MOST of my visits to new places are always opportunities for me to experience the broader human culture and especially to connect with people and build genuine relationships with them.
One of my struggles when I became a Christian was that I became so obsessed with “getting people saved” and “getting them to church” without actually even caring to build relationships with them which are genuine and Christ-exalting. So I repented. And I do continue to repent. I am not saying that “getting people saved” or “getting them planted in a local church” is a bad thing at all, but I do feel strongly the need for loving, genuine and personal relationships to be the basis of such actions – our hearts need to be in the right place basically and we need to care for people authentically.
So, I spent just a week out in a village out on the south of a small town called Chipinge, on the eastern side of Zimbabwe. The village is called Ndunduma. Now, I must say, although the town itself is a really dope place to be – the weather is remarkable – the rural south is poverty stricken and quite backwards in many ways and culture there is still raw and unadulterated. Local chiefs are the primary authorities in the core of the villages and it’s so so different from my normal daily life in Bulawayo Central district. Inevitably, many lessons are learnt whenever I experience such environments and I will share some of my thoughts for two main reasons.
Firstly, I promised a few friends who asked me about my trip that I would blog about it (so I am stuck to keep a promise lol) and secondly, and more importantly, just to challenge you in the faith and encourage us in one ways or the other as brethren.
I started my rant on how much I have grown to appreciate building relationships and not making all my ‘proclamations’ just about ‘reeling sinners in’ but actually trying to make the two cord strand work together. I find it hard many times though because I am wickedly impatient with people’s growth. I constantly have to bring myself back to sanity and walk with folks as they get to know Jesus or grow in their knowledge of Him. I am also regularly caught up and very much involved in doctrinal controversy (intentionally on the basis of Jude 3) and one of the temptations I have is to try to change someone’s theology without actually seeking to build – and that’s just an exposing of the sin in my heart – wanting to “do Kingdom works” and not “genuinely love people”.
So, it was also a temptation during my trip – to “preach” and “preach” (which is 100% necessary and legit) but only doing it to satisfy my pride (what wretched people we are!)
That being said, my mission was not to really get there and go house to house preaching (maybe next time) but I was really there just to absorb culture, think and pray about opportunities for gospel advancement in that region. I was there to mainly take care of some family business but also just on a sabbatical so I did have time to read, right (I mean “write” – the alliteration is cool tho, lol) and reflect a lot and the following 3 things are what I mainly thought about while I was there.
1. LITTLE IS MUCH.
Living in the second largest city in Zimbabwe, I find it increasingly easy to be caught up in seeking more and more stuff for myself. In the post modern society we live in, we are so focused on material things – getting cars, gadgets, latest phones and many other things but all that stuff barely ever satisfies us hence we go from one new phone to another – they just never satisfy. Coupled with this, we are easily caught up in less and less giving because we only think about ourselves.
Tell you what - where I was, people have close to nothing and yet the joy and exuberance they convey is out of this world. It humbled and convicted me.
When I thought about this, I thought about the church in Macedonia – how in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part (2 Corinthians 8:2). The generosity which I saw in the times I have been there has utterly humbled me and I am convicted of how much selfish I actually am – they have lesser but they give it all!
We sometimes do not realise how much this is important. For me, giving things always is never about me “sowing” and expecting to “get more” someday. I give because I don’t want to be enslaved by things! Anything I hold onto is an idol, no matter how much I try to deny or justify it so I find it more appropriate to be generous, in little or in much. What we give away shows how much our hope and trust is not in things but is in the One who gives those things. Somebody said: "If you own something you can not depart (die) with - you probably do not own it but it owns you."
Little is much for us because God is with us! Wherever God is, much is – and enough is. I am reminded of when the disciples are worried about there being no food to give to be people. They forgot that the little they had was not what ruled the day, but rather the God-Man (Jesus) who was with them - who in essence was the Source of everything.
I pray that we be encouraged to be able to see the little we have as "much" if we appropriate it for Kingdom enhancing business and things that bring glory to God. Give it up! Don’t let that money, that compliment, that word of encouragement (which you should give to people in need, no matter how ‘small’ you think it is) enslave you.
2. THE CHURCH NEEDS TO BE A NEW SOCIAL ORDER.
Now, this might sound cliché but we do have work to do, especially in areas like where I was where culture is still so important.
I met a man who has four wives and thirty-one children while I was in Ndunduma village and polygamy seems to be the norm. The vast majority of what people there call “Christianity” there are apostolic sects which are a pseudo-religion which feeds from African traditional beliefs and strands of biblical Christianity. The majority of the ordinary people are very spiritual – spiriticism is a major component of their culture. They still believe in witch-doctors, ancestral worship and that kind of stuff.
While I was in such a community, I thought about Paul in Ephesus. There, Paul first went in the synagogues and then everywhere in the city, he preached the gospel and gained followers. However, Paul had to struggle with magicians and soothsayers in Ephesus while struggling with state offices and pagans there also (although in a short time, Ephesus became the third important city of Christianity after Jerusalem and Antioch). Reading from Acts 19, we see how the jeweler Demetrius and others who earned a living by selling and making silver statues of Mother Goddess Artemis, were quite distressed. Demetrius and his colleagues provoked thousands of people and met with them in the Ephesus theatre and started shouting “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.” Paul wanted to face the crowd but the other disciples would not let him! Finally, the city clerk announced that the courts were open for people who had a complaint and dispersed the crowd. After this event Paul left Ephesus and went to Macedonia.
