This is the second post in a 2-part interview of which I was recently a part. You can find the first part here.
What has God shown you while living in Africa?
I’m going to name two — a positive and a negative, if you will:
- God has shown me that my life is infinitely better when I set aside time each morning to pray and read my Bible. I’ve tried lots of times in my life to do so, but had never been consistent and disciplined with that practice until a little over a year before I left the states (when I started reading my Bible every day). And then when I arrived in Africa, I added a written prayer list to my daily routine. It’s really been a blessing that I wish I’d taken advantage of earlier in life. [Related is that I am now doing 3-column Bible studies, or some version of them, a couple of times a week. These studies stress understanding what I'm reading and being obedient to put it into practice -- I believe the Holy Spirit is using these studies to transform my life and mind. You can read here about how to do a 3-column Bible study.]
- This one may come across as pessimistic and depressing, but, living in Tanzania, God has shown me (and continues to show me) many abuses of religion and Christianity. Hierarchies and power-grabbing. Oppressing others in the name of Christ in order to get ahead. Blatant disobedience to God by those who call themselves Christians, and this sin either being excused as culture or simply ignored as if it’s not a problem. I’m not suggesting there are no actual Christians here, or that every church is corrupt — but I am saying that overall the church I see is not representative of the Christ I serve.
What is the biggest cultural difference between America and Africa (or with what cultural difference have you struggled the most)?
I’m not sure of the largest cultural difference between the continents, but I definitely struggle most with fatalism and defeatism and the like. It bothers me so much to see a people who are resigned to live poor and sad lives, unwilling to search for solutions to problems, unable to dream, and in which any optimism is the result of an expected handout. Not all of Africa is this way, but many seem to be — at least to some extent.
Not that I think Americans have the right answer: “I can do anything I set my mind to. It is within my power to achieve all things.” We even pull scripture out of context to back up our beliefs: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Paul says such in the context of being content in all times. I mean, we make it say almost the opposite of what he intended. ”I can accomplish running a marathon through Christ, who strengthens me,” rather than, “I can be content even if I lose the use of both of my legs in a horrible car accident.”
Tanzanians, I don’t believe, struggle so much with thinking they can accomplish it all on their own. I think they struggle more with believing there is no single power large enough (of themselves or elsewhere) to overcome death and sickness and evil spirits.* And everything that happens is due to some outside spiritual force. So either 1) I have no ability to change my life, find success, or think creatively, and should be resigned to suffer because that’s just the way it goes, or 2) I need to constantly be appeasing the spirits, maybe grabbing hold of a couple of different religious systems, so that I have more power against evil. [I'm over-generalizing, but you get my point.]
What have you learned about yourself from living in Africa?
I like to write. I knew before moving here that I kind of liked to write. But now I realize it’s one of my favorite ways both in which to relax and to think through issues. I think, for now, writing has taken the place of team sports in my life. I’m sure that sounds strange, and some of you are wondering how playing a sport could ever have been as relaxing as sitting and writing. But others are wondering how writing could ever offer the same challenges and rewards as playing sports. Anyway, for me, it just fits right now. There are a lot of hobbies I lost in moving to Africa, and I’m glad writing has stepped up to fill some of those voids.
What have you learned about congregational ministry while in Africa?
I’m not there yet. I’m studying the Bible with some folks, and I’ve visited some established churches, but I’m not currently ministering to, or in, any congregation. The one thing I can say that I’ve learned, I’m not sure I learned FROM africa — I think more the ideas merely developed more fully while IN africa — but it is this: The ministry of the church to the lost is different than the ministry of the church to the church.
* This struggle with power over evil is one reason I think presenting the gospel (only or even firstly) as Jesus dying for our sins is a mistake in this culture. The idea of sin and guilt is a concept that isn’t fully (or at all) present here. So we’re offering a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. We ought to start with the creator of the world, a power so great that he has already defeated evil once and for all — and we can live in him. Once it’s established that God meets the (already present) need for an all-powerful, yet loving, creator, those who are giving their lives to that God will come to realize that he has ideas concerning right and wrong, and it will become important to be obedient to him. Sin and guilt will be understood, and the fuller purpose of Jesus’ coming as well. But I think we make a big mistake when we start there.