Is the Christian church relevant to eradicating poverty in Africa?

By Charles Anyomi

Not too long ago, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) broadcasted a documentary on poverty in Africa. The news carried in this documentary highlighted the progress some African countries, including Ghana, have made in the fight against poverty.

Poverty on the continent has seen some significant declines in recent times as confirmed by a World Bank report of 2012; however, more work needs to be done in tackling poverty across the continent.

As a point of interest, this article concerns itself with whether the Christian church in Africa remains relevant in the drive to eradicate Africa’s poverty.

According to the World Encyclopaedia, Christianity accounted for an estimated 45 percent of the continent’s population in 2002. Moreover, the Pew Forum projects that by 2050, sub-Saharan Africa will have 1.1 billion Christians, almost twice as many as that of Islam.

As a continent that was recently a leading destination for foreign missionaries, it is impressive to know she is now exporting priests and pastors. In fact, the largest church auditorium in the world today is reputed to be located right here in Africa, and the continent sees some of the world’s largest gatherings of Christians in worship services.

One cardinal message in most churches today is that of prosperity. Yet, rather worryingly, despite the trumpeting of the prosperity gospel, Africa continues to be ravaged by abject poverty.

This prosperity gospel is the religious belief among some Christians that financial blessing is the will of God for them and that faith, positive speech and giving (possibly to the Christian ministries) will increase one’s material wealth.

The Reality of Poverty in Africa

Notwithstanding the gains made in tackling poverty, a chunk of families in Africa still have very little to call their own, and many do not have sufficient income to purchase necessary food supplies for sustenance. Food which is a basic necessity of life is a luxury in most African homes as many people go hungry and are malnourished.

Poverty has left many on the continent to live in detestable conditions with no access to potable water, toilet facilities, and adequate and decent clothing. In many major cities across the continent, we have people living in slums with no proper accommodation, and in the countryside, majority of people still live in thatched-roof huts with their place of convenience being a hole in the ground outside the hut. 

The World Bank reports that in 2012, poverty in sub-Saharan Africa stood at 43 percent which means 388 million poor people lived in sub-Saharan Africa. It is worrying to note the miserable conditions that exist in twenty-first century Africa. 

The Gospel of Prosperity

One major tenet of the gospel of prosperity teaches that one prospers through giving. Giving is the main emphasis, with many Christians giving to their pastors, and continuing to sit in church expecting God to bless them with money, and yet remaining poor. While giving procures blessings from God, true prosperity comes not just when we give but also when we work, know and through discipline, follow and abide by the laws of money.

Sadly, there are many pastors who are wolves in sheep’s clothing when it comes to teaching financial prosperity. They teach that all that is needed for financial prosperity is to be a good Christian, be active in ministry, be faithful in giving tithes and offerings and other additional giving to various church projects. Many have been faithful to this type of teaching, yet the money never came and they become more disillusioned and impoverished. These pastors have taken advantage of the ignorance of their congregants to enrich themselves, and this suggests that Africans need something more than the gospel of prosperity.

The Balanced Gospel

Perhaps, many live their lives in the spiritual without the physical; others also live their lives in the physical without the spiritual. The church has taught extensively on spiritual investment; little or nothing is taught about physical investment. In a sense, the church has failed to teach extensively on work, more saving, and hard work. Based on this imbalance in the church, many spend years giving without becoming wealthy. They give and yet have no channel in place for their harvest to come. They forget that prosperity comes by following financial laws including but not only limited to giving.

With all sincerity, it is now time for the church to emphasise the physical investment in order to create channels for the harvest. Aside the church equipping the poor with skills, the poor must also be empowered with relevant information and knowledge about money and investment. With the force and energy the church taught extensively on the 10 percent tithe, the same must be done on 10 percent saving and investment for people to create the avenue for the blessing.

The balanced gospel in the church must emphasise hard work as the means of bringing in the blessing, and also the investment principles needed in making the best use of generated income.

The Root Cause of Poverty in Africa

The main cause of poverty in Africa is ignorance and laziness. Majority of African Christians have little or no knowledge when it comes to financial management. It is true God wants to bless us, but He will not entrust money to those who will only spend it on daily needs without the faithfulness to multiply what they have. 

Sadly, a recent survey on the continent revealed that majority of Africans do not save and do not even have a bank account. This belies the idea that we have the culture of spending but not the concept of multiplication. The culture of saving and investment and the magic of compound interest is lost on many. However, the right information on finances will give the poor good understanding and the power to leverage this vital information. As it stands now, the poor are taught very little about money and what to do with it, and that must change if poverty is to be eradicated.

God’s intention is for all His children to live in abundance, but majority are not, because most do not possess the knowledge necessary to bring the millions to them. Yet, with more knowledge and information, the poor will know what to do to come out of poverty.

In the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, Solomon reveals how laziness is a major cause of poverty, and this remains an identifiable problem on the continent. Laziness has eroded the colourful destinies of many, and if only we could fully fling aside our garbs of indolence, we stand to become people of great substance. After all, there is dignity in hard work and labour, but the lazy man fails to take advantage of opportunities and work.

The Relevance of the Church

While the church has contributed in a number of ways, it still needs to take a more active approach to poverty alleviation. One of the primary obligations of the local church is to set the captives free, and this must include poverty, ignorance and laziness.

Africa’s churches must serve as information or training centres to equip and empower people with skills and knowledge to liberate them from the shackles of poverty and ignorance to become wealth creators. Indeed, relevant information about how to create wealth is what the poor desperately need.

Considering most of Africa’s poor are young and either under or underemployed, concerted effort must be made to train them to acquire skills to become self-employed and earn income to be able to afford more decent lifestyles.

Of a truth, poverty begins from the mind, and in that regard, the word of God remains a potent and powerful tool with the ability to renew minds and change situations and circumstances. To this end, the poor need the word, yes, the total truth—the balanced gospel.

In view of the unique position the church occupies and the influence it has on many people, we may have to agree that the church is relevant and even has a more pronounced role in poverty alleviation and eradication, as to an extent, the governments of Africa appear to have no solutions. And while the poor may always be with us, the Christian church surely can contribute in reducing the vast numbers currently populating our dear continent.

By    Charles Anyomi

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