Sunday, August 12, 2007

day 15 in ghana

Day 15 in Ghana, which I believe is now the longest I’ve ever been outside the U.S. And this is just the beginning. :-)

There are only two of us left here now. The other two left early this morning. We remaining two will leave the hotel in just a couple hours. In addition to being nearly done with my last Krisview Hotel lunch (today I just went for fried plantains and french fries), I’m in the midst of repacking my belongings again. Each leg of this trip seems to require a different configuration of luggage content.

I’ll miss the staff here. I feel like we should have a big goodbye moment, but most of them don’t appear to be around today. So that big goodbye moment seems unlikely to happen. And, speaking of goodbyes, I’ve been rationing my last few Ghana cedis, trying to make it through these last few hours without having to change over any more money. Hopefully, I’ll succeed.

My remaining teammate and I went to one more Ghanaian church service today. We visited a very large church here in Accra. When we arrived, police were at the street directing the traffic exiting the early service. The big field/parking lot was starting to fill up with cars for the next service. At the building, people were everywhere. I felt very much like I was driving into the parking lot of one of Nashville’s large churches. The service structure wasn’t vastly dissimilar either. Nor were the announcements at the end of the service.

The question that has emerged for me more clearly today, a question I’m interested to watch for answers to throughout my trip, is this: how should God’s word be presented to the poverty-stricken and down-trodden of the world? How do you teach them of God’s power, including His power to change their circumstances, their means, the bondage of poverty, while making sure they also learn about all the other aspects of God? Should the messages from the pulpits of Africa be different from the messages from the pulpits of America? At what point are the poverty-stricken no longer poor? When they are no longer poor, should the exploration of God’s word with them change? And is eradicating poverty the real point of it all anyway? Lastly, in a leading-the-witness kind of question, do poverty and suffering remove a need to know all of Scripture? Or a need to study scripture in the context of Scripture’s grand narrative and full message?

In the church services I’ve been part of here, I feel like I’ve heard so much about power and victory and being raised up and about having more and about attainment and prosperity and success. I’ve heard much about acquiring God’s blessing and favor. I’ve even seen these things on the African movies we’ve been watching on TV here (we think they’re Nigerian TV movies) and heard them at a big concert we attended as part of Ghana’s 50th Anniversary celebration festivities (i.e. it was a civic, not officially religious, event).

While some of these things are not completely bad or wrong and a sermon here and there about such topics might be fully appropriate in this place, my admittedly very limited observations suggest that many Ghanaian Christians mostly hear only about this one aspect of God. Religion is very openly exhibited here, but sometimes it feels like God’s name is praised because these are the magic words that will open the floodgates of prosperity not because of deep relationship with the Father of the Universe. If you can do the right things to find favor with God, then you will get His blessing. If it’s true that this is the extent of relationship with Christ for most Christians here, I grieve for them. God cares about physical needs, but the emphasis here feels like misplaced, if not un-Biblical, teaching.

So, we will see what answer I discover to my question about how you teach God’s word to those who are poor and downtrodden and destitute and who live in systems and structures that appear to offer no escapes.

While eating my plantains and French fries, I took a few minutes to begin reading a new book. It was given to me by folks I’ll be working for/with in South Africa: A Mile in My Shoes: Cultivating Compassion by Trevor Hudson, a South African pastor. Here’s an early quote from the Foreward, which is written by Elizabeth Canham.

“In this book Trevor Hudson repeatedly calls us to be people of prayer who learn to listen to the neighbor, the forgotten and oppressed folk in our midst. Only then may we become agents of God’s love and action through compassionate caring…We are all on pilgrimage; every experience, interaction, or roadblock we encounter can become a grace-filled opportunity to respond with loving obedience to the gospel. But we need to pay attention to our experience and willingly reflect upon our journey…Pilgrims learn that encounter, reflection, and transformation take place through the discipline of learning to be present to where they are, who they meet, and what they see as they go about their daily tasks.”

May we all be pilgrims wherever we find ourselves today.

1 comment:

Ciona said...

I love Trevor Hudson! Will you get to spend time with him in SA?