The Global Church Online: the Dictionary of African Christian Biography Print
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 01 January 2008 06:54
I came across a marvelous new resource yesterday:

The Dictionary of African Christian Biography. Amazing stuff. It is the on-going work of 105 seminaries, universities, and research centers in 20 African nations and is available online. Most of the entries are in English, some in French. This is the only resource of its kind online.

You can search among 3,100 alphabetical biographies by time period, communion/denomination, (Catholic, Orthodox, various Protestant missionary groups) and country. (You can also search via a linked map of the continent.)

The Dictionary also has a wonderful map of ancient Africa divided up by dioceses/area which are linked to 378 biographies of men and women and a list of non-Africans who contributed to the growth of African Christianity.

There is also a fabulous online bibliography.

The project director is realistic and good humored about what has been achieved so far.

"Among the several ongoing challenges facing the dictionary, an obvious one is the unevenness of country, language, and denominational content. It is readily evident that while the numbers of stories in English are relatively plentiful, with French-language entries lagging far behind, the languages representing the other three lingua franca of Africa are not represented at all. This is due to neither oversight nor neglect, but to the linguistic limitations of the principals involved and to the fact that the dictionary reflects only those stories that have been submitted. . . We are currently seeking funding in order to begin the translation of the database into Swahili, Portuguese, and Arabic.

Added to this is the somewhat patchy quality of the stories. Anyone browsing the DACB will at once be struck by the unevenness of both the quality and consistency of the nearly one thousand biographies that currently make up the database. Some of the stories are a mere one or two sentences in length, while others run to several thousand words. While scholarly exactitude mark some of the entries, a large number have been contributed by persons who are neither scholars nor historians. The stories are non-proprietary, belonging to the people of Africa as a whole. Since this is a first generation tool, and on the assumption that some memory is better than total amnesia, the checkered quality of the entries has been tolerated and even welcomed. This being a first-generation attempt to ensure that there is some kind of memory to which scholars and leaders of subsequent generations will have access, it will be left for another generation to redress the weaknesses and deficiencies inherent in the present dictionary."

And this charming note, which made me laugh because I knew his situation oh so well:

Despite the DACB's laughably meager financial resources and minimalist administrative infrastructure, those of us most immediately involved are encouraged and delighted by its growing recognition as a unique and impressively useful source of information on the church in Africa.

Hurrah for faithful persistence in the midst of the laughably meager and minimalist! It ain't great but it's better than nothing and, under the Mercy, the beginning of something larger and far better.

What is even more exciting is that this effort is spawning similar efforts in other parts of the world.

Such as the Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity. which is in English and Chinese.

In a world where 70% of Christians and the majority of Catholics live outside the industrialized west, it is time that we become more familiar with the remarkable men and women - our brothers and sisters in Christ - whom God used to make that a reality.