Presbyterians of the Past

A Survey of Presbyterian Mission History in Africa, Whytock, 2023

BOOK NOTICE–On January 1, 1824 the Presbytery of Kaffraria was organized the first presbytery in Africa. In celebration of this bicentennial A Survey of Presbyterian Mission History in Africa: Historic Beginnings (c.1790s to c.1930s) is the first of a two-volume set by Barnabas Academic Publishers. Volume two is scheduled for publication in 2024. The editor, J. C. Whytock, has taught church and missions history at colleges and seminaries across Africa more than twenty years and his work includes An Educated Clergy, 2007, as well as contributions to The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization, 2012, and A Companion to The Reformation in Scotland, 2021. The book cover shows a reproduction of a painting by Thomas Baines of the intimidatingly large tree Baobab; it was painted while the artist travelled with Dr. David Livingstone on his Zambesi Expedition in 1858.

Following a forward by Ronald Munyithya, retired church pastor and lecturer in Biblical Studies at Mukhanyo Theological College, the text is divided into four parts including 13, 9, 3, and 7 chapters respectively. The first part considers the historic beginnings and developments in western and southern Africa; the second part addresses the same subjects for western and central Africa; then the third part looks into the Nile corridor in the northeast part of the continent; and the fourth part ponders assorted topical studies. Some of the chapter titles from the four parts are—African Presbyterian Sung Praise–Principles, Early Psalters and Hymnals; Presbyterian Developments in Kenya; History of Presbyterians in Rwanda; Presbyterian Ethiopianism in South Africa and Malawi; Old Princeton Seminary & the Missionary Imperative, which includes an article about Princeton alumni that served in Africa; Jewish and Muslim Missions in Northern Africa; The History of Early Presbyterianism in Sudan; legacies of African American Missionaries of the American Presbyterian Congo Mission; Beginnings of Presbyterian Work in German Kamerun, c.1879–c.1940; and Revival and Exile: The Madeirans, A Story of Influence on the Fringe. Sprinkled throughout the four parts are biographical inserts some of which are—Joseph E. Phipps and William H. Sheppard missionaries to the Belgian Congo; Mary Galloway Giffen, missionary of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Synod of the South; Tadros Yusif, who was the first ordained Presbyterian pastor in Egypt; and Thomas A. Lambie: Missionary Entrepreneur.

A Presbyterian missionary to Africa told me several years ago that Africa is large with peoples of many cultures and languages distributed over its varied topography that provides a spectrum of climates from Cape Town to Casablanca to Cairo. Africa is a mission field that is complex with unique challenges. The nearly 800 pages of the book are indicative of the size of the continent and two-hundred years of Presbyterian missions history.

The twenty-six authors unite to provide through their varied experiences and scholarship a panorama of Presbyterian history in Africa. They are–E. Paul Balisky, Douglas K. Bower, Thoko M. Chilembwe, Mary Cloutier, Steve Curtis, Hans Blix Duodu, Sherif A. Fahim, J. Cameron Fraser, James Garretson, Kimberly D. Hill, Dale W. Johnson, David Kawanga, Ezra E. Kwizera, Milton Lipa, Nelson Pilile Mpayipeli, Retief Müller, Rhodian Munyenyembe, Andrew Okuch Ojullo, Watson A. O. Omulokoli, Alex Pettett, John S. Ross, Todd Statham, Barry Waugh, Jack and Nancy J. Whytock (Publication Project Administrator), and Humphrey F. Zgambo.

Victor Nakah, International Director for the Presbyterian Church in America’s sub-Saharan Africa work with Mission to the World and Supervisor for South Africa Theological Seminary comments on the need for the two books.

The editor and contributors take us behind the scenes to understand the thinking, the cross-cultural challenges and the incredible faith of Presbyterian missionaries and African leaders who dared to obey God’s command to go into all the world to make disciples. This they do with honest precision and unswerving intent to educate, equip, challenge and inspire believers by demonstrating the sovereign faithfulness of God amid broken humanity. (from dustjacket)

The book was published in South Africa and its arrival for distribution in North America is planned for January 2024 with the expected arrival of volume two in December 2024. When I have further information I will include it in the “Notes & News” section of the Presbyterians of the Past homepage. You may have noticed in the list of contributors that I am one. I am proud to have a part in this project and am grateful to the Whytocks for inviting me to participate. I think this book will be an important resource for studies of not only missions, but also Christianity in Africa. The West is in some ways as ignorant of Africa as the nineteenth century missionaries that entered its unknown regions. The Africans are in the image of God just as any other peoples. It was and continues to be the combined efforts of missionaries and African believers that brings God’s grace in Christ to a panoply of peoples living on a massive and in many places spiritually dark continent.

Barry Waugh

Notes—The header dates to 1906 and shows the first steam launch fully assembled in Lagos, Nigeria; it is from the Library of Congress Digital Collection. The steam launch was important for missionaries in Africa because rivers such as the Congo were treacherous highways into the continent’s interior and without a powered craft, the dangers were even more pronounced. The movie African Queen, 1951, stars Humphrey Bogart (Academy Award for best actor), Katharine Hepburn, and Robert Morley in a story built around Bogart and Hepburn traveling on a steam launch in Arica at the time of the First World War. Morley is Hepburn’s father and they are missionaries in German East Africa, but they are portrayed stereotypically (especially Hepburn) as dull, self righteous, and stolid.

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