, but perhaps the trials were no
harder than those which had been borne by others. We waited long for the
call to take our place among other agencies for the redemption of the
world; and now that it has come, we have no time nor disposition to
brood over past experiences. Our business is now with the exacting
present, and the portentious future, and we must adjust ourselves to the
God is calling men of every race and clime to take a part in the world's
redemption and face the responsibilities that come with the unfolding
years. If we are found ready and willing to take our place, then may we
claim the promise of His presence and help: but, if we are found to be
unwilling, and unworthy, the call may not come to us again.
"Stretch forth thy hand; Jehovah bids thee come
And claim the promise; thou hast had thy doom,
If forth in sorrow, weeping, thou hast gone,
Rejoicing to thy God thou shalt return.
"Stretch forth thy hand, no longer doubt, arise;
Look! See the 'signo' in the vaulted skies!
Greet the new century with faith sublime,
For God is calling now, this is thy time.
"Stretch forth thy hand to God, the night is past;
The morning cometh, thou art free at last.
No brigands draw thee from thy peaceful home,
But messengers of love to greet thee come.
"Stretch forth thy hand to kindred o'er the sea;
Our cause is one, and brothers still are we.
Bone of our bone, one destiny we claim;
Flesh of our flesh, thy God and ours the same.
"Stretch forth thy hand: "What tho' the heathen rage"
And fiends of darkness all their wrath engage.
The hand of God still writes upon the wall,
"Thy days are numbered; all the proud shall fall."
"Stretch forth thy hand, nor yet in terror flee;
Thick darkness but a swaddling-band shall be
The waves and billows which thy way oppose
Shall in their bosom bury all thy foes.
"Stretch forth thy hand to God, 'tis not for thee
To question aught, nor all his purpose see.
The hand that led thee through the dreary night
Does not thy counsel need when comes the light.
"Stretch forth thy hand; stretch forth thy hand to God;
Nor falter thou, nor stumble at His word.
And if in service thou shalt faithful be,
His promise of salvation thou shalt see."
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