African Encounters by John R Pritchard
In this personal memoir John Pritchard, historian of the Methodist Missionary Society and its former General Secretary, recalls elements of a life in which Africa loomed large.
In his schooldays large parts of Africa were still coloured pink and the long process of decolonization had barely begun when he started university. After John graduated in theology, he offered, with his fiancée, Pat, for missionary service in West Africa, and in 1966 they were sent to Côte d’Ivoire, where John travelled around a scattered rural circuit of sixty churches, in a Renault 4 where possible and on foot if necessary. Within a year another ten churches had been planted.
After their first furlough, John and Pat returned to a new assignment in the Ivorian capital, Abidjan. The challenges in the fast growing port were quite different, with industry, commerce and population expanding exponentially. They lived in Abidjan until 1975; their children, Claire and Paul, grew up and began school there. At times John’s work took him further afield: west to Senegal, north to Mali, south to Zaire and Zambia.
Following eleven years as a circuit minister in England, John was appointed Africa Secretary of the Methodist Church Overseas Division. The post was London-based, but three or four times a year he visited partner Churches to meet, encourage and learn from African colleagues: addressing together the issues that confronted small Christian communities, fast-growing churches or the challenges of South Africa under apartheid.
Looking back over half a century, John’s memories resonate with the words of the Zulu song, ‘Thuma Mina’ – ‘Send me, Lord.’