Zambia Update: Saturday, June 21, 2008
I am sitting in nice cosy guest house that we are in and just reflecting a bit on our last two days. Its been an encouraging and challenging two days as we have begun to meet with the Zambian people and specifically some of the church leaders.
Last night Tom and I spoke at the leadership team meeting for George’s church, Harvest City Church. There were about 40 people there. Some were pastors and some were lay leaders. We spoke on the topic of leadership and creativity. As I wrote in my last blog post there is a challenge of having creativity as they seek to be witnesses to Jesus here in Zambia. This is mostly because the western missionaries brought with them a “correct” way of doing ministry that the Zambian church learned as sacred ways of doing things. But, as the culture has changed and new crisis have emerged there has been a need to engage the city and the culture in fresh ways. Pastors like George recognize this and have been seeking to begin these conversations with fellow ministers in hopes that there can be a spark in the imagination of the Christians here. This is not unlike the changes that are taking place in our culture. The issues are very different, but the idea is the same. Here the issues are specific to poverty and AIDS (among other things). So, Tom introduced the topic and I did my best to layout a way to begin thinking creativity. Here’s basically how my talk went. We start with the call to be witnesses. That’s always the starting point. From there we seek to recognize the strengths and gifts that God has given to our particular community/church. As we understand those strengths and the gifts that God has graciously given us, we can begin to take a good look at the needs of our culture. Here, the main idea is listening. Listening to the culture and its needs in a way that shows humility. The Zambian (along with the rest of Africa) church has been the recipient of the opposite of this. They can witness to the problems that emerge when people come to share the love of Jesus without listening first. This has been discussed openly as one of the biggest struggles of Western missionaries for the last 100+ years. Even for these pastors and leaders, I wanted to help them realize that they should not commit the sins of my / our fathers but to carefully listen to the needs that surround them in the culture. From there, once we have understood God’s gifting in us, and understand the needs of the culture, we can begin looking at how we can respond. My point was that if we go through this general process, we can respond as creatively as possible in very contextual ways. We can do ministry and share hope in ways that are specific to a particular time and place. I told them that it would be too bad if they did ministry exactly the way that I do it in Philadelphia and that it would be a shame if I did it exactly the same way that they do it here in Zambia. Sure, there will be some similarities. Things like worshipping together, learning together, studying the scriptures, being in relationships, helping the poor, fighting for injustice; yes they would all be the same. But, how these worked out should be and must be contextual to the gifts God has given to us and the needs around us.
Today we spoke at a men’s breakfast. I actually didn’t talk at this one as Tom and Greg did. But, the conversation was very, very interesting. We had a very lengthly discussion about confession to one another. This might seem like a fairly remedial thing to talk about but it was a very provocative discussion. This culture is very open and friendly but it is also very private and closed when it comes to personal matters. There are a number of challenges when it comes to issues of trust in one another. I started our meeting at 10:00am and had to cut the conversation off at 1:45pm. One of the most amazing things was how deep these men and women were willing to go into this topic. They truly accomplished a lot and made some very amazing revelations about why they don’t listen well to the scriptures on this issue. Tom and I were thinking that if we had this discussion in America it might last an hour at best (this is an indictment of me along with the rest of us!). But, they addressed the issue in such depth and with such passion. The process itself was an inspiring as the topic. What was also fascinating was that while the reasons for not engaging in confession together were a little different it was clear that we struggle with this in the states just as much.
There is a huge respect for the person of “pastor” here. It is both inspiring and scary. Its clear that when I, Tom, Greg or George get up to speak they are listening to every word and waiting to hear from God. I really appreciate this respect for the minister here. At the same time, its almost not fair to them or to us. There is such a gap between the lay person and the pastor that the pastor feels too much pressure to be perfect and to be savior while the lay person can feel too helpless. This comes into play as the pastors model a life of confession. They can’t confess and let their guard down because they are scared that the people won’t respect them anymore. This is a deeply cultural issue that won’t be overcome overnight. George and I were talking about this a bit and he’s been trying to slowly pull that issue back a bit. One of the ways I think that can be done is by elevating the importance of the laity while keeping the minister as a person who deserves respect. It is such a different culture that we have created at The Well and many of our churches. I started to say something about this in the small group I was a part of us but it became clear that this is not something that will change right away and would take many conversations and even many years to unfold a new way. This is why its so essential to be working with George. He can speak so much more powerfully to his own people on issues of addressing cultural norms that hurt witness.
I am learning that its so much easier to see the cultural baggage of another culture than it is your own. We have just as much if not more do we not? Seeing it is the hard part.
Last night we went to the all night prayer service. It was actually crazier than I expected. Basically its a once a month gathering of many of the churches in Endola and the surrounding areas. The organizers invite all the different pastors to speak. This includes Anglican, Full Gospel, Baptist, Independent Baptist, George and all kinds of denominations. Last night was the health and wealth crew for the time that we were there. While we were very out of our element and there were things that are out of my theological paradigm, it was good to be there. If nothing else, the prayers of the people were so passionate and sincere. My prayer life is put to shame by theirs. They are so desperate for God in ways that I can’t even understand. Another beautiful image was that while George preaches against the health and wealth gospel in his city, and even calls it one of the most dangerous things of the church, he was there to bring the other side and to show unity in the body of Christ. It is clear that, though the woman speaking up front was coming from that viewpoint, George views here as a sister in the faith. And, because of that, I was able to see her as a sister in the faith as well. For George and for her, theology is important and they fight over it all the time. But, unity is also held as a huge priority. They are aware that if the church here does not have unity, it is in trouble. The problems are too great for one to accomplish alone.
Alright. That’s all I have to say for now.