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By: Jane Adams

Religion, in an age of globalization, flows almost unchecked around the world. In this film, African missionaries bring a renewed Christianity to predominantly white churches in the Mississippi Delta. Father Theophilus Okpara, an Igbo from Nigeria, is associate pastor of Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Lake Village, Arkansas -- a church built by immigrants from Italy who worked as sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta. Brother John Danquah, from Ghana, and Brother Charles Obimbo, from Kenya, helped dedicate a new church of Bible Believers outside of Yazoo City, Mississippi. They are followers of Brother William Branham, an American who traveled into Africa and throughout the world as an evangelist.

These African Christians speak of being a "missionary in America," of their experience with relations between black and white, of leaving their homelands for strange and different lands, and of their religious faith. They also reflect on the paths that their faith has traveled -- carried by white missionaries to Africa, and now brought back to America by African missionaries.

These are the themes: globalization, and the global flow of Christianity; the complicated role of missionaries in Africa; the role of religion in the development of wealth and prosperity; racism and its sometimes surprising legacies; the often conflictual relationships between Christian denominations; and the personal experience of traveling to a strange and distant land.

This section explores these themes.

Globalization and the Flow of Peoples and Ideas

In the narration, I say, "Religion flows almost unchecked around the world. It's part of what we call "globalization" -- a process that was slowed by the Cold War but it's now unleashed again. What you're seeing is the global flows of ideas, and religion."

At the end of the film, I observe, "Christianity has always been an evangelical relgiion. It's a faith that exhorts believers to go to the ends of the earth to bring the news of personal salvation through Jesus who died on the cross. It has always been global, bringing a message its followers see as universal."

In recent years the term "globalization" has become a shorthand way of referring to the extraordinary speed with which cultural fads in clothing, music, and so forth, move across seemingly all barriers of language, nationality, and culture. It also refers to the massive numbers of people who are moving from their homelands as political refugees, economic migrants, tourists and travellers, and temporary workers. Globalization includes the almost instantaneous flows of capital, and the transfer of labor-intensive jobs from Europe, the United States, and Japan into the poorer nations of the world.

The "communications revolution," made possible through satellites and digital technologies, makes these flows seem new, and radically different. Only time will tell whether this period is as fundamentally new as that ushered in by the industrial revolution.

But we do know that, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in 1989, the pace of change has quickened.

A century ago millions of people poured out of Europe, into the rapidly industrializing cities of the United States and Canada, helping populate Australia, and Argentina. The Borgognonis, and the other Italian immigrants from Ancona, Italy, who built Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Church in Lake Village, Arkansas, were part of that migration. Some say that capital flowed as freely then as it does now, and the barriers erected by nation states were far lower.

Now, unlike then, global institutions like the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and the International Standards Organization, govern many aspects of globalization. Much has changed since the late 19th century.

The Catholic Church, as Father Okpara makes clear, has always seen its mission as global, and the Protestant denominations that split from it carried on the evangelizing tradition. These African missionaries are, therefore, part of an ancient tradition -- one reaching back 2000 years. They are also representatives of the new era, when Africans, not Europeans, seek new lives beyond their homelands. And return a renewed Christianity to the peoples who once carried it to them.

The Role of White Missionaries in Africa

All three men we interviewed, Catholic priest Father Theophilus Okpara, and John Danquah and Charles Obimbo, both ministers carrying the prophecies of William Branham, had great praise for the missionaries who brought Christianity to their ancestors.

Father Theophilus Okpara's homeland, Nigeria, was colonized by the British in the late 19th century. The British national church is Episcopalian, but Catholic priests from Ireland brought Christianity and European education to the Igbo, a tribe or ethnic group in eastern Nigeria. Okpara's grandfather followed traditional Igbo religious practices, but he sent his children to the Catholic school. Okpara's father became Catholic, and he sent Okpara and his siblings to the Catholic school, as well.

John Danqua comes from Ghana, another British colony. His parents were Methodist and Episcopalian -- two of the major Protestant denominations in England. Danquah's appreciation of the missionaries is deep. He told us, "We want to thank God for the missionaries because the missionaries that came to Africa came with only one purpose, to give Christ to that continent. And they did their job. They never understood our language, our cultures. They sat down with us, they taught us how to read and write, they built schools. They did their job. Most of them died in mosquito infested areas, amoebas, I mean the conditions of inhygienic tropical areas, I mean exposed to all kinds of germs and stuff like that. Most of them couldn't take it. In fact, it was even referred to as the white man's grave."

The British "adventurers," he said, were not so benevolent. They came for wealth, exploiting the Africans.

Religion in the Development of Wealth and Prosperity

People often view religion dealing primarily with the sacred, and having little to do with the profane, the secular. But religion often provides people's foundation, the means through which they make sense of their world. The Christian Bible, the Jewish Torah, and the Muslim Koran provide a set of laws to guide human behavior. These religions are instrumental as well as devotional; they make a difference in the world.

