Think of Christ in the African framework.

A ring-a-ring-a-roses,

A pocket full of posies.

A tissue, a tissue,

We all fall down.

This rhyme was a relic of London’s Great Plague of around the 1660s. In September 1665, George Viccars, a tailor in the village of Eyam, Derbyshire, received a bale of clothes from London to make clothes orders for Wake Weeks (a religious festival). But this consignment had disease-ridden fleas that infected him as he dried the clothes. He died of the plague. As the plague killed more villagers, Eyam’s newly appointed rector, William Mompesson, proposed to quarantine the village and prevent the plague from spreading to the nearby towns. This was a difficult ask. But with the help of his predecessor, Thomas Stanley, they persuaded his parishioners to cordon off Eyam, with no one allowed in or out. The Earl of Derbyshire and people from neighbouring villages sent them food and supplies until the plague stopped on 1st November 1666. The cordon had worked. But 260 villagers out of between 350 and 800 died. Yet Mompesson’s action and the courage of his parishioners saved thousands more.

    Centuries on, the people of Eyam still tell this story well, in this rhyme. The “ring a ring” was the hedge that cordoned their village. “Roses” were the symptoms, red spots on the infected people. The “pocket and posies” represented the masks worn to prevent the spread. And a tissue, a tissue related to the sneezing by the victims before falling dead. This rhyme tells of people who put themselves and their families in mortal danger, risking life and limb to save others, by locking themselves with the plague. We only see such extravagant love in Christ and in those Christ sends to his mission: “As the Father sent me, so send I you” (John 20:21).

      Today, the church in Africa demands theological contributions that will not only engage our local contexts but echo into the global church. We must walk in the example of the people of Eyam. Africa needs “a theology that addresses the setting in which it is produced” (Walls 1996, 9). This is our church, standing at a crossroads of aggressive religions and ideologies. It conducts its mission in a multi-faith context, failing governments, insecurities, and the devastating effects of climate change. For a long time, observed Mamdani (2017), the West developed theories that the world applied.[1] This applied to theology. We will remain mimics in theology until we rethink our aspirations. We must not just aim higher but aim differently and theorize and engage our realities.

       I concur with Bediako (2000) and Walls (2002, 222), that the theological enterprise of the 21st century is parallel in scope and extent to that of Christians in the Greek world in the third century and beyond.[2]  Because the African church makes up the theological frontiers of the coming centuries, our people crisscross the frontier between the empirical and the spiritual worlds daily. It is our calling, therefore, to think of Christ in the African cultural framework.

Theologizing our context is not about the political correctness of the post-modernist, affirming each local Christian discourse as valid. Neither is it about elevating context above Scripture. Rather, it is aspiring for the fullness of Christ’s stature that is achievable only when cultures come together in one body. Our theological activity is not a matter of indifference to the West but the health of the whole body to which we all belong.

       Mention Creation and Fall, Life Together, Letters and Papers from Prison, and Cost of Discipleship, and we immediately recognize them as innovative theological works by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We accept all these works that emerged from a specific European experience as contributions to Christianity. In the same way, what we produce as we allow Scripture to engage African experiences will belong to and benefit the worldwide church.

       Let us be encouraged to pursue Bible-based, Christ-centred, and Spirit-led theologies that take seriously our dynamic experiences. We can turn our challenges into erudite theologies and, by God’s grace, make our authentic African contribution to the global church.

        During my study, I drew helpful data and methods of disseminating knowledge from the African Orature; these can work for the church. In the danger of devouring locusts of 1918 and 1935, my Luo community turned locusts into protein. Their coping with changes is encapsulated in this children’s song done through orature, thus:


Wang’ni dede biro, wang’ni iyieke ka bel.

Wang’ni osodo biro, wang’ni iyieke ka bel.

Dede jo rundre, dede jo rundre a runda.

Dede jo rundre, dede jo rundre a runda.


When the dede (locusts) comes again,

We will sift them like millet.

When osodo (locust) comes again,

We will sift them like millet.

All: Locust will spin, locust will spin…locust will spin.


Canon Francis Omondi (Ph. D).

[1] Mahmood Mamdani, 8th Thabo Mbeki Lecture at UNISA, May 2017.

[2] Walls, Andrew F., 1996, The missionary movement in Christian history: Studies in the transmission of faith, Orbis Books, Maryknoll.