Christmas in Africa
Africa is made up of 53 countries*. About a third of Africa lies in the 10/40 window. The 10/40 window is the area of the world that contains the highest level of economic challenges and the largest number of non-Christians. The area extends vertically from 10 degrees to 40 degrees North of the equator, and horizontally from N. Africa across China. Of the six African nations to be featured in this blog, three lie in the 10/40 window: Ethiopia, Egypt and Nigeria. Ethiopia and Egypt are the only two African nations mentioned in the Bible, and have the oldest and most influential Christian history of all the African nations.
These countries also appear on the Open Doors World Watch List. Open Doors is an organization which serves persecuted Christians worldwide. They publish a list of the top 50 countries to watch and pray for each year.* This means that Christians in these areas suffer some level of persecution or restriction on their freedoms.
In Western Christmas tradition, Africa’s role in the story of Christ’s nativity involves the Magi. According to tradition, the Magi were three wise men from the East. The Bible never actually specifies the number of men that comprised this retinue, but over time people have come to believe it was three-- most likely because they brought three gifts. In popular Christmas songs they are even referred to as three kings—perhaps a reference to Psalm 72:10-11. (“The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring tribute to Him; the kings of Sheba and Seba will present Him gifts. All kings will bow down to Him and all nations will serve Him.”).
Legend holds that the three were Caspar (or Gaspar) from Tarsus, Melchior from Arabia and Balthazar from Ethiopia. In some stories Balthazar brought the gift of frankincense for the Christ child-- in others, myrrh. Since frankincense was known to come from SW Arabia and Abyssinia, it could have been conveyed by either Balthazar or Melchior. Because of the gifts of the Magi, gift giving has become popular in Western cultures, but often is not a part of-- or is a very small part of-- Christmas in African culture.
The modern re-introduction of Christianity to Africa is due in part to the pioneering efforts of the famous Scottish missionary, David Livingstone. His efforts to end slavery and to explore the interior of Africa, was instrumental in the eventual eradication of slavery on the continent.
Pray for the people of Africa, especially those in the 10/40 window. Pray for peace and reconciliation, pray against poverty caused by centuries of western imperialism. Pray that their hearts would be softened, their eyes would be opened and their lives would be changed by knowledge of the Holy One.
*The number varies between 53 and 56 depending on who you ask.