Charles Obimbo is from Kenya, a British colony. He has a doctorate in computer science and is a professor at the University of Guelf, Ontario, Canada. He observed that "the Europeans, especially. they got their wealth and prosperity when they were actually deep into Christianity. ... There was a Great Revival during those times of the Industrial Revolution." He also noted that the United States was populated, in part, by Europeans seeking religious freedom, when the seeds of democracy were first sprouting in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The sociologist Max Weber famously linked Protestantism and capitalism in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Weber observed the coincidence between Protestantism and the "work ethic." Protestantism also freed individuals from the bonds of tradition. The Protestant reformer John Calvin proclaimed, individual prosperity signalled God's favor. This new morality, Weber argued, provided a key ingredient to the developmentt of capitalism.

The historian E. P. Thompson discovered that Methodism was central to the creation of the English working class. John Wesley's (1703-91) preaching inflamed the men and women who had recently migrated from town to city to work in the "dark, satanic mills." Methodism came to the United States and swept through the mid-South in the early 19th century.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, another great revival is occurring, particularly in Africa and Latin America. John Danquah, Charles Obimbo, and David Wright, the minister of the Bible Believers church outside Yazoo City, Mississippi, follow William Branham. They believe that Branham is a modern prophet whose message reveals the truth encoded in the Book of Revelations.

Racism and Whites in the Delta

We were struck by the presence of African ministers and priests in predominantly white churches -- in a region in which Africans first came as slaves. They, and members of Danqua's church who had come with him, were keenly aware of the history of racial segregation in the United States. In Africa, being black is not remarkable. And in Canada, they told us, they do not feel specially marked because of their blackness. But in the United States, race is invariably a factor.

The minister of the Bible Believers church in Yazoo City, Mississippi, Brother David Wright, works hard to overcome racism. He has become extremely close to the two African ministers in the sister church in Toronto, Canada, John Danquah and Charlie Obimbo. "Brother David Wright is my brother," Charles Obimbo declared. "He's a pastor, he's my brother. And somebody actually put it this way, ... 'We ought to get so close together that we can chew one another's chewing gums.' Well, that's getting close."

Brother Danquah recalled, "I think about eight years ago, we had the same pastor here, Brother David, and it was tough at that time for his congregation that he had before this one, even to accept me as a black person coming to the church."

The family that invited us to the dedication of their church, however, did not remark upon Danqua's origin. Pennie and William French, and their daughter Wendy, urged us to come, saying only that people were coming from Canada to help dedicate the church, and that there would be a lot of singing. Everyone ate and drank together, intermingled on the long tables in a local restaurant.

How do these Africans deal with the racism they encounter?

Danquah forgave them, saying, "I did not blame them much because they don't know better. They've not traveled anywhere. They've lived in an area where to me segregation has been around for a long time."

Catholic priest Theophilus Okpara stressed his Nigerian nationality, saying, "We know the history of the origin of blacks in America. We know that very well. What we have to count on is, the racial discrimination is still on. Which I wouldn't want to get into, because I am not American. Whether African American or European American I am not. I am an African, and a pure Nigerian." Fr. Okpara also observed that he is accepted as a "man of God." "One mysterious fact of the Catholic priesthood," he told us,"is you are always accepted wherever you are, as far as the Catholic Church is concerned. ... As a man of God I had no problem because I knew I was not coming for political reasons. But I was coming for spiritual reasons. For missionary reasons. And with that fact, you'll see yourself accepted everywhere. And so I don't feel the impact of the slavery, where it got to the black Americans. Because number one I am not a black American. Number two I don't have anything to do with political affairs. I have come to do with spiritual affairs. And within the realm of spirituality, the people of God will always accept the man of God, no matter from where he comes."

Both Pentecostal churches -- closely related to the Bible Believers -- and the Catholic Church have a long history of racial integration. We attended the United Pentecostal Church in Greenville, Mississippi, in which the congregation appeared equally black and white. Integrated revivals have long existed throughout the U.S. South. Approximately 40 percent of the students Catholic parochial school in Greenville are African American. This is part of the little-known history of the South.

Ecumenism and Exclusivity

Brother David Wright, minister of the Bible Believers church outside Yazoo City, Mississippi, and Father Theophilus Okpara, Associate Pastor at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Lake Village, Arkansas, they shared many religious beliefs, including the belief in Jesus Christ as their personal saviour, and the need to carry the Word to the world -- to evangelize. However, their ideas about other denominations were very different.

Father Okpara declared, "there is one factor that is common in all orders as far as the Christian churches are concerned, and that is the word Christ. And therefore they should get themselves involved in the ecumenical discussion. If they eliminate themselves from the ecumenical discussion it means they are not Christians."

