New Drums Over Africa
November 28th, 1971 @ 7:30 PM
NEW DRUMS OVER AFRICA
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-28-71 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled New Drums Over Africa. For our Scripture reading, a missionary passage, would you turn to the Book of Romans, chapter 1? And we shall read verses 9 through 17 [Romans 1:9-17]. All of us share our Bibles together; we’ll stand in a moment to read them.
And if on the radio you are listening to this service, get a Bible if you can and read it out loud with us. And if you are in the living room, or bedroom, stand up where you are there, and read it aloud with us. Romans 1:9-17. Now may all of us stand together, and all of us looking on a Bible, let us read it out loud, Romans 1, beginning at verse 9:
For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;
Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.
For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;
That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.
Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.
I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.
So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
Thank you, thank you. Bless you.
I do not know of a more appealing theme for the Lottie Moon Week of Prayer than this one that I see brazened and captioned everywhere around the church, New Drums Over Africa. When I saw it the first time, I could hear in my mind’s memory the sound, the unceasing sound of the beating of those drums all day and all night; nor did I go anywhere in western Africa where the sound of those pulsating, beating drums was not heard.
I have made two preaching missions to Africa; one in 1950 to western Africa, and the other in 1970 to East Africa. Both times I was deeply impressed with the wide open door that God has set before us in that dark continent. Eugene Lida said, and I quote, “Never in the history of Christendom has there been such an open door as there is today in Africa.” Then he added, “If Africa is not Christian we have no one to blame but ourselves.” I was impressed, deeply so, by several things. And in 1950 when I came back I wrote an article that was published in the national missionary magazine called The Commission. And in that commission I said,
In my humble opinion, it seems to me that our denomination ought to take its resources, men and money, and enter those areas that are most responsive. Then with their help and cooperation, let us take the next most responsive area, for we are not able to go into all of the nations and lands and languages and people of the whole world, we take just some of them.
And I said, “I have two to suggest: the number one opportunity that I’ve seen in the world is Africa, and the number two opportunity is Brazil.”
These are some of the things that impressed me in Africa. First: the attendance, which was unbelievable. Wherever I went those people jammed those churches, they jammed the churchyards looking in the doors, looking in the windows. The response was immediate; it was terrific. It was encouraging. There’s only one other place in the world that I’ve seen where the people jam the church houses, and that is in Russia, the other is in Africa. And the spirit in the people in singing, in praising God, in coming forward in response, blessed my soul. Nor do I know of a nation or a continent where the change in the life of the people is so deep seededly meaningful as it is in that dark continent.
Down the highway, down the dusty road, I saw a Negro boy riding a bicycle, and I said to the missionary, “You know, that boy looks exactly like an American Negro boy riding that bicycle.” And the missionary said to me, “That’s correct, his facial features, his hair, his color looks exactly like an ordinary American Negro boy.” But he said, “What you don’t realize is, on the inside of that boy’s mind there are ten thousand vile and vicious superstitions. And it is only the gospel of Christ that can liberate him.”
So I was impressed, deeply so, with our schools in West Africa. There are no government schools. There is no public school system; and the only means of education lies in the missionary endeavor. So we have countless schools in West Africa. And they are marvelously attended and marvelously taught. And the uplift of the people in meeting the mind of Christ in those missionary schools is like a glory from heaven itself.
The life of the people is so degraded. A petty king at Iwol, there in front of his compound is a shrine to a devil. And I say, “Why to a devil?”
And the answer from the king is, “He’s not afraid of the good spirits, not afraid of the good gods. But he is afraid of the devil and the evil spirits, so he placates and he worships the evil spirits, for they are the ones who could do him harm.”
Then going inside the compound, built in a square, made out of mud, there he lives with his eighteen wives. And I asked, “How so many wives?”
And the answer, if a man owes him a debt he will send to the man and say, “Send me one of your girls for a wife, and the debt is paid.” And as I look at the throng, eighteen wives and all of their children, so degraded, the eldest wife, the leader of the compound, dressed with a didy and that’s all, and the youngest wife, she looked to me to be no more than thirteen or fourteen years of age, and with a baby.
The degradation of the spirit of animism, and hedonism, and paganism, and superstition drags the people down to servility and servitude and slavery. But wherever the gospel of Christ is preached, there do you find the people uplifted and the family and the home, the household, the whole community blessed. It made a startling impression upon my heart the first time I was in West Africa.
