It’s booming—the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Africa, that is. Church leaders on that continent are thrilled with the growth, but it also brings a concern—and a challenge—as to where all the members will meet for their Sabbath worship services.
The challenge of financing the construction of church buildings to keep up with rapid membership growth in Africa was addressed by an Adventist businessman who, in 1994, brought an idea to Global Mission, a church organization that focuses on reaching the areas of the world where there are no Adventist church members. A project was suggested to provide roofs for places of worship all across the continent. “Roofs for Africa” was born.
Explaining that roofs are the costliest of the building process, Pastor John Wilkens, “Roofs for Africa” project coordinator, says that in many cases construction is halted and the roof never put on. “Roofs for Africa” has become an opportunity for Adventists in Africa to finish construction of their church buildings. Under this project, church members buy the land on which to build a house of worship, make brick or gather stones to build the walls, gather timber from the forest, and put up the roof truss.
With the cost of roofing for churches and schools a major factor, this project has helped church members in Africa to feel that completing their buildings is within reach, “without waiting for someone to come and do it for them,” says Wilkens.
“Time and again they would tell me, ‘You motivated us. We did not know that we could do this.’ The beauty of this was that a small congregation of 30 to 40 members would build a church for four to five thousand people and within two years their church would be full,” Wilkens says.
“The church roofing project has brought a lot of joy to the ever-expanding church in Africa,” says Luka Daniel, president of the church in Western Africa. “Generally in Africa baptisms come in great numbers. We have [had] a problem of where to put them, [but] with this project, it has helped.”
Geoffrey Mbwana, president of the church in East Central Africa, calls the project “a great blessing. The growth rate of membership in Africa is very rapid, but church building has not kept pace.”
The project, which is still going headstrong, has “convicted our church members to get involved in church building,” Mbwana says. There is a motivational factor, a feeling of ownership, he says, when church members build the church they will worship in. “I believe church-building is not just a physical involvement—it’s spiritual. [When] people say, ‘Let’s build this temple for our worship to the Lord,’ to me it’s a worship act. The project has helped us worship the Lord,” says Mbwana.
“Roofs for Africa” has also helped church members come together, according to Mbwana. Members feel they own the building, and they maintain it. It gives them a sense of pride, he says.
With an investment of more than US$8 million, roofs have been provided for more than 8,650 Adventist churches and schools in 25 African countries. “Funds cannot come in fast enough to meet the requests,” Wilkens says. “On the island of Madagascar alone 100 new classrooms have been provided with a seating capacity of 50 each. That means 5,000 children can now go to school as a result of Roofs for Africa.”
Daniel reports that the country of Ghana alone has seen more than 1,000 churches and 100 schools completed.
There are more than 4.2 million Adventists worshipping in some 16,000 congregations throughout the African continent.