Monday, November 15, 2010

What Would They Do Without Americans?

It's interesting to be an American in Ethiopia. We get so many different reactions. The children are thrilled to touch you, and large groups will gather around you, hoping to touch your hand for just a few seconds. It can be almost overwhelming- at one point, I was holding hands with more than a dozen children at the same time. All the while, they're saying, "hello, hello, hello" over and over….and over….and over… I could be critical of their English, but their English far exceeds my Amharic.

The reaction of those that we're training is intriguing. First of all, they're grateful for our willingness to come from the United States to work with them. Because 90% of the pastors in Africa have received no formal training, they are extremely hungry for ANYTHING we can bring them. However, there is also a certain skepticism. Unfortunately, there has been a tendency for westerners to come to Africa with an attitude of superiority and paternalism. "Just think how fortunate you are that we have come all this way to show you the RIGHT way to do things." We have often (unintentionally, I believe) given the impression that the African church needs to look like us- our clothes, our songs, our style. Instead of focusing on basic Biblical truth, we have brought so much baggage that the African church has often become a photocopy of the US church, only with darker skin and less use of multimedia…

Unfortunately, that cultural phenomenon has tended to distance the average African from the gospel. Christianity is seen as a European/American faith.

Don't miss the irony of that- as I sit here in Addis Ababa, I'm only a few "globe inches" from the birthplace of our faith. Christianity, at its heart, has a much stronger historal/cultural connection to Ethiopia than it does to the United States. The gospel first came to Ethiopia long before Columbus (or even the Vikings) even THOUGHT about coming to the new world. And yet, we have often effectively created an artificial cultural distance between the people of Africa and the white-skinned, middle-class Jesus that we have sometimes created.

That is why, as we teach, we seek to be "fellow-learners" with the TNTers that we're training. When we study the Bible, we're simply bringing tools. I often explain it using the "give a man a fish, teach a man to fish" expression. Rather than teaching them the Bible, we want to teach them to study the Bible FOR THEMSELVES. Then, as they become familiar with the study tools, we sit down and wrestle with the Bible together as equals. It's very common for an African, with a 6th grade education, to have insights far exceeding my seminary-training mind.

However, there is another reaction that we sometimes get- usually from leaders. To quote one of our partners in West Africa, "Here is what I love about LRI- after you do your thing, you LEAVE!"

What did he mean by that? He meant that the African church (and in many parts of the world) needs to be primarily led by Africans. Too many places in the world, missionaries have fostered dependence, rather than indigenous leadership. One our primary goals as a ministry is to serve churches around the world by helping them to become both STRONG and INDEPENDENT.

What would they do without Americans? Very well, thank you.

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