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Giving Roots and Wings to Second-Generation Africans

How can churches effectively engage in discipleship and mission to second-generation African migrants?

That question is explored in “Roots and Wings,” a new book written by one of my friends and colleagues, Harvey Kwiyani, who teaches African theology at Liverpool Hope University in England.

Second-generation African migrants are children born in a non-African nation, such as Britain or the United States, of African parents.

As a pastor of a black multicultural church in London with half of the congregation being second-generation Africans, this book excites me and is of paramount interest to me.

As an African theologian researching in the areas of diaspora missiology, I am aware that essays, journal articles and book chapters have been written on the subject.

An example of the latter is Caleb Nyanni’s chapter contribution in “African Voices: Towards African British Theologies.”

His contribution, based on his ongoing doctoral research, investigated the pneumatology of second-generation Africans within the Church of Pentecost.

I am equally aware of a current doctoral student exploring the use of the Bible among second-generation Caribbean Christians within one of the Caribbean Pentecostal churches.

However, no one has yet published a monograph on the subject in Britain; therefore, the efforts of Kwiyani are to be commended for pioneering such a work.

The central question the book wrestles with is this: How can we best equip and disciple younger generation of Africans for mission in Britain?

In tackling this question are the issues of identity that second-generation Africans or others struggle with. Are they African or British? Can they be both at the same time? These are questions to do with hybridity and liminality.

It seems likely that these types of questions are being asked by migrant communities around the world, making the book’s inquiries applicable to a global audience.

But the book goes further than just a sociological exercise on the hybrid nature of second generation as it proposes an insightful and pragmatic approach in how we can effectively disciple and empower younger Africans to engage in God’s mission.

In effect, the book is missiological, addressing the mission implication of younger Africans’ involvement in mission in Britain.

The book sees reaching second-generation Africans not only as a form of intergenerational ministry, but also a cross-cultural matter as it is possible for a father and daughter living in the same house to live by different cultural worldviews.

In essence, the first generation must cross the frontiers as missionaries do when they travel to a different culture if they want their children to follow their faith.

The book, using the Hebrew saying of giving two gifts to children in roots and wings, explores how important it is for younger Africans born in diaspora to have a sense of belonging and identity, that is roots, but at the same time not be trapped by their parents’ cultural background so that they can grow wings to explore something foreign to their parent’s culture.

The author argues that when roots and wings are not balanced, we have scenarios of younger Africans being global citizens at the expense and sacrifice of their Africaness.

The other scenario is, of course, when African parents do not want their children to explore anything that is alien to their own cultural background and worldview. This entraps younger Africans, and the result usually backfires so that they reject their parents’ faith and culture.

The author went on to argue convincingly that the future of Christianity in the British Isles is at stake if we fail to disciple second-generation Africans.

One can understand this assertion because if the current growth of Christianity in the United Kingdom, with London as a leading example, is among black majority churches, it simply means the future legacy of these churches is conditioned on how that faith is passed on to the next generation.

All the chapters in this book are excellent, but one that I find very helpful and know will be of use to youth pastors, leaders and church leaders in general is chapter six, which addresses how we can build the second-generation friendly churches so that younger Africans and others feel a sense of belonging.

One of the suggestions in this chapter was for African pastors and churches to ensure that the church is thinking intergenerationally in its approach and outlook.

This means the church cannot be run to cater just for the needs of the first generation, it has to rethink and give room to second-generation Africans to operate in the church so they feel a sense of ownership and belonging.

This is not a question of how do we keep our young people in the church so they do not run off to another church. It is, rather, a question of how we can empower and support our younger people in their faith and ministries.

Part of engaging younger Africans will mean African pastors and churches understanding the digital native culture, that is, how young people live and inhabit the digital space.

This will mean African pastors interested in using technology not just to promote their self-help books and conferences, but to understand how to inhabit it comfortably so they can engage younger people.

Younger generations appear to use the digital world for sharing life together and doing discipleship. This is different from wanting to use the tools of technology to promote sales of books or conferences.

This means for African pastors to engage second-generation Africans, they must become natives of the digital world.

This, however, is not a substitute for face-to-face fellowship, which younger Africans must be encouraged to be part of.

One critique I would like to offer is that the author mentions that Caribbean churches somehow failed to pass on the faith to their second generation and that African churches must learn from this.

I would like to see a whole chapter possibly devoted to this, looking at what led to the failures and what African churches can learn from those failures.

Such a chapter can even compare through analysis and data collection African churches and Caribbean churches. Perhaps, this is for further research and reflection.

In concluding, a succinct point the author makes is that if African churches can seek to understand their children who are British, perhaps this can in turn help them to understand the wider British public and their mission in Britain and beyond.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on Olofinjana’s blog. It is used with permission.

Israel Olofinjana

Israel Oluwole Olofinjana, a Yoruba Nigerian coming from a Pentecostal background, is the founding director of Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World, author and editor of several books, and an ordained and accredited Baptist minister. He is the pastor of Woolwich Central Baptist Church, a multi-ethnic, multicultural inner city church in south east London. Israel is an Honorary Research Fellow at Queens Foundation in Birmingham, UK.