i have never been to africa. i was invited to go recently but had already accepted an invitation to be in croatia. two friends/colleagues paul and chris went and had a great time. i'll say more about that another time. but i have an africa blog category and will post probably an occasional series to it.
If you really want to understand the future of Christianity, go and see what is happening in Asia, Africa, Latin America. It's the periphery—but that's where the action is.
this is a quote from bishop zac niringiye in a wonderful interview in christianity today last july. everyone should read this interview. until a few years ago zac was director of cms in africa. i didn't get to know him that well sadly. but he seems in especially good form now, somehow freed up to speak out in a way i never saw in cms. my experiences in india and croatia and other parts of the world have highlighted for me the problems of the legacy of foreign mission and of what i have come to term the colonised imagination. and this needs a whole lot of unravelling. africa struggles with the same issues.
the tension i guess i feel and i tried to express about foreign mission in my reflection on croatia is that all these contexts simply have to grow authentic indigenous expressions of church and leadership. that is what excited and encouraged me in croatia. foreign and outside influence even where well intentioned is often shrouded with agendas and cultural insensitivites and complicated by money. so it's tempting to think that outsiders should keep out and stop interfering. but the flip side of this is that we learn so much by engaging with people who are different to us. we only know who jesus is we engage with christ's many faces, expressions of his body and theological takes around the world. and there's a human desire and god given challenge to share resources with fellow brothers and sisters who are poor or in need. so whilst i think there needs to be less foreign interference and influence i am convinced of the need for global friendships and interchange.
zac has some great pointers for westerners on this tension. his article is addressed to americans but is equally valid for most western contexts.
first up he suggests a switch from what he calls go and make mission to come and see. rather than being preoccupied with fixing or solving issues which is how we view things from the centre of power just go and be with people. he says it's really very simple
Americans have been preoccupied with the end of the Gospel of Matthew, the Great Commission: "Go and make." I call them go-and-make missionaries. These are the go-and-fix-it people. The go-and-make people are those who act like it's all in our power, and all we have to do is "finish the task." They love that passage! But when read from the center of power, that passage simply reinforces the illusion that it's about us, that we are in charge.
I would like to suggest a new favorite passage, the Great Invitation. It's what we find if we read from the beginning of the Gospels rather than the end. Jesus says, "Come, follow me. I will make you fishers of men." Not "Go and make," but "I will make you." It's all about Jesus. And do you know the last words of Jesus to Peter, in John 21? "Follow me." The last words of Simon Peter's encounter are the same as the first words.
Can we begin to read those passages that trouble us, that don't reinforce our cultural centeredness?.....
....It is very simple. Come and be with us, with no agenda other than to be with us.
the second issue which maybe is the big one in africa is confidence. zac suggests that when a white person who knows nothing about africa says something he or she will often be defered to as some kind of expert. this is the result of decades of erosion of confidence by colonial and missionary enterprise (i saw the same thing in india and was told it's a problem in croatia). this makes it even more imperative that when we go and be with, following the great invitation, we resist being deferred to.