Thursday, November 6, 2008

What to Tell African Americans about Christianity

By Victor Beshir

You need to understand some background about the African Americans to be able to reach out to them. First, they suffered under the white European man, who enslaved them and treated them very badly. Many African Americans still remember the horrible memories of their slavery to the white man.

When other religion started preaching the African Americans, it attacked Christianity as the religion of the white man who enslaved them, defiled their dignity, and degraded their humanity. Moreover, it told them that Christ was a white person from the same ethnicity that enslaved them and His teaching resulted in permitting their slavery.

On the other hand, Islam, for example, proclaimed that Islam is the religion of Africans and that their prophet Mohamed lived in Africa . Historically, he was not born in Africa, but in Asia, in Saudi Arabia , and he never visited Africa . He lived all his life in Asia . All his disciples were from the Arabia peninsula in Asia. Islam started in what is known today as Saudi Arabia in Asia . Therefore, Islam has nothing to do with Africa . What Islam did in Africa was imposing itself by the sword on Africans which lead to the genocide of Christians in North Africa . History never lied. If you read the history of African nations, you will clearly read about this sadden fact, written by African and Muslim historians.

You can’t imagine the psychological influence of these accusations on the minds and souls of some African Americans. At work, many African Americans women came to ask me this question: Was Christ a white man? ‘We can’t believe that He was a white man,’ they said. The color of the skin is very significant to them. You will not believe the relief they felt after I explained that Christ, as a native from the Middle East , would have had a skin color that is closer to my color of skin. It is a big issue for many African Americans.

Therefore, the first thing we need to establish is Christianity is not a European religion. It did not start by white European people. Christianity started in the Middle East by people from Asia and Africa and Christ was not a European white man with blue eyes and blond hair.

Christianity started by darker skin people like those who come from the Middle East. Christ was born in Palestine, part of Asia that has nothing to do with Europe . He fled to Egypt when Herod the king wanted to kill him after the wise men told him that this child would be the future king. Christ lived in Egypt for about four years. Egypt is a part of Africa, which means Christ not only visited Africa but He lived in Africa . Christ never visited Europe .

A good number of the apostles of Christ were from Africa. For example, St. Mark, the writer of the second gospel, was born in Libya in Africa . When you review the attendants of the first Pentecost in the book of Acts, chapter 2, you will be surprised at the names of African & Asian countries mentioned in that chapter. In Acts, chapter 8, is the story of the baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch, who was ‘of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians’(Acts 8: 26 -39). It is well known fact that Ethiopia is in Africa .

Christianity started in the Middle East, and not in Europe and was started by Africans and Asians people, not by European people. The first Christian church was established in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), in Palestine , Asia . The second church was established in Antioch (Acts 11:26), in Asia, and the third one was in Alexandria , Egypt , in Africa .

A great number of saints came from Africa . St. Anthony the Great was an Egyptian and was the first to start Christian monasticism in the world. St. Augustine was the bishop of Hippo in North Africa . St. Moses the Black was a great African saint who lived as a monk in Egypt . I need a whole book to mention all the Christian African saints, because they numbered in tens of thousands.

The first Christian church in Africa was the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt who contributed greatly to every thing in Christianity:

  1. Established the first theological institute in the world, the School of Alexandria , which was the greatest school for many centuries. Europeans came to Egypt to learn at this school. Some of the great European saints were disciples of the great Egyptians teachers of the school. In this school was the birth of Bible commentary, Christian theology, and scientific research.
  2. Christian monasticism in all its forms started in Egypt . People from all over the world, including Europe, came to visit, stay, and some became monks and nuns in the Egypt .
  3. The church of Egypt was the defender of Christianity against the heresies, and without the Egyptian theologians such as St. Athanasius & St. Cyril, the Christian faith could have been lost.
  4. Christianity had suffered tremendously during the Middle Ages in Europe . But the African and Asian churches kept the pure faith and worship as was delivered by Christ and the His apostles until today. They represent the guardians of the Christian faith.

The Coptic Church took Christianity to Ethiopia and started a strong church there. There is also the Church of North Africa which was a famous church for centuries.

The mother of all Christian churches in Africa is the Coptic Orthodox Church. Nowadays, this church has established missionary work in Africa and many Africans started to accept the invitation to join the mother of the African churches.

I invite you to go back to my article about ‘What did Christ say about the Coptic Orthodox Church?’ to add to this topic, since it talks about the Coptic Church as an African church. For example, see how the only prophecy about the New Testament’s altar was about Egypt .

In Conclusion, the African Americans are thirsty for a theology different from the theology of the white man. The Coptic Church with its roots in Africa is the perfect choice for them. Invite them to join the ‘mother of all African churches and all African Christians.’

They need to feel the love of brotherhood and sisterhood, something stressed very much by Islam in the USA . We need to let them feel our brotherhood and love. When it comes to inviting them to the church, let us invite them first to a Bible study then to ‘Raising of Incense’ prayers until they understand our worship. There is a great harvest among the African Americans that awaits the Coptic evangelism workers.

The African Americans are eager for spirituality, therefore, show them the spring of the great pure spirituality in the Coptic Church. They are also eager to spiritual discipline. So, talk to them about our two third of the year in fasting, our seven prayers, our divine liturgy, the discipleship with the spiritual father for each Copt, and the right freedom of the gospel which is different from the irresponsible freedom they say today among some Christians. They need to see good examples of purity of life. Tell them about our opposing to the ideas of pre-marriage sex and how we consider as a sin. Explain to them the love of purity we have in our church.

Finally, explain to them that slavery is not Christian. There is a whole epistle of St. Paul was written specifically to address this issue. St. Paul wrote in his epistle to Philemon about a slave his name was Onesimus, asking Philemon to deal with Onesimus “no longer as a slave but more than a slave-a beloved brother” (Phil 1: 16). Slavery is not Christian at all but it is used by some Europeans.

You can approach the African American churches by volunteering to speak in their churches about “The Mother of all African churches.” Then establish good ties with the pastors and the people. Go there prepared with brochures & booklets (see brochures/small booklets in the evangelism web page).


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