Everything will change. A Ministry of WorldVenture.
Last week our group voyaged to Abidjan, little Paris compared with the rest of Cote d’Ivoire, for a seminar on the values and perspectives of West Africa from a Pasteur Sougalo. He is a pastor of one of our churches and teaching at a seminary in Abidjan. He works too hard but took the time to brief us on this vast subject. I would like to convey to you what was not just interesting, like most new information is, but an enlightening of how I see the world through the window of comparison. My translation through language, culture, and experience will not do justice the Pasteur’s presentation, but we will try. This will also be scattered in that I am pulling out only a couple topics of interest from a cohesive presentation.
Traditional African religion begins at birth, not as a choice but is just as inseparable from the birth as the family into which the child is born. Therefore religion is practiced as community not an individual and to separate yourself from the religion is to no longer be a part of the village or your family; to be completely alone. To better understand the devastation of this you need to for a second forget the individualistic American mentality and imagine a life in which there the family is the smallest unit. Like the atom is the smallest division of an element, the individual is always viewed in context of the family and to be without any family is worse than death. The only cross into “American” culture I know would be being shunned from an Amish community. The interference of the community and less of loss have a resemblance to what conversion to Christianity would entail.
I hesitate to include the following story: it certainly illustrates the severity of choosing to separate oneself from the traditional community, but for us whose reality is so far from the events, it is just another story that fits all too neatly into my blog. First of all, this happened in the seventies and is not relevant to my safety. In the village Komborokora, west of Korhogo, there was a flux of young people who became Christian. Out of fear that the traditional practices would not be passed on and die, the leaders took action against the young church. They attacked them, brutally wounding many, and ordered all hospitals to not accept people with machete wounds and the such. The mission’s hospital obviously accepted people, but it is a frightful thing to be so outcast that not even a hospital will accept you.
“Time is money.” I hear that phrase quite often here. It is sad that that the United States is synonymous with greed and price tagging life, but our actions speak louder than our words. The reciprocal phrase that I also here often in “African time”; meaning arriving thirty minutes to an hour after the event started. The technical terminology is time oriented versus event oriented. It is not a disrespect for time, but a different mentality of time. To try to illustrate this difference: we would say at noon (the time) that it is time to eat, and they would say it is the time to eat (the event) when the food is done. Whereas, showing up late to a wedding, for example, would be an insult to your American friends, the fact that you arrived is the only important thing in this culture. Both viewpoints can learn from each other, but I think I would rather have people disrupting the church service coming in late, than feeling like someone stole from me by just stopping by to visit for a couple hours. As Pasteur Soungalo said, time is too big (trop gros) for money, or said differently, it devalues life by suggesting you can buy it.
Imagine being carjacked and after talking with the perpetrator he realizes that he is obligated to give you back your car and steal another one instead. Maybe with your infallible logic you won over his sympathy or you used a Jedi mind trick on him, but really the change of mind is far greater than just you two and the obligation even older than the country. It is not only the dramatic, but this phenomenon also permeates the normal facets of life. In a culture of such visible respect for elders, one would never expect to see the blunt teasing that exists between grandparents and grandchildren; to the point of the grandchildren pulling off theatrical pranks at their grandparent’s funeral. Or the degrading joking between ethnic groups that is not received as an insult, but brings people together with laughter and good spirits. The phenomena, called la parenté et les alliances à plaisanterie, are sort of joking social communication in which family members and ethnic groups are authorized, and sometimes obligated, to tease or mock the other in a understood mutual acceptance of their differences. The “rules” of such engagements are written up their hearts and the ancient legends from which the alliances originate are always bigger than the current issue and sufficient to override each other’s differences. There exists a detailed web of alliances among the different families and among the different ethnic groups. For example my host family’s name is Bamba and they have an alliance with the family Coulibaly; and similarly the Sénoulo people group have an alliance with the Yacouba people group. These alliances help to break down ethnical barriers, pacify conflict, outline equality between social and ethnic groups, foster fraternity and cooperation, and encourage respect for the dignity of each other. Ethnic loyalty has been abused by politics and the source of much division in West Africa, but there also is a manner of peace hidden within the culture far more effective than an imposed western system.
Changing subjects/Please pray for:
Going to Benin to help with a Transworld Radio project is coming together. There is a missionary traveling to Benin from Ouaga, Burkina Faso that I am planning to carpool with at the end of March. How long I will be there depends on how it goes, but I am thinking between one and three months: my Burkina visa will only be good for three months.
The new journeyer couple will be moving into their host family in early March. They will be living in a smaller town about two hours north of Bouake, Niakara.