Indigenous Principles

With extraordinary conviction, commitment and vision, John Wesley Haley began missionary work in Burundi and Central Africa on behalf of the Free Methodist Church (1935 to 1946).   Soon joined by his wife, Esther Jane “Jennie” (Hamilton) Haley, and two of his daughters, Dorothy and Peace Haley, the Haley family began the work using an inspired approach.  From his missionary experience in South Africa and Mozambique,  John Wesley Haley had come to understand that the best way for the missionary work to be done was for the missionaries to look after themselves, treat the indigenous people as equals and train the indigenous people to be their own leaders, do their own outreach and development work and build their own schools and churches.

Bishop Gerald Bates has very eloquently described this cutting-edge approach in his book on the life and work of John Wesley Haley  (“a model which should be studied and emulated”).  The work and the approach were continued by Dorothy (Haley) McCready and Burton McCready (1939 to 1956), Peace (Haley) Berg and Oddvar Berg (1943 to 1958) and many other missionaries.  The value and legacy of this work and this approach are impressively apparent when one notes that within the first twenty years, Burundi became the largest Free Methodist Church Conference in the world.*   Now, the Free Methodist Church in Burundi has no missionaries and the Church sustains itself through its own indigenous leadership and support.  John Wesley Haley’s vision included other countries beyond Burundi.  Today much of the growth of the Free Methodist Church is in Africa, particularly Burundi, Congo and Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo with a membership of over 139,000 is largest Free Methodist Conference in the world.**

When the missionary John Wesley Haley moved from South Africa to start his work in Burundi, he did so by employing a cutting-edge approach that was different than what he had seen in South Africa.  It was his aim to build an “indigenous” church; a self-supporting, indigenous church.  An indigenous church would be developed be based on indigenous principles and, therefore, be:

  • Self-supporting
  • Self-propagating
  • Self-governing

Right from the beginning, John Wesley Haley explained that the missionaries would build their own houses but the schools and churches would be built by the “Barundi” people; the indigenous people.  John Wesley Haley had been reading about the work of John Livingstone Nevious (1829 – 1893) and Roland Allen (1868 – 1947).  These missionaries to China were among a few Protestant missionaries who contributed to the development of “indigenous church mission theory.”  There were two main strategies: indigenisation and indigenity.  Indigenization would have the missionaries build the church and some time later turn it over to the indigenous people; the church would become the indigenous church.  Indigenity would have the missionaries train the indigenous people to develop their own indigenous church; thus the church would be indigenous right from the start.  John Wesley Haley believed in indigenity.

It had been our purpose, in establishing this new mission, to clearly differentiate between the work of the mission and that of the church that was to be raised up.  It was hoped that, while the central stations with their activities should be supported by more or less by the mission and be conducted in co-operation with the young church, the outschools and other activities in the outlying districts should be the responsibility of the local congregations, directed by the mission.  From past experience it is clear that if this system was not inaugurated at the very beginning, it would be difficult, if not impossible to inaugurate it for decades to come (Haley, p. 48).

“As years go by the growth of the church in central Africa, at 150,000 members and growing (now at 300,000 members), serves to enhance the appreciation of the career and contribution of John Wesley Haley, pioneer of Free Methodist mission work in the heartland of Africa.  This is a story which must be told.  It is, furthermore, a model which should be studied and emulated (bolding added)” – taken from the Preface of Bishop Gerald Bates’ book on the life of John Wesley Haley (1993).

John Wesley Haley.  But Thy Right Hand.  Winona Lake: The Woman’s Missionary Society, 1949.

John Wesley Haley.  Life in Mozambique and South Africa.  Chicago: Free Methodist Publishing House, 1926.

Gerald E. Bates.  Soul Afire: The Life of J.W. Haley.  Indianapolis: Light and Life Press, 1981; revised ed., Indianapolis: Women’s Ministries International, 1993.

John McCready (Ed.). John Wesley Haley and Building the Indigenous Church: Reflections on Self-Determination in Twentieth Century Burundi. Toronto: Clements Publishing, 2015.

*In the description of Burundi, the Free Methodist World Missions’ website states the following: “In 1935, missionary J.W. Haley opened the work in Equatorial Africa at Muyebe, Burundi. Other missionaries soon joined the Haleys. Hundreds came to the Lord, so that within twenty years Burundi became Free Methodism’s largest conference.”

**The “Free”quently Asked Questions section of the Free Methodist Church website states: “Interestingly, in the past 30 years the Free Methodist church around the world has increased by 500%. That growth has largely been seen in Africa, especially in war torn countries, such as the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. For example, Rwandan church grew by 250% even during the years of widespread violence and tribal genocide. The Democratic Republic of Congo is the largest FM conference worldwide with 139,755 members — nearly two times the number of U.S. Free Methodists!”