That challenge from a heckler during one of his sermons caused Joseph Booth, an Englishman farming in Australia, to leave his home, travel to Scotland to raise support and eventually establish a Christian outreach in the Lake Nyasa region of southern Africa.
Often missionaries have been accused, sometimes with good reason, of supporting colonialism and its many evils. But such an accusation would never stick with Booth! He founded zm as the Zambesi Industrial Mission in 1892 with the joint aims of sharing the Gospel and helping Africans to advance in the trades and skills which would enable them to fulfil their immense potential. The early days of ZIM saw such activities as coffee growing, cattle rearing, skin curing and printing. In this Booth was following the thinking of David Livingstone who had pioneered Christian mission in Central Africa during the middle years of the century.
Booth’s spirit and vision undoubtedly made him a difficult person to contain and ZIM’s Council in the UK soon fell out with its founder in Nyasaland. As a result Booth turned his energies to starting other organisations for the benefit of the African people.
But ZIM was underway – and well over 100 years later God is still using the Mission to support His people in Africa.
The ‘industrial’ aspect of the work became less significant towards the middle of last century and the Mission assumed its present name. Nonetheless, it still supports the Church in a number of projects and programmes that would be very close to the heart of its founder.
Africa for the Africans
The motto, “Africa for the African” is not new, and at first sight it seems strange that such a standard should need to be raised. “Europe for the Europeans” would seem an absurd phrase to formulate since the Europeans would not tolerate the thought that any other race would be found audacious enough, powerful enough or even unscrupulous enough to dispossess them.
Although Africa is as large as Europe and North America combined yet her vast territory, it is assumed, belongs no more to the African race. Any rights they had to administer or develop their country are taken as terminated and beyond consideration. The words heading this pamphlet are used, therefore, as a brief standard of protest against any and every person or persons, be they obscure or prominent, whether individuals or nations in combination, who ruthlessly assert their purpose, power or right to take from the African race the African’s land.
To the unprejudiced observer and to the educated African, she [Britain] is a marvel of inconsistency, if not criminality, since by her national religion she gratuitously and systematically asserts her belief in the commands: ‘Thou shalt not covet; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not kill’, yet most effectually, deliberately and continuously she does all three of these in pursuit of her ruthless African annexation policy.
Her various Christian churches send forth into Africa in good faith their messengers of ‘peace on earth and good will toward men’, yet these often prove to be but the forerunner of another set of men, sent to appropriate, to kill, to tax and subjugate. Our words are of peace but our acts are of war.
No sooner has a missionary led his convert into the freedom and light of God’s word than he discerns these things and discovers we are proclaiming that which condemns ourselves and exposes the wrongs we perpetrate so shamelessly.
He naturally asks why, if the missionaries be truly men of God, and not in concert with the wrong-doers, do they not solemnly and sternly denounce the authors of the evil? Are they the victims of the fear of man which ‘bringeth a snare’?
It is doubtful whether any race has a grander natural heritage than has the African race. Its full value is not yet known, but enough is known to create a widespread feeling of envy in other peoples.
In gold and precious stones, Africa is doubtless the richest continent on the globe. But its greatest wealth lies in its undeveloped power to produce and furnish to the world cotton, Indian corn, coffee, cocoa, tea, sugar and indeed all tropical and subtropical articles of commerce.
The African native as well as his relative, the Negro of America, is gradually, though slowly, awakening to recognise this. When these enter heartily into possession of, and utilise the resources of their great heritage, and use them to diffuse Christian and industrial knowledge throughout the land, the day of Africa will have come.
No longer will the African be the despised and down-trodden people, exploited at will by all comers, but will be found well able to take and hold his rightful place and enjoy his new-found strength of Christian unity and brotherhood. Then he will rejoice as a strong man in his strength.