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Conversion in Context Anthropological and Missiological Aspects from African Studies Tomas Sundnes Drønen School of Mission and Theology.

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Conversion in Context

Anthropological and Missiological Aspects from African Studies

Tomas Sundnes Drønen

School of Mission and Theology


One might ask: But when they become Christians, what is the nature of their conversion? What do they turn away from? Here we have to be careful. If one thinks thoroughly through this question, one will conclude that their conversion is more radical than it is for us in an old Christian country. We have hundreds of years of Christian life and Christian culture behind us. … Compare this with the thick, dark wall of heathendom that has existed for thousands of years. Like a labyrinth is his life. Spiritual forces, most of them evil, surround him. When he wakes or sleeps, cultivates, builds, he is constantly surrounded by spirits that he has to consider, if not he will be harmed. Immorality, quarrels, fighting and untruthfulness is he fed with from infancy. But love, helpfulness, empathy and compassion are unknown words. We easily forget that when we received the faith, we could take the whole Bible into our hands and through it receive knowledge about the road to salvation and the Christian life. How many Africans can do the same?

(Johannes Thrana, Norsk Misjonstidende No. 6, 1941, p. 5.)


Fl ttum had a truck
Fløttum had a truck… nature of their conversion? What do they turn away from? Here we have to be careful. If one thinks thoroughly through this question, one will conclude that their conversion is more radical than it is for us in an old Christian country. We have hundreds of years of Christian life and Christian culture behind us. … Compare this with the thick, dark wall of heathendom that has existed for thousands of years. Like a labyrinth is his life. Spiritual forces, most of them evil, surround him. When he wakes or sleeps, cultivates, builds, he is constantly surrounded by spirits that he has to consider, if not he will be harmed. Immorality, quarrels, fighting and untruthfulness is he fed with from infancy. But love, helpfulness, empathy and compassion are unknown words. We easily forget that when we received the faith, we could take the whole Bible into our hands and through it receive knowledge about the road to salvation and the Christian life. How many Africans can do the same?


Well… the attitude of the missionaries was different from the governmental authorities. Earlier the authorities made the Dii suffer a lot. Is that not so? They even had to transport the sorghum from here to Ngaoundéré by foot. Well, once our white man arrived, what did he do? He took all the sorghum. Mister Fløttum took the truck and he transported people’s sorghum, which they transported on their heads to the mountain… in his truck, and delivered it to the authorities. It was after that that they stopped doing things. It is because the missionaries bore testimony of charity. (…) They came with tenderness and not brutality like the others.


I was Muslim as my father, and we used to pray together until the arrival of the word of God. Everybody went to listen. Since I did not want to be isolated I decided to go and listen myself. I went there all the time with my friends. Later, I asked to be enrolled, and the catechist accepted me and taught us the word of God. And my father told me, ‘My son, since you have become a Christian you have to leave this house,’ and I went to live with the catechist. (…) I discovered that my life, it was a new life. Because, if I had stayed Muslim I would not have learned anything, I would have prayed without understanding anything since everything was in Arab. When I became a Christian, I learned to read the Bible in French and in Mbum, and that is what I followed.


[Initially] the Dii would not [send their children to school]. But when they understood the importance of the French school a lot of families decided to send their children anyway. (…) When the sous-préfet or some authority or… wrote a letter to a village chief, he could go to the catechist in the next village. Then the chief had to pay the other chief in order to borrow his catechist to read him the letter. And this created a rivalry, a competition. If he saw that everyone asked for a catechist, in order not to have to pay a lot for the lecture of his letter, it was this competition between the chiefs. ‘No, no, no it’s my catechist, he is not yours… he’s mine.’ You had to pay a chicken, sorghum or money in order to borrow a catechist to read a letter.


Mobility + [Refugee + Return + Migration] + Tradition school]. But when they understood the importance of the French school a lot of families decided to send their children anyway. (…) When the sous-préfet or some authority or… wrote a letter to a village chief, he could go to the catechist in the next village. Then the chief had to pay the other chief in order to borrow his catechist to read him the letter. And this created a rivalry, a competition. If he saw that everyone asked for a catechist, in order not to have to pay a lot for the lecture of his letter, it was this competition between the chiefs. ‘No, no, no it’s my catechist, he is not yours… he’s mine.’ You had to pay a chicken, sorghum or money in order to borrow a catechist to read a letter.

Mo [R¹ + R² + M] + Tr [Rx + Sl] + Mc + Mp

---------------------------------------------------------- = EA

+/- Col

[Kings + Slavery] + Mission (C/P) / Colonialism =

Ecclesia Africana


Dii conversion
Dii Conversion school]. But when they understood the importance of the French school a lot of families decided to send their children anyway. (…) When the sous-préfet or some authority or… wrote a letter to a village chief, he could go to the catechist in the next village. Then the chief had to pay the other chief in order to borrow his catechist to read him the letter. And this created a rivalry, a competition. If he saw that everyone asked for a catechist, in order not to have to pay a lot for the lecture of his letter, it was this competition between the chiefs. ‘No, no, no it’s my catechist, he is not yours… he’s mine.’ You had to pay a chicken, sorghum or money in order to borrow a catechist to read a letter.

  • Crisis – new answers to old questions

  • Attitude – «the missionaries came with tenderness»

  • Translatability - literacy, religion, and politics

  • Context


Lessons learned
Lessons learned? school]. But when they understood the importance of the French school a lot of families decided to send their children anyway. (…) When the sous-préfet or some authority or… wrote a letter to a village chief, he could go to the catechist in the next village. Then the chief had to pay the other chief in order to borrow his catechist to read him the letter. And this created a rivalry, a competition. If he saw that everyone asked for a catechist, in order not to have to pay a lot for the lecture of his letter, it was this competition between the chiefs. ‘No, no, no it’s my catechist, he is not yours… he’s mine.’ You had to pay a chicken, sorghum or money in order to borrow a catechist to read a letter.

  • Conversion in context

    • Push and Pull: Colonialism vs Globalization

  • Fløttum had a truck…

    • The creation of a modern myth

  • The Unpredictable Agency

    • Gospel, Literacy and Political Independence


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