At Pastor Al’s recommendation, I’ve picked up a book called Africa: Altered States Ordinary Miracles by Richard Dowden. Its author is a veteran of reportage in Africa, and his concise history of post-colonial Africa is peppered with fascinating personal anecdotes collected over decades of work on the continent. In the midst of describing the great movements historical, cultural, political in modern Africa, he takes great pains to give a sense of the people, and a sense of living as an outsider among many different cultures.
This quote has given me great pause in the last few days:
The rules were complex and I realized I would never learn them fully, never become a part of society except on its terms. But I learned how to get by without causing offence. That meant, first, avoid confrontation. Tease, joke, cajole, don’t demand or command. Don’t always seek a definite resolution of a problem; sometimes it is better to leave things unresolved. Don’t expect the truth and don’t blurt it out. Hint at it, work round to it, leave it understood but unspoken. Never, never get angry. Anger never works and loses you respect. Above all be patient. Everything takes more time in Africa than elsewhere. Good-hearted outsiders, idealists who truly want to help Africa, often find themselves mysteriously impeded by Africa because, in their enthusiasm to get things done, they come across as rude or domineering.”
His observations ring true to me in many ways, corroborating what I’ve experienced interacting with our friends and neighbors in Karamoja. And yet, I’m uncomfortable with this as a set of guidelines. As Christians, we claim to have not only the truth, but a calling to share that truth with others in a direct yet winsome way. In our interactions, do we go against the overwhelming cultural grain explained above, or do we find ways of communicating the Gospel that can express themselves within these communicative mores?
It doesn’t seem to be a question with an easy answer, but your thoughts are most welcome below.