Review of Roots and Wings: Equipping and Empowering Young Diaspora Africans for Life and Mission by Rev Israel Oluwole Olofinjana

Roots and Wings front coverRoots and Wings is a new book written by one of my friends and colleague, Dr Harvey Kwiyani. The book explores issues related to how to effectively engage in discipleship and mission second generation African migrants. These are children born in Britain of African parents.  As a pastor of a Black Multicultural Church (BMC) 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 (2017). His contribution, based on his ongoing PhD 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. But no one has yet published a monograph on the subject in Britain, therefore the efforts of Dr Kwiyani is to be commended for pioneering such a work.

The central question the book wrestles with is, how can we best equip and disciple younger generation of Africans for mission in Britain? In tackling this question are the issues of identity which second generation Africans or others struggle with. Are they Africans or British? Can they be both at the same time? These are questions to do with hybridity and liminality. But the book goes further than just a sociological exercise on the hybrid nature of second generation as it proposes 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, in the process entraps younger Africans and the result usually backfires so that they reject their parent’s 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 UK, 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. The chapter addresses how we can build 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 intergenerational 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 that 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 that they do not run off to another church. It is rather a question of how can we 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 understand how to habit it comfortably so that they can engage younger people. Younger generation appears 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 have to themselves 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 will like to offer is that while the author mentions that the Caribbean churches somehow failed to pass on the faith to their second generation and that African churches must learn from this. I would have 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 that 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.

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