With how much that city (Ephesus) was transformed, the Church (or Christianity) became the new social order – the new culture - and this became so because of the dedicated gospel work despite the incredible opposition to the work of God. In 1 Corinthians, Paul indicates that he was staying in the city for a prolonged period because ‘a great and effectual opportunity has opened to me and there are many adversaries’ (16:9). Paul also comments that he ‘fought with wild beasts in Ephesus’ (15:32), a statement that has been interpreted in a variety of ways. While a later tradition developed a story of Paul’s literal battle with wild beasts in Ephesus’ stadium, it is more likely a metaphor for conflict with human opponents or perhaps within himself as he said in 2 Corinthians:
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us (1:8-10).
I am saying this to say: we have to be willing to become the new social order as the Church wherever we are. To go against the grain and offset what the culture and the system deems ‘normative”. I wondered while I was there how hard it probably is to start a conversation about monogamy and polygamy. I wondered how crazy it would be to talk about the people’s spiriticism and peculiar religious beliefs and such wonder (coupled with fear) is a show of the inherent cowardice in myself (and the rest of us) where when God desires that we take a stand, we want to keep quite and allow things to roll out in the ‘normative”.
We gotta bring about a new social order.
3. PRODUCTS OF PROSPERITY TEACHING WILL STRUGGLE TO BE PASSIONATE ABOUT MISSIONS.
I am honestly praying for a time when I will not have to talk about this false gospel that has so many people bound, more so in Africa where poverty and need are a daily conversation. My definition of this false teaching is this: the teaching that God wants or wills all believers to be physically healthy, materially wealthy, and personally happy. Now, at first glance, that is so so appealing. For someone like me who doesn’t come from an affluent family, such teaching actually appeals to a hunger and lust in me for things and stuff - my father never owned a car and many other things and telling me that that is the stuff that Jesus wants to give me is awesome! However, as nice as this teaching sounds, it’s a lie – it’s just not founded anywhere in the Bible (just a series of misinterpreted and out-of-context texts that are used) hence I vehemently abominate it and I do not want to do anything with anyone who teaches this nonsense.
What is funny is that only the folks who teach this stuff really seem to have it working for them. Other than that, just a few people who also always within their (leaders) circles seem to have it going for them to an extent. And I say "to an extent" because the prosperity gospel is a fallacy and a joke as it is not in touch with reality on its own before we talk about it being out of touch with the apostles' doctrine.
Think about this: of all the folks you have met in your church, how many could you say, "So and so is personally happy, physically healthy, and materially wealthy. They are indeed all three things always. I mean, for all the years I've known them, this is how their life has been"? You will not find anybody! If you do, they are probably lying or you are lying.
But why not then? Why doesn't this 'ear-tickling' theology not work? Well, according to the prosperity gospel teachers, it has to be the people’s fault. They've done something to make themselves sick. They've done something to make themselves miserable. They have done something to rob themselves of wealth. The weight of failure lands on them. They do not have faith. They have not sown enough into the ministry. They have sin in their lives. And so on and so on and so on. This is crazy!
In Ndunduma village, people there literally told me that such a message perpetrated by prosperity teachers would not work because people were stuck in "poverty" only in terms of the standards of other places - they are content! One lady told me that it is so difficult for villagers to contribute even a $1 for community projects and what more someone telling them to “sow” so that they get. “Besides,” she said, “people here are content and those who are Christians do understand that life does not consist in the abundance of things a person possesses.”
I was stoked to hear this.
The reality, folks, is that as long as we are on this side of eternity, people will suffer and trouble will hit them - that is REALITY! And the gospel fits into this whole equation in that it affords people a hope which noone else has to offer. Our hope is that one day He will come back, crack the sky and all the pain and tears will be swept away! On that day we will be with Him! We will be with the lover of our souls forever. We will savour and cherish Him, dwell in His majestic presence and cry tears of joy!
And true to form, there is no explicit prosperity gospel preaching church there as is the norm with such remote places. The churches are usually conveniently planted where people have easy going lives already, as research has shown.
What I am saying is, if we are going to reach the unreached and touch the very ends of the earth, the prosperity gospel will (I dare say) NEVER get us there. The self-entitlement to comfort and happiness and wealth and health that it imparts on human hearts utterly frustrates a passion for missions to the nasty parts of the earth.
Unless we have a theology that takes into account that we are not here to make our lives comfortable but rather to make our lives matter by giving up ALL our comforts and pleasures, and a theology which views suffering and persecution and oppositions as GOOD tools, useful for God’s glory, those of us engrossed in prosperity teaching will never have a God-exalting passion for missions to the unengaged. As someone who once bought into the prosperity gospel, I know what I am talking about. I know the kind of attitude that I had when I thought of doing mission and working for God. It really got to be all about “me”. Will I be comfortable? What if I die there?
But now, I am ready to lose it ALL because its not about my happiness, comfort and all that stuff (although being happy and being comfortable are not wrong at all). Paul is a great example; he suffers so so much, as we already know, yet his previously life was probably more comfortable as he worked with the leaders of that time. He gives it up - his wealth, health and happiness - to give himself to prisons, hardships, shipwrecks, stoning etc - all for the purpose of His mission to the Gentiles. Paul seems to strike the prosperity gospel right in the gut.
Hopefully my thoughts will encourage you and give you something to think about.
Grace and peace.
I love you all.