The Cry of East Africa
March 1st, 1970 @ 10:50 AM
THE CRY OF EAST AFRICA
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-1-70 10:50 a.m.
Now, in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, we have a word that describes exactly the presentation of the message this morning. And if on the radio and on television you are sharing this service, you are with us assembled in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Cry of East Africa:
And from thence they sailed to Antioch—
after the first missionary journey—
from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how He had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.
And that is exactly descriptive of this hour this morning. “And he rehearsed all that God had done, and how He had opened the faith unto the Gentiles” [Acts 14:27]. The only substitute would be “a section of that Gentile community,” the one that belongs to Africa.
So five weeks ago we left from Dallas to New York:
· and from New York to Rome,
· and from Rome we crossed the Adriatic Sea and the peninsula that belongs to Greece, and the eastern Mediterranean;
· then came over Egypt, and followed the Nile southward, many times the Nile beneath us, sometimes the Red Sea to the left of us;
· and so across the Nubian Desert and the Sudan, and finally to the wild, rugged plateaus and gorges of Ethiopia;
· and from the arrival in Ethiopia, to Addis Ababa, its capital, and then out into the interior of Ethiopia.
· Then following the Great Rift Valley southward—and that Rift Valley is one of the geological wonders of the world; it was formed millions of years ago in the Jurassic geological age, and it starts at the Sea of Galilee and comes down the great gorge of the Jordan Valley through the Dead Sea,
· then through the Gulf of Aqaba,
· then the Red Sea, and proceeds on down through the entire continent of Africa, where Madagascar was separated from the continent—
· so following that great Rift Valley, we crossed the equator at Mount Kenya, seventeen thousand feet high, that is covered with eternal snow though it is under the equator;
· and then landed at the capital of Kenya, Nairobi.
· Then from Nairobi we turned westward across the great Victorian Lake, the second largest fresh body of water in the world;
· then re-crossed the equator to Entebbe in Uganda;
· and from Entebbe to Kampala, the capital of Uganda;
· and from Kampala to Jinja, and there my eyes looked upon the answer to a mystery that was insoluble to the whole world until about a hundred years ago. For the greatest mystery of the ancient and modern world has been this: how is it that out of the burning, blistering deserts of North Africa, the Nile River overflows its banks seemingly coming out of the center of the earth? And no man could ever learn where the Nile came from.
The explorers that tried to come up it found themselves impassed in the Sudd, which is a vast, illimitable swamp filled with papyrii plants in southern Sudan. In 460 BC, Herodotus came up the Nile to find its source and was stopped at the cataracts.
When Nero was the emperor of the Roman Empire, he sent an expedition to find the source of the Nile; and they could get no farther than the Sudd. And it has only been within the last hundred years that the source of the Nile was discovered: it was hid from Livingstone’s eyes; he could never find it. And yet I stood there in Jinja, and watched the great overflowing Lake Victoria as it poured out into the beginning of the Nile, a stream of water that forces its way for four thousand miles through the blistering desert; a phenomenon without parallel, by the longest river in the world, and possibly the greatest.
· From Jinja to Imbali, where Jimmy Hooten is missionary, and whose family belongs to the church;
· and from Imbali up to the country of the Karamojong,
· then back to Imbali.
· Then a great arc through Uganda to Soroti, and to Lira, and to Masindi;
· and from Masindi up to Murchison Falls National Game Park. Murchison Falls again is one of the splendid phenomenon of the earth. There the mighty Nile River is constricted through granite walls, pouring through eighteen feet of width.
· Then from Murchison Falls back to Masindi,
· and from Masindi back to Kampala,
· and from Kampala to Entebbe,
· and again across Lake Victoria;
· and across the equator to Kisumu in Kenya.
· Then again across the equator into the bush country beyond Kasumu.
· Then back to Kisumu and down to Nairobi.
· Then from Nairobi to the Indian Ocean, to Malindi on the sea;
· and from Malindi to Mombassa, one of the tremendous ancient ports of the ancient world.
· Then from Mombassa on the Indian Ocean into Tanzania. The country was known as Tanganyika, but with Zanzibar and Tanganyika the new nation of Tanzania;
· and by Kilimanjaro, the most impressive mountain I’ve ever seen in the earth, landing at Moshi.
· And from Moshi to Arusha, which is on Mount Meru, itself fifteen thousand feet high. Kilimanjaro toward twenty thousand feet high, covered with eternal snow. There at Arusha a magnificent Baptist work in our seminary.
