By Austin Kaluba -
It should be noted that Europeans did not bring religion to Africa since what they brought was Christianity, a more focused faith than animistic beliefs that defined worship in this part of the world.
However, through British colonisation, societies like our were fortunate to be exposed to a dynamic and true religion like Christianity.
Note that the acceptance of Christianity in its genesis in Africa had to do with its emphasis on some virtues that were typically African.
These include sharing, love for one’s neighbour, respect for authority and promise of everlasting life, the latter that replaced the African belief of reuniting with ancestral spirits.
Note that the nineteenth century was defined by ecclesiastical activity with Africa being a primary targets since Victorian beliefs had calcified regarding the continent as being populated by pagans who needed speedy conversion to the Christian faith.
In southern Africa, the British made the Cape a British colony in 1795. This British conquest and the rise of interest in foreign missions led British missionaries to come to southern Africa around 1820.
From bases in southern and eastern Africa, missionaries began reaching further inland and eventually reached the area that is today Zambia in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
David Livingstone began his missionary career working at a mission station among the Tswanas in modern day Bostwana. He was determined to reach further north, however, and in 1853 Livingstone crossed the Zambezi to explore what today is Zambia.
Over the next twenty years Livingstone traveled back and forth across Zambia many times. Although Livingstone had little success in winning Africans to Christ, accounts of his travels excited many in Europe concerning the need to stop the slave trade and bring Christianity to the peoples of Africa. Livingstone died in Zambia in 1873.
After Livingstone, the first missionary to settle and live in what is now Zambia was Frederick Stanley Arnot, a young Plymouth Brethren missionary who reached Lealui to work among the Lozis in December 1882.
He left the area in 1884, having made no converts. Eventually Arnot settled in the Democratic Republic of Congo, just north of Zambia.
From there the Plymouth Brethren spread into Zambia, starting stations at Johnson Falls in 1901, Kalene Hill in 1906, and Kaleba in 1909.
The next resident missionary to Zambia was Francois Coillard of the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society. He and his wife had previously worked for twenty years among the Sotho peoples in South Africa.
After meeting with Lewanika, , Coillard returned to set up a mission station among them in early 1887, the first lasting missionary work in Zambia.
Also in 1887, the London Missionary Society started a mission at Fwambo on the southern end of Lake Tanganyika among the Mambwe people. From this base they spread out into the northeastern of Zambia.
The Primitive Methodists sent a group of missionaries to reach the Ila people. The Methodists arrived at Kazungula in September 1890.
Lewanka kept them waiting there for three years until he finally permitted them to enter and settle near N’goma. The Methodists set up a second station at Nkala River in 1893.
The White Fathers, a Roman Catholic mission group, were working on the northern shores of Lake Tanganyika. They established a work among the Bemba in 1898.
The Jesuits successfully started a work at Chikuni in 1905 after two failed attempts to start missionary work among the Barotse in 1881 and 1883.
The United Free Church of Scotland began their work in Malawi and from that base opened four stations in Zambia. The first was at Mwenzo in 1895, followed by Lubwa, Serenje, and Chitambo.
The Dutch Reformed Church opened a station at Magwero in 1899, at Madzimoyo in 1903, and at Nayanje and Chipata (Fort Jameson) in 1908.
South African Baptists started a mission in Luangwa in 1905 and at Kafulafuta in 1910.
The Anglicans entered Zambia in 1910. Bishop Hine travelled the country and chose four sites for mission stations, in addition to city churches started to reach white settlers.
The Seventh Day Adventists planted their first mission at Rusanga in 1905 followed by one at Musofa east of Ndola in 1917.
Though evangelisation succeeded in latter years, early missionary efforts was met with very little success since only few tribes were keen to embrace the new faith.
The numerous languages of Zambia proved a barrier as missionaries had to spend years studying local language before they could communicate effectively with local people.
Many missionaries devoted themselves to the work of translating portions of the Bible into the local languages. The cultural differences between the western missionaries and the peoples of Zambia also proved to be a major barrier.
Very few missionaries were as open to African ways of doing things as David Livingstone had been.
Most missionaries adopted the approach of educating the youth in schools with the hope that by so doing the next generation would be influenced to accept Christianity.
In 1924, at a meeting of the Missionary Conference of Northern Rhodesia, it was estimated that only about 18,000 Zambians were baptised church members of the fourteen Protestant missions.
In addition the Roman Catholics had 45,000 baptised members. This means that after forty years of effort, about 4% of the estimated 1.5 million Zambians had become fully identified with any Christian group.
But in addition, there were another 90,000 who were loosely affiliated with the various mission stations and out-stations, many of whom were attending mission schools.
During the last forty years, the influence of Christianity in Zambia has continued to expand especially among Pentecostals who are relatively new arrivals birthed in the early 80s.
It is usually estimated that today somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4 of Zambian would consider themselves to be Christians.