New drums over Africa, East Africa: East Africa, to my amazement, is an altogether different kind of a world. West Africa is mostly low, it is mostly jungle. The vegetation is lush and thick. It has great rivers like the Niger and the Congo. But East Africa is high. It’s a great, vast illimitable high plateau. That’s where Livingstone learned that the white man can live; and it is springtime there all the time. In a tropical country with a high altitude the climate stays about the same all the year round. And in East Africa there are gloriously beautiful mountains, snow covered even under the equator. Mount Kenya is under the equator, and it is snow covered; one of the amazing topographical features of the earth, to find that heavy range of snow right under the equator.
And again I found that same marvelous response to the gospel of the Son of God. In Addis Ababa I preached, on a Sunday afternoon in a civic auditorium, from the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts, the story of the Ethiopian eunuch [Acts 8:26-39]. And as he returned from Jerusalem, he was reading the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah [Acts 8:28; Isaiah 53:7-8]. And the Holy Spirit said to Philip the evangelist, “Join yourself to the chariot” [Acts 8:29]. And he heard him read, and as the treasurer of Candace, the queen of Ethiopia, read the fifty-third chapter, he asked Philip, and said, “I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? [Acts 8:34]. And beginning at the same Scripture, he preached unto him Jesus” [Acts 8:35]. That was the message, the background of the message, that I preached there in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, that Sunday afternoon.
The next day, I received an invitation from one of the richest men in Ethiopia, and the most vibrant and powerful political figure. His name is Dibre Hiwot. He was there at the service the Sunday afternoon before, and sat down in front of me with his interpreter. And as I preached the interpreter whispered in his ear the message I was bringing. He sent me word and said, “Would you come and bring all of the Baptist missionaries with you? Would you come for a tea,” and named their biggest and finest hotel, “the next afternoon?” I said, “Yes.” So we were there.
And he had brought the highest officials of government with him. It was a large u-shaped situation in the big dining hall. And at the end of the “u” there was a sofa, and he had all of those ambassadors and political figures on each side and the missionaries and their wives and the political figures wives, he had them all beautifully arranged, coffee tables in front of them, and the little tea things that they––goodness, I’d hate to be hungry––all of those things there; and then at the end of the “u” this sofa upon which he sat and had me to sit; and then right in front of us the interpreter.
When everyone was greeted and seated, the conversation began to be heard in murmuring around. He turned to me, and he said, “I regret that it is such a place as this that I must say these things to you, but I have no opportunity to talk to you. So if you will just disassociate yourself from the rest of them, let them meet and visit and have a good time; but let me talk to you.” I was delighted. So, through the interpreter he began to talk to me, and he said, “I was at your service Sunday afternoon, and I listened to your message and I was deeply, deeply impressed.” Then through the interpreter he said, “I want you to tell me what it is to preach Jesus.”
“And beginning at the same Scripture, he preached unto him Jesus” [Acts 8:35]. What is it? “And he preached Jesus.” It was an easy answer for me: “To preach Jesus is to preach the Book. When you preach the Book you preach Jesus.” He had built a church, a Coptic church, in Muntz where he came from. And by the way, for three thousand years there has never been any outside invited into Ethiopia; but in the last few years, two or three years, our Southern Baptist missionaries have been invited to come.
And up there in Muntz in those high highlands of Ethiopia––and Ethiopia reminded me of a country of ten thousand Grand Canyons––that’s where all of that soil that feeds out into the Egyptian delta, the Nile Delta, it is washed down the Blue Nile into Egypt; and it comes from those great highlands that are now scarred by those awesome fingers, those vast Grand Canyons. And up there in those highlands, Muntz the country he comes from, and he had built there a Coptic church.
And a Coptic church is built like this; on the outside, the circular, all the churches around on the outside there the men and the women sit; and then there’s a little circle on the inside, and there just the men are asked to sit; and then on the inside of that is a circle and there the priests sit; and then on the inside of that is a circle and that’s where the ark that holds the Holy Bible is located; a strange thing. And the services are unseen by the people. They just hear them. And the services are in the ancient Coptic language, and the people don’t understand it.
So as I talked to Dibre Hiwot, he said, “I am beginning to see. What we need in preaching Jesus is an open church, where the minister can stand and the people can see him. And,” he said, “what is needed is the gospel message of Christ preached in the language of the people that they can understand.”
