David and Jana V. are visiting students from VCOM (Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine). David is a 4th year student receiving elective credit this month, Jana is entering PA school this summer. They are parents to 18 month old Blake.
Ideas have consequences. Our thoughts and beliefs about life form our “worldview”—or how we “see the world”—and our worldviews directly affect how we act. This is true in every culture. When Jesus came to earth, he came to bring in His Kingdom, his way of life. All of his teachings were counter-cultural, but not just to the Jews and the Gentiles of his day. His ways are counter-cultural for every culture in history because this world and every person who has ever been born into it are broken, body and soul. Jesus came to show us the way to wholeness, the truth to transform our minds, and the life we were created to enjoy. Being in a relationship with him changes us completely from the inside out.
Do you ever find yourself asking why you do what you do? I’m pretty analytical, so I do all the time, but never as much as I do when I’m in another culture. One of the primary reasons our family is here at City of Hope in Tanzania is to discuss with other believers what it means to join God’s work in bringing the Gospel to all nations, not just overseas in Africa, but in the United States as well.
There are many differences in how our family does life in Tanzania, compared to how we do life in Virginia. In America, I do my laundry in machines, enjoy hot showers and wear whatever I want. I live in a nice townhouse, use indoor plumbing and electricity, and enjoy the conveniences of stores like Wal-Mart and paved roads. Here in Africa, I wash my clothes and Blake’s diapers by hand, take showers from buckets, and wear long skirts. I avoid drinking any water that has not been filtered, live in a concrete room, sleep under mosquito nets, and it easily takes an entire day to go to the closest market to purchase food because the roads are dirty and bumpy and I speak very little Swahili. In America, I have novelties like my iPhone, computer, and Netflix. In Africa, we have dance parties with the children for entertainment and play with balls made out of socks. These are huge differences in thinking, but they are not the differences on which we as believers should focus our missional endeavors. I am grateful to live in America, and I enjoy all the technology and freedoms that come with it, but people who live here at City of Hope are happy. The children at the school don’t complain about walking half a mile to get water from a spring twice a day. The women here are not upset about spending their day cleaning, washing clothes by hand, and preparing food. No fretting over cold baths or not being able to wear pants. Why? Because Americans and Africans think differently in these categories. But really, these areas are not all that important. I don’t think God cares if I wash clothes in a machine or by hand or if I wear a long skirt or pants…
So, what determines what really matters, then? What does God care about? I want to share a story with you that Dr. Ty Hopkins, the medical director here, shared with our group. A year or so ago, a Tanzanian baby named Daudi was brought to the clinic by his grandmother for a wound on his foot that would not heal. The medical team was quick to diagnose the baby with malnutrition and prescribed an easy recipe for a milk, oil, and sugar concoction that would restore the baby’s health. But over time, the baby did not improve or gain weight. The team soon realized that the grandmother was not giving the baby the prescribed nutrition, even though they provided the grandmother with all the help and materials she needed. Eventually, volunteer American nurses decided to care for and feed the baby themselves until he finally got well. Ty asked us, “Why? Why did the grandmother, who truly did love her grandson, choose not to follow the doctor’s orders despite all the help and supplies given to her? Why did the baby thrive when cared for by young American girls who had never been moms and not with the baby’s own family?”
The issue is ideas have consequences. The prevalent worldview here is animism. A major aspect of this worldview is fatalism. Everything is controlled by spirits, therefore, fear drives most decision-making. Time is cyclic (wet and dry seasons, harvests), so there is very little emphasis on progress. Power is considered the highest of virtues in society, so morality is relative as the most powerful makes the rules. Life has little value, and “god” is a fluid concept even in many areas that have heard the Gospel. Christianity is mixed in with animistic beliefs involving ancestral spirits, shamans, and curses.
People in every culture and time in history have always struggled with the lies that come with a fatalistic thinking, including Americans. But we westerners also struggle with a different conglomeration of unbiblical ideas: materialism, naturalism, and hedonism. The prosperity gospel has contaminated our churches, falsely teaching us that we are in control of our lives, and we can manipulate God into blessing us by striving to do good works. Following suit with the American Dream mentality, we incorrectly define blessings as whatever we think will make us the happiest (see the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 for God’s version). Americans see time as linear, so progress is idolized. All of our efforts are poured into advances in technology and education to stay in control and to avoid suffering and death. Truth is relative in our culture too, as what is right is determined by the majority. In our nation, a person’s level of usefulness in society is the determining factor for whether or not their life is valuable. Abortion is the leading cause of death in our country and the elderly are marginalized rather than shown respect. In America, we often curse God the moment we lose someone or something dear to us while most Africans have lost at least one family member to a preventable cause—like water-borne illness, malaria, HIV, malnutrition, or tribal warfare. Death, pain and loss are not ideas of which you must convince an African. But in our American bubbles of comfort, technology and ease, sometimes it’s hard to accept that everything about us and this world is broken. But it is. The point is, our culture in America is just as broken and in need of a Savior as the culture is here.
