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1955 Article

The continent of Africa has been the scene of Mennonite mission activity for more than a century. In 1890 Eusebius Hershey of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church went on his own to Liberia to engage in missionary work without denominational support. He soon died on the field but his sacrifice inspired others of his church to volunteer for work in Africa. In 1901 workers from his church went to Africa under the Sudan Interior Mission. In 1905 the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Missionary Society for Africa was founded. With the formation of the United Missionary Society in 1920 by the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, the work was taken over by the new organization.

The Defenseless Mennonite Conference supported missionaries in Africa beginning about 1890 and the Central Conference of Mennonites sent its first missionaries to that continent in 1906. Both churches, however, discontinued their work in 1909 because of the congested condition of the field in which they were working. The two churches then in 1911 organized the United Mennonite Board of Missions, which name was changed to the Congo Inland Mission in 1912.

In 1920 Mennonite Brethren missionaries established an independent mission in the Belgian Congo. The Africa Mission Association later assumed responsibility for the mission. After this organization had operated the mission for more than a decade, the Mennonite Brethren general conference in 1943 took official charge of the field.

The Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities of the Lancaster Mennonite Conference opened work in Tanganyika Territory, Africa, in 1934. The Eastern Board sent its first missionaries to Italian Somaliland in 1953.

The Mennonite Central Committee in its relief program during World War II cooperated with the UNRRA in Egypt, furnishing workers and relief supplies for the refugee camps in that area. In 1945 three of these Mennonite Central Committee workers were transferred by UNRRA to Ethiopia. During the next few years other workers were sent into this field, and a relief program was operated by the Mennonite Relief Committee (Elkhart). Finally in 1948 the emperor of Ethiopia gave the Mennonites consent to begin mission activity in his country, after which the Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities opened work 250 miles southeast of Addis Ababa.

By 1990, there were Mennonite or Brethren in Christ churches in the African nations of Angola, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, with a total membership of 322,708. Of these, the largest numbers of members were in Congo (175,837), Ethiopia (57,011), Tanzania (32,100) and Zimbabwe (20,606). -- Melvin Gingerich

1987 Update

Though a single continent, Africa in reality combines two very different worlds, i.e., the Arabic Muslim world of the north and the black animistic world of central and southern Africa. While the former has been part of Mediterranean and European history across the centuries, sub-Saharan Africa has been a world apart, which has experienced its own unique history.

Source: Africa Map & Statistics, 2003

With the dramatic exploratory treks of Livingstone and Stanley in the 1860s and 1870s, Africa below the Sahara Desert quickly became the focus of attention for the European powers and the Christian world of that era. As Europeans scurried to establish colonial holdings on that continent, Christians in widely scattered areas of the world also organized themselves to undertake missions of witness and service. Already before 1900, Mennonites and Brethren in Christ missionary pioneers were arriving on the continent.

In 1890 Eusebius Hershey of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church ([United] Missionary Church) went to Liberia on his own to engage in missionary work. He soon sickened and died there, but his example prompted others from his church to volunteer. In 1920 the Mennonite Brethren in Christ organized the United Missionary Society and subsequently took charge of the missionary endeavor of its personnel in West Africa, notably in Nigeria.

In 1896 the Defenseless Mennonite Church (later known as the Evangelical Mennonite Church, and in 2003 as the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches) sent Mathilda Kohm as its first missionary to the Congo Free State (Zaire) to work with the Christian and Missionary Alliance Mission. A second woman, Alma Doering, was sent in 1900 to join her, this time to work with the Swedish Baptists.

In 1906 the Defenseless Mennonite Church sent six missionaries to British East Africa (Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania) to work under the auspices of the Africa Inland Mission. In that same year, the Central Conference Mennonite Church sent its first missionary couple, Lawrence and Rose Haigh, also to work in East Africa with the Africa Inland Mission. By 1910 the missionaries of these two conferences persuaded their sponsoring bodies to dispose of their work in East Africa and engage in pioneering efforts elsewhere. In January 1911 the two conferences created the United Mennonite Board of Missions which envisioned a cooperative effort in Africa. In 1912 this new inter-Mennonite organization commissioned its first missionaries, Lawrence and Rose Haigh and Alma Doering. By mid-year the Haighs were in the Belgian Congo (Zaire), engaged in exploratory travel for their board. In January 1912, the home board changed its name to the Congo Inland Mission (known as Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission since 1971). Across the years the ministry of Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission (AIMM) in Africa has been broadened. After working until 1972 exclusively in Zaire, mission workers were placed in Lesotho in 1973, in Botswana in 1975, in Burkina Faso in 1978, and in the Transkei in 1982. In North America, AIMM 's supporting base of conferences, working in partnership, has increased from two to six.

