Messages to North America From African Church Leaders

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One of the key principles of global partnerships is reciprocity. Partnerships are a two-way street. Usually, when I meet with churches, they want to do something or send money for something. They might even have glossy brochures detailing all the buildings they have provided throughout the world or how many children they have sponsored. All that excitement is good, but it is rather telling when I ask them what they expect to receive from their potential partners in the global south. 

"Um, feel good about ourselves? Learn how to be more spiritual? Be appreciative of what we have?" are common answers. I'm pretty sure that when they get into honest relationship, it's not what they were expecting — in a good way.

I remember when a Ugandan church asked the North American church that was visiting them how many members came through evangelism in the past year. Also, how many churches they have planted. Hmmm.

Then there is the realization that what is political "here" is a fact of life "there."

“We are very concerned, especially about America. They are the most obstinate country when it comes to climate change. We don’t know where it comes from. Maybe it comes from industry money, or maybe people just don’t know about climate change. They are not willing to reduce anything, and they’re not at all willing to finance the cost of adaptation (to climate change in affected poorer countries)," said a Kenyan church leader. "We have these international conferences on climate change. But at the end of the day, the U.S. always comes up with something to make them collapse. We come away with nothing, and no hope. Because Christians are one family, they must be the ones to pressure their governments to act responsibly."

You can try to explain that it's a political issue in the U.S., but that's little comfort to churches full of subsistence farmers who can no longer rely on regular growing seasons.

After observing such exchanges over the past couple of years, I was eager to take part in a focus group in Nigeria with Resonate Global Mission where, among other things, we asked Nigerian church leaders, "What might our Lord most desire Christians from the West to learn from believers in Nigeria?"

Here is a sampling of their responses:

  • Individualism and individual human rights is emphasized too much there; it affects sharing of the Gospel.
  • The West should learn that prayer can be a way of life. Because of our desperate conditions, we pray about everything.
  • The faith to take risks because there is so much uncertainty. The element of risk-taking for the Lord.
  • We don’t have a welfare system. We are our brother’s keeper. When you have, you help someone who does not have.
  • God is being removed in the West — Nigerians still are calling on the name of God.
  • Nigeria has made a conscious effort to send people to other nations — there is passion. The West can learn more about that passion.
  • African Christians see schools as a means of evangelism, drawing people to know Christ.  Are schools in the west growing? Do they have that vision?

Ouch. I have to admit, some of those observations sting a little. It's easy to protest and start detailing "our" side of the story ... it's much more difficult to take an honest look inward and ask whether there might be a kernel of truth in any of them.

Perhaps the best argument for cross-cultural partnerships can be found in Proverbs 27:17: "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another."

In what ways have you been challenged in a cross-cultural partnership or missions exchange?

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Wendy, your post awakens memories of long discussions about mutuality in global relationships. Because money plays such a large role in our lives, it distorts so much of what should be learning from one another. I wanted to add one or two ideas to what we can learn from African churches, namely, suffering and poverty. While each of these are mainly negative ideas, each contains a source for learning about life and our mission before God. I used to wonder at Christ's prediction that we will suffer for his sake, when I live a life that is mainly free of such suffering. We all  have troubles, but these, of course, pale in comparison to  our brothers and sisters in Africa, for the most part. When we enter into relationship across international boundaries, we get to share -- or be in solidarity with -- the suffering of others, to some degree. And we can, at times, see how God helps some rise in spirit above poverty, how they can experience joy in the Lord in times of need. Of course, I do not condone either suffering or poverty, but in a mutual relationship, each brings his or her own experience to the table, and those experiences form a whole greater than anyone person at the table.

Participant

Thank you Wendy for this posting. I continue to experience similar comments when I travel in Africa and ask : What would you have me do? Prayers and returning are often the top responses. Encouraging people to believe that THEY can achieve using their own meager resources by working together in Christ's name has yielded consitent results on small scale projects.