Baptist History Homepage
By Henry C. Vedder, 1927

The West Coast

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      American missionaries were first sent to Africa in connection with a project to found a colony of emancipated American Negroes, from 1820 onward. The American Colonization Society undertook this work, and several religious bodies, including Baptists, became interested in it. Vast sums were spent on the colonizing scheme, without adequate return. Liberia has about 350 miles of sea-board and extends some 200 miles inland, with a total area of about 40,000 square miles. Its present population is composed of 20,000 from the United States and 2,000,000 or more natives. It obtained recognition as an independent republic in 1842. Citizens must have some Negro blood. The Civil War interrupted the missionary work of Northern Baptists, and it has never been resumed. Other denominations have entered the field, however, notably the Methodists, who have a flourishing mission and a college at Monrovia, the capital. There is also a Liberia College there, in part supported by the Government. The Protestant Episcopal Church is especially successful in its educational features maintaining a high school at Cape Palmas and three other schools. In all there are 87 mission schools, with over 3,000 pupils.

The S B C in Nigeria

      In 1849 the SBC began a mission among the Yoruba, a tribe in the region that has since become part of the immense British possessions collectively known as the West Colony, over which Great Britain claims "protectorate" or territorial rights. The mission was in what is

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now Northern Nigeria, a region of 256,400 square miles and a population of more than 7,000,000. West Africa comprises, in addition, Southern Nigeria, Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, and Gambia. Lagos is the capital and the center now of missionary operations. The people are largely Mohammedans, and the number of European residents is very small, not exceeding 3,000. Some primary and secondary schools are maintained by the Government. The educational work of the Baptist mission is very prominent. A college and theological school was founded in 1900 at Ogbomoso, and a normal course is also added. The teaching staff is composed of missionaries and natives and is very efficient. There is a girls' school at Abeokuta, with about 100 girls in attendance and five teachers. An industrial school at Iwo is becoming one of the best institutions in Nigeria. A new hospital plant has been established at Ogbomoso, commodious and well-planned; dispensaries are maintained at a number of other stations. A Yoruba Association was formed some years ago, and has since become the Nigeria Baptist Convention. The churches are erecting their own houses of worship and are manifesting a strong missionary spirit. The Yoruba and other tribes of this region have egbes or companies for various purposes; this method of organization is carried into church life so as sometimes to be embarrassing, but on the whole the results are good.

English Baptist Mission

      The B M S [British Mission Society] had a mission on the West Coast from 1842 onward. The chief station was on the island of Fernando Po, near the mouth of the Cameroon river. Missionaries were sent here from the colony of Jamaica, where they already had experience in working among a Negro population. Outstations on the mainland were

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established, some of which grew into churches; and the people were taught the arts of civilized life along with the gospel. Victoria, on the mainland, after a time became the center of this mission. The Cameroon region became a German colony and a considerable immigration of Germans resulted. This led to a transfer of the work to the Basel Missionary Society, in 1882, which maintained it up to the late war, and perhaps does still, though the treaty of Versailles transferred the administration of the Cameroon colony to the British and French governments.

Negro Baptist Missions

      Two independent organizations of Negro Baptists have missions in Africa. The National Baptist Convention was organized under the leadership of Dr. William J. Simmons in 1880. After his death, four years later, Dr. E. C. Morris became its head; he was an excellent organizer and served 28 years. The Foreign Mission Board of the Convention is located in Philadelphia. It maintains missions in Liberia and South Africa.

      The Lott Carey Missionary Society also has missions in Liberia, and indeed led the way there. Lott Carey was a slave who succeeded in buying his freedom in 1820 and appointed himself a missionary to his race in Africa. After eight years he died there, but his example led to the organization of Negro Baptists for missionary purposes in 1860, and the society appropriately took the name of this pioneer. Besides their Liberian mission, they support native workers in South Africa under direction of the South African B M S.

English Baptists in the Congo

      In 1877 Mr. Robert Arthripington, of Leeds, offered the B M S 1,000 to begin a mission in the Congo field, and

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this stimulated other generous gifts. Their first missionary was George Grenfell, whose name stands among the greatest of African missionaries. His family belonged to the Church of England, but he became a Baptist at the age of fifteen. After some years in business, he entered Bristol College, was accepted as a missionary by the BMS, and reached the Cameroons in January, 1875. After three years here, he went to the Congo Valley and founded a new mission. He built the missionary steamer Peace, and by its aid carried the gospel message to hundreds of villages along the Congo and its affluents. He did a great and valuable work of exploration in the Upper Congo basin, ascending some of the tributary streams 400 miles or more, making careful observations and mapping this new region with great accuracy. The geographical value of his work is second only to that of Livingstone and Stanley. Later he built a second missionary boat, the Goodwill. Among other achievements, he established the first printing-press in this part of Africa, at Bolobo. Grenfell died all too soon in 1906, not quite 57 years old - African missions are not conducive to longevity.

