Confronting African Stereotypes


The victim. The warlord. The noble savage. The witchdoctor. These and other negative stereotypes about Africans abound. Our news and entertainment sources may calcify these impressions. We hear about Apartheid, famine, AIDS, and Ebola. We think of the 276 girls kidnapped in Nigeria by Boko Haram, or Joseph Kony, the Ugandan guerilla leader. We picture scenes from Hotel Rwanda, or the Somali pirate attack in Captain Phillips and the civil war crisis in Black Hawk Down. We remember Out of Africa or The Gods Must Be Crazy.


Yet these images deny the complexity and diversity of Africa and label an entire continent and its people as violent, helpless, corrupt or backward.


The truth is far different. Much of Africa is peace-loving, progressive, empowered, educated and upright. And it’s not homogenous. Africa is made up of 54 nations, more than 800 ethnic groups and nearly 1000 languages. It’s about three times the size of the United States. That alone ought to be enough to challenge the power of these stereotypes.


The world of missions and evangelism has its own negative stereotypes, both in Africa and beyond. We may think of shallow evangelistic campaigns in which large numbers of people respond to the gospel but are never discipled or plugged into churches. We may picture missionary compounds where Westerners led the work and imported their own cultures instead of living among the people, contextualizing the message, and raising up local leadership. But missions history is more diverse than that, and today we see encouraging changes—especially in places like West Africa.


Take Yinka. He is a Nigerian Christian living in Ghana—a country of more than 27 million. A member of Pioneers-Africa, he is passionate about seeing the Good News spread in all of Africa. Like all Pioneers missionaries, he raises financial support for his ministry, but the economy makes this task difficult. So Yinka created a small business to supplement his fundraising and provide for his family. Over the last five years, Yinka has organized church-planting training events in multiple African countries, teaching Africans to lead Bible studies and plant churches. He emphasizes modeling and training new leaders long-term who can mentor other leaders. Hundreds of workers have taken these courses. Thousands have come to faith as a result.


Some Pioneers teams in Africa are all African, with members from one country or several. They may work directly with lay-ministry partners in their context. Other teams include members from all over the world working alongside African Pioneers. Julie*, who is American, is on one such team. Speaking of her African leaders, she says, “I want to work with them and under them. They know better than I do what the church should look like. We’re not there to plant an American church.”


Pioneers operates according to an agreed-upon list of Core Values. One of these is the local church. We strive to partner not only with churches that send their people to serve cross-culturally, but also with indigenous and emerging churches on the field.


From our perspective, stereotypes about Africa and Africans hinder partnership with the African church and its leaders. They don’t help us understand the people or encourage cultural awareness and respect.


Pray for our teams working in Africa. Ask God to help these diverse teams work in unity as they seek plant thriving, gospel-centered churches.

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*Name has been changed.



We want to connect you with the unreached—through prayer, financial investment and even exploring how your gifts, talents and passions intersect with the expansion of the Kingdom of God among the nations.