Teaching in Kigali by Charlie King
James has been doing the devotions in the mornings. There is a clip of some of the singing below – I don’t think that there is a weak singer among all our students. It’s extraordinary.
His message this morning was from Eph 2:8 (“for by grace you have been saved… it is the gift of God”). Many of the students struggle with a legalistic view of Christianity, and find it hard to accept not only what is in Eph 2:8, but the whole idea of the assurance of faith (Heb 10:22). As we work through the moral law, our theme is that we will not be perfected this side of glory, that we do not save ourselves through adherence to the law, and until we die we will struggle with sin, even though we are assured of our new identity in Christ. Though we are already saved in Christ, we are not yet perfect. This “already, not yet” insight is difficult for our Rwandan students, given their highly controlled social environment and legalistic church teachings. It is also a peculiarly Western formulation.
So James is answering a question that the African world view does not have a good answer for. (And don’t believe me, but read Kunhiyop, or Nakah, or Mbewe or any other contemporary reformed theologian from Africa). That question is simply when we are in a world of inexplicable suffering “where is our hope?”
For some Rwandans, their hope is in the law, which is no hope at all. The recitation of rules under which they struggle – both at home and in church – is staggering, but some know no other way. For others, the hope is in traditional religion, aka witchcraft, (and enough said about that.) And for still others, such the Rwandan bureaucracy, the hope lies in Western materialism, which is a pity. Ironically, the ideologies of the West most keen on blaming Christianity for seducing and corrupting traditional African culture and society are the very ideologies that have done just that. And I mean specifically Marxism and its progressive off spring, such as critical race theory, post-colonial theory, and the whole raft of tired, clichéd, power-hungry, Christ-bashing world views.
These ideologies of materialism offer a false hope—with better policies, more money, more appropriate technologies, more empirical studies (or just more power), the oppressed can live more fully and, well, better. The oppressors can just go to hell. This, not Christianity, it seems to me, is what has wreaked havoc on traditional African society. African society, in as much as one can generalize about a continent, holds to something called ubuntu as its underlying ethic. Ubuntu is a Zulu word but has its cousins in all the Bantu languages (it’s Obuntu in Uganda). It is a philosophical viewpoint which says we are fulfilled only through our relationships with others, and by properly balancing our social obligations with our rights. More commonly, it is expressed as “I am who I am because you are who you are.” Marxism is the antithesis of this (you are whom the State says you are), as is critical race/gender theory (you are what your skin color or your body parts say you are). Ubuntu is also in clear conflict with the unbridled individualism of the West. But it is fertile ground for evangelism. And so I have great hope that the African Christian ethic will grow to be a missionary ethic carrying the Gospel to places increasingly bereft of it, such as the West.
We teach that Christ comes from outside of us (1 Tim 1:15) to call us and by calling us, to change us. We are who we are because Christ is who He is. Ephesians 2 tells us that we are “dead in trespass and sin… following the course of this world” before we are called and redeemed. In other words, we were the wrecks that we were because we were not in a relationship with Christ. This makes perfect sense here. Our students cannot imagine being isolated from their group or community. That is the source of their identity, and the absence of this is the source of their anxiety. When they learn that Christ has called them to “put on” the new man, in a new community, they get it – they are now who they are because He is who He is. As Galatians 3:28 puts it “there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. “ They get this clearly. This becomes the grounds for hope.
Who knew that such hope would spring so powerfully from a culture in which suffering is so common?
I am finishing this up late… been traveling hard. Took an all night bus ride from Kigali to Kampala on Friday, had a board meeting for TCWM, ltd here in Kampala, and then got stuck in the most horrendous traffic jam I have seen in years (the driver turned off the car and took a nap). Now I am waiting for a taxi to the airport and heading home. I will try to write one more quick note, but here are some more photos.
Cheers and blessings,