It is the 17th of April 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1843
Today we travel to the Gold Coast of Africa, or what used to be called the Gold Coast. It was near what was called the Slave Coast and the Pepper Coast. And all this not far from the Ivory Coast. So… at least they made it very clear what you might get if you go there.
But here on this show, we talk about the history of the Christian church, and unfortunately, some of the same people that would name coasts based on what you could take would also be the face of Christianity for many Africans.
And it has been that uncomfortable marriage of evangelism and empire that so often has subordinated the Gospel to national interests. Even if the missionaries had intentions pure as the driven snow, mission work could be hampered on account of the actions of previous settlers and what Africans perceived as "the White Man's religion."
Today we hear the story of imperfect people who nonetheless sought to elevate Jesus above the nation, the gospel instead of geopolitics, and people over profit.
And please note, while "the Gold Coast" is what our characters would have called this region, we will also refer to it by its modern name: Ghana.
Two quick things: Ghana is located on the coast of West Africa in the Gulf of Guinea. (Think: right under that hump on Africa's west coast.) Secondly, when our story started today in the 19th century, there were no native Christians in Ghana.
So, this kind of goes back to Napoleon. As he was bullying his way across Europe, the fine folks in Basel, Switzerland, were getting nervous. This fractured city of Lutherans and Calvinists came together in prayer against their common enemy and swore that if they were saved, they would work together to train evangelists, pastors, and missionaries. Upon Napoleon's army petering out, the Lutherans and Calvinists made good on their deal with God. This would lead to the creation of the Basel Mission and the work of Andreas Riis. Despite hard work and good intentions, Riis was a Danish minister who was unable to minister with the Basel Mission in Ghana as he would have wished. Part of the problem was that Europeans couldn't stay healthy on the African Coast. The disease took more than half of Riis's fellow missionaries, and he ended up leaving on account of his failing health. But he had a relationship with a local chief. Upon Riis' departure, the Chief is claimed to have told Riis, "if you could show us some Africans who could read the Bible, then we would surely follow you".
But where could one find African Christians? The answer was Jamaica amongst the Moravian missionaries. In the 19th century, many West Africans were enslaved to work the sugar and coffee trade in the West Indies. The Moravians sent missionaries to the islands to set up schools and churches to train missionaries to spread the Gospel. With Queen Victoria's ascension in the 1830s, Jamaica was partially… kind of… sort of liberated (that's another story for another time). The important part is that free black men could receive an education and paid work. Alexander Worthy Clerk was one such former slave who received a classical education and a theological education from the Moravian missionaries. His family had been taken from West Africa a few generations before the son of Jamaican Christian parents. When Andreas Riis and his fellow missionaries with the Basel Mission came to Jamaica looking for missionaries of African descent, Alexander Worthy Clerk was near the top of the list. In February of 1843, Clerk would set sail with 23 other Jamaicans to proclaim the Gospel on the Gold Coast. Clerk addressed the crowd before leaving, saying:
"When we go to Africa, we go not to a foreign country. Africa is our country and our home. Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers were taken from there and brought here. We go there to witness the Grace of God not only to the European but also to the African, and our only prayer is that the eyes of the Africans whom we regard as our brothers may be opened to see Jesus Christ as Savior of the World."
S.etting sail in February of 1843, it was on this the 17th of April in 1843 the A.W. Clerk, and his 23 fellow Jamaicans landed in modern Ghana. The story from here is filled with twists and turns, a story for another time. But today, Ghana's population is over 70% Christian. That's some 19 million Christians. We remember a crucial contributor to this development, Alexander Worthy Clerk, the Jamaican of West African descent who arrived in Western Africa as an evangelist on the 17th of April in 1843.
The reading is from Alfred Lord Tennyson, Canto 48 of his “In Memoriam: Be Near Me When My Light is Low.”
Be near me when my light is low,
When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick
And tingle; and the heart is sick,
And all the wheels of Being slow.
Be near me when the sensuous frame
Is rack'd with pangs that conquer trust;
And Time, a maniac scattering dust,
And Life, a Fury slinging flame.
Be near me when I fade away,
To point the term of human strife,
And on the low dark verge of life
The twilight of eternal day.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 17th of April 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, who reminds you that Napoleon was of average height, the French metric system was nutty. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis who is still sore about the Ghanian upset of Team USA in the 2010 World Cup. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be