Can religion ease AIDS, poverty in Africa?

From increasing efforts of megachurches to the longtime support of other organizations, U.S. religious groups are sponsoring sustained efforts to promote peace and tackle poverty and HIV/AIDS.

Decades before Bono became an advocate for Africa, religious organizations were building hospitals and schools while they tried to win converts. The rise of megachurches and independent churches has led to an increase in the number of U.S. religious groups doing work in Africa.

Many U.S. church groups work in partnership with African organizations and churches. Rosalind I.J. Hackett, religious studies professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, notes that in the post-colonial, post-independence phase, African churches are independent with indigenous leadership. Americans are usually well received, she said, if they don’t try to dominate, though some African religious leaders reject dependency.

Dana Robert, director of the Center for Global Christianity and Mission at Boston University, warns American missionaries against assuming that small grassroots efforts can solve Africa’s problems. There is no substitute, she says, for the kind of systematic reform needed to clean up corruption, eliminate poverty and protect human rights. The most effective relations are sustained partnerships between Western groups and their African counterparts.


Why it matters

As world leaders focus their attention on Africa, it’s important to look at the historic contribution of religious organizations and the growing influence of megachurches and independent churches that are looking beyond evangelization to tackle social problems, such as hunger and HIV/AIDS.

Questions for reporters

• What Christian and non-Christian religious organizations have been most influential in Africa?
• In the early days, did they focus on evangelism, social services or both?
• Describe the missions of religious groups today.
• What projects are they funding? What social issues are they addressing?
• Are they working with African religious organizations?
• Are they less focused on winning converts?
• What groups have been most successful?
• What kind of contribution are megachurches making?
• How influential are independent churches?
• How do Africans receive these U.S. religious groups?
• How do Muslim countries in particular receive non-Muslim groups?
• When has war or political instability forced missionaries to leave Africa?


  • The World Bank has a web page that links to measures of poverty in Africa.
  • The Global Policy Forum’s web page on poverty and development in Africa includes links to recent news articles.
  • HIVInSite has a page devoted to AIDS in Africa, including statistics and links to reports.
  • For information on Africa from a Catholic perspective, see an entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia.
  • See a list of collections on Christianity in Africa in the Billy Graham Center archive.
  • Read a history of the church in sub-Saharan Africa from The New Evangelization.


National sources

  • Dana Robert

    • Dana Robert is professor of world Christianity and history of mission and director of the Center for Global Christianity and Mission at Boston University School of Theology. She is the editor of African Christian Outreach, Vol. 2: Mission Churches (Southern African Missiological Society, 2003) and co-editor of Frontiers of African Christianity (Unisa Press, 2003).

  • Frank Salamone

    Frank Salamone, emeritus professor at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., has written about African religions and the Krishna Consciousness Movement in Nigeria.

  • Rosalind I.J. Hackett

    Rosalind I.J. Hackett is a religious studies professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She has written about gender and religion in Africa, radical Christian revivalism in Nigeria and Ghana and the gospel of prosperity in West Africa.

  • Linda E. Thomas

    Linda E. Thomas, professor of theology and anthropology at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, has written about survival and resistance in an African indigenous church and about ritual process and spiritual resilience in South Africa.

  • Tom Lansford

    Tom Lansford, academic dean at the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast in Long Beach, has written about religion in West Africa.

  • One Campaign

    The One Campaign, launched in May 2005 with the help of Bono, is urging that 1 percent of America’s budget be spent reducing AIDS and extreme poverty in other countries. The campaign is supported by a variety of religious groups. Contact  Ari Goldberg.

  • Live 8: The Long Walk to Justice

    Live 8: The Long Walk to Justice coordinated concerts worldwide on July 2, 2005, to draw attention to the need to increase aid to Africa and to urge G8 leaders to help. Contact Katy Cronin, media manager.

  • Stephen C. Smith

    Stephen C. Smith is professor of economics and international affairs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and author of Ending Global Poverty: A Guide to What Works (Palgrave MacMillan, 2005). The book discusses the role of faith-based organizations.


