One of the things i love about doing Chronological Bible Storying in Africa, is that one often engages a group of people right where life happens. Chickens and sheep are underfoot. Crazy people sit down and join in the conversation. Ladies stop by to try and sell you fish, etc. It reminds me a bit of Jesus’ teachings on the road, at the table, on the hillside and in the midst of the unruly crowd. Some of Jesus’ best teaching happened in the midst of interruptions. Whether a sick woman snuck up on him to touch his clothes in the midst of the crowd or Jesus himself interrupted a funeral procession to raise the dead—the Kingdom was breaking into people’s daily lives. Often enough, people and their daily needs broke into Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom. Think about the four friends dropping their paralyzed friend through the roof as Jesus taught in a packed house—or the lady that interrupted Jesus’ table talk to plead for her daughter’s healing like a dog snatching for crumbs. Do we have any record of Jesus calmly teaching in a synagogue without interruption: demons howling at Jesus, his enemies laying traps for him daring him to heal on the Sabbath? The Sermon on the Mount does seem pretty calm, but I’m guessing Matthew left out some interesting moments to focus on the content… I mean, Jesus was surrounded by crowds of people gathered on a hillside. I’d like to recount a couple of my recent interruptions as they illustrate the challenges and opportunities of being an agent of God’s Kingdom in this place.
My family lives in the large village of Sindou, pop. 5,347. (we make up the 7 at the end) Sindou has been very closed to the Gospel up until about 20 years ago. It became the capital of our little region and government officials began to live here and a couple of churches were started. Up until that point, the Animistic-Muslim population had refused to let Christians evangelize here or have any property. Sindou is still very closed, but the door has cracked open a bit. Otherwise, we couldn’t live here. I was certainly surprised to hear that an evangelistic “Crusade” was coming to town. (Yes, they called their evangelistic outreach in a Muslim community a “Crusade.”) I carefully stayed away because, although I consider these well-meaning Christians brothers and sisters, my experience has shown that these events do more to close doors and reinforce bad stereotypes than advance the gospel in a Muslim community.
Anyway, Tabitha and I had gone to a Muslim friend’s courtyard and recounted the story of Creation and the Fall. I felt almost like I was in an African version of one of Wendall Berry’s books. My friend Siaka and his wife Fatima were there with all four of their kids. Fatima’s ancient mother (very hard of hearing) and a marabout’s (think mostly benign Muslim Magic practitioner) daughter were there. All outrageous characters. We had a lively discussion and were approaching the application/obedience part of our study. After recounting a story, we ask the group to tell the story back to us until they get it right and then we follow up with three open ended questions: 1) what did this passage teach you about God? 2) about humankind? 3) Now that we’ve listened to the Word of God together, what do we need to do now to obey?
We had some great discussion about God’s power, creativity, holiness and grace. We talked about humanity’s tendency to grab an easy solution that they can touch and taste rather than trust in God. As we began talking about how we might obey this Word, “HALLELUJAH”s started raining down on us and some lady with a booming voice started warbling some praise songs at a volume that made our bones vibrate. The crusade had begun. We moved closer and tried to yell at each other. The ancient mother-in-law looked around trying to figure out what had set her body vibrating. The Swiss guy preaching in English-to French-to Jula, booming his way through the dozen mega-phones atop tall bamboo poles, and into every house in the village ended our discussion.
Just yesterday, Tab and I were back at Siaka’s telling the dual story of God making a covenant with the Israelites and giving the 10 commandments immediately followed by their making and worshipping the Golden Calf. Siaka and Fatima were there along with Lagi (a tailor with a crippled hand and a descendant of the first Muslim missionaries to come from Guinée to convert Sindou). Half way through the story a lady came to sell us fish. She taunted us in a friendly way when we declined, saying “What, white people don’t eat fish?” A friend of mine was guiding some white tourist through town out to see our village’s rock formation. He stopped to free a kid who was trapped under some large clay pots that were stacked near by. (a goat’s kid, gotcha!) And then a young lady that looked vaguely familiar sat down to listen to the last half of the story. When we got to the questions, she made a couple of responses that were hard to understand, exacerbated by the fact that she insisted in speaking in (very bad) French. After a bit she thanked us for the study and went on her way. Siaka leaned over and said, “She’s not right. She’s got the Djinn (evil spirit) sickness and has become crazy.” At the end, we prayed for God to help us trust in him, not people, not idols…and to heal our friend Salimata with the Djinn sickness. All in all, two pretty average storying sessions.