Review: To Africa With Love

To Africa with Love
by E. H. Wendland

In 1962, Pastor E. H. Wendland was commissioned as a missionary to central Africa. This book, published in 1974, sums up his theology, methodology, and missiology. It talks about the difficulties and blessings of preaching Christ in a changing culture and a sometimes dangerous place. The back of the book includes a number of short stories of things that happened to him and fellow missionaries as they sought to preach the Gospel.

I’m honestly disappointed in this book. I feel that perhaps Wendland was tasked to write a book about his time as a missionary, and he was given instructions in what to include. Rather than go deep in any area, this book feels like it’s an inch deep in vast waters. None of it is bad. None of it is false. And yet, I feel like I didn’t get to learn a whole lot, nor that he went in depth in any one thing.

Now, it may be that since I’ve already received training and have experience as a pastor, much of what he wrote was old news. Perhaps a layman reading this book would find it the perfect depth. I confess that. Yet, throughout, I wanted more information on pretty much any one subject. Wendland often will talk about generalities, but often seems to refrain from specific stories to illustrate. I do understand the need to be careful about what you share, but it made much of it harder to grasp. I find as I think about my reading that I recall his specific stories at the end of the book much better than most of the text!

One thing I do appreciate Wendland writing about is his struggle with both racism and handing over the church to those he shared the Gospel with. He talks about the difficulties other colonists created, and how the reaction to that racism from others makes it hard to share the Gospel. These chapters could certainly have been meatier, but I like that he admitted there was no easy answer on how to deal with these problems.

I was curious how Wendland on one hand defended Africans finding their own way to worship. He talked about how the liturgy (order of service) didn’t appear Lutheran, yet was still faithful to God’s Word. He seemed a touch defensive; I wonder if people accused him of abandoning his church body at some point. Yet, in another chapter about teaching men how to preach, in an offhand comment he talked about having to put up with “only” making sure the text was clear, as opposed to preaching using a standard outline. Look, the point of a sermon is to make a text clear and apply it to the hearer, right? If that’s done without a standard outline… isn’t that ok? (I rarely use the older style two-point sermon, so I might be a bit biased here!)

To that end, Wendland says, “If a certain strategy or method stands in the way of promulgating the Gospel, it must go” (52). I’d like a lot of people to consider that quote. It’s all about sharing Jesus, right? And if something is in the way of that… yes. It should go. I wish all church leadership took a similar approach!

So while there were certainly parts of this book I learned from (particularly talking about dealing with racial issues), I’m not sure the book was great for me. I enjoyed another of Wendland’s books, Of Gods and Other Spirits, but this one fell flat. Maybe you’d get more out of it, particularly if you’re interested in the history of missions in Africa, but for me, it just didn’t connect.

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