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Catholic and Christians Missionaries in Africa

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Catholic and Christians Missionaries in Africa


Marlow, the main character in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, is fascinated by unknown areas of the world and also enjoys the feeling of being afloat on water. To quench this curiosity of the mysterious, he ventures into the wilderness to face the adventures that lay inside the “heart of darkness”, Africa. Unbeknownst by him at first, Marlow is viewed as a missionary: the man that will bring light to the “dark” continent (Heart 3). In The Heart of Darkness, Marlow’s aunt refers to him as an “emissary of light, something like a lower sort of apostle”. It is obvious that Marlow is regarded as a missionary, although in his mind, he is simply going to Africa to complete a job.

However, there were 1.6 million Evangelical Christians (people committed to converting people to Christianity) in Africa at the time that Joseph Conrad was writing Heart of Darkness (Vermeulen 2). The first of these missionaries were Portuguese Catholics that were accompanying seafaring explorers. They first arrived in Sub-Sahara Africa in the 1400s and immediately saw their toil come to fruition when “Kingdom of the Kongo became a Christian kingdom in the 1490s” (African “Sub-Saharan” 3).

Catholic missionaries saw a drastic decrease in their numbers until the 1840s when they experienced resurgence in missionary activity (African “Sub-Saharan” 4). At this time, Christian missionaries, in general, saw an increase in their numbers because imperialism was on the rise in Africa. However, a great number of African converts came from their own.

Frustrated with the European missionaries, many converted Africans began to branch out within their own continent and create their own churches. These churches are referred to as AICs; “AICs are African Initiated Churches, African Independent Churches, or African Indigenous Churches” (African “Sub-Saharan” 1). The reason for these different interpretations of ‘AIC’ is that some AICs do not strictly adhere to Christian beliefs; for instance, as Africans began to leave western missionary churches and disperse out into the continent, their ‘Christian’ beliefs became diluted. Their beliefs were incorporated into traditional African culture, such as the practice of polygamy. Discourse such as this is not within the realm of ‘Christian’ beliefs, and thus, Christian churches. Oftentimes, AICs associate themselves as Christians but do not associate themselves with Jesus Christ, the foundation of Christianity (African “Sub-Saharan” 6-7).

Converse to some AICs, many also “share basic cultural assumptions with traditional African culture and particularly traditional African religion, most of them firmly reject the practices of traditional African religions as evil” (African “AICs” 2). These AICs believe that there are witches and that “the traditional gods and spirits exist”; however, they do believe that through the power of Jesus Christ, these “gods and spirits” can be vanquished (African “AICs” 2). They follow true Christian doctrine in that Jesus Christ is God of all, including witches, demons, and disease.

This strange evolution of mission work in Africa is due to the influences of the Catholic missions, the Protestant missions, and the development of AICs. One fact that is unmistakable and certainly very important to the morale of Christian mission work is that the number of Evangelical Christians in Africa has increased nearly 100-fold in the last century. Although mission work has gone from a group of tag-along ‘explorers’ to fully developed organizations devoted to evangelization, the spirit of mission work has never changed: to help those in need.

Works Cited

“Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad”. Knowledge Note: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. ProQuest Information & Learning Company. 2001. October 4, 2002. <http://lionselect.chadwyck.co.uk/html/heartofdarkness2.htm>.

Vermeulen, Danie. “African Report”. DAWN News From Africa (2002 #2). Jesus Army. October 4, 2002. < http://www.jesus.org.uk/dawn/2002/dawn02.html>

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