The Choice…

January 21, 2010

It’s been a while I know, but this boy has still been wrestling with Africa – or the role I should be playing there.  I have the sore back (courtesy of a pinched nerve!) to show for it.  Not quite Jacob’s limp, but hey it’s something.

What I have been wrestling with over the past month or so is May 2010.  Amahoro is on again, this time in Mombasa, Kenya in the first week of May.  But the Churches of Christ Global Mission Partners are having a solidarity “tour” of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo (where I went after Amahoro last year) to encourage the local pastors and participate in a pastor’s conference as well.  That occurs in the last week of May & the first week of June.  My participation in both is unlikely, and neither has been officially confirmed from a work point of view.

So, it looks like I am going to have to choose one.  Everything I learned from Amahoro was to be a friend to Africa, to form a partnership somewhere and invest in that.  I must admit, I fell in love with Bulawayo when I was there.  I loved the people and feel that I have begun some partnerships that I would like to see grow.  Amahoro was amazing from an imput and challenge point of view…but just at this moment Bulawayo’s call seems to be a more logical working out of Amahoro. 

It’s hard.  I’d love to do both but realistically am not in a position to do that.  In the back of my mind I have the idea that Amahoro would be great in 2011, after I have experienced some more and prolonged Zimbabwean exposure, and maybe have some real partnerships to speak about and have spoken in to. I feel such a debt of gratitude to Claude and Kelly, Marius and so many others who ran Amahoro in 2009.  But part of that debt means I want to show up and say: I’ve stopped processing long enough to DO something…

But hey, it’s agood dilemma to work through.  Either would be God ordained and blessed, I’m sure.

Being Jacob

August 11, 2009

jacob

This is what I am doing insteading of sleeping…

I just realised something that is kinda profound (or isn’t, I’ll let you decide, if there are any you left after 5 weeks of silence from me).  The whole subtext of this blog is one man wrestles with a continent.   Wrestles. That leads to a whole heap of Jacob imagery.

1st, please oh please in all this wrestling let me not substitute God with Africa. Let me not be so stupid or so idolatrous as to do that.  That does not help me. That does not lead to a partnership with Africa that produces eternal fruit or a stronger Africa and even a stronger Craig.  That leads to weakness, and a kind of wrestling that leads to one of the wrestlers being strangled, rather than – like Jacob – emerging limping but with a new relationship with God and a new name.

Jacob means he deceives. My capacity to talk and to communicate and to publicly express my heart is pretty good, my capacity to follow that up is less so.  I can deceive myself to such an extent that it is breathtaking.  It is almost two months since I landed back home, tired, somewhat wired, and ready to grapple with what it means to partner with Africa.  If I fail to wrestle with that then I am deceiving myself that the stuff I experienced in South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe has no bearing on my life and my walk with God.  Jacob also means – or more literally means – he grasps the heel.  There’s some wonderful imagery there (which I am twisting soooo far out of context) that I want to grasp.  So many have gone before me and forged great connections and partnerships serving God in partnership with Africa.  They have gone ahead of me and I want to grasp their heel – not to trip them, but to be pulled along by them.  Yet if all this postulating comes to nothing, then I may just be a hindrance.

But Jacob has some positives.  In Genesis 32:1-2, as he sets out to face his daunting ranga brother Esau, he is met by angels, and realises that he has been camping with God.  In the ordinary task of beginning the right journey, the surprising presence of God is there with Jacob.  God meets him where he is at.  That’s amazingly encouraging!

And, of course, there is the outcome of the wrestle.

Jacob is wounded.  He will limp.  The wrestle takes all night before he receives his blessing.  The blessing?  A new name.  Israel: he struggles with God.  He is transformed and defined by the wrestle with God.  I can handle that.

So, the wrestle continues…

The Myths of Colonialism

July 4, 2009

I’ve just finished an amazing book (and a lousy cold) called King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild.  Brilliant. An expose on what happened in the Congo under the rule of King Leopold II of Belgium, one of the most rapacious and greedy tin pot tyrants that ever lived.  Leopold’s reign of terror in his private domain of the Congo yielded him millions of dollars, international prestige, and a death toll of 10 million (from 1890 -1908) that even Stalin would have been proud of.  How does this happen?

Hoschschild starts his book with a brief examination of medieval myths about Africa (pp 6-7). He mentions these, without expounding on the effect that they could have had on European/colonial thinking. So, I thought that I’d give it a crack, considering that A.H has done all the work but this…

Myth 1: Africa contained one eyed people who used their feet to cover their heads…the continent held people with one leg, three faces and the heads of lions…

These theories emerged during the 1300s and 1400s.  Before Africa was “explored” (a colonial term on a par with “discovered”), the would be explorers were already portraying the inhabitants as lesser people, a race that was (literally) half human, half beast.  Freaks.  Aberrations of nature, so to speak.

