Decolonial Subversions
Special Issue 2020

Development Meets Theology: Contextualising Non-Western Christian Missions in Africa, Asia and the Middle East

Eastern Diakonia in the South: Assessing the Development and Mission Work of the African Orthodox Church of Kenya


Universally, religious actors have been actively engaged in development. In Africa, and in particular Kenya, this has been the case since the time of the explorers, missionaries and colonial masters, and even after independence. The Orthodox Church, in particular, has been identified as an active provider of health, education, social welfare, poverty-related aid and policy recommendation, among other measures, sometimes offering these in places where government services are unavailable. However, most identify the church as being a religious institution rather than an agent of development, or even an obstacle to development. Since service to others is an internal mandate of the church ministry on earth, the church has been keen to offer this through its diakonia activities. Diakonia is understood as Christian-centred social service in the form of charity, development and philanthropy. The African Orthodox Church of Kenya (AOCK) has, since its formation in 1929, been contributing to the social, political and spiritual development of Kenya, but this has barely been highlighted, recognized or recorded. This paper seeks to unveil and map out for the first time what this Church has been doing in their diakonia work and the extent of their contribution to national development by: a) delineating how Orthodox theology and mission understand and guide such initiatives, b) highlighting how Northern Orthodox mission institutions are involved in the development work of the Global South, and c) identifying how development initiatives pair with diakonia.

Keywords: diaconia, diakonia, development, African Orthodox Church of Kenya, religion and development, church and development, development aid, mission, holistic mission

Mission 'from below' or 'from above'? Incarnation and indigenous agency at Orthodox missions in Russia's Volga-Kama region in the late 19th and early 20th centuries


The article discusses the theological and historical origins, and the grassroots impact of Orthodox missionary work inspired by N.I. Il`minskii among the Turkic and Finno-Ugric peoples of Russia's Volga-Kama region in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It attributes Il`minskii's motivation in using vernacular languages and indigenous personnel in schools and churches to an entangled mixture of influences from 'below' and 'above', including the incarnational theology of Feodor Bukharev and the Russian Orthodox Church's response to increasing adherence to Islam among the Volga-Kama peoples. It illustrates the impact of Il`minskii's ideas through a case study of how the teachers and graduates of the Simbirsk Chuvash Teachers' School engaged with Chuvash communities and the issues vital for them between the 1860s Great Reforms and the 1917 Revolution: preservation of their language and culture, development of the rural economy, and just repartition of the land. It argues that Il`minskii's native schools had a russifying effect, yet the creation of a vernacular written language, the emphasis on indigenous agency and the formation of a native intelligentsia, meant that Chuvash communities both resisted assimilation into Russian culture and experienced an awakening of national consciousness which led to aspirations to political and ecclesial autonomy in the early 20th century.

Keywords: Orthodox mission, N.I.Il`minskii, Chuvashia, incarnational theology, indigenization, russification

The Chinese Language Learning and New Testament Translation Projects Conducted by the Orthodox Missionaries in China


This paper provides information on exactly where and how Russian Orthodox missionaries in China were learning Chinese, and what the practical application of this knowledge was in their missionary activities. The focus of this paper lies in the history of the New Testament translation projects completed by two missionaries: Archimandrite Gury Karpov, who was the first Orthodox missionary to translate the New Testament into Chinese (1864); and Bishop Innocent Figurovsky, who provided his own New Testament translation (1910), which remains relatively unknown among modern sinologists. This paper also provides some brief information on the lives of these outstanding missionaries, and attempts to elucidate the background of the Chinese co-worker Long Yuan, who helped Archimandrite Gury Karpov to revise his New Testament translation. The topic of religious literature that was translated by the Orthodox missionaries in China is still relatively unexplored and is almost forgotten among Western scholars. This paper addresses this lacuna and aims at drawing attention to this field.

Keywords: Gury Karpov, Innocent Figurovsky, Orthodox Church in China, Chinese Bible translations, Chinese language learning