A bit of background: We arrived safely last night after an uncharacteristically unburdensome trans-Atlantic journey. Twenty American students, three Kenyans, and three Tanzanians are currently gathering for a 4-8 week seminar entitled “Foundations in Health and Development.” I am not 100% sure of what God is up to... but I am confident that it is good.
Africa, you make my pen flow. This morning I rose very late for me (9AM local time, but 2AM at home) and was greeted at the front door by wondrously familiar sensations: the aroma of woodsmoke and African flowers (bougainvillaeas, I think), and a near cacophony of tropical birds. I sat down to think. The pen flowed.
A letter to the students:
If you will let Him, God will use Africa to give you new eyes. It is not a special power of Africa that allows this. It is just that Africa is so different from what we are used to. Let me challenge you to see and hear God newly. Let us study scripture together (I believe we are being led to John and Genesis) and see them again for the first time. Ask God: Who are you? Who am I?
Your assignment is to take things in. Keep a list of issues God brings to light. What questions do you have? What ought we to be asking? What is the proper response to what God is putting in front of us?
Usually our great strengths are at the same time our great weaknesses. One of our strengths in the American church is our education. Most Christians have many Bibles. Most us can quote Lewis or Augustine, Luther or Chesterton. We have Bible software, copious choices at Sunday school, readily available online seminary degrees, and little to no persecution when we choose to indulge in these good things. In terms of resources, we might metaphorically be called obese.
But can we see things with a fresh eye? Have we been so steeped in our resource rich church culture that we do not readily recognize and engage with the daily fresh fruit He provides for us? Do we have so much that hardly anything can make an impression?
God promises to “make all things new.” He tells us that His mercies are “new every morning.” How do we lay hold of that?
Any time we learn anything, it is “new” to us. Are we ready for new?
The essence of cynicism is to say, “I know better than that.” In other words, we say, “there is nothing new.” This is often the observation of Solomon in Ecclesiastes. And he is not incorrect. In one sense there is “nothing new under the sun.” But there are many things that are new to us as individuals—to you. What does He want to show you that is new to you? You come here to learn. The beginning of that process is to ask God what He wants to show you.
So I challenge you as we get started to take things in. Think. Pray. Write. Consider before speaking and acting. Seek God. He is of course the source of the questions and answers. What is He urging you to ask?
A start: What, really, is the Gospel? How do we respond to Him? What is a right response to Africa? To the challenges in Africa? What issues come to mind as we observe and engage here? What is the essential issue at the core of these issues? How are relationships involved? What does the Bible teach about these issues? Can we read John and Genesis while separating our assumptions about what the texts say from what God is saying to us in them right now—as alien Africa grants us fresh insight?