Luther alumnus leads global efforts to embrace multicultural expressions of faith and mission in a postcolonial world.
Growing up in Magomero, Malawi, Harvey Kwiyani ’12 Ph.D. was surrounded by spirited music and prayer alongside stories of British colonialism in his village.
Magomero housed Malawi’s first British mission station, and Kwiyani’s great-great-grandfather was one of the first two Malawians to study in Scotland, back in 1885.
As a teen, Kwiyani read missional biographies and contemplated knotty questions like: Did God only call wealthy nations to this inherently costly work of mission? What does congregational life look like when all nations bring their gifts to worship?
After four generations in the Presbyterian church, Kwiyani’s family joined a Pentecostal church. He left Africa to study and serve, primarily in the United States and Europe. Kwiyani honed his focus as part of the congregational mission and leadership (CML) concentration in the Ph.D. program at Luther Seminary.
Now, as the CEO of Global Connections in the United Kingdom, Kwiyani leads an international movement to embrace multicultural expressions of faith and to imagine mission in a postcolonial world. His work is an example of how Luther Seminary lifts up its graduates to lead faithful innovation around the world.
Through books, blogs, and podcasts, Kwiyani empowers non-Western Christians to bring their faith practices, music, and beliefs to the world. He also urges Western Christians to open themselves up to global perspectives.
“No community has everything it needs. God designed us that way, giving us a small portion of what we need and giving the rest to our neighbors, as stated in Ephesians 4:16: ‘the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies,’” Kwiyani said, adding that “the vitality of the body depends on the mutual exchange between its members.”
But our humanness gets in the way, he said.
“Many Western churches say they are inclusive, but diversity never comes, and Sunday morning remains the most segregated hour of the week,” Kwiyani said. “Westerners have a difficult time being hosted (by other cultures). It can be uncomfortable, but the story of Christianity is not one of comfort. To realize the fullness of the Holy Spirit, we must come together in spaces and communities that allow people to bring their authentic gifts and to celebrate expressions of faith that reach across our differences.”
Mosaics of faithful expression
Kwiyani works with migrant congregations that want to be multicultural. He teaches them how to draw people of all backgrounds to their churches, and then he supports them through the complex work of blending their faithful expressions. He also counsels Western pastors and congregational leaders who wish to welcome and embrace African immigrants in their cities and churches.
“God works in us through community, and that community is the church. As a human gathering, it will not be perfect, but there is no better place than in the house of God, with our global brothers and sisters, to enjoy the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,” said Kwiyani, who founded and pastored a congregation in St. Paul during his time at Luther Seminary. “My mission is to help ensure these spaces invite people to bring their authentic selves. If Africans stop being African at church, then what they bring doesn’t reflect who they are. Like we see in Acts 2, the Spirit speaks all our languages. This is how mission will happen in a postcolonial manner in the 21st century.”
Pat Keifert, professor emeritus and Olin S. and Amanda Fjelstad Reigstad Chair of Systematic Theology at Luther Seminary, said Kwiyani’s work—outlined in his doctoral thesis-turned-book, “Sent Forth: African Missionary Work in the West”—was a “breakthrough” that ignited conversations about the role of African missionaries as catalysts for change.
“His thesis went straight into publication, which doesn’t happen often,” said Keifert. “Harvey blended his lived truth with extensive research that supports a massive reconception of our usual patterns to create church with those like us. He demonstrates that truly multicultural congregations flourish.”
Keifert celebrated the book’s style and tone. “Harvey’s spirit moves through the book, and it’s beautiful. He has an entire chapter on ‘umunthu’ to explain most Africans’ embrace of communal engagement, not just with other humans but with all creation,” Keifert recalled. “His spiritual reality oozes through the pages. It showcases what we can gain through an embrace of new and different interpretations of faith”
The cultural philosophy of umunthu is a driving force in Kwiyani’s life and work. It translates to “I am what I am because of who we all are,” underscoring the importance of community.
“Umunthu is contrary to the more individualistic mindset of Western Christianity, which is not wrong, but, in my opinion, could benefit from the spirituality, communality, and generosity of this philosophy,” Kwiyani said.
To this conviction, Kwiyani often fields questions about Africa’s contributions to the global landscape of Christianity. He points to Nathaniel’s question in the first chapter of John, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
“Jesus Christ grew up in Nazareth, and nevertheless, went on to change history as the Son of God,” he added. “Further, if Jesus’ mission needed the help of the Roman Empire, he would have grown up in Rome. So, despite the overwhelming problems that seem never to give Africa a break, God’s work among Africans is a part of God’s comprehensive message to the continent and to the rest of the world.”
Sharing the Word of God
The church, Kwiyani said, should educate and invest in African Christians as missionaries.
“The decline of Christianity is a Western problem,” Kwiyani said. “African Christianity is exploding. Its unprecedented growth during the last quarter of the 20th century is one of the most exciting stories in the world right now.”
There is data to support Kwiyani’s assertion. Together, Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia are home to almost 70% of Christians in the world, according to the World Christian Database. By 2050, it is estimated that Africa alone will be home to more than 40% of Christians.
“And what is more exciting,” Kwiyani said, “is that Africans traveling to and living in other countries are eager to share the Word of God in new and engaging ways.”
