Dr Harvey Kwiyani, a theologian and missiologist from Malawi, East Africa, is set to lead a freshly launched Master's degree programme at Church Mission Society (CMS) that will focus on the "new movement of post-colonial missionaries" formed by African Christians in the UK.
"I grew up in Africa, so I know what an empowered African church can do," says Dr Kwiyani, programme lead for the new MA in Theology, Mission and Ministry with a focus on the African Christian Diaspora.
CMS director of mission education, Jonny Baker, hopes it's just the beginning as plans are already afoot for similar programmes of study looking at other regions.
"We're really excited about this new programme of study and the mix of students it will bring. We hope and expect that it will change us, as well as equip a wider range of students for pioneering mission," he said.
"We are dreaming that in the coming years we will be able to introduce similar pathways with an Asian and a Latin American focus, to create the broadest possible inter-cultural conversation about mission today."
Dr Kwiyani, 45, comes to the role with a rich background in African Christianity and missiology.
He studied for his doctorate in African Christianity at Luther Seminary, St Paul, Minnesota, and has taught African theology at Liverpool Hope University since 2001.
Recently he was appointed as chief executive of Global Connections, a UK-based network for world mission, and prior to that, in 2014, he founded Missio Africanus to resource African and other minority ethnic Christians for effective outreach in the UK.
Christian Today spoke to Dr Kwiyani about the new Master's programme and the contribution of African Christians.
CT: How in practice are African Christians proving to be "post-colonial missionaries" in the largely secular UK?
HK: First, through their prayers. African Christians, generally speaking, believe in a powerful spirit world that responds to prayer and, thus, prayer is often understood as a lifeline. I have not seen an African congregation here in the UK that does not have a prayer vigil at least once a month.
Second, many of them are actively involved in preaching and distributing evangelistic materials in British cities. While this may not be the most effective method of evangelising in Britain, their Christian presence on the streets of our cities makes the gospel accessible to some who would not access it otherwise.
Third, just by their presence in Britain. We know that African Christians are propping up the Christian presence in London where they account for more than half of church attendance on any Sunday, for instance.
Their presence in their workplaces or in their schools is significant especially when we realise that, more often than not, they will be one of the few, if not the only, Christians in those circles.
CT: The older Christian denominations in Britain, particularly the Anglicans and the Methodists, are in spiralling decline. What are the reasons for that in your view?
HK: Whatever reason we can give for this decline, it has to account for a combination of several complex factors like the denominations' inability or unwillingness to engage the changing culture around them in a relevant and prophetic manner; the de-spiritualisation of Christianity, which, of course, is a result of Europe's post-Enlightenment bias towards science and secularism; the middle-class captivity of Western Christianity; and their failure to maintain an evangelistic presence in their communities.
CT: What is meant by the "African Christian Diaspora" in the UK?
HK: When we talk about the African Christian Diaspora, we mean the growing numbers of African Christians living outside the African continent. In the case of our new programme at Church Mission Society, we have in mind African Christians living in the UK, but also in Europe and other parts of the world.
Here in the UK, African Christians have become a very visible part of the Christian community. In some cities, they form the most visible expression of Christianity. Across the country, African-majority churches are the fastest growing part of the Church. In London, they are growing fast enough to mean that, overall, Christianity is on the rise in the city.
One in every two people who attend church in London are of African heritage, even though they form only 14 per cent of London's population.
CT: What kind of students is the new Master's course aiming to attract?
HK: The course is designed to serve students of all kinds with a focus on two groups. The first group includes African church leaders - pastors, elders, worship leaders - serving God here in the UK and in other parts of the world. Many of them need to understand the context in which they are serving. Many more need theological training to be more effective in their service. This programme will be helpful to these students.
The second group includes non-African leaders who, by divine providence, find themselves serving or working with African Christians in their churches. These could be vicars, deans, wardens, etc, who find African Christians increasing in their congregations. Or it could be vicars who rent out the church halls to African congregations for their services and are intrigued to learn something about them.
But there is also the group of British/European Christians who serve in Africa, in mission agencies, diplomatic roles, and in business who realise that they need to learn African Christianity to understand Africa.
CT: What can students learn about cross-cultural mission on your new course?
HK: In addition to three modules that will be shared with the Pioneer students at Church Mission Society - Leadership, Mission, and Research - students on the African Christian Diaspora will have three African-focused modules.
The first one is African Church History. We cover this module because our students find it helpful to understand that Christianity has been present in Africa continuously right from the beginning, in North Africa - Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria - and in Ethiopia.
Many of them are encouraged when they learn of African church fathers - Tertullian, Athanasius, Augustine - and are able to learn of their theological works to inform their own identity today.
The second module is on African Pentecostalism. This module seeks to help African Christians, most of whom are Pentecostals, understand their own faith in ways that will help them speak with humble confidence to their neighbours. It also helps our non-African students to understand their African neighbours better. Of course, if any of them have any form of connection with African Christians in their communities, it is very likely that they will be Pentecostals.
The third African-focused module explores African Religion or, as some would call it, African Traditional Religion. This module helps both our African and non-African students understand the African life.
It is rather superficial to try to understand Africans without understanding their religiosity because for most Africans, life and religion are inseparably intertwined. Certainly, one cannot understand African Pentecostalism without wrestling with the wider African religious heritage.