KAMPALA, UGANDA – An early-summer highlight of mine was this comment from a gentleman who stopped me in a London, Ontario church to say, “You know, your book cost me $4,000.”
An early-summer highlight of mine was this comment from a gentleman who stopped me in a London, Ontario church to say, “You know, your book cost me $4,000.”
“Oh?” I said.
“Yeah,” he continued. “I gave it to my son, and after he read it he decided to go to Uganda.”
“Really?” I said, imagining how my book Ninety-Nine Windows—a collection of newspaper ruminations—might be molding this young man into a modern David Livingstone.
Yes, writers live for such feedback. So I later invited the young traveler for a meal. He told me of his motorcycle and sailboat, his fulfilling job in a group home, his education in the culinary arts, his strong interest in journalism and, naturally, his desire to return to Africa.
And while I appreciated his demeanor and achievements, including his month-long stint at a Ugandan orphanage, I almost choked on my lunch when this bright 22-year-old also remarked, “I think that God and I have some similar values.”
To be fair, I know what he meant. And my new friend did tell me previously that he’s somewhat unsure of his relationship with the Divine. But, to me, his remark revealed something of a certain worldview that’s often held by young people from fine Christian families. We’re to pursue good and worthwhile goals that the Big Guy Himself, if we ask, will even help us with.
It sounds quite heavenly, when in truth, it’s a kind of subtle spiritual baloney. Consider this other summer highlight of mine, a second bookend, which came in late season just before my recent return to my Ugandan home.
I was visiting that same London church when I came upon guest speaker Oscar Muriu, a pastor from Nairobi, Kenya who’s a rather prophetic voice to the West. He spoke of many things that Canadian Christians should hear, namely that we need to learn more about Africa and its people.
He noted how missions to Africa are often based on false beliefs and old models. He spoke of the harm of short-term missions if visiting North Americans haven’t first experienced local mission. He lamented how the Western Church is slow to see the strengths of Africa’s burgeoning Christianity, how it is unaware of Africa’s role in the global body of Christ.
“We need to change the way missions is carried out,” he said, noting that while certain resources, like money, are in the North, other resources, like personnel, are much more in the Global South. “We need to work together.”
Muriu shared some heartwrenching stories, particularly of a Congolese doctor who’s helping women abused by civil war rebels, gang-raped by as many as 10 or 20 at once. Emotionally traumatized and physically torn, without surgery these women are left incontinent, smelling fiercely and rejected like lepers even by family.
Muriu spoke about the darkness of prostitution and child soldiering, of poverty and mental illness. But the African pastor also shared about the light and hope of Jesus, about laughter, release and salvation. And he reminded his listeners how Jesus repeatedly showed the importance of bringing the poor and needy back into a place of inclusion in the community.
Finally, Muriu asked about our education and social capital, our money and resources, our networks and opportunities. More clearly, the articulate pastor put it this way: “Are the things you’re living for worth what Christ died for?”
Are they? Because with this question I re-learned that it’s not about me. Or you. Or even Africa. No, it’s not about our dreams, hopes or plans, good and upright as they may be. Rather, it’s about asking Providence about His dreams, hopes and plans for each of us.
It’s about asking the God of the universe to write our story. Back-to-school time is a good time for any of us – young or not so young – to mull over these things. Not that we’re all meant for foreign missions. We may or may not be. What we do know is that Christ followers are called to a full life, one that goes beyond what we just see in the mirro… or often even imagine.