Friday, February 21, 2014

redeeming the message behind the message

I love this. So very much I love it.

What am I looking at?

It’s Steven, and Bronwyn and the evangecube.

What’s an evangecube?

It’s a pictorial gospel presentation in the shape of a cube. Different flaps open and close and bend and fold in such a way that the cube morphs and different pictures appear as the story progresses.

Why is this awesome?

I’m so glad you asked, because my heart swelled as I stepped out the back door and found the two of them sitting there like this. I caught a glimpse of glory right here, and if you’ll indulge me, I’ll tell you about it.

The short explanation is that this is awesome because Stephen is sharing the gospel with Bronwyn. 
The neighbor boy is sharing the gospel with the missionary kid. 
The Zambian is sharing the gospel with the American. 
This image – simple and unknowing – speaks redemption to the race-based lies we encounter every single day.

For years we’ve been piecing together snippets of the Christian history in rural Zambia. Long ago, missionaries started pouring into this area bringing many wonderful things. Clinics! Schools! Anti-Slavery movement! David Livingstone is revered as a national hero and missionaries in general are spoken of highly. But looked at a different way, in addition to Jesus, the missionaries also brought all things new. New clothes, new food, new language, new homes, new definitions of poverty, new