I said, “My friend, that is exactly right. Take out those walls of partition. That’s why Christ came, to destroy the walls of partition that separate us. Take out those walls of partition, put the minister in the center, and let him preach in the language of the people.”
He said to me, “I’m going back to Muntz and we’re going to remake that church; and we’re going to have our priest preach the gospel of the Son of God in the language of the people from that Holy Book.” Oh, you can’t know what the leading political figure of a nation like that means to the missionary work! It is a wide open door.
It is no less so in Uganda. Jimmy Hooten had me stand by a Uganda pastor, a black pastor, who in the six months before had baptized more than five hundred converts. His name is Onesimus and in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, in 1967, we had three churches there. In 1970, we had more than sixty. In Kenya, at Bungoma, I dedicated a Baptist school; and they had walked there, those people, from more than thirty miles, and some of them had crossed Lake Victoria in order to be present.
In Tanzania, the services in Dar Es Salaam the capital, and in Arusha, up there in the beautiful mountains right there below Kilimanjaro, the most beautiful perfect picture mountain in the earth, there we have a seminary, and it is flourishing. I have never been in a service that was more blessed of God than the one with Lazarus Green in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. And in Salisbury, the capital of southern Rhodesia, in the church, the colored church––because they are separated there––in the colored church, the black church, Harare, when I gave the invitation, I thought the whole congregation responded; it seemed to me, everybody came.
At Sanyati, where Dr. Giles Ford and his wife, also a physician, out there in the bush, seemed to me a thousand miles from nowhere, all the work of the great school there, and that vast hospital complex. But of all the places, I have never seen anything like Lilongwe in Malawi, the new capital of Malawi and the beautiful, gorgeous Malawi Nyanja—the ancient word—Lake just beyond. Oh, those preachers, they’d been brought there from all over the nation of Malawi, and so responsive.
And every evening I’d give an invitation, and without exception there were many who were saved. And it was just a preacher’s school. One of those men there came, he didn’t have any legs, and he propelled himself by his hands; every service there, coming, dragging himself for miles and miles. One of the most impressive men I have ever looked upon is Tomboli who was a Mohammedan chief. And about two or three Sundays after I was there, he’d given his heart to the Lord. He was baptized in the beautiful Nyansa, in the beautiful Malawi Lake. One of their men, Robert Cunningham said to me, “Within the next ten to fifteen years, there will be eighty million Africans that will commit themselves one way or another, to Christ, or to communism, or Mohammedanism, or to paganism.” It is a wide open door for us.
I close. In West Africa, I don’t know where, it was so far away that I have no idea where it was, but there was a church, a rather large church made like the people live in, mud walls, thatched roof. The pulpit, and I was standing in front of the pulpit, because the place was jammed with people, and I was jammed on every side; those half-naked black Africans. This is way, way out.
And as I stood there, waiting for the missionary to introduce me, jammed on every side by those black people, I lifted my eyes and right back of the preacher a large medallion on the wall. It was a picture of the head of Christ, and the caption around it read, “Christ is the answer to every human need.” And while the missionary was introducing me, jammed as I was on every side by those black people, I read the caption, and I looked at them.
I had visited the clan settlements where the lepers were gathered together. “Christ is the answer for every human need.” I looked at them all around me, benighted, diseased, minds darkened, laden down with every heavy, ominous, dark superstition that mind is capable; poor, untaught, lost. And I looked at them, and I looked back up, “Christ is the answer to every human need.”
And as I stood there pressed on every side and looked at the face of Christ and read the words again, I thought of the hospital and the missionary doctor, the dispensary and the missionary nurse, the school and the missionary teacher, the church and the missionary preacher, the nation and the lift of the missionary faith, and I came to see anew the glorious light of the meaning of the gospel of the Son of God in the earth. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew, to the Greek” [Romans 1:16], to the African, and to us.
In a moment we shall stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, if God places upon your heart the spirit of response, would you come and make it now? A family, a couple, or just you; in the balcony round, down one of these stairways, on the lower floor, into the aisle and here to the front, “Here I come, pastor, I make it now. I have decided for Christ [Romans 10:8-13], and I am coming now [Ephesians 2:8]. Here I am.” Make the decision now in your heart. And in a moment, when we stand up, stand up coming, and the dear Lord bless in the way as you come; while we stand and while we sing.