A century ago, amid the blood and chaos of the First World War, a period of stunning Christian growth began, especially in Africa. This year, many Afri­cans will commemorate the centennial of a man who perfectly symbolizes that transformation: John Chilembwe.

Notoriously, 1915 marked the beginning of the great massacres and expulsions of ancient Christian communities in the Ottoman realms of the Middle East. Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks all suffered, and Christians were purged from some of the most ancient centers of the faith. But while one Christian heart­land was perishing, another was being born.

The vast expansion of Chris­tianity in black Africa is partly due to the withdrawal of European missions. The war itself had a massive and catastrophic impact on Afri­can societies as Euro­pean empires pursued bloody campaigns across vast swathes of the continent, disrupting traditional societies. The war made possible the apocalyptic influenza epidemic of 1918, which killed millions of Africans.