Saturday, September 28, 2013

What the African Church has Taught Me About Christianity

This past weekend my family had the privilege of visiting Ukerewe Island, located in Lake Victoria. We stayed in a friend’s home while there, and were warmly welcomed as family. A short walk down the road was the Anglican Church, which we attended on Sunday morning. As I sat on a wooden bench and listened to my father’s sermon, my thoughts drifted to discontentment of “these horribly uncomfortable benches!” I, however, scolded myself for having those thoughts, for I am not being persecuted for my faith. I am freely worshiping God on an island out in a big lake in Africa. I have no right to be complaining of uncomfortable wooden benches, foreign languages, and my father’s long sermons.

I am currently reading a book by Eric Ludy entitled, The Bravehearted Gospel. This book is about how our modern churches are losing the masculine side of things. We focus on love, peace, joy, and all those comfortable thoughts. We are all about compassion and God’s amazing grace. We may not forget that we are sinners, but we try to cover it all up in saying that “God will forgive me, for he is a God of love and mercy.” Maybe God will forgive us, but in the meantime we should be trying to fix the problems. We should try to avoid sin. We should aspire to be a church of martyrs. We should walk the straight and narrow path. We should not let others put our faith down. We should defend Christianity. Yes, we need the feminine feelings in church, but we also need the masculine bravery and fixers in the church. Just as God inhabited both the male and female side of things, so also our churches need the right balance of the two.

My thoughts drifted to that book as I sat in the back row and surveyed the room of about 70 people. The benches were full. Each person had a Bible. These Bibles were perfect in looks, for they were tattered and stained from obvious years of use. These people valued this book, even down to the youth.

The floors were concrete, and full of scratches, cracks, and holes. The benches were made of rough boards, and were obviously handmade. Some of the boards were broken, warped, and stained. There was no ceiling, just the rusted tin roof and trusses up above. The choir sang in a cappella, either because of no electricity on this morning or because the equipment wasn’t working properly. The congregation joined in with singing and clapping.

What am I trying to say in all this? In Africa life is real. Some people live in small huts made of mud bricks, and some people live in bigger cement houses. Everyone cooks on fires, eats the whole animal, and bathes in a bucket. To a westerner, it seems odd and like the life of the poor. To an African, it is simply life. So as the life of an African is real, the faith of an African is real. The spiritual is so important that is it intertwined with the physical. Whether Christian, Muslim, or anything else it plays a huge role in their lives. Granted, you will find the hypocrites and nominal religious people wherever you go, but for the most part if you are a Christian, you strive to live like Christ and are faithful in your prayers, praise, and church going. If you are Muslim, you have prayer many times a day. For a Muslim, you dress differently, showing the world that you are of the Islamic religion and are not ashamed of  it.

As I’ve been reading Eric Ludy’s book, I think of the African Churches I’ve been to. They’re real, nitty-gritty, genuine, bold, and also full of love. Yes, they have problems and are not perfect, but that is expected everywhere because we are churches filled with human beings. However, the faith of a person is deemed important here. It’s mixed into their lives, like flour and water are mixed to make bread.

We can learn from these Christians. Our faith and our life should be mixed. We cannot get bread by only having flour; neither can we can get to heaven by simply having life. We must mix ingredients into life in order to obtain eternal life. These people have challenged me to live my life in the faith and truth of Christ.

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