Wow! We’ve been learning so much here! They keep us busy from 9am – 3pm with classes (sometimes including lunch meetings and sometimes past 3pm). Some things we have learned before, but it’s still a good refresher and we may apply things differently considering this phase of our lives. And then other things are brand new and things that we’re glad we are learning before we go to Niger. Of course it has been overwhelming at times and humbling to know how much we still don’t know and how much work it’ll be once we get there.
I (Sarah) wanted to share one thing that really struck me and has come to mind often this last week or so. We had a session on anthropology and it was fascinating learning some of the differences between cultures. It’s so much deeper than different types of clothing, food, and hand shakes! Our lecturer, Dr. Stan May, had spent time in Africa so many of his examples dealt with a culture similar to what we’ll experience, which was very helpful. Many Africans hold a traditional worldview and one aspect of that is they view the world as a Spiritual world. They believe all areas of life are effected by a spiritual cause (spirits, ancestors, etc.) An example would be that if a drought occurred and resulted in a poor harvest, they would believe that either someone has cast a spell on them to cause this or one of their ancestors is not pleased with them. On the opposite end of the spectrum Americans have a completely Secular worldview. When we have a drought we explain with scientific terms the reason for it and even visually show the weather maps and don’t consider any sort of spiritual cause. Even as he was talking about this example, my mind was saying, “Well of course we can explain weather and many other things with science…the facts are there!” But look at James 5:17, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.” It looks to me like this drought was caused by God as He was answering the fervent prayers of His servant.
The problem of these differences is that western missionaries are generally not prepared to deal with the spiritual mindset of those they are sharing Christ with. In fact Dr. May shared with us that Lesslie Newbigin argues that Western Christian missions have been “one of the greatest secularizing forces in history”. Wow, that’s a strong statement and a category I don’t want to fall into. But the more I thought about it I realized just how secular Americans are, including me. When we need more money, we seek better employment. When we have a marriage problem, we go to a counselor. When we have a physical problem, we see a doctor. I could go on and on. And even as Christians we often try to solve our problems with purely secular methods. Now I’m not saying any of the examples above are inappropriate, but there is a time and place for those things. What becomes a problem is when we seek answers in secular ways and either leave God out of the equation, or use prayer as a last resort or side thought. I am very challenged to become more spiritual in my thinking and less secular. Actually, the goal is to have a biblical worldview. I am challenged to approach all problems with prayer, knowing that God alone has the answers. I am challenged to approach all problems by studying the scriptures and looking for answers there. God wants me to rely on Him and have faith in Him alone.
In case I haven’t been clear, I want to emphasize that I don’t accept the Africans spiritual worldview to their full extent. I acknowledge that God is in control of all things, but the foundations of their spiritual beliefs are completely unbiblical. We seek to direct them to the true God of the Bible and the truths of spiritual beings according to His Word. I think I will learn a lot from the Nigeriens I will meet, and please pray with us for their salvation and right understanding of the ‘Spiritual’ world.
By the way, this topic is so intriguing to me and I would love to hear your feedback. I’d love to hear any questions, comments, complaints, or even examples you see in the Bible or any overseas experiences dealing with worldview differences.