· Then from Arusha to Lake Maranya, a famous game park; and from Maranya to Ngorongoro Crater—and there’s nothing like that in the earth. The great throngs and tribes and herds and thousands of African animals coming off the Serengeti Plain, there pour into that crater; it’s about twelve miles in diameter. And there you go among those animals like a vast zoological zoo.
· Then from Ngorongoro back to Arusha;
· and from Arusha down to Tanga,
· and from Tanga to Dar es Salaam on the Indian Ocean, following Zanzibar and the capital of Tanganyika.
· Then from Dar es Salaam to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, which was northern Rhodesia, the great copper center of Africa.
· And from Lusaka crossing Mozambique, which used to be Portuguese East Africa, to Blantyre in Malawi.
· And from Blantyre northward to Lilongwe;
· and from Lilongwe over to Lake Nyasa, Lake Malawi, to Salima.
· Then back to Lilongwe, and then down to Blantyre;
· then crossing Mozambique and the great Zambezi River, to land in Salisbury, the capital of Rhodesia.
· And from Salisbury to Sanyate, where the brother of David Ford is the doctor with his wife a doctor; we have a tremendous work in Sanyate.
· Then from Sanyate to Gwelo, all in Rhodesia, where we have a seminary for South Africa.
· And from Gwelo to Bulawayo, a city in south Rhodesia;
· then three hundred miles west in a little plane to Victoria Falls on the mighty Zambezi. And I went to see the Iguazu Falls in South America, and as you’ve seen the Niagara Falls in the United States; but all of them together and many times over again do not match the majestic awe of Victoria Falls. Niagara, for example, will be, say, ninety feet high. The Victoria Falls will be three hundred fifty five; and the volume of water sometimes will reach one hundred thirty million gallons a minute, a stupendous, awe-inspiring sight. When you see the pictures of that, you will be overwhelmed.
· Then back to Bulawayo,
· and from Bulawayo down to Johannesburg in South Africa;
· then back to Nairobi,
· then back to Rome,
· to New York City,
· and dear Lord, back home to sweet, precious, heavenly, Edenic, queenly, lovely, God bless her, the First Baptist Church in Big D.
Now the assignment was very, very heavy. As you know, we went under the direction of the Foreign Mission Board, preparing for the Continental Crusade for Christ this year. In some of the areas, it will begin within a few weeks, and then will continue through the summertime and the fall. To show you the extent of that assignment, I’ll take the last week of it.
· Last Tuesday we began a revival meeting in Malawi, and I preached twice a day Tuesday through Friday.
· Then Saturday night, a meeting with the missionaries in Rhodesia;
· then last Sunday three services—every Sunday we had three services, in the morning in a church, in the afternoon a big city rally, and then in the evening again in a church—
· then last Monday, four services;
· and then last Tuesday, two services. And sometimes those services would be hundreds and hundreds of miles apart, and sometimes go from one to the other in a little bumpy plane. But we were never sick, and the missionaries were amazed at that.
The only repercussion from it at all, I have to take malaria pills for two more weeks, sleep under a mosquito net, be bit by those mosquitoes all over, I guess I’m full of malaria; but, but, this modern miraculous medicine makes you unaware of it whatsoever. Had they known it, they could have come into Central Africa and all over the continent centuries ago. But the Lord was good to us! We were well all the way through, and we’re still well. The only thing I feel is, we have been living eight hours ahead of this time that you live in, and to switch your days and your nights is an unusual experience, and I haven’t quite accommodated myself yet. I don’t know what time it is, but it seems to me I ought to be in bed.
