Sunday, September 28, 2008

Coming into focus

Ever since I began talking seriously about heading to Africa, people - and my application form! - have been asking me big questions. What do you want to do there? How are you hoping to impact the people you are working with? Why do you want to go to Africa, as opposed to say, China, or South America? What kind of ministry do you want to be involved in? Where do you hope to go in Africa? What do you hope to gain personally from the experience?

And to all of it, my super intelligent articulate answer has been, "Uhhhh....."

Oh yeah. I know how to make myself look smart, baby. BUT, I think my thoughts just haven't had a chance to percolate, and because this is all so new and happening kind of fast (even though the idea has been floating around for quite some time, it's never been quite so concrete), I haven't had a lot of time to let the flurry of thoughts kind of settle out a bit. But that's happening now, to some degree.

I think I'm leaning towards wanting something rural over something in the city. I'd love the chance to experience some traditional African music - whether it's through some kind of lessons or participating in some for of music ministry or just living in the midst of music as a part of every day life. I'm finding myself leaning towards somewhere in East Africa... Kenya? Tanzania? I'd be ok with teaching, but I don't think I want it to be the sole thing that I do. I'd like a variety of jobs and roles, I think. But all that said, I'm also open to a wild adventure - something I would never have thought of, never dreamed needed doing (I say that now, here, safe in my own little hous in my own little world! Yikes!).

But more than all that, I am getting SO excited about the spiritual experience that I know will come through this trip. I have only ever seen Christianity through a Western lens, but God is so much bigger than that. I think that understanding God (well, attempting to, anyway!) via how my culture thinks and acts and understands is to get a skewed perspective of who He really is. I know that we do the best we can, and culture IS an important part of how we understand anything, so I'm not knocking that. I'm just really, really excited to see how the same God, the same Bible, the same message is relevant and meaningful in a very, very different context and cultural understanding.

Back in university, I remember taking a couple of different seemingly unrelated electives in the same semester: History of Christianity, Intro to Anthropology, and Greek Philosophy. As I was learning about the development of the Christian church from the time of Christ to now, I was getting a better idea of the context and backgrounds of the tradition that I am a part of today. In Anthropology, I was learning about myths and traditions and cultures from all around the world and how to approach the study of culture openly. Greek Philosophy was introducing me to one part of ancient thought and ideas and ways of understanding the world, and also to cultural myths from ancient time periods, too. And what I was seeing were common themes across time and culture and tradition. I began to see how the message of Jesus was relevant, had connections, made sense across time and across culture. I began to see, as if someone was peeling back a curtain into a huge, crazy understanding that I'd never even begin to figure out, that there was a universal applicability to the gospel. I'd kinda known that in my head, sure, but I was starting to see it, and it was SO exciting!

And I think that's a big thing that I'm looking forward to about going to Africa. To see how God is still God in such a vastly different place. To experience God in a totally different way than I am used to. To attempt to learn how another culture sees and experiences God. To try to share what I know to be the best news there has ever been in a way that is relevant to the people I am working with.

I'm looking forward to sharing, yes. That's the main reason I'm going. But I'm also looking forward to learning, to being challenged, to having my understanding of God totally blown open and reconstructed in a different way.

And funnily enough, as I was in the middle of typing the first paragraph of this post, my friend Steve, who has a great interest in and knowledge of Africa and African spirituality and has spent quite a bit of time there, called to ask if he could drop by and give me a book. It's a book that, in my vague understanding of it, talks about non-western (specifically African) understandings of Christianity and about how it is often a lot more real or connected or... I don't know exactly. (I'll tell you more once I've read it!) But Steve was saying about how African Christians have a much deeper, more connected understanding and love of the Bible than many westerners, because so much more of it resonates with their lives - poverty, clans and family groupings, a spirituality connected to every day life, etc. I'm looking forward to reading it, and I'm excited, cause it seems to fit in so well with what I've just been thinking about today and where I'm kind of hoping that this experience will take me and what it will teach me.

Whooooo! I'm excited!!!

1 comment:

anne said...

I'm so excited for you! I'm hoping that wherever you are will at least have intermittent internet...

What a fantastic opportunity. I'm glad you've made this choice! :)