Africa – Missionaries and Explorers
Opening Africa up to the World
Modern Africa was the product of three forces, conquest, trade and missions. Of the three, the last is the greatest
factor in the expansion and modern civilisation of Africa.
A little more than a century ago in 1905, it was estimated than 600 explorers had died as a direct result of
the death-dealing climate and the consequences of travel in Africa, the number of missionaries are unknown.
The African frontier advanced on the stepping stones of missionary graves. In 1902, seven of the leading missionary
societies in America showed that the average lifespan of missionaries under their auspices had been eight years
and that since 1833 the seven societies had given 195 lives to Africa.
In 1905 there were 95 mission societies working in Africa. In the 1850s on the West Coast, at Gold Coast,
modern day Ghana, any non-native would be fortunate if they lived more than two years!
Dr. David Livingstone said, “…the opening up of a new central country is a matter of congratulations only in so
far as it opens up a prospect for the elevation of the inhabitants. I view the end of the geographical feat as
the beginning of missionary enterprise.”
Until the advent of the European enterprise, represented by both mission and commerce, there were no roads in Africa.
Yes, there was a few slave routes, navigable portions of river, crooked paths, but no roads. Thankfully things
are a lot easier now.
Portugal’s, Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460) took the lead in the West Coast exploration of Africa.
He instructed his explorers ‘to cultivate the Negroes, establish peace and use their uttermost diligence in
making converts.’ Tragically though, he permitted slavery in the ‘hope that by conversation with Christians
the slaves might easily be won to the faith,’ but by stimulating greed instead of love the missionary motive
The Congo River was discovered in 1484 and the Portuguese opened mission stations along that river. 1000s were
baptised into the Catholic faith, but superficial forms were substituted for vital piety.
The Continent was rounded in 1487 by Bartholomew Diaz of Portugal. He named the southern most point, Cape of
Storms due to the rough weather, but King John II would have none of it, “Nay” said he, “the Cape of Good
Hope shalt thou forever be named, for by this cape shall we sail to India.”
Ten years later, Vasco da Gama fulfilled this prophecy. He found the new route to India and reached a port on
the East Coast on Christmas Day 1497 and named it, as well as the surrounding country Natal, in commemoration
of the nativity of our Lord. In 1642 the Dutch began to occupy the Cape of Good Hope.
In 1788 the ‘African Association’ was founded to undertake and direct the systematic scientific exploration
of Africa. It took precisely a century; 1788-1888 for the entire interior to be mapped out, though much of
the Congo details were still unknown.
From 1788-1830 the African Association focussed on West Africa, north of the Guinea Coast and east to
Lake Tchad – discovery of the source of the Niger and following its puzzling course was the field of
David Livingstone focussed his mission in Southern Africa – his journey from Linyanti in South Central Africa
to St. Paul de Loanda on the West Coast, his return to the East Coast, his discovery of much of the Zambezi
River and Victoria Falls was the results of his labour from 1830-1862.
From 1862-1876 the headwaters of the course of the Congo were the objects of search. From 1867-1887 nothing
of importance in Africa exploration was attempted.
In 1887, Henry M. Stanley, Livingstone’s successor undertook his third and final expedition, on the Emin
Pasha Relief; crossing the continent from west to east (his second transcontinental exploit) and reached
the Abyssinian coast in 1888.
In 1885 the Berlin Conference took place in Germany where European powers, (English, Portuguese, German
and French) partitioned Africa into European “spheres of influence.” Before they were like schoolboys
who took slices of cake which did not belong to them; then they became ‘civilised’ and proportion to each a share!
Egypt’s Biblical Characters
Egypt is a land that has been visited by many biblical characters. A famine caused Sarah and Abraham to go down
to Egypt. Joseph was sold as a slave into Potiphar’s house and became Egypt’s Prime Minister. Moses was brought
up in pharaoh’s household and eventually led the Israelites from the land of Goshen into freedom.
Jeremiah ministered to the remnant in Egypt and Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt with baby Jesus.