Now to speak of God’s open door He has set before us in that vast continent; one of the most astute of modern missionary statesmen has said that, “Not in the history of Christendom has there ever been such an open door as God has given us today in Africa.” Another missionary said to me, one of our Southern Baptist leaders, that within the next ten to fifteen years there are eighty million Africans who will make some kind of a commitment. The African is not anti-white, which itself is a miracle of God. Of those three great racial groups who have poured into Africa, the Nilitic, the people of the Nile, the Hamitic, the people from the Sinai Peninsula, and the Negroid, the great bursting race in the heart of Africa that poured south, in those three great racial groups, though they have been sometimes most severely wronged by white men, slave traders, merchandisers, oh, a thousand other evil aspects of human nature, though they have been the prey of so much of the vile, vicious iniquity of the white man, yet there is no anti-white feeling in Africa. They look upon us with welcome; and the white man and the black man have an opportunity in Africa to live side by side as brothers forever. And the illimitable, vast, natural resources and riches of that continent are beyond imagination; and it is mostly empty. I have the same feeling in flying over Africa as I do over the ocean: it is empty, empty, empty, empty, vast, and forever. So is the continent of Africa, and yet there are millions of square miles of it where the white man can live in the most salubrious clime that you could imagine. But they are making an appeal for the nations of Africa. First, the communists; they’re everywhere—especially Red China. On the streets of Dar es Salaam, I got a little red book about that big, the thoughts of Mao Tse-tung; cost you twenty-three cents to buy a New Testament, you could buy that for about twelve cents. The communists are driving for Africa. The Hindu is there; and of course, the Muslim is there—but especially and gloriously is the Christian missionary. Oh, how many times as I preached, did I feel the spirit and the upturn of tremendous revival and outpouring of the Spirit of God!
In Kampala and the area around Kampala—we have not been in East Africa but a few years—in 1967 there were three Baptist churches; today there are more than sixty in that one area. I took a picture—and you’ll see him the eighteenth of March, on Wednesday night, here in this auditorium—an African by the name of Onesimus, such an unostentatious figure, but he has baptized more than four hundred since last September. Why, we don’t do anything like that. And when I spoke in Fudame, in the bush country north of Kisumu, those Africans had walked thirty-five and forty miles, and many of them had crossed big lakes. How interested. And in the revival meeting in Malawi, oh, I can’t describe how I felt as I stood on that high rostrum in the auditorium and looked at those people! And when I gave the invitation, a flood of them come to the Lord. I saw a man there that came to every service, crawling on his hands and knees for miles and miles. I saw a woman drag herself in and drag herself up to the chair. And one of the missionaries said, “So many of them are like that. For some reason or other, disease or accident, paralyzed; and drag themselves to church,” but the spirit of appeal and of intercession and of revival, soul-saving response, commitment!
For four days there all the preachers of Malawi had come together. And in the morning they had their sessions, and in the afternoon they went out to do what they’d been taught to do. And then that night when I’d preach, the repercussion and the response of their prayers and their visitation was evident down every aisle, in every heart and face.
And the singing of those people—they have no instruments, they just sing; and all of them sing. And they have four song leaders; they are more able to hire, I guess, than we are—we just got one here in this church. They have four; there’ll be one over there, and one here, and one here, and one there. And they just sing until I thought my heart would overflow. I want you to hear the congregation singing in a service in which I preached. There in Malawi, I asked one of the missionaries, I said, “Would you take that instrument you have, that recorder, and set it there? I want my people to hear how these primitive Malawians sing.” And you’re going to hear it now. Let’s have that glorious, one of those congregational hymns as they sing.
And so on for forty dozen verses. No songbook, no anything, just singing out of their souls and hearts, led by those men who’d line out, and then they’d follow after. Oh dear!
Immediately after that revival meeting, I was in a city church, went directly from one to the other; a black church, a white church. And as I sat there in the black church, jammed with people in this city, those in Malawi where’d I’d been in the meeting, they were so poor. The pastor, a good pastor, will be paid four dollars and a half a year. Most of them receive nothing at all. As I spoke to them, I sensed something, and I stopped, and said, “How many of you pastors do not have a Bible?” And one-third of the pastors do not even own a Bible; too poor. I told them when I came back to Dallas on the eighteenth of March, I was going to take up a collection, and we’re going to send it to the Foreign Mission Board to help those preachers, going to buy them Bibles; and I’m going to send them some of my books so they’ll love the Book, and love the Word. We’re going to send them other things. O God, bless them!
And then as I sat there in the pulpit of a big church in the city, they all had on shoes, they were dressed nice, and their standard of living had been raised high. But they couldn’t sing anymore. They’d lost their song. They’d lost their zeal. Even though when I gave the appeal many, many people came forward, yet the spirit of overflowing and of abounding love and zeal had departed from them. And as I sat there and heard them sing, and remembered what I had experienced like that in Malawi, I thought in my heart, “I can’t understand. Why is it that in culture and in education and in affluence, as we rise, we lose that first primitive, childlike wonder and adoration of God? Why do we have to do it?” We’ll go out to the Cotton Bowl, our finest, most intelligent and cultured and gifted, and they’ll just express themselves with zeal and joy and response. But when they come to church, all of that is to leave us; we’re to be bored, we’re to sit there and wait for the benediction as we would for an amnesty, like clams. I don’t understand it. Why in education and in culture and in affluence, why can’t we keep that glorious wonder, and zeal, and zest, and overflowing expression of the love for Jesus? O God, that we could, that we could.
