Today’s guest blogger Ben Good is a friend of mine who, along with his wife Sam and three young children, are living in southern Africa doing long term mission work.
As a foreigner he has a great window into that community’s culture, but when he comes home on furlough, he can see things about Australia, about the way we do things and the way we think that we sometimes forget, or fail to see.
I found his take on community in Africa, and why it’s not enough, both fascinating and really helpful as we think about mission in our own context. So often we see community as our goal, rather than a by-product of a greater goal. Ben’s experiences have given him great insight on this issue, and it’s a pleasure to share them with on my blog.
Over to you Ben:
In 2013 my wife Sam and I, along with our two girls moved to Sub-Saharan Africa to begin Gospel/Church planting amongst a least reached people group in the region. Coming from an Australian background where individualism and self-reliance are a part of who we are it was quite refreshing to immerse ourselves in a tribal setting where togetherness and other-reliance were core.
The way people acknowledged one another in the street, the loaning of money to others in times of need, of sharing meals and produce from harvested crops, visiting family members, the attending of funerals within the village and those neighbouring (unfortunately funerals are an all too frequent event in this part of the world), and the contributing of food to the memorial meals afterwards warmed my heart and restored my faith in humanity.
As I witnessed all this togetherness and care for the other I also became more disillusioned with my own culture and what it put up as ideals to aspire to. I wanted this way of doing community to be how we as Australians did community, or at the very least how we did it within the Christian community.
And yet as I began to do life and develop friendships within this tribal group I started to discover what motivated people to practice togetherness was not some blissful, utopian ideology but rather fear.
For this tribe and others around it your final destination once you die (which is a serious and major concern for people) rides not so much on what you do during your life but rather your send off once you cease living. It is believed that a good burial (i.e. all the rituals are done well and it’s well attended) and intercession for you at set points within the 40 days after your death play a deciding factor in whether you go up or down.
These two things; a good burial and the intercessory prayer/ceremonies, are a spectator sport for the deceased. How well they go is totally reliant on the community you leave behind and how well you left it.
I have attended a lot of funerals since we arrived here; most well attended and performed with clockwork precision, however one sticks out in my mind not because of how well it was attended or how well it was carried out but rather the opposite. The funeral was for a neighbour of a friend of mine.
It took forever to get underway because no one had gone to dig the grave plot, throughout the whole ceremony jokes were made about her and people seemed to mock her, arguments broke out between different family members, and no one seemed to be actually running the show. It was a shambles which all took place while her wrapped up body lay on the stretcher in front of us.
This was quite disturbing for me and I asked my friend what had just happened and more importantly why. His response; she had a bad funeral because she didn’t attend other people’s funerals.
In this society, in life and in death, the golden rule was turned into a threat, do to others or they won’t do to you. In Australian society our individualism can often be motivated by a fear of being dragged down if we get involved with other people; my financial security may be in jeopardy if I help this person or cause out etc. For our host community it is a fear of the opposite; my financial/eternal security may be in jeopardy if I don’t help this person or cause out etc.
Time and time again in the New Testament the call goes out to love one another, to serve one another, to carry each others burdens, to bear with one another. Togetherness. Aussies, and I’m talking of the Jesus following kind specifically could do with being a little less individualistic and embracing a bit more togetherness and care for the other.
But the kind of togetherness found in the Bible is not motivated out of fear or duty but rather by the self giving, unconditional love poured out for us by Jesus on the cross.
This is the good news for my Aussie friends as well as good news for my African friends.