Mark the Evangelist was the first bishop of Alexandria and in this renowned city; the first Missionary Training
School was founded sometime before AD 200. Three great scholars, Pantaenus, Origen and Clement became its
Within 200 years of Pentecost there were 900 churches in North Africa. But when Islam came to the fore five
centuries later; its sword subdued those who followed in the footsteps of the One came in the sandals of
the gospel of peace.
New Testament Africa References
Simeon of Cyrene was forced to carry’s Christ’s cross to Golgotha, Matthew 27:32.
‘Dwellers in Egypt and the parts of Libya about Cyrene’ were present at Pentecost, Acts 2:10.
Two Africans, Simeon ‘who was called black’ (or Niger), he and Lucius of Cyrene were foremost prophets
and teachers in the first missionary church, Acts 13:1.
Apollos who was eloquent, mighty in the Scriptures, fervent in spirit, who taught diligently was a
native of Alexandria, he spoke boldly and convinced the Jews in Ephesus, Acts 18:26-40.
According to tradition, six of the Twelve Disciples ministered in North Africa: Matthew and Thomas in Ethiopia,
Peter and James the Less in Egypt and Jude and Simon in Cyrene (Libya).
Tertullian, Cyprian, Arnobius and Augustine were giants of the early church and were all from North Africa.
They encouraged missions across Africa and made the earliest translations of the Bible from the original
Hebrew and Greek into Latin and the Vulgate.
More than half of the twenty greatest names of the early church from AD 150 to 400 and a like proportion of
Christian writers of the same period were North African. Athanasius, partly black was at least was one of the
greatest of church leaders.
From 1100 to 1300, two hundred each of Franciscans and Dominican monks lost their lives in missionary work
across North Africa. St. Francis of Assisi, ‘The Apostle of Poverty’ preached to the Saracens in Egypt.
Raymond Lull, a medieval missionary went to Tunis, (modern day Tunisia) in 1300, he spent nine years in
preparation, learning Arabic.
The North Africa Mission (British) began work in Algeria in 1881. Britain occupied Egypt in 1882, but the
British flag did not guarantee freedom from religious persecutions.
Egypt Mission Band
On 16 February 1897, thirteen men were present at a half-night of prayer at the YMCA, in the city of Belfast,
Ireland. The Holy Spirit brought before them the need of the foreign mission field that before separating,
those present we constrained to draw up and sign the following declaration: ‘Lord, I am at Thy disposal for
Foreign Missionary work as soon, and, wherever Thou callest me.’
By April, of the same year the Lord had revealed to them that He wanted to call out a band (team) of seven men and
send them forth and work together. They would become known as the Egypt Mission Band; five arrived in January 1898;
the remaining two, after settling their business obligations arrived in October and after language study, three
mission stations were set up.
The Band of Seven, the Egypt Mission Band was renamed the Egyptian General Mission in 1903 and a constitution
was drawn up.
The Arabic word “Sudan” or “Bilad es Sudan” means “Land of the Blacks” whilst the Greek “Ethiopia” has the
same meaning. More than 160 tribal languages are spoken in the Sudan with over 600 dialects.
Five centuries before Christ, Ethiopia continued to be an all-exclusive term for the unknown or little
unknown regions beyond the more familiar North African points and continued to be so a few centuries after that.
Northern Sudan, biblically known as Cush or Meroe was a subject state of Egypt until about 1000 BC when it
became independent. In the Good News Bible there are over sixty references to the Sudan and the Sudanese,
the Greek Septuagint (Old Testament) calls it “Ethiopia,” Isaiah 18:1 the land beyond the rivers of Cush / Ethiopia.
Church Missionary Society
The Church Missionary Society began work in the Sudan in 1899, the year after the Battle of Omdurman. The first
Sudanese baptism was in 1916 and by 1945 there was around 50,000 baptised Sudanese converts.
At the height of the civil war in 1964 all expatriate missionaries were expelled from the south, but a few
remained in Khartoum and Omdurman. In 1965, 10,000 Christian were massacred, but during the mass exile into
the forests or neighbouring countries, 1000s turned to Christ.
In 1978, it was estimated that the Episcopal Church had about 500,000 adherents.