Kwiyani offered an example from his work leading a master’s program about African Christianity at Church Mission Society in Oxford, England. One of his students, a Nigerian pastor, struggled to connect with the local community—so, Kwiyani told him to visit the town’s pub.
The student followed Kwiyani’s advice and was able to make several friends who still seek him out for faith-filled counsel. These community connections even helped the pastor obtain a church building after a local church closed.
“The pastor called to tell me this and to thank me for my lecture about mission in daily life,” Kwiyani said.
“The best part of the story,” Kwiyani laughed, “is that his wife initially told him he couldn’t go to the pub. ‘But my tutor told me to go,’ he responded. She asked for my number and called me: ‘Why are you telling my husband to go to the pub?’ Oh, was I in trouble. But after our talk, she finally let him go.”
A model of mixed ecology
To encourage pastors and congregations to share these stories and resources, Kwiyani established Missio Africanus in 2014. This learning community strives to release the missional potential of African and other non-Western Christians living in Britain.
Kwiyani’s work falls within the larger movement of mixed ecology, a term used to describe how traditional parishes co-exist with fresh expressions of faith, church plants, and pioneer ministries. Luther Seminary continues to explore and promote fresh expressions, often shared through the seminary’s “Pivot” podcast and Faith+Lead initiative.
Another CML graduate, Dwight Zscheile ’08 Ph.D., leads Luther Seminary’s efforts to reimagine church. As vice president of innovation, Zscheile said his team guides congregations in lending traditional church with innovative expressions of faith developed to reach the 60% of Americans absent from worship services (many of whom say they believe in God, according to a 2020 Gallup Poll).
“Diverse ecosystems thrive when different kinds of organisms share life and energy together in a particular place,” said Zscheile, also a professor of congregational mission and leadership at the seminary. “Rather than assume a one-size-fits-all approach for what Christian community should look like, we emphasize a variety of different forms that meet people where they are.”
Keifert said he is beyond proud of Zscheile, Kwiyani, and their peers. Each of the CML graduates, he said, have emerged as unique and valuable voices in the future of the church: “It’s quite amazing that a little program at Luther Seminary in Minnesota has produced such influential leaders in a range of denominations, across the globe. It’s hopeful and inspiring.”
Graduates include Imliwabang Jamir ’13 Ph.D., an assistant professor of systematic theology at Oriental Theological Seminary in Nagaland, India. After eight years at Luther Seminary, Jamir returned to his home country with an entire library of children’s books to create the Nagaland Children’s Library. The doctoral student partnered with two churches in Minnesota to fund the only library in the region.
Jannie Swart ’10 Ph.D. belonged to South Africa’s Dutch Reformed Church, which for many years was known as the “church of apartheid” for justifying legal racial segregation. Swart went on to lead one of South Africa’s largest churches in transforming from a homogeneous congregation into a multilingual, multicultural ministry.
Mark Love ’14 Ph.D. serves as director of the master’s in missional leadership and professor of theology and ministry at Rochester University.
Scott Hagley ’10 Ph.D. is the W. Don McClure Associate Professor of World Missions and Evangelism at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He said the conversations he had with Kwiyani and others at Luther continue to shape his work and thinking.
“As an ecumenical learning community, we learned as much from one another as from our classes and research,” Hagley said. “I’m grateful for the hours of conversation with Harvey and my other colleagues during that time. As a minister and in his research agenda, Harvey represents an important shift in world Christianity. His church planting activities in Germany, the U.K., and the U.S. bridge non-Western forms of Christian expression with increasingly secular Western contexts.”
Craig Van Gelder, professor emeritus at Luther Seminary, said Kwiyani’s work and that of his peers reflects the CML concentration’s emphasis on cultural context: “The gospel is always conveyed in and through cultural and contextual realities. Understanding congregations in relation to the everchanging dynamics of contextualization is, then, a necessity.”
Van Gelder added that Kwiyani’s work, in particular, reflects a commitment to the mission of God. Instead of the church having a mission in the world, God’s mission has a church that is missionary by nature, he said.
“This focus on God’s mission helps us understand our inherent interrelatedness to other Christians, churches, and mission organizations, where we seek to function in relational mutuality,” he explained.
The idea is that church must open up spaces for theological and missiological cross-pollination. This may decenter but will not dismiss Western missiology as it pushes to engage with voices from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Kwiyani references Scripture and stories that testify to the limits of homogeneous church communities. God’s Word, Kwiyani added, was meant to be shared and received in multicultural settings.
“We are all foreigners—immigrants, sojourners, and strangers—on a common mission in Christ,” Kwiyani wrote in “Sent Forth.”
Kwiyani explores these ideas and other probing thoughts about mission on his podcast. Every week, he shares one thought he “can’t shake,” two helpful resources, and three quotes about mission. His latest book, “Multicultural Kingdom: Ethnic Diversity, Mission and the Church” dives into multicultural missiology for the U.K. church. Among his other popular titles, Kwiyani authored “Our Children Need Roots and Wings: Equipping and Empowering Young Diaspora Africans for Life and Mission.”
“I find my inspiration in prayer and in stories of men and women who have followed Christ to foreign lands to make disciples for Christ,” Kwiyani wrote in “Sent Forth.” “I am always optimistic about what God can do with the little gifts we place in God’s hands.”
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Harvey Kwiyani receives his Ph.D. from Luther Seminary in 2012 (courtesy photo)
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