Jogging With Glenn in Africa

21 02 2015

Slow getting up this morning as sinuses have made a rare appearance. I determined, however, to go on a morning run. After a bit of reading and prayer, I don my running shoes and head out the door starting my watch timer. I leave my little low rise building in Umoga Two and begin my run by walking out of my neighborhood to the nearest road with a shoulder I can run on. For about four minutes I have to stay in the dangerous streets in my area, or risk sliding into the black foul water and filth that runs in the open ditches on the sides of the road. Dangerous because of traffic not people. I am a part of this community and thus protected by my belonging. To harm or rob me would be very problematic here as local street justice can be brutal.

Upon reaching the corner I turn left and begin to run. Let me qualify that. Jog. I am always reminded as I start out in my limited gait of days long gone in my late 20’s when I bristled at anyone who called me a jogger. I was a runner. I accidently ran the first mile of a five mile run in Nashville one time well under a 4:45 minute mile pace. It is certain that a 4:20 to 4:30 mile was within my grasp. I ran a marathon at under a 6:50 pace and had ran over a hundred miles a week on multiple occasions preparing for a marathon. The memories go through my head and it makes me smile. Not because I was a good runner. I was only average. No, I smile because I am running now at about a 12 minute mile pace on this rocky shoulder at 6000 ft altitude in Kenya. The land of real runners. Olympians and world record holders. I am now that shuffling old guy I used to pass over and over on a dirt circuit in the woods of Brentwood, TN. My mind drifts to animism.

I am fascinated by the cultures I serve in. Animism and Islam dominate the non-Christian environments I work in. And even the Christians here are trying to serve Christ with their past influenced by Islam and Animism as their heritage. Just was we American Christians try to serve Christ from our biases and backgrounds. Every culture presents challenges to the Kingdom of God. But the ultimate culture to survive, the only one that is salient, is the Kingdom Culture of King Jesus. Or as I have just identified it, the Kingdom of God. But it is very helpful to understand what challenges the other cultures we are planting the Kingdom of God among and the strongholds and issues that each believer might struggle with as we share the Good News of the Kingdom of God in making disciples. For example if you are an America, you have been raise to value independence, self-sufficiency, venerate capitalism and have strong values molded by the heroes of your culture that values success as being the goal or purpose of life. Rock stars, movie stars and sports figures were idolized as the epitome of success in our cultures even as they model, greed, egoism and self-promotion. Even as a Christian, you may have put a Christian spin on the American Dream and think that this is God’s plan for you. If you follow me you know that I challenge Americans to turn in and actually forsake and betray the American Dream and take on a Kingdom Dream. But that is another story. This morning we are just jogging together in Africa.

In Animism spirits, ghost and different expressions of ancestral approval dominate traditions both within and outside the African church. One brother recently told me that African’s live for the dead. Magic and envy dictate many traditional practices as they strive not arouse the jealousy of another and thus bring an evil energy that could harm their good fortune and fate. I muse on the implications of these truths from the outside looking in. Westerners basically, dismiss these influences at their own peril and are blinded to their implications. Our discouragement of the African abandonment of all commitments when a funeral arises is just one of our many frustrations with our target peoples. It is best to understand these things to be able to more correctly deal with them in light of God’s will for His people. Africans do not share these things normally and have learned to speak of things in a way that Westerners cannot understand, veiling their customs and ways to our eyes to better get along with us and please us while not interrupting their traditions. I pray for wisdom and discernment. A man speaks to me in English, I reply that, today I am only speaking Swahili and greet him accordingly. It has been said that unless and until you speak to someone in their mother tongue you will never know a peoples heart or even their true thoughts. I am informed by what a tribal man said to me one time. He was so excited that I was speaking to him in my limited Swahili vernacular. He stated that if I bothered to learn his language then that means that I love him. I have decided to love these people. So I am going to become fluent in Swahili. It is so much easier to parrot the multitude of reasons to just stick with English. I know a hundred reasons not to learn Swahili. Frankly, it the mother tongue of few but the day to day language spoken by everyone in Tanzania and known and used frequently in all of East Africa. I work among 10 mother tongues that all share Swahili to do business and speak to one another. Maybe someday I will learn another language after Swahili. Perhaps Arabic or Somali. Some go so far as to say that a missionary that does not speak the native tongue is destined to fail. Or to at least flounder and waste much time and money and potential fruit due to the stubbornness of failing to learn the language. They even say we produce false converts to Christianity. Instead we produce a mere shadow of what God has in mind. While I will learn this language I disagree with that point. The bible tells us that the Gospel IS the power of God to save to all who believe. I believe it. Even if it is through a poor translator or a poor grasp of the language, it is not our expertise nor our clarity that will produce Kingdom Citizens, we call Christians. Paul says so in Romans 1:16. He even states that it is good even when it is preached with poor motives. So of all our shortcomings it is silence that will cause the failure of the mission of the Great Commission, not our methods.