Abyssinia - Ethiopia
Ethiopia the land of Cush – (Cushite people) figure mainly in Israel’s later history.
Aaron and Miriam spoke against Moses because he married an Ethiopian, Numbers 12:1.
Under Shishak king of Egypt, the Ethiopians participated in the invasion of Israel at the time of King Rehoboam of Judah and came up against Jerusalem, 2 Chronicles 12:2-3.
King Zerah of Eithophia attacked King Asa of Judah with a host of a million men and 300 hundred chariots. Asa cried out to the Lord and the Lord struck the Ethiopians, 2 Chronicles 14:9-12.
Ambassadors came from Tirhakah, king of Ethiopia with the purpose of forming an alliance with King Hezekiah. It was then that Isaiah prophesied 'the land of rustling of wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia,' Isaiah 18:1, 7 and Isaiah 37:19.
Tirhakah, king of Ethiopia came to make war with Hezekiah, 2 Kings 19:19.
Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian petitioned King Zedekiah of Judah about the prophet Jeremiah who was imprisoned in a miry well. The King told him to get thirty men and pull him up before he dies. God promised Ebed-melech that he would be protected because of his faithful deed, Jeremiah 38:7-13 and Jeremiah 39:15-18.
The treasurer of Ethiopia proper (the Upper Nile region) was returning from Jerusalem; reading Isaiah 53 which both attracted and puzzled him. He invited Phillip up into his chariot and went through the Scriptures with him and preached unto him Jesus, Acts 8:26-40.
Ethiopia and Christianity
In the fourth century Frumentius of Tyre became the founder of the church in Abyssinia. He was later made bishop
and known as ‘the Father of Peace.’ The Ethiopian church of Abyssinia in times past had been connected
with the Coptic church of Egypt.
Frumentius’ brother was Edesius, both were taken as captive at a Red Sea port and taken to Abyssinia.
They were introduced to the king and after years of service were promoted to a position of authority.
Frumentius was aided in his work by missionaries from Alexandria who volunteered for the field when in
person he presented his cause before Anthansius in Alexandria.
Abyssinia (Ethiopia) had the distinction of being the last remaining indigenous kingdom of Africa to hold its
own against European overlordship. Late in the fifteenth century a fanciful story of a Christian state,
led it was believed by “Prester John” gained ground for many years which led the Portuguese to take a
pilgrimage to Abyssinia – in 1520 they arrived and were the first to enter into negotiations with that
interesting country. The tale of Prester John was proved false.
Two Lutheran missionaries entered Abyssinia in 1632, but were expelled through Jesuit intrigue. Peter
Heyling of Lubeck arrived in 1635 and is known as the first Protestant missionary to Abyssinia,
but he was robbed and executed by a Turkish Pasha in Cairo, Egypt in 1652.
In 1768, James Bruce, a Scotchman reached Abyssinia and stayed there for five years and it was he who
gave the first extended information about the country.
The Bible in Nandi
In 1915, Stuart M. Bryson and his wife were converted by a roaming Australian evangelist whilst at their farm in
Trundle, Australia. After two years of study at the newly founded Sydney Bible College they became missionaries
with the Africa Inland Mission (AIM) and in 1919 were based in Kenya.
Stuart, alongside his native helper, Samuel Gimnyige, who became the first Nandi pastor in 1944, translated the
Nandi Bible, the first Kenyan Bible in the vernacular.
By 1927, the Nandi language was only partially known by to a few Europeans and very little had been committed
to writing – Mr and Mrs Bryson were the only missionaries in Nandiland (based at Kapsabet, 600 miles from the coast)
until 1933 and there was no Nandi dictionary or grammar book.
In 1929, Stuart and Samuel began work on the Nandi New Testament which was completed in 1931. The Old Testament
took four years and was begun in 1933 and by 1939 the complete Nandi Bible was published.
Swaziland and Lesotho
In Swaziland the oldest known intact place of Christian worship dates from 1912 and is a Gothic style Methodist
Church which has been restored by EU funding. The Methodist Wesleyan Mission settled in the Shiselweni region,
in the south in 1844.
