The Saints and Martyrs of Africa

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african saints
The Saints and Martyrs of Africa

Picture courtesy of lessonsfromamonastery.wordpress.com

Africa is not a single nation, but a continent of many nations. Each country has had its saints, and most countries have had martyrs. It helps to divide the continent into 4 sections:

North Africa

Besides the unnumbered, unnamed saints, the church in North Africa in the early centuries had its great leaders like Tertullian, Cyprian and Augustine, and many martyrs, like Perpetua and her Companions, who died rather than deny their faith. Islam spread through North Africa in the Middle Ages. One response of the church to Islam was the crusades, but a truer Christian response was Ramon Lull’s “crusade of love”, a determination to take the gospel of God’s grace to North Africa. In countries like Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and Libya, Christians today are a very small minority, courageously seeking to bear witness to their Lord.

West Africa

In West Africa, Roman Catholics preached the gospel in the 16th and 17th centuries, but the church did not survive. Then came the impact of the missionary movement of the 19th century when, largely because of malaria, West Africa was called the “land of the white man’s grave”. In 20 years, 50 men and women sent by the Church Missionary Society died there - but others soon took their places. Missionaries like Mary Slessor and Africans like Samuel Crowther shared in preaching the gospel, and thousands of ordinary Christians became evangelists to their own people. In recent decades, the church has grown strongly, with a witness of word, of teaching through Christian schools, and of loving service to the sick and handicapped.

East and Central Africa

East and Central Africa was opened to the gospel by those who went as missionaries and explorers like David Livingstone. They faced great hardships in travel, the opposition of Arab slave-traders and others, and the threat of endemic diseases. Bishop Hannington in Uganda suffered a martyr’s death, as did many of the first Ugandan Christians, including the “boy martyrs”, who, rather than deny their newly-found Saviour, were willing to be put into the fire. In the 20th century, many African Christians have suffered for their faith, including those in Kenya in the 1950s, who paid with their lives for their refusal to take the Mau Mau oath of racial hatred, and Archbishop Luwum (see 17 February) who died for daring to oppose Idi Amin’s tyrannical rule. In recent years the church in East Africa has had many great leaders, like Bishop Festo Kivengere, who have brought to the church in the west the challenge of simple faith, radical discipleship, and sacrificial service: ingredients for the rapid growth of the African church.

Southern Africa

In Southern Africa, pioneering work was done by the Moravians in the 18th Century. Other missionary agencies followed. In these days we honour especially those who, like Bishop Trevor Huddlestone, Alan Paton and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, fought in the name of Christ against the injustice of apartheid. Linked with them, we remember that John Osmers and Michael Lapsley of our New Zealand church suffered grievously by their involvement in that same struggle.