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African reflections

by Sue Warner –

Africa is complex.

Wonderfully so, but complex nonetheless.

After 24 hours on this continent, I am questioning my Western paradigms.

My neat and tidy Christian faith has structure; it has boundaries that make sense (at least, to me). For the most part, it’s not messy.

Africa, on the other hand, is difficult.

Its energy, rhythm, and vitality–its randomness–its lifestyles and traditions ¬≠threaten the predictability of my life.

Polygamy. Male and female circumcision. Tribal initiation. Witchcraft. Wife cleansing. I don’t normally deal with these topics. I don’t discuss them at Starbucks over coffee with friends. They don’t crowd my life in Southern California.

Here, it’s another matter. From morning until night, I think: how do these practices relate to the Christian life? And I wonder: how big is God? Is he bigger than these issues? What does he want in terms of obedience? What does the church look like in this place? What does it mean to follow Christ here?

Who am I in this place?

I’m not sure.

I struggle with the difficulty of life, the cost of just surviving. I’ve seen women walking along dusty roads who are carrying infants on their backs while carting enormous loads of wood on their heads; I’ve observed young barefoot children tote water in plastic jugs to homes with no running water, no electricity, no bathrooms. Walking 20 miles over dirt roads to obtain medical help, I am told, is not uncommon. And then there is the generation of future leaders who are dying of AIDS. It is impossible to avoid the presence of this killer.

After two weeks, I have few answers. I have many more questions. But I have seen something here. I have felt something. I have noticed the faith of Salvationists–soldiers and officers, young and old–in South Africa, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania.

I have seen kindness in the distribution of vitamins and nutrients to HIV/AIDS positive prostitutes in brothels in Dar es Salaam; I have seen wisdom in tribal initiators in Malawi who declare that no one can conduct youth initiation camps unless they have attended Salvation Army training which provides alternate practices to traditional rituals; I have seen hope in a Salvation Army school in Zambia for children who otherwise have no future. I have seen God at work.

My journey over, I continue to struggle with questions as I board the plane for home. But somehow, God gives me rest. “The battle is mine,” he has said. I know he loves all equally. I know he died for all. I know he cares for all–no more and no less than he cares for me.

And even as he sends the Holy Spirit to me ‘to convince and convict of sin, righteousness and judgment to come’ in my tidy Western Christian world, I know the Holy Spirit has the same ministry in Africa. Trusting in this gives me comfort; knowledge causes me to pray.

And I like knowing that I have met people here with whom I will spend eternity…some, no doubt, were walking along dusty roads.

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