Thursday, September 17, 2009


For the last three days, I've had the privilege of joining Michael Lawrence in training pastors here in South Africa. We adapted 9Marks workshop material for our audience, which meant dropping some of the polemics that the original 9Marks material offered for the American context and attempting to apply the Scripture to the cultural context of South Africa. It was a fascinating and enriching time interacting with the brothers and sisters from rural and small city and township South Africa.

Some things I appreciated/observed :

1. Relevance

Parts of the Bible just exploded in my head and heart in new and fresh ways. For example, when talking about qualifications for leaders today, "the husband of one wife", sometimes thought to be easily understood and applied in the West, cut to the heart of a lot of sensitive pastoral problems in a culture where polygamy is accepted. You can see the wisdom of God in the inclusion of what seems in some cultures to be obscure passages and statements. It reminds us of how sufficient the Bible is for all of life.

But the exchange raised some interesting pastoral questions. How would you counsel the man who is converted by the preaching of the gospel but prior to faith in Christ maintained four wives? Should he keep the first while divorcing the other three? Should he keep them all? Should he keep the first, and, while not divorcing the other three or engaging in conjugal union, maintain the material support of the other "wives" and any children from those unions? If he divorces them, are the wives free to remarry? What, if anything, is the church's responsibility to those wives in a culture where they are not likely to remarry at all? All of a sudden, "can this man be an elder?" became the easy question. It was good for my soul to see passages like Eccl. 9:5-6 be applied in a context where ancestor worship is normative. Passages that seem to belong to a far off time with "ancient" Israel proved their relevance in a pagan culture today.

2. Trends

We had lunch at a nearby mall, where I was shocked to see a great number of Muslims frequenting the stores. Currently, Muslims comprise 2% of the population but occupy about 12% of the seats of parliament. When I consider the great migration of white South Africans out of the country, the deep poverty and high HIV/AIDS rates among some black South Africans, and the immigration of Muslims to the country, it does seem that South Africa could become "the Islamic Republic of South Africa" in about thirty years.

3. Strategy

Number 2 is made all the more possible by the weakness of the church in South Africa and the mercenary focus of Muslim communities in the country. Muslims are building schools in the townships of South Africa, indoctrinating young South Africans, while many churches struggle to cooperate, clarify the gospel, or work effectively in these communities. The consensus opinion by non-CESA folks is that CESA is the only evangelical denomination in the country and South Africa's best hope at a strong, biblical gospel witness. Many independent African churches are theologically mixed with pagan practices, most Baptist churches are theologically liberal, and many charismatic and pentecostal churches are carried away in excesses. There are, of course, shining exceptions. But this is how church leaders here describe the landscape. The country needs the Christians to forge a unified and gospel-centered strategy wherever possible.

4. Seriously?

At dinner last night, a waitress donned a silk sash and approached our table for a donation to the Society for the Care and Protection of Animals. Our gracious hosts explained that there is a wide and focused effort to raise funds for the care of animals. Many schools require their students to contribute financially. Even third graders in one school are asked to knit blankets to give to the care of animals. Meanwhile, I've not noticed any fundraiser efforts for the townships, and needed medical supplies don't make it to the sick. It's strange to see people so organized and focused for the care of animals but distant and non-responsive when it comes to the care of people. We see the same in the United States and other places. It makes me wonder about which really insignificant causes capture my attention while I move around willfully ignorant of deep suffering.

5. Statistics

Speaking of animals and humans. The government regulates the size of animal reserves, requiring thousands of acres in order to include certain animals like elephants and lions. There appear to be no regulations for the number of people you can squeeze into a mud house or shanty in townships. Moreover, while all the animals receive adequate square footage and medical care from people working game reserves, only an estimated 25% of children with HIV receive needed treatment.

6. Weather

I have to say this somewhere. It's cold and rainy in Africa, at least South Africa. I loved my history and geography teacher in high school, but she never told me to pack a jacket and umbrella when travelling to Africa! Where's the scorching heat? Where's the dessert and arid climate? I'll tell you where. Texas :-)

7. Humbling Honor

To address several groups in post-Apartheid South Africa with the Bible's teaching on ethnicity and unity in the body of Christ. The talks were received well and I pray bears much fruit. It was beyond encouraging to see the eagerness with which church leaders and students at UKZN engaged the topic. It's an honor and privilege to be here.

8. Needed

Pastors, seminaries, internships, teachers, and church planters in South Africa. George Whitefield is doing a great job training men, so are groups like Entrust. But there is so much more that's needed if this country will be reached with the gospel of Christ.

9. Contrasts

This morning's paper features a South African taxi driver who chased down a hit-and-run drunk driver who injured a 7 year old boy. He's a hero. Just beneath that article is a story about President Jacob Zuma, who declared in court briefs that he was "above the law" and should not be prosecuted while in office. One man risks his life and taxi to uphold justice, another uses his position to thwart it. The taxi driver gives us hope.

10. Gracious

The ladies who hosted me in their homes: Michelle, Lillibet, and Kristi.

11. Lucky

The blokes who married these ladies--they married well above their own status: Tim, Grant, and Paul :-)

12. Longing

For my wife and family and church. Headed home... but treasuring South Africa.

1 comment:

The Student said...

Thank you for your comments. Lots of food for thought. Where do we begin, Lord?