What does this sort of myth lead to? First and foremost, this means that the people who inhabit this new continent are not on the same level of humanity as the Europeans.  Possibly – and this may be a harsh interpretation – they are “subhuman”.  And the 20th century has shown clearly what we do to those we consider subhuman: the Congo under Leopold, Armenia, the Soviet purges, the Holocaust, Rwanda, and back to the Congo again.

Myth 2: as you passed the Canary Islands you would be in the Mare Tenebroso, the Sea of Darkness…this was a region of uttermost dread…where the giant hand of Satan reaches up from the fathomless depths to seize him [the sailor], where he will turn black in face and body as a mark of God’s vengeance for the insolence of his prying into this forbidden mystery…

Oh my. How does God punish these sailors for sailing so far south? He turns them black. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but it seems that medieval myth portrays Africa as a place literally in the grip of Satan, and that to be black is to be cursed by God.  The missionary movements that went to Africa after this responded in two ways: trying to free the Africans from Satan’s grip, and in many instances to turn them white in all but appearance.  The commercial aspects of church and State simply saw the Africans as cursed, lesser, inferior…and therefore able to be exploited and disposed of in order to sustain and grow the European (read Christian) way of life.

Myth 3: They were also driven by…the legend of Prester John, a Christian king who was said to rule a vast empire in the interior of Africa, where, from a palace of translucent crystal…he reigned over forty-two lesser kings…No traveler was ever turned away from his dinner table of solid emerald, which seated thousands.

But at the heart of Africa was wealth, wealth that was the legacy of a Christian king. When church and State are mixed like this with a liberal dose of riches, is it any wonder that Africa was carved up and exploited by European powers for centuries? Is it any wonder that when you combine the three myths, and get a sub-human, black is cursed, and Africa contains great riches myth, that Africa has been treated the way it has by the European powers up until the mid 20th century, and by the industrialised West since then and China most recently?

Myths are powerful. The actions of Leopold II in the Congo are but one example of a colonial worldview that incorporated medieval myths.

I guess if I want to be a part of this bigger story, I have to contribute to new stories that expose these old myths as dangerous, depraved, and medieval.

The Storms of Africa

June 24, 2009

One of the highlights of the trip over to Johannesburg was looking out as we approached the coast of Africa and seeing a lightning storm go on below as I watched (and wept a little over) Cry, the Beloved Country.  Beneath me there were these clouds that arose from a sea of clouds and they lit up the sky. Beautiful. Powerful. Awesome. Remote. Almost as though God were saying, “My boy, it’s taken you so long to get here, I thought that I’d put on a show.”  And what a show it was.  Just to prove a point, there was another lightning storm as we flew towards Durban.  The girl behind me tapped me on the shoulder as I had my face pressed tight against the glass and said, “Are you seeing this? I thought I was the only one.”

To be fair, it was 3.45am Jo’burg time.  Or something like that.  And that soundless storm of indescribable beauty did not buffet our metal flying tube for even an instant.

There is a phrase I have often used: “a heart for Africa”.  And, you know, it is not a bad phrase.  It’s not a bad phrase when you pick up a paper or watch whatever news program actually bothers to mention Africa, and you see the storms of Africa: the genocide in Darfur, the results of Mugabe’s madness, the chaos of Mogadishu, the devastation of the eastern Congo.  But what happens if those storms don’t buffet the metal tube that is your heart?  What if you are not impacted by the storms at all?  What if your response to the storms is occasional and sporadic anger, or even a donation here or there, but nothing that really buffets you?  Then the phrase “heart for Africa” is a glib clip from standard Christianese.

Amahoro showed me that in spades.  No one confronted me about this.  I just saw lives lived, ministries shared.  I witnessed the reality that a “heart for Africa” is only good if it motivates hands, feet, mouth, lungs – and only then if it is connected to the animating Spirit of Jesus.

For too long I have had a heart for Africa.  Now I want to do more.  Not in a paternalistic way that somehow assauges my guilt, but as a partner, as a friend.  I mentioned that at Amahoro to someone: “I’ve just realised that I have had a heart for Africa and not been a friend to Africa.”

In South Africa (especially the Monday/Tuesday sessions, and the communion service) I felt the storms buffet me.  They didn’t stop through beautiful Swaziland and reached a peak in Bulawayo.  They are still rumbling.  The main difference is that now I can hear them, now I can feel them, they are not so much a show that I observe but a storm that is around me.  A storm I can live with, and respond to.

A Bigger Story…

June 22, 2009

One of the things I observed in Africa was the playing out of a comment I had heard in Oz.  Dale Stephenson (Crossway Baptist) was speaking at the NSW Churches of Christ Minister’s Day and he mentioned something about a “bigger story to say ‘yes’ to”.  At the time it resonated with me, but it wasn’t fully fleshed out until the Amahoro Conference outside of Johannesburg.

