Preaching has its own set of challenges in Africa. And it isn’t really a language issue. Though there is a bit of a barrier there. Here, the real challenge when preaching is primarily glandular. As in mammary.
You see, in Africa breast feeding is a very normal and natural thing (as compared to the US, where its very normal and natural so long as its done behind closed doors). Well, it can be a bit distracting when you’re coming to point number three of a sermon on Jesus casting the demons out of a guy, and you’re gearing up for the big close on what it means to be set free, and all of the sudden you notice a liberation of a different sort happening all across the congregation.
In Bible college they always told us to make good eye contact when preaching. And, well, that was what I was attempting to do on Sunday. As I was scanning the audience I turned just in time to catch a rather large mother removing what appeared to be a near life size model of the Hindenburg from beneath her shirt and begin feeding her baby with it.
And in an effort to stay focused, I began singing to myself, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face…”
I was sure I was going to say something really dumb, (like, “and the disciples got into the breast...BOAT, BOAT, they GOT INTO THE BOAT and headed across the sea of Galillee”) or worse, that I would look again and get consumed in a ball of fire right there in church.
Apparently though, things were just getting started. As I was attempted to finish my message, more of these uhm... biological lactose distribution devices were unveiled and I wished that in Bible college my preaching instructor had included a section on where to look when you can’t look at your congregation.
You know, the ubiquitous “Preaching Effective Sermons to Naked People” lecture.
I mean, how could he have left that out?
Sometimes in Africa I feel so far outside the cultural norm, that I wonder if I will ever really be “in the know” here. More often than not I feel like a perpetual kindergartner who gets sent back to preschool to relearn patti–cakes and how to share my toys. It seems like every time I think I’m starting to figure things out, something happens and I realize that I’m as clueless about life here as I am about life on Mars.
But I suppose that’s the essence of cross–cultural ministry, of any ministry for that matter. We don’t really have much to give until we’ve begun to give up our selves. Somehow, from that position of emptiness we find our greatest resource. Out of the hollows of our weakness and desperation we are perhaps as close to Christ as we ever get. Because its there that we find Christ in us. Jesus never seems quite so near to us as when our own resources have run dry.
In fact, Christ set the standard on this one: “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men,” (Phil. 2:6–7).
And this is something I think Zambians could teach all of us.