I wanted to write this entry to make you think, just as I’ve been thinking, about what it means to be a missionary. Many people asked me before I left for Africa what I’d be doing here, but honestly, I didn’t know what to say. Our family came here to do a little medicine, yes, but mostly, we came to hear from God, to see what he is already doing here in Tanzania for his name’s sake, and to ask him if he’d like us to join that work at some point in our future. We want to share the Gospel and serve the medically underserved, but whether it’s here in Africa or at home in the states is still a mystery. We are learning that one is not superior to the other. Much of spiritual warfare is a battle for the mind, and the need for true, Christ-centered community and Spirit-empowered transformation of individuals, families, and cultures is universal. The important thing is to let Jesus’s Kingdom reign—in your life, in my life—wherever we are, and slowly but surely, his light will conquer the darkness one community at a time.
So why serve overseas at all? Why not just serve in America? Why do Ty and Joi bring their three young children to Tanzania half of the year to serve the Lord here as a family? I want to end this entry by telling you that the baby Dr. Ty told the story about died from malaria only three months after getting well. He and millions of others die of diseases that could be prevented if only this culture was transformed by a biblical worldview. So what is the biblical worldview?
The Bible tells us that God is sovereign over all, but he does give humans the mandate to exercise some of his rule on earth. God reveals who he is in Scripture. God is loving and good, and He gives us purpose. He has a plan for our lives, which all has to do with knowing him and making him known to others. Life is sacred because we are made in his image. Our hope is in eternity, not in this world, but he calls and enables us to join him in bringing his Kingdom to earth in this present age (“thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”). Morality is not “majority rules” or “might makes right;” instead, God defines what is good and right by his own character, which he has revealed to us in his Law. When a person joins God’s Kingdom through faith in Christ, the Spirit of God comes to live inside that person, and he provides a new heart that desires to display God’s character and a mind that thinks as God does (we are given the mind of Christ). Our destiny is to live forever with God in perfect community with all his people in a heaven and earth that is free from sin, death, and suffering (see the book of Revelation, chapter 21). So even though we groan and mourn the sufferings of this world, we do not grieve without hope. And we spend our talents and our energy loving God with our mind, soul, and body until our time here comes to a close. In Christ, there is no fear of death, for when we die, we cross from death to life to be with Jesus.
Instead of Daudi’s grandmother thinking that sickness is caused by shamans, evil spirits, or a distant and angry God, she could be empowered by the Spirit to believe the truth—that God is loving, good and in control, and that he ordains some control to us to take care of the bodies he has given us. Because God is knowable, one way he has enabled us to get to know him is by studying the things he has wonderfully made, like our physical bodies. He designed our bodies to build, repair and fight infection, and we act as image-bearers of God when we give our bodies the materials they need with proper nutrition. Knowing that life is sacred, Daudi’s grandmother would be motivated to feed her grandchild so he could grow strong instead of feeling as if there is no hope.
So doing mission work in Africa is not exactly what you might imagine. I know it’s not what I once imagined. Malaria, HIV, malnutrition—westerners have provided the resources and education necessary for Africans to deal with these issues, but without a worldview change, there will not be results. How do you help an African understand that Malaria is a disease caused by parasites carried by mosquitoes, not a curse put on people by angry relatives or competing tribes? This must be accomplished before Africans will utilize mosquito nets and install window screens. As for malnutrition, the solution is not bringing food over to a continent that is starving from a lack of resources. This continent is full of resources, yet people are still starving. There has to be a mindset change. Lowering HIV rates is not as simple as just bringing over more HIV medications. We have to communicate the causes of HIV in a way that actually changes things. How do we join the Spirit’s work in bringing God’s Kingdom mindset to our brothers and sisters in Africa? These are the big questions we are asking God and each other.
Ideas have consequences. False ones destroy from the inside out, but believing true ideas—learning to see time, relationships, family, work, health, and poverty as God does—that leads to living life as we were made to live it; it’s bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth. And that is mission work that echoes for eternity. That’s the kind I want to be a part of, wherever I am. We can help each other. The African who struggles with animistic thinking understands the godly importance of prioritizing relationships over projects and procedures, while most Americans can learn to slow down and take time to really be with one another. And as the American learns from the African, the African can learn from an American that God does give us some control in this life as image-bearers and rulers over his creation. Both cultures need to be transformed by God and His Word. It’s His Word that matters, not the traditions of men.
Ideas have consequences. So why do you do what you do? Think about it, as I continue to do the same.