  • Kristen Archer

    Kristen Archer is acting manager of media relations at Bread for the World in Washington, D.C., a Christian advocacy organization that lobbies to increase funding for more and smarter aid to Africa.

  • Jonathan Bonk

    The Rev. Jonathan Bonk is executive director of Overseas Ministries Study Center in New Haven, Conn., a renewal center for missionaries of all Christian denominations. He is the project director of the Dictionary of African Christian Biography and editor of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research.

  • Sojourners

    Sojourners magazine is a progressive evangelical magazine in Washington, D.C. Its commitment is to faith in action for social justice. Jim Wallis is CEO and editor in chief of Sojourners.


  • Kim Pozniak

    Kim Pozniak is communications officer for Sub-Saharan Africa at Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore. Catholic Relief does emergency response, such as shelter and famine relief, and long-term projects in education, agriculture and HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention in more than 30 African countries.

  • Dermot S. Roache

    The Rev. Dermot S. Roache is director of the Society of African Missions House of Studies in Dedham, Mass. The American province of the missionary group, based in Tenafly, N.J., has priests tending to the spiritual and social needs of Africans in 16 countries, including Liberia, Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania.


  • Saddleback Church

    • Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., has an HIV/AIDS initiative to bring churches together to help stop the spread of HIV and AIDS globally. Contact initiative founder Kay Warren.

  • The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention

    The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in Richmond, Va., sends missionaries “sharing the good news of Jesus Christ” in Africa.

    Contact: 800-999-3113.
  • Richard Cizik

    The Rev. Richard Cizik is president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. He seeks to bring evangelical Christians, researchers and policymakers together to work on issues such as climate change, economic justice and national security.

  • Amy Parodi

    Amy Parodi is deputy director of media relations for World Vision, based in Federal Way, Wash. The Christian relief and development organization’s activities include building health clinics, sponsoring peace-building initiatives and addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa.

  • Scott Bessenecker

    Scott Bessenecker is associate director of missions for Global Projects at Intervarsity Christian Fellowship in Madison, Wis. As a member of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, the organization sends teams of students to work with African churches in Kenya, Uganda and Ghana on short-term projects. Contact  him via the website.

    Contact: 608-274-9001.
  • Clyde Lanier

    The Rev. Clyde Lanier is senior pastor of Westwood Missionary Baptist Church in Winter Haven, Fla. The church’s missionaries have helped spawn 200 churches in Kenya, and they continue to evangelize there.

  • Rick Hemphill

    Rick Hemphill is spokesman for the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Colorado Springs, Colo. Since 1884, the alliance has been evangelizing, starting churches, educating Christian church leaders and offering medical care in Africa.


  • Michael McClaflin

    The Rev. Michael McClaflin is Africa director for the Assemblies of God, headquartered in Springfield, Mo. Through partnerships with local churches, the Assemblies of God evangelizes, starts churches, trains pastors, assists displaced refugees, runs mobile clinics and baby shelters, digs wells and works on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.

  • Bishop Joseph Campbell

    Bishop Joseph Campbell is with the Church of Christ (Holiness) USA in Jackson, Miss. The church has sent missionaries to Africa.

  • International Church of the Foursquare Gospel

    The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel in Los Angeles builds churches and has trained local people to carry on the work in east, west and south Africa.

    Contact: 213-989-4234.
  • Church of God of Prophecy

    The Church of God of Prophecy in Cleveland, Tenn., has a global outreach program that works in Africa.

Mainline Protestant



    • American Jewish World Service

      American Jewish World Service “works to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world.” AJWS founded the Save Darfur Coalition, an alliance of more than 170 faith-based, advocacy and humanitarian organizations.

      American Jewish World Service has programs in 13 African countries and focuses on education, health care, HIV/AIDS and female empowerment. Contact Suzanne Offen, 212-792-2889,


    • Islamic Relief Worldwide

      Islamic Relief Worldwide based in Birmingham, U.K., provided aid to Darfur. Its U.S. branch is based in Buena Vista, Calif.

      Islamic Relief also runs relief, education and development projects throughout Africa. Contact


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