      Other missionaries were sent out, many of whom died before they had accomplished anything. Stations were established on both the Upper and Lower Congo. The station of Stanley Pool was destroyed by fire, in 1886, but the loss stimulated the supporters to new efforts, and 4,000 was raised for rebuilding in a few weeks. The native language has been reduced to writing, grammar and dictionary provided, and a version of the Bible has followed.

Northern Baptists in the Congo

      The Congo mission of American Baptists was orginated [sic] as an independent effort by two English Baptists, Mr.

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and Mrs. H. Grattan Guinness, about 1878. With their own means and contributions from English sources, they carried it on for some years, with considerable success, and then, finding themselves no longer able to carry the burden, offered it to American Baptists. The offer was accepted, after prolonged consideration, in 1884, and we took possession of the mission and a plant said to be worth $100,000. Not long after this, A. Sims, M.D., returned from the field, visited the Northern Baptist churches and enlisted their warm sympathy in support of this work.

      The Congo plateau is a region of 900,000 square miles with a population estimated at 12,000,000. The greater part of it belongs to the Congo Free State, under the protectorate of Belgium. Some of this region is still inaccessible, but more than 100,000 square miles is open to missionary work, which has the tacit approval of the Government. There has been notorious misgovernment and maladministration of this region, but many of the abuses have been remedied, and the condition of the people is much improved. Only about one-third of these people have yet been reached by Protestant missionaries, but there are at least 326 Protestant churches in the Congo and nearly 60,000 members.

      Henry Richards had been the pioneer missionary on the Congo and labored at Banza Manteke amid great discouragements until the "Pentecost on the Congo," as the first great revival in 1886 was called. In the four years from 1921-4, there were nearly 11,000 baptized on this field. Here Dr. Catharine L. Mabie was located in 1898 for her medical work, with no equipment worth mentioning, so she became a traveling medical missionary and ministered to a large region round about. Since 1911 she has been a teacher in the Congo Evangelical Training Institution at Kimpese, where she gives special attention to physiology, sanitation, and hygiene. Her standing as

- A map showing The Field of the Belgian Congo Mission -
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physician and teacher led to her appointment as a member of the Phelps-Stokes survey in 1921.

      Dr. W. H. Leslie, another medical missionary, was a pioneer in penetrating the Kwangu region, about 1900. For several years he and Mrs. Leslie lived alone in the wilderness. He also was a pioneer in establishing the Vanga station, one of the greatest now in the Congo field. To hew this out of the primitive African jungle, he had two axes, a saw, a hammer, a box of nails, two bales of cloth, and ten sacks of salt. He cleared a plateau above the river and there built a village, with houses for missionaries, a church, school, and dispensary. Beyond the mission, a village has been built for young couples graduated from the school, which they have named Beige. The influence of this station is felt far and wide; old pagan evils are disappearing; new ethical ideals are being established; habits of cleanliness are forming; a religion of love and trust is taking the place of the ancient cults of terror and superstition.1

      At Ntondo a valuable industrial work is going on under direction of a practical mechanic. A combined carpenter's and machinist's shop of brick contains a ten-horse-power engine, which moves saws, planes, lathe, and grinding-mill. There is another shop with forges and machinery for iron work. Practically everything has been built by the pupils, and the whole station is one of the finest in Africa. The Phelps-Stokes Commission says of it:

In the construction of its buildings and the arrangement of roads and gardens, this plant is probably the best the Commission observed in Africa. . . It is notable for the abundance of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. One residence is famous for its lawn, the only one seen in Central Africa.

1 Dr. W. H. Leslie and the Rev. and Mrs. Joseph Clark, all three Baptist missionaries in the Belgian Congo, have been decorated as chevalier de l'order royal du lion by the king of Belgium. Doctor Leslie has worked for more than 30 years in the Congo, Mr. Clark for 48, and Mrs. Clark for 46. Mrs. Clark is the first woman to receive this decoration.
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      This is one mission where the workers did not begin by establishing a college and theological seminary. They had the good sense to recognize the fact that the first step in establishing a Christian civilization among Africans was to teach them how to gain a livelihood and how to live. They found that while the African is not naturally industrious, he can be taught to work, and that he becomes a good artisan with proper instruction.