Brother David Wright rejected ecumenism, saying, "We have a situation right here in Yazoo City, ... we have the Ministerial Association, which I am not a part of and will not be a part of because of the way it's made up. It brings everything in... The Bible talks about the Harlot and her Daughters. The Harlot is the whore Church herself ... -- that's the Catholicism -- and her daughters are Protestants who have taken on her theology and her teachings and is identified in the pagan worship with her, and what have you. And so almost all your Protestant churches has joined hand in hand with it. So that would bring in Methodist, Baptist, Pentecost, all of them the same. They're all going the same direction. They're all going into what they call ecumenical movement. The ecumenical movement is the image of the Beast of Revelation 13, is made up of the Protestant groups.

Conflict between Protestantism and Catholicism has deep roots in Western Europe and the United States. Italian American women we interviewed in Clarksdale, Mississippi, told us that, when they were children in the 1920s, their Catholic priest forbade them to attend their classmates' Protestant churches, even to attend weddings and funerals. The Second Council of Bishops (Vatican II), 1962-65, dramatically reformed the Catholic Church. One of the changes was to promote dialogue among Christian denominations -- the ecuminical movement.

Most fundamentalist Christians retain their opposition to Catholicism. Those denominations that draw heavily on the chapter in the Bible called "Revelation" are, generally, most adamant in their anti-Catholicism. In "Revelation", the Apostle John recounts an apocalyptic vision of the end of this world and the second coming of the Christ, in highly symbolic language. One of these symbols is a woman who is "the mother of prostitutes" (Revelation 17). When Brother David Wright says, "The Scriptures clearly identifies Catholicism as the Beast" and speaks of the "whore Church," he refers to these passages.

Being a missionary in a strange land

Despite their differences in national and tribal origin, and their deep religious differences, Brother John Danquah, Brother Charles Obimbo, and Father Theophilus Okpara shared the experience of leaving their homes and living as strangers in a distant land. For all three it has been an often painful separation.

Father Okpara, born and raised in cities, was sent to the small agricultural village on the edge of the Mississippi River. He observed, "The first month I was here, it took me a lot to myself adjusted, you know. Cause I was born and raised in big cities in Nigeria, you know."

Brother Danquah, the son of a United Nations diplomat who had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with refugees in Somalia, had been raised in the cosmopolitan world of international politics. His father had wished that he and his siblings would be active in Ghanian politics. Instead, most became followers of William Branham,and Brother John emigrated to Canada. Brother Obimbo had been selected by the Kenyan government to take a scholarship to study in the Soviet Union, where he earned his bachelors and masters degrees. He then earned his doctorate in Canada. All three men are cosmopolitan, learned, and accomplished.

Their lives in Africa had been comfortable, even, as Father Okpara said, privileged. He told us, "most of us from the east part of Nigeria were so comfortable. It is here that I, for the first time, got myself involved in paying tax. Yes. In Nigeria priests do not pay, they don't know anything about paying tax. You are exempt from tax. In Nigeria you're cared for 100 percent, as a priest. In my part of country, on your ordination day, ordination day, you are given two major gifts. One is what you would call the mass box, mass kit, that is, a box which contains every stuff you need for your Eucharistic celebration. The people of God will give it to you. Two, a car. You're given a car. They are the two major donations that are given to you on your ordination to make sure you don't have anything to stop you from doing your work as a priest. All right? You're cared for. You lack nothing. It's not as if you live in affluence. You lack nothing.

"And so we don't come here for economic reasons. We don't come here for political reasons, because over there you are very safe as a priest. Nobody touches you. You're given a very serious regard. You're given some kind of privileges politically, as a priest."

But it wasn't just the shift from urban to rural, or from the tropics to a colder climate, or from a more to a less privileged status, that Father Okpara experienced. It was the deep differences in culture.

Father Okpara told us, "all the priests from Nigeria, the first problem, or the most pressing problem they have here, experience here, is this loneliness of a friend. Because in Nigeria we live some kind of communal life. You can't be on your own. You can't be on your own. But in America, Americans live individualistic life, everybody on his own. You get into your room, shut your door, get into your house, shut your door. Either you may not know your next door neighbor. Everybody's on his own. But in Nigeria, you know, we have this sense of hospitality. Extended relationship. You can never feel alone."

Brother Danquah said virtually the same thing, "But over here,... you don't know what your neighbor's name is, you can't even talk to them .... Whereas where I grew up from I knew every kid that lived in my vicinity, because we go school together, parents are greeting and "good morning" and stuff like that. Basically we knew everybody. But here I just get up and go to work and come in, I'm shut in my room. I don't like this winter, I get in the room and get out."

Most North Americans experience this individualism as central to their sense of freedom, opportunity, and capacity for self-expression. But Okpara, Danquah, and Obimbo all felt isolated and lonely. And, this experience gave them even deeper appreciation for the missionaries who had brought the Christianity they treasure to their ancestors.

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