The Rev. J. Allison built a school at Sankolweni which is believed to be the first in Swaziland. The school
was later moved to Mahamba where it remains today.
In the landlocked country of Lesotho, the oldest church in the country is based at Morijia. This was also a
sight of revival under the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society who began work in the country in 1833.
Dinosaur footprints, discovered by the early missionaries can also be seen on the rock face if ones has the
stamina to climb up the Morijia Mountain.
Pioneering Missionaries and Mission Societies in Africa
In 1737 Moravian missionary, George Schmidt, spurred on by the 1727 Moravian Revival at Hernhut (modern day Germany) began a work amongst the Hottentots of South Africa and then the Kaffirs, though a Dutch minister had preached to the Hottentots as early as 1662. Schmidt landed in Cape Town in July 1737 and baptised the first native convert on 31 March 1742. In 1743 he was forced to return to Europe and the Dutch East Indian Company never permitted him to renew his work.
In 1748 John Schwälber took George Schmidt’s place at his own expense and died eight years later in 1756, though 36 years later in 1792, the work continued and never ceased.
In 1798 Van der Kemp of the London missionary Society came to South Africa and the Betheldorp Mission at Aloga Bay was founded; 10km from where Port Elizabeth was founded in 1820. Revival broke out at Betheldorp in 1813.
In 1817 Robert Moffat, aged twenty-two, began a brief work among the Hottentots, though within four years he was based at Kuruman from 1821-1870! He saw the Kuruman Revival in 1829.
David Livingstone, who became the son-in-law of Robert Moffat was in Africa from 1841-1873. In 1840 he had been inspired by Moffat’s statement, whilst on furlough, that he had often seen rising in the morning sunlight the smoke of a thousand villages where the gospel had never been preached. Livingstone made three journeys during the years 1841-1856, 1858-1864 and 1866-1873.
In 1818 David Jones went to Madagascar.
In 1844 Protestant missions began on the East Coast.
John Ludwig Krapf was in Abyssinia (Eithophia) under the Church Missionary Society from 1839-1842 and then went south to Mombassa, Kenya from 1844-1855. Krapf was joined by Rebmann in 1846. At one time Krapf was reduced to eating gunpowder and the next day he ‘broke his fast’ by eating ants! It was Krapf’s vision to see an ‘Apostle Street,’ a chain of mission stations from east to west across the continent, and from north to south with each principal station named after an apostle. After a few years he gave up this dream, but stated that it would be taken up by succeeding generations.
In 1851 a missionary leader said, “If Africa is to be penetrated by European missionaries, it must be from the East Coast.”
Alexander Mackay went to Uganda 1876-1890.
Bishop Hannighton cry from his martyred lips, “I have purchased the road to Uganda with my life.”
Francaois Colliard 1878-1897 worked on the Upper Zambezi (Zambia).
In 1752 the Church of England Mission, under the direction of the Society for the Propagation of the gospel in Foreign Parts (SPGFP) began a work amongst the natives of Sierra Leone, West Africa.
During the closing years of the eighteen century, a few mission organisations, the London, Scottish and Wesleyan societies inaugurated work in Sierra Leone, Liberia and South Africa.
In 1796 several Nonconformist societies began missionary work in Sierra Leone. The Church missionary Society followed in 1804.
American missionary societies began work in Liberia during 1833-1836.
In March 1833, Melville B. Cox, a disabled retired minister arrived in Liberia under the Methodist Episcopal Church. He died after 4 months and 3 weeks of service.
In 1792 the Baptist Missionary Society was founded.
In 1795 the non-denominational London Missionary Society was founded.
In 1806, at Williams College; five students sheltered under a haystack during a storm and held a prayer meeting for the nations – they all pledged themselves to become missionaries. The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was the direct outcome of the ‘Haystack Meeting.’
ByFaith 2008 Africa Mission. Go
More from ByFaith
The five calls of God. Go
Six things to do today! Go
Great Christian Revivals. Go
Three simple godly habits. Go
One thing I have desired of the Lord. Go
What if my prayers are not answered? Go
I keep watching bad stuff on TV - help! Go
How Christianity made the modern world. Go
Supporting University and Bible College students. Go