In 1898 the first Brethren in Christ missionaries arrived in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) followed by other recruits in 1906 in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia). The Brethren in Christ have maintained a continuous witness and ministry in these areas to the present (2004).

In 1934 the Eastern Mennonite [MC] Board of Missions and Charities (EMBMC; later known as Eastern Mennonite Missions) sent Elam and Elizabeth Stauffer, and John and Ruth Mosemann to Tanganyika (Tanzania), where they opened a work at Shirati in the Musoma district. Stations at Bukiroba, Mugango, Bumani, and Nyabisi were soon added. Later personnel was placed in Ethiopia (1948), Somalia (1953), Kenya (1964), Swaziland (1971), southern Sudan (1972) and Mozambique (1978-86). Along the way Nairobi has become the administrative center for both EMBMC and Mennonite Central Committee in East Africa.

Already in 1921, Mennonite Brethren missionaries Aaron and Ernestina Janzen opened an independent work at Kafumba in the Kwilu area of the Belgian Congo (Zaire). After World War II, several smaller independent missions in Kwilu and Kwango disbanded and appealed to other organizations to take over responsibility. The Mennonite Brethren Board of Missions then became heavily involved in this area. They took over Janzen's work at Kafumba and sent personnel to Kikwit, Lusemvu, Panzi and Kajiji. The Mennonite Brethren also placed people in Kinshasa early in their mission work and continue to maintain a strong emphasis on church planting and the creation of Christian literature in the major languages of the region.

In the late 1950s the Mennonite [MC] Board of Missions and Charities (MBM; later known as Mennonite Mission Network) received inquiries from western Africa in response to radio programs which the board sponsored. In 1959 Ed and Irene Weaver went to Nigeria to ascertain whether a ministry among these inquirers was feasible. Thus Mennonites became involved with African independent churches, a ministry which expanded to Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) (1978), and Benin (1986). In addition the Mennonite Board of Missions has planted Mennonite churches in Ghana and Nigeria.

French and Swiss Mennonites have sponsored missionaries for many years under Europäisches Mennonitisches Evangelisationskomitee (EMEK) in Chad, where they worked in partnership with the United Evangelical Mission, an umbrella organization for four different mission groups. In 1986 EMEK appointed a missionary couple to work in partnership with AIMM in Burkina Faso.

Africa has, since World War II, been a major area of involvement for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Since the early 1960s, MCC has responded to refugee needs and famine caused by political instability and severe drought in a number of areas. Many volunteers have also served in Africa under MCC's Pax Program and its Teachers Abroad Program (TAP), which was launched in Botswana. While working out formal partnership arrangements with the Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities and with Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission in Botswana, MCC has always sought to maintain a supportive and cooperative role with the Mennonite missions in the areas where MCC personnel are located. In January 1988, MCC had 175 volunteers in 17 different countries in Africa. -- James E. Bertsche


Lapp, John A. and C. Arnold Snyder, gen. eds. Anabaptist Songs in African Hearts, 3rd ed. Global Mennonite History Series 1. Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 2006.

Mennonite World Handbook, ed. Paul N. Kraybill. Lombard, Ill.: Mennonite World Conference, 1978: 35-37, 75-120.

Mennonite World Handbook Supplement. Strassbourg, France, and Lombard, Ill.: Mennonite World Conference, 1984: 10-24.

Additional Information

Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission

Brethren in Christ World Missions

Eastern Mennonite Missions

Mennonite Brethren Mission and Service International

Mennonite Mission Network

Mennonite World Conference

Author(s) Melvin Gingerich
James E. Bertsche
Date Published 1987

Cite This Article

MLA style

Gingerich, Melvin and James E. Bertsche. "Africa." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 26 Jun 2022.

APA style

Gingerich, Melvin and James E. Bertsche. (1987). Africa. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 26 June 2022, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p. 21; vol. 5, pp. 6-8. All rights reserved.

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