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A Very British Mission: review

Israel Olofinjana is pleasantly surprised by a Channel 4 documentary on West African Pentecostal Churches in the UK

A Very British Mission I had my reservations when I knew that Channel 4 had commissioned Waddell Media (based in Ireland) to do a TV documentary on West African Pentecostals. My reservations were shared by fellow African and Caribbean Pentecostal ministers who wanted to ensure that the programme did not caricature and falsely represent African Christianity. Some of us raised our concerns with Waddell Media, informed by former negative experiences of the media stereotyping of African Pentecostals as people with a lack of integrity, and out to make money from their congregation.

However, having finished watching the introductory programme presented by Ade Adepitan, I was pleasantly surprised at the positive light in which different West African Pentecostal Churches were portrayed. The stories of various West African Pentecostals in London were highlighted, including their exuberant worship, mentoring and guidance for young black people and the relevance of Christianity in providing practical solutions for homeless people. As someone whose roots are in West African Pentecostalism and who has written several books on the subject of reverse mission and Black Majority Churches (BMC), I was pleased that there was not a misplaced focus on the finances of these churches and prosperity preaching.

The programme started with pastor Ade Amooba giving Ade Adepitan a guided tour of Old Kent Road in Southwark, where the Being Built Together research project identified about 160 Black Majority Churches. Then we see Apostle Alfred Williams, founder of Christ Faith Tabernacle which began in New Cross but has now extended to Woolwich. He explained to Ade the idea of healing within Pentecostalism. Apostle Alfred Williams also showed Ade round their new building in Woolwich which cost about £5m to build and £2.5m to refurbish. This shows the financial power of West African Pentecostal Churches.

Next, the programme showcased the significant work that Pastor Clement Okusi from Potters House Christian Church in Croydon is doing with regards to young adults. Finally, the documentary crossed the river to Tottenham to look at the night shelter at Pastor Alex Gyasi’s church, Highway of Holiness Church. Their homeless shelter is reaching about 50 eastern European men, many of whom have been baptised in the church. Pastor Alex explained that they were meeting these men’s practical needs as it is their duty as Christians to do so.

The documentary ended by Ade Adepitan affirming that West African Pentecostal Churches might offer glimpses of hope for the future in terms of Christianity in Britain. It will be interesting to see what the short five minutes Lent Diaries that follow this introduction and continue until the 20 April will be like. 

The Revd Israel Olofinjana is the minister of Woolwich Central Baptist Church and Director of the Centre For Missionaries from the Majority World

He blogs and is the author of Turning the Tables on Mission

Israel Olofinjana, 07/04/2014
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