Lessons from the African Church (Part 2)
After returning from a recent trip to Nairobi, Kenya I have begun to process some of the lessons I sensed the Lord trying to teach me through the churches I interacted with there. This is part two of those reflections. Click here if you want to read part one that also includes a little more background about the trip and a few disclaimers.
Last week I wrote about witnessing a church that prays like it actually matters and a church that is humble and hungry for God. Today I want to reflect on two more observations that are related to and undergirded by those first foundations of humility and prayer.
3. They revere the Word of God and take the commands of Christ seriously.
What I experienced with the UMC church in Nairobi was a people who still believe that the Bible is God’s inspired Word and should guide every facet of our lives. Please understand, these are not simple-minded people or uninformed people. It’s not a matter of being unenlightened like some in the West subtly (or sometimes not so subtly) suggest. Rather, they are a devout people…a people alive with the Holy Spirit who are bent on living for God in every aspect of their lives. Christianity is all-encompassing for most of the Christians I encountered, not some kind of self-help add-on for an otherwise self-directed life. They are not caught up in the trappings of 21st Century American life and find little reason to question what they find in the Bible and what has been confirmed by the teachings of the global Church.
They certainly do not have the inexhaustible amount of Bible study resources that we have here in the United States, and in some ways that may be to their advantage. Rather than chasing after the latest curriculum and Biblical fad, they are serious about wanting to digest what the Bible actually says. Their learning happens in community and is not nearly as isolated as our Western individualistic devotional and interpretive tendencies.
The people I experienced in Nairobi want to know God and believe they can know God through his Holy Word. Children in their church-run schools are learning Scripture through song and rhyme in order that they might internalize the Word at an early age.
The primary church where we spent our time, the Huruma Tent of Prayer, had a grand total of eight copies of the Bible to share among them. Some church members have their own Bibles, but as a body, they owned those eight copies. Like most things in life, when you are not overly inundated with something, you tend to cherish it more. I wonder what it might be like in the American church if we had less books about the Bible, and maybe even less actual copies lying about our houses? What if we started digesting the Bible more than just collecting them?
4. They don’t wait for the “right” resources to do ministry.
Another aspect of ministry that I witnessed and was inspired by was the church’s undying commitment to do meaningful ministry regardless of whether they seemed to have the appropriate resources for the job.
It reminds me of Jesus feeding the five thousand. They step in faith to do what they believe needs done before they know whether or not they have enough to actually do it. They begin feeding people without knowing whether or not there is enough food.
On a Saturday during my trip our host church held a community outreach day where they distributed food and clothing to many in need. The clothes distributed were collected among the members of the church, many of who do not have an abundance of clothes themselves. They fed many people while many of the church members struggle for food themselves.
On that day I witnessed a group of Muslim women from the community attend a Christian worship service and hear the Christian Gospel preached. Why? Because they had been incorporated into an organically formed widow’s group in the church, led by an incredible woman named Mary. In maybe the most poignant example of Christian community I have ever witnessed, this group of widows looks out for one another, shares resources and helps each other survive with purpose in a culture that tends to throw them aside.
The Huruma church also started the New Hope Education Center just three years ago that has around 75-80 students. This school includes many who cannot pay anything to attend. Orphans and children from single-parent homes are common. They started the school without any special facility or even the ability to pay their teachers. And yet that step of faith is affecting many children and families with a gift of education that will ripple through generations.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)
The people I discovered in Nairobi were doing more than most American churches I meet while having dramatically less resources. They simply don’t use any excuse to stop them from doing what they believe God has called them to do.
In this way, I would also add another related observation. Their ministry is truly holistic. In the United States I find so many churches that are serious about human needs who stop preaching the Gospel of our need to be saved from sin. Others are serious about preaching the Gospel but don’t fully engage in hands-on ministry with the poor.
In Kenya I experienced Christians who very naturally do both. They are Wesleyan in the best sense of our history. They are serious about original sin and they believe Jesus is the way to salvation. They teach the Bible and believe that the spiritual realm is just as real as the physical. But they also know that their faith, and the teachings of the Savior they follow, compel them to care about whether people have food to eat, whether or not they have clothes and shelter, or even how they are educated.
At the Huruma Tent of Prayer I found people understanding the fullness of the Gospel, not watering it down in any respect. And because of that, lives are being transformed to the glory of God.
What if we did the same in America? We have so much and yet make so many excuses. What if we stopped waiting on the perfect building, or enough money for the right staff position, to do what we know what we are plainly called in Scripture to do? Actually I think I know what would happen…the same thing that I witnessed in Nairobi. Lives would be transformed to the glory of God.