Did you know that Christianity is still the fastest growing religion in the world? It is. However, Christianity today finds its growth in the areas of Asia, South America, and the continent of Africa, not in the Western cultures. Sadly, we know little of the people who influenced the growth of Christianity in these areas. Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom hope to introduce you to some of these people.

Clouds of Witnesses: Christian Voices from Africa and Asia is a new book from Intervarsity Press. In the book, the authors look at seventeen inspiring people hoping to introduce the pivotal Christian leaders in Africa and Asia who had tenacious faith in the midst of deprivation, suffering and conflict. Spanning a century, from the 1880s to the 1980s, their stories demonstrate the vitality of the Christian faith in a diversity of contexts. It is also a companion to Mark Noll’s award-winning book The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith.

In the book, the authors tell the stories of:

Southern Africa
1 Bernard Mizeki (c. 1861–1896): The First Anglican African Martyr
2 John Chilembwe (c. 1870–1915): Holistic Christian and Accidental Rebel
3 Albert Luthuli (1898–1967): Gentleman of Justice

West Africa
4 William Wad© Harris (c. 1865 –c. 1929): Passionate Prophet
5 Byang Kato (1936–1975): Theological Visionary

East Africa
6. Simeon Nsibambi (1897–1978): Revival Anchor
7 Janani Luwum (1922–1977): Martyr of “the Second Century”

India
8 Pandita Ramabai (1858–1922): Christian, Hindu, Reformer
9 V. S. Azariah (1874–1945): Bishop, Statesman, Pastor
10 Sundar Singh (1889–1929?): Mysterious Mystic

Korea
11 Sun Chu Kil (1869–1935): Pastor and Founding Father

China
12 Dora Yu (1873–1931): Catalyst for an Enduring Chinese Faith
13 Mary Stone /Shi Meiyu (1873–1954): Agent of Change
14 John Sung /Song Shangjie (1901–1944): Firestorm Evangelist
15 Yao-Tsung Wu /Wu Yaozong (1893–1979): Communist and Christian
16 Wang Mingdao (1900–1991): Imprisoned by Choice
17 Ignatius Cardinal Kung/Kung Pin-Mei (1901–2000): A Catholic Valiant for Truth

Each chapter presents the biography of each of the seventeen highlighted Christians. The stories of their journey toward Christ are explored, as well as who was influential in their embracing Jesus, and even who they themselves influenced. For instance, Dora Yu influenced Nee Shu-Tsu, a seventeen year of boy. Nee Shu-Tsu would be later known as Watchman Nee and Dora Yu was his spiritual mother. In addition, the end of each chapter describes the legacy of each of the “witnesses”.

As I read the stories, I was fascinated by the influence each of the witnesses had on culture as a whole, and how culture – the times in which they lived – shaped their own faith. For instance, Yao-Tsung Wu was a strong Christian who came to faith early in life and even studied theology in the United States.

But Wu’s own view of Western Christianity was tainted by the missionary movement during the Opium Wars of 1849-1843 and again in the 1850’s. These wars left China defeated and exploited by the West. With opium from the West came missionaries, most of whom were people of great faith and pure motives. Yet for many Chinese, the missionaries were tainted by the opium trade, opium addiction and the loss of Chinese sovereignty which produced a bitterness toward the West and missionaries as well.

Wu developed the equivalent of China’s social gospel, exploring it first during his time in the United States, and then making it more Chinese upon his return. He first began writing on the subject in 1937.

A combination of the Confucian heritage, the orderly nature of Communism, and seeing that Communism could be the avenue to bring about the social expression of the Gospel led Wu to join with Mao’s communist party.

Noll and Nystrom share with incredible detail the spiritual journey of Wu as well the impact his thinking had on Christianity in China. But they do that for each of the seventeen witnesses.

This book is a fascinating read. It will introduce you to people whose legacy influenced the foundation and growth of Christianity in Christianity’s fastest growing areas. You will find yourself riveted to their stories and begin to understand how Christianity is indigenized in Asia and Africa. It is both a good read and an easy read.

This book was provided by Intervarsity Press for review.

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