      There are stations similar to the above at Tshumbiri and Sona Bata. The latter is perhaps the most fruitful of conversions thus far of any African field. Continuous revivals have occurred. In 1921 there were 2,000 baptisms here, 3,500 in 1922, 2,500 in 1923, 1,100 in 1924, and over 1,000 in 1925.


      Africans in general are an emotional people, and constitute probably the most inflammable material in the world. A native "prophet" will always find a multitude of followers, and recent converts are often easily led astray by these pretenders. In the Sona Bata region much trouble has been experienced from one Kibangu, who announced himself a prophet in the summer of 1921 and caused great excitement by pretending to work miracles and claiming to be a Messiah. After a time the Government arrested him and the stir gradually died away. A recrudescence of the movement in later years led some 3,000 converts to separate from our missions, but the others stood fast. The experience has emphasized the great need of trained native workers.

      African prophetism has not always had results so bad. A Methodist missionary recently discovered some 20,000 converts in West Africa, who had been gained by the preaching of a native known as " Prophet Harris " and the "Black Elijah." This missionary, Rev. W. J. Platt,

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found these native Christians meeting every Sunday to sing hymns, pray, and encourage each other in the worship of God. They were without ministry or organization and apparently excellent material for fuller Christian instruction. Prophet Harris has said everywhere that he was only a forerunner, and told them to wait for the coming of missionaries and fuller light. Many of them possessed Bibles and they had even built churches in some places. Missionaries have been sent them, and it is hoped to establish a training college.

Christian Education

      Religious evangelism without education has been proved by experience to be the fruitful mother of emotionalism, superstitition [sic], fanaticism, and bigotry. Nowhere has this been made more clear than in Africa. The educational work of missions is there of utmost importance, yet thus far the Congo field has no system of education, and the work greatly needs coordination.

      Chief among educational influences is the translation and circulation of the Scriptures. There are some 800 languages and dialects spoken in Africa and many of them are not yet reduced in writing. The work of translation, and the printing of a Christian literature, has thus far been carried on in a very unsystematic, and hence a very unsatisfactory way. There has been a deplorable lack of cooperation between the various missionaries and societies, leading to great duplication and waste of effort. Various missionaries, often in adjacent fields, and dealing with the same language, have made different alphabets and scripts, and the result is that natives speaking the same language cannot read the books produced in stations other than their own. An International Bureau of African Languages and Culture is projected, to promote study of the native languages and uniformity in writing

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and printing them, so as to make what religious and educational literature may be produced available to the utmost. There certainly is need for such an institution. The present haphazard and unscientific methods are a disgrace to missions, and should be promptly remedied.

      Baptist schools in connection with African missions are numerous and on the whole of excellent grade. The British Baptists began a school at San Salvador, on the Congo River, in 1879, on the site of an abandoned Roman Catholic mission. It maintains a boarding-school for boys and girls, with a teaching staff of 14. A brick church has been built here, with five bungalows for residences, a dispensary, and a hospital. This has 36 beds and gives more than a thousand treatments a year.

      Several stations are maintained by the British Baptists in the Congo field, notably one at Kibokolo, on a plateau 3,200 feet above sea-level, in a fine climate. A school is maintained, which has an attendance of 60 boys and 24 girls. Instruction is given in the vernacular, including some industrial and agricultural training. Ten stations in all are maintained, and the Phelps-Stokes Commission says that this work "is one of the most notable in the whole colony."

      British and American Baptists unite in the support of the Kimpese Evangelical Training Institute, already mentioned. It has been at work over fifteen years, has graduated 73 men and 64 women, most of whom are now at work on the field and are building up native churches rapidly. This is a more advanced school than many, and besides studies equal to our eight grades, provides instruction in sanitation, agriculture, and handicrafts. Only one other institution of equal grade is yet maintained in the Congo, and that by a Swedish mission.

      It is the testimony of missionaries and observers that the pupils of these Congo schools compare very favorably

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in intelligence and attainment with pupils of the same grades in the United States. In knowledge of the Bible they put to shame students in our high schools and college freshmen.