One of the key things I witnessed there was a panel on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission held in the aftermath of apartheid. The main draw on this panelwas Adrian Volk, the former Minister for Police in South Africa during the 1980s.  By all accounts, Volk was a hated man, in charge of a brutal institution that had no qualms about beating (and worse) those that were bravely seeking to end apartheid. About three years ago, Volk found Christ.  He has been quietly going about seeking forgiveness of those he felt responsible for harming, including the washing of some people’s feet.  So, the stories emanating from this panel were pretty powerful, but they paled to (almost) insignificance against what happened in the last few minutes.

Sitting next to Volk was “Mike”, a white South African, and he had been pretty quiet all session. He then turned to Volk and told his story, which I am paraphrasing here:

When I was 17, I was conscripted to the police and was used in death squads.  For the last 15 years I have suffered post traumatic stress.  My counsellor told me that I couldn’t blame a system, I had to blame a person, so [looking at Volk] I blamed you. In my home, whenever I needed to swear or curse, I didn’t take the Lord’s name in vain, or swear, I used your name.  And now I want to ask your forgiveness.

Wow.

Volk looked straight at him. “Let’s put an end to this now.”  Volk then asked for his forgiveness, forgiveness for all the things that Mike had to do when he was in the police force.  And then he asked to wash Mike’s feet.

“I was going to ask you the same thing,” was his reply.

Well, by now we’re in tears. Andwe’re Aussies. For the South Africans present, it was bringing up a whole lot of stuff (as you could imagine).  Right in front of our eyes, wounds were being opened and washed and healing was beginning.  It was powerful. Using glasses of water, they proceeded to wash each others’ feet and embrace.

A moment of reconciliation played out before us all

So this is a theme I’ll return to: the bigger story. The problems in South Africa were probably encapsulated in these precious moments.  Pain, suffering, the wounds of a recent past.  Healing happening, but person to person in their own time.  The role of the church in South Africa is that of a reconciler.  Talking to South African pastors was amazing: they knew the importance of the church as a healer.  They knew the Body of Christ has something to offer.  Not for them this existential wondering about the role of the church – every day it faces them.  If the church fails, reconciliation, equality and unity will struggle in a South Africa beset by problems of inequality, crime and poverty.

We all need a bigger story that connects to the Kingdom of God, a bigger story that helps with our daily purpose and clarity. For me, part of my wandering and pondering is trying to nail down whether Africa – or parts of it – constiutute how the bigger story of the Kingdom of God will be played out in my life.  I want a bigger story.  The story of me is too small.  The story of consumerism shrinks.  It’s in full blown service to the Kingdom via the realities of peoples and nations that I think I may find my role in Jesus’  grand narrative.

Hey, this is just the beginning – again

June 21, 2009

So, this is the deal.  This is how I am feeling today about the last few amazing weeks in Africa (South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe) and, of course, how I am processing what I have seen and done, and what I am seeing and doing now.

I’ve got to say, I am tired and grumpy today.  Today it hit home that I am no longer getting daily stimulus from being in Africa.  Today I am living off memories, photos and notes.  And I am afraid that I am not being terribly good about all that.  I am glad to be home but I am fearing that I will take some of the life transforming stuff that occurred and water it down, that I will simply be a teller of travel anecdotes and not a teller of important stories.  And yes, as much as I revel in being the center of attention, I am struggling with something that I was warned of: just because you had an amazing experience in Africa, it doesn’t mean everyone will share that experience and be excited by it.

In my absence, life has gone on.  I sensed that pretty strongly today.  No one was really keen to see photos, and while some asked about the stories, there wasn’t a great opportunity to share.  I need to share, that much has become obvious to me.  To be fair the settings haven’t been the best place to do it.  And I’ve only just got back!!!  But I want to share and understand what has “transfigured me” and I left today feeling a lot flatter than I started it.  I miss the experiences.  I fear forgetting.  I fear that my weaker human nature will sideline what God has being saying…again…

So, this will be my place of thrashing out. Here, at least, I can ramble to my heart’s content and not impinge on the lives of others.  Here, I can be as obsessed by Africa as I need to be without boring people.  I can finish thoughts and develop the sense of “call” again.  What does it mean to have been called in 1993 to the Democratic Republic of the Congo?  What was going on when in the three times that I tried to go, the civil war encroached further into the area that the mission I was going with worked in? And what does it mean, as a happily married man with 3 young kids, to contemplate that sense of call again? What could “partnering” with Africa look like?

So, if all of this is a bit too self obsessed, feel free to ignore it. To be honest, it’s not for you.  But if you do take an interest, you can do something really great for me.  Don’t just glance through the album on Facebook.  Ask me stuff, be patient in the listening, and help me remember the last few weeks and the feelings that went with it, and possibly help me see the future path that bit clearer.


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