Now, because the time is gone, I take one incident out of ten thousand in this missionary journey. A miracle is happening right now, right now. For three thousand years there has been no missionary, no invitation to the great, vast section of Menz in Ethiopia. From Menz comes the language of the nation, Amharic. And from Menz comes the emperors of the nation, as the present Haile Selassie. But it has been a great district sealed off, nominally Coptic Christian. Now that they’re separated from Egypt, the church separated from Egypt, they call it Orthodox Christian. And the churches are all built alike. They are octagonal. And when you go inside there’s a high wall, and anybody can walk in there. Beyond that high wall is another high wall, and between those two the men can walk in. Beyond that high wall is another high wall, and between those two high walls the priests can enter. And beyond that high wall is another high wall, and in that is the ark, the covenant, the Old and the New Testaments. That’s the way the churches are built. And the services are held in Ge’ez, which is the Coptic language in which the Bible is written and the services are held. That is the modern, as the ancient, Christian faith and worship in Ethiopia.
But upon a day recently, upon a day, there came into the presence of the princess a man from Menz. He lives in Addis Ababa, one of the richest men in Africa, one of the most brilliant, a great lawyer and a minister in the government. And he said to the princess, “Our people in Menz for these thousands of years have been isolated. They are degraded, they are illiterate, and the church does nothing for them. We must have help. There must be somebody.” And at that time, two of our Southern Baptist missionaries came before the government and asked for permission to enter that great, vast country of Menz. In the fifteenth century, the Roman Catholics had attempted to enter the country, and all of them were slain. In the 1930s Mussolini entered the country, and all through the vast area of Menz you can see the evidences of that terrible destruction, the villages laid waste as the Menz repelled the invasion of the Italian armies under Mussolini. But after three centuries, but after three millennia, three thousand years, and after two thousand years of Christian Coptic history, for the first time in the story of Ethiopia, our Southern Baptist missionaries are being invited in. And I visited their beginning work. And you’ll see pictures of it. How primitively they live. Oh, what sacrifices they make! But they are there, and they’re there this minute.
Well, on Sunday afternoon, in Addis Ababa, the capital of the nation, we had our city rally, and I preached. And when I stood up to speak, to my amazement, that minister of government was there with his interpreter, and as I preached, the interpreter whispering in his ear the message of the pastor. That evening he sent word, and he said, “We invite you to a tea in one of the big hotels in Addis Ababa, and be our guests, and come. And I’ll have other guests there for you to meet.” We accepted the invitation and with our leading missionaries went to the tea on Monday afternoon. The ambassador to Japan was there, other great governmental officials and citizens were there, and he was there with his wife—which they said to me was very unusual for the wife to appear with her husband. So he sat us down in the shape of a big “U”; and at the bottom of the “U” was a large couch, a divan. And on that couch he had me seated, then he sat down by my side, and a chair just in front, the interpreter. So while the others were sipping and saying, why, he turned to me, and said, then the interpreter said, “He says to you that this is a very unusual place for him to talk to me, but this is his only opportunity, and he must talk to me.”
So I said to the interpreter, “I am honored that he’d like to say something to me.” Then the interpreter said to me, “He wants to talk to you about the sermon you delivered yesterday afternoon.” I said, “I am delighted.” And then he said something to the interpreter, and the interpreter said to me, “He says that he was greatly moved and deeply touched by the message you preached yesterday afternoon.” I said, “I’m so grateful.” Then he said something to the interpreter, and the interpreter said, “He says he wants to talk to you about that message you preached, and he wants you to explain to him some of the things that you said.”
And as I sat there by that Ethiopian minister of state, and he asked me about the message that I preached from God’s Book, I thought of this passage in the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts, when the treasurer of the nation of Ethiopia was returning back to his country from Jerusalem, and reading the prophet Isaiah. And Philip the evangelist said, “Do you understand what you read?” And he said, “How can I except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him” [Acts 8:30-31]. I felt exactly like that. This minister of the Ethiopian government, “Would you sit down by my side, and tell me the meaning of the Word that you preached?”
