The ‘Three Crosses’ of mission work: fifty years of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in Angola, 1880-1930

In 1930 the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) commemorated fifty years of mission work in central Angola with a celebration that sought to unite thousands of Umbundu Christians into a community. Rituals such as the singing of hymns, daily church services, and bold performances of religious music by the 540-voice Jubilee Choir aimed at reinforcing Christian identity. A historical pageant dubbed the ‘Three Crosses’ was created in order to present a missionary perspective of Angolan history, one that juxtaposed Christian societal improvement with indigenous scenes of death, violence, and ignorance. This paper provides an account of the pageant and argues that its programme also transmitted prominent subtexts associated with colonial discourse. Theories of social evolution and racism were widespread among early twentieth-century Americans, and ABCFM missionaries used this rhetoric to preach self-improvement through Christianization by disparaging indigenous Umbundu beliefs. Although providing Western education proved an effective tool for attracting converts and a lasting measure of the ABCFM’s influence in Angola, the legacy of the mission preserves these contradictions of colonial missionary work. Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum. [Journal abstract]

Title: The ‘Three Crosses’ of mission work: fifty years of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in Angola, 1880-1930
Author: Ball, Jeremy
Year: 2010
Periodical: Journal of Religion in Africa (ISSN 0022-4200)
Volume: 40
Issue: 3
Pages: 331-357
Language: English
Geographic term: Angola
External link: https://doi.org/10.1163/157006610X532202
Abstract: In 1930 the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) commemorated fifty years of mission work in central Angola with a celebration that sought to unite thousands of Umbundu Christians into a community. Rituals such as the singing of hymns, daily church services, and bold performances of religious music by the 540-voice Jubilee Choir aimed at reinforcing Christian identity. A historical pageant dubbed the ‘Three Crosses’ was created in order to present a missionary perspective of Angolan history, one that juxtaposed Christian societal improvement with indigenous scenes of death, violence, and ignorance. This paper provides an account of the pageant and argues that its programme also transmitted prominent subtexts associated with colonial discourse. Theories of social evolution and racism were widespread among early twentieth-century Americans, and ABCFM missionaries used this rhetoric to preach self-improvement through Christianization by disparaging indigenous Umbundu beliefs. Although providing Western education proved an effective tool for attracting converts and a lasting measure of the ABCFM’s influence in Angola, the legacy of the mission preserves these contradictions of colonial missionary work. Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum. [Journal abstract]