Magazine article The Christian Century

Notes from the Global Church

Magazine article The Christian Century

Notes from the Global Church

Article excerpt

Not long ago I was taking a cab from O'Hare Airport to downtown Chicago, and my friendly driver proved to be a Nigerian from the Yoruba people. As the traffic gave us lots of time to talk, I soon found that this man was a pastor of a Nigerian-based congregation about which I had written at some length, one of the so-called Aladura churches. Indeed, he was the nephew of the church's founding prophet, and whenever the prophet visited the U.S. he normally stayed in his nephew's apartment. The image startled me: drawing from the Old Testament, I had always imagined prophets laying their weary heads in caves or under trees, and not in a comfortable Chicago apartment. Yet another biblical stereotype bit the dust.

This encounter stirred other thoughts about the presence of churches from the global South in North America and Europe. For decades now, ministers and missionaries from Africa, Asia and Latin America have been active in the global North, and such churches are easy enough to find in most major cities: just look at the Yellow Pages. But these bodies have not registered much in popular consciousness. When local news media discover their existence, as they do every couple of years, they normally report the story as a curiosity, an ironic reversal of the once-familiar pattern of missionaries heading from the U.S. to Africa or China. And when media report in those terms, they miss one of the most important stories in the modern history of Christianity, namely the prolific emergence of new independent and prophetic churches and, no less important, their projection onto a global stage.

Stories of that kind can be told of many parts of the world--but just to pursue the present example, let's look at the Aladura tradition. Among North American Christians, the name Aladura is all but unknown to nonspecialists, but a case can be made that this dynamic movement cries out for coverage in any account of 20th-century church history. Few religious groups exemplify globalization better than the Nigerian congregations.

A hundred years ago, the Anglican Church was making some converts in the land that we today call Nigeria, especially among the Yoruba people. In fact, the church became too successful. It spread such a passionate thirst for immediate spiritual experience, for prophecy, for healings and visions, that fervent believers broke away to form societies for prayer and healing. These Christians attracted the name Aladura, "owners of prayer." With their strict focus on healing, the believers received an enormous boost during the great epidemics that swept West Africa during and after World War I. …

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