So we began. He said to the interpreter, then the interpreter says to me, “He said, ‘Yesterday in your sermon,” and I had preached on Acts 8:35, “And beginning at the same Scripture, he preached unto him Jesus”; and my message was that when you preach the Bible, you preach Jesus, that Jesus is the Word of God, and this is the Word of God.
And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and He that sat upon him was Faithful and True . . . His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns . . . He was dressed in a vesture dipped in blood: and His name is called The Word of God.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was the life; and the life was the light of men.
Christ is identified with His Word: the spoken Word, the written Word, the incarnate Word; and all three are one [John 1:1, 14]. When I know the Word, I know Jesus; when I preach the Word, I preach Jesus. The gospel is Christ, and Christ is the Word; and this is the written Word [John 5:39].
He said through the interpreter, “I want you to explain what that means. What did you mean?” And then I did my best to explain to him that outside of the Bible we’d know nothing of Jesus, that God interposed in human history and came down in the likeness of human flesh and walked among us, “And the Word was made flesh, and we beheld His glory, as of the only begotten of the [Father], full of grace and truth” [John 1:14]. I went through those things.
Then when I had finished, I said to the interpreter, “Ask him does he believe in Christ the Lord?”
And the interpreter says, “He says he does.”
Then I said, “Ask him does he believe in the Bible as the Word of God?”
And the interpreter says to me, “He says tell you he does.”
Then he began to talk to the interpreter. And then the summation of what he said was this: he said, “I have built a church in Menz, where my home is; I have built a church, a Coptic church, one with all of those walls on the inside of it. But,” he said, “I can see that I have done it wrong. I’m going to take that church and tear down those walls, and I’m going to put in it a pulpit, and the people are going to be gathered in Menz in that church, and we’re going to preach the Word of God to the people!”
Second he said, “In our church Ge’ez is the Bible, Coptic language, and the people don’t know it and speak it anymore. And Ge’ez is the service, and the people don’t understand it, and they don’t speak it anymore.” He said, “In that church we’re going to preach in Amharic, the language spoken by the people, that they can understand the Word of God!”
Then he said to the interpreter, “And another thing,” he said, “you’re invited to preach to the people, and your missionaries are welcome to preach to the people.” And that’s where it is this Lord’s Day, the first Sunday in March, 1970. Our missionaries have an open door. God has done something miraculous, like looking at the twenty-ninth chapter of the Book of Acts.
Oh, how the Lord blesses when we preach this holy and sacred Book. “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the Word of God shall stand for ever [Isaiah 40:8]… Heaven and earth may pass away, but God’s Word shall never pass away” [Matthew 24:35].
Thou dearest friend man ever knew,
Thy constancy I’ve tried;
When all were false, I found thee true,
My counselor and guide
The mines of earth no treasures give
That could the volume buy:
In teaching me the way to live,
It has taught me how to die.
[“My Mother’s Bible,” George Pope Morris]
The living Word, the living Lord; “And beginning at the same Scripture, he preached unto him Jesus” [Acts 8:35].
O Master, how You have set Your seal upon the delivery of that message anywhere I have been in the earth. I’ve been around this earth preaching that Book, and wherever in the earth I stand before black men or white men, yellow men or brown men, illiterate men or educated men, rich men or poor men, open that Book, deliver that message, somehow the Spirit of God is there to work with me. Like that minister of state said to the interpreter, “Tell him that I listened to his message yesterday afternoon, and I was deeply moved. I was deeply touched. Tell me, what is this you say that Christ is the Word of God?” What a privilege. What a holy, holy and heavenly assignment: pointing through the Book to the God of the Revelation.
We must sing our song. And while we sing the appeal, in this balcony round, on this lower floor, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, to give yourself to Jesus, would you come and stand by me? To put your life with us in the circle of this glorious and precious congregation, would you come and stand by me?
No one leave during this invitation; this is a holy hour of prayer, of intercession, of commitment. Then when the appeal is done, I’ll give you opportunity to go. But nobody move in this service unless you’re moving toward the Lord.
And we’re all going to pray; we’re all going to sing. And all of us are expecting God to give us a harvest of souls this first Lord’s Day in March. What a good time to begin with God. There’s a stairwell at the back, at the front, and on either side; come, come. On the first note of the first stanza, come. When we stand up to sing, stand up coming. And angels and the Lord Himself attend you in the way while you come, even now. Do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.