Clouds of Witnesses: Part 2

Photo of Dora Yu

Yu Cidu, known in the West as Dora Yu

This is part 2 of a 2-part review of Clouds of Witnesses: Christian Voices from Africa and Asia. Mark A. Noll, Carolyn Nystrom. IVP Books, $25.00 hardcover (300p) ISBN 978-0-8308-3834-9

Profiles of influential Christian voices and activists range from Archbishop Janani Luwum, martyr in Uganda who was murdered by Idi Amin’s regime in 1977 to Dora Yu, a woman considered by many as the foremost Chinese evangelist during the early 1900s whose preaching inspired young Watchman Nee to enter his room to pray and become a great evangelist of the new generation in China–at a time when women were rejected as leaders in the mid-1900s. [199]

The authors mine vast numbers of biographies and autobiographies to “unearth” what we ought to already know of Christian history, but many–like me–have sadly been taught in seminary a very Western Christian History and Missiology. What about African Christian History, Chinese Christian History?

The 1960 Nobel Peace Prize winning Albert Luthuli was a lesser known force in the struggle against apartheid. He was arrested for peaceful protest against racial discrimination in South Africa, and his attorney was Nelson Mandela, who took up the mantle of racial equality. Luthuli said, “Should we get rid of the whites? The aim should be to get him to repent of his wrongdoings rather than to work for his forceful removal out of the country.”

Told in narrative style form her birth, the story of India’s Pandita Ramabai is simply amazing. Born in 1858, a Hindu by culture and Christian convert, Ramabai knew Sanskrit and amazed people across India because few girls knew this “language of the gods.” She became known as Pandita, wise one.

Yes, we’ve heard of Mahatma Ghandi, but perhaps as influential to a generation seeking Christ and political independence, Nystrom and Noll say, is V.S. Azariah, 1874-1945, who rejected the caste system in favor of loving and serving the poor and established many YMCAs across India. [145] For Azariah, the Eucharist was a counter-force to the remaining taboos of eating with people of other castes. Azariah began the day with two hours of Bible reading and prayer and ended the day in much the same way. During the day he traveled diocese to diocese and house to house sharing the gospel and encouraging Christ followers.

These narratives from 19th and 20th centuries stand on their own rather than filling the pages with assessment and evaluation, because “it is important first simply to know before trying to judge.” [275]

Clouds of Witnesses: Part 1

Clouds of Witnesses: Christian Voices from Africa and Asia.
Mark A. Noll, Carolyn Nystrom. IVP Books, $25.00 hardcover (300p) ISBN 978-0-8308-3834-9

In a dramatic century of reversal, the majority of Christians has shifted from western countries in the 1900s to places like India, Africa, China, and Korea today.

Some books do the accounting, others feature missionaries to those lands. But what about the stories of men and women who helped spread the gospel to their own countries? A new book by historian Mark A. Noll and prolific writer Carolyn Nystrom tells a number of these stories. The Holy Spirit, the Word, and the voice of God has been powerful and active for centuries, moving people in countries all over the world.

The authors say they wrote the book because many remain unaware of the way Christianity has spread in other countries in the past and today through the influence of men and women in Africa, China, Korea, and India.

Yet there are, the authors say, few activities that rekindle the foundational realities of faith than to see them at work in regions where Christ is being confessed anew.

Some, however, think that Christianity has become diverse in the twenty-first century, but Noll and Nystrom show that a great diversity has already existed for centuries.

One value of this book is the window it opens to a diverse world and rather than remaining oblivious, the authors say these stories show indelibly that the Holy Spirit has been active across the world and across time.

“One of the great benefits to arise from trying to learn from Christ-followers from other places is to make us more self-conscious about our own cultural assumptions. The end product of this process need not be cultural relativism but rather greater clarity about the profusion of God’s work in creating so many cultures and his power in illuminating the entire rainbow of human diversity by the grace of Christ.” [277]

A story from the late 1800s of a British missionary kissing an African baby is an illustration of the reversal of how cultures might think of each other. For Africans not accustomed to kissing, the missionary appeared to be savoring food. Well aware that whites engaged in capture and slavery, those witnessing this kiss concluded that whites are cannibals. Ironically, Westerners have feared the same thing about Africans.

The book has “the rest of the story” quality to it, with seventeen profiles of amazing people you’ve never heard of but must know about.

More tomorrow.