      The great defect of missionary schools and this is by no means confined to Africa has been that their product is fitted only to make ministers, teachers, or clerks, what is known among us as "white-collar jobs." More of these are now found on nearly all our mission fields than can possibly find employment; and they are unwilling as any American youths to accept other and (as they think) inferior work. Schools that will teach natives to make a living, as the first condition of making a life, are greatly needed on all mission fields. For Africans, agricultural colleges are the prime desideratum. The vast majority of the people must live on and from the soil. There are 135 mission stations now in Africa where some sort of agricultural training is given; and how to increase the number and efficiency of these is one of the chief missionary problems today. The report of the Phelps-Stokes Commission has had good effects in many ways: It has called the attention of the Christian world to the good and bad features of the work in Africa; it has stimulated the British Government to appoint an advisory Educational Commission for the future development of education in British colonies. France and Belgium are expected to take similar steps; and with these the various missionary agencies should henceforth cooperate. Not a superficial and fictitious "culture," but a practical training that will fit him to live a useful life in his native environment is the chief need of the African.

Prospects of African Missions

      The outlook for the future is most encouraging. Missionaries have laid great stress on self-support, and the

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natives have responded heartily. Most of the station plants have been erected by labor of converts, at a minimum of cost; little foreign money is now used in support of native churches, schools, and teachers, except when establishing new stations. At the same time, African missions of all denominations, and especially our own, sorely need re-enforcement and enlargement on the side of medical and educational work. Hospitals are urgently required. Evangelism can be most effectively conducted by the native ministry now receiving training. Character more than intellect will decide the future of Africa. Man is undergoing a social evolution: hence race superiority depends on social efficiency. Only a people who can flourish by their own efforts can reach and maintain the high standard of moral worth and public spirit without which a people cannot survive in the stress of modern life. It remains to be proved whether the African races have enough moral and physical stamina to stand by themselves, and, with some help from the white race, work out a civilization of their own. Have they the courage, uprightness, soundness of judgment, and capacity to work together that have made the white race dominant? If so, Africa will continue to belong indefinitely mainly to the black race. If not, the black race will gradually give place to the white, as on the American hemisphere the red race gave place.

Missionary problems in Africa are largely social problems and not so simple as might be supposed. For ex- ample, take the problem of the uplift of the African woman. Women have always worked in the fields; if taken from this work to the home exclusively, African life is so simple that they have not enough work to occupy them, and so spend their time in gossiping and quarreling. If women are taught modern laundry methods in the industrial schools, they are likely to find these inapplicable

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in their own homes, and if they seek outside employment drift away to the towns and multiply the social difficulties there. There is no royal road to success in missions, more than elsewhere.

The land question is also a burning one, and Africans do not welcome the laws of Europe and America establishing private ownership. Dr. C. H. Parrish, the head of Simmons University, says:

Sun, water, and land represent to the native mind, not those elements, but a single element, the supreme object of which is the provision of human sustenance. The primitive African is as horrified at the alienation or sale of land, as of water and sun. It thus follows that the ownership is nowhere vested in the individual, but in the whole race inhabiting a particular area. While every member of the tribe possesses as much right to the usage of an adequate share of the land as he has to his share of the warmth of the sun or a drink of water from the local stream.

Whites may force on the Negro their laws and customs, but they will meet with sullen resistance.

During the great war, the prestige of the white race was much impaired. On the other hand, Africans are fast growing conscious of common ideals and interests. The concerted and powerful effort to make South Africa a white man's land, segregating the native peoples, provokes bitter resentment wherever it is known. Especially as the white men of South Africa are by no means good specimens of their race such places as Johannesburg are really "universities of vice," and the Bantu race is physically and morally degenerating in its contact with the whites.

In one important respect the outlook is most favorable for missions. The ancient paganism is undergoing quick decomposition, and Christian missions are thus presented with a great opportunity, not exempt from dangers and difficulties. For the general awakening of Africa, the new longing 'for knowledge, does not necessarily mean

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Christian progress. Baptists are specially fitted to deal with the situation by reason of their emphasis, which has sometimes been overemphasis, of individual liberty and individual responsibility. Education and evangelism must be pushed hand-in-hand, and the education must be adapted to his needs - if we offer the African the Bible and spelling-book with one hand, the other should hold out the axe and hoe.

It is a favorable symptom that the eyes of the world are today turned upon Africa, especially of the Christian world. A great conference of workers was held in Belgium in the autumn of 1926, at which 200 representatives of missionary organizations and 50 officials and specialists were present. They considered such questions as, "The specific task of Christian missions in Africa," and "The relation between Christian missions and other forces impinging on African life." The result of such a conference should be greater coordination and energy in the prosecution of African missions.


[From Henry C. Vedder, A Short History of Baptist Missions, chapter XI, Judson Press, 1927, pp. 268-280. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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