Most people don’t know that 85% of all people that come to faith do so from a one on one witness. Not the millions of sermons from the pulpit or thousands of annual crusades. Only 10 % of Christians every share their faith with an unbeliever. And let’s face it. In a crusade almost no one even knows who made a profession of faith. Not so in one on one ministry. I am not against street preaching. I have done it both here and in America. Many times. But if the intention is to make disciples then we must connect with the new believers in their new faith. I greet again and again on my run. Children, adults and youth. At one time early in my time here I used to tire of everyone trying to greet the white guy. Many view me as a human ATM machine running down the street. I am nothing to them. Others are truly affected that I speak kindly and directly to them. Some yell, hello Johnny, thinking all whites are named John or Johnny or at least so many are that this attempt might be their lucky day. I smile and tell them my name and greet them warmly now. Almost all of them. It is no longer a burden. Like learning their language it is an act of love. It connects us in some very small way just to greet each other in their language. I know at the car wash down the road they can’t wait on my return from my run to all yell their greetings. I smile and greet them back. Once a young man ran up to me in an almost menacing way and asked me if I am lost. He looked desperate and perhaps even meant me harm. A foreigner far from home and perhaps lost could be easy pickings for a thief. I answer him in Swahili and tell him I live here. I am not lost. I am home. He looks disappointed. As I said a man connected to the culture is no man to mess with. I am connected.

imageI am sweating profusely in the 85 degree weather without a cloud in the sky. Unless a Kenyan is an athlete in training they would never run. At least not one my age. In Tanzania many would speak to me in a manner that implied they were actually distressed that I seem to be sweating and can’t imagine that I am enjoying myself. They shake their heads in disbelief when I share I love to run for exercise. People that survive from hard manual labor cannot conceive of such a thing. That’s okay. I finally near my building. Walking again I enter my little slum like court yard. Open ditches with who knows what flowing in them and children playing everywhere. Its Saturday they are off from school. They get excited. They all begin to yell different greetings. All at once. I stop and answer them over and over and over smiling as even they are astounded at the sheer volume of greetings they have just delivered. Then I raise my voice and say, hamjambo. A greeting one person can use to address a crowd. How are you? Plural of course. It actually and literally means, business? (pl), the implication is “how are things for all of you?”. They smile and they have learned in school the proper response is for them to reply in unison, hatujambo. Basically, no problems. Literally, no business. Business, problems, matters, they are all the same here. They laugh and giggle at our connection in this small matter. I see adults sticking their heads out of their many doorways in my little complex. No doubt amused and curious as to the Mzungu, (white man) living in their midst that obviously love kids. They approve, but I am aware that adults here pay little attention to children they don’t truly know. But that is ok. I have run. I have prayed. I have meditated and mulled over the daily dilemma’s I face in this culture. Someday soon I will be speaking to these people as less and less as that stranger. I will always be the Mzungu. But my dream is to be the Mzungu that they know loves them. Modeling the love my Father in Heaven has for them. Incarnational love. Jesus came for His culture in Heaven and lowered Himself to become a child in order to relate to us. He was God incarnate among men. I want to follow His example. That is what a missionary is. That is what all Christians that understand their role is life are. Incarnational agents of their King. Ambassadors of His Kingdom. His very agents for the Kingdom. Well we are done. We went 47 minutes today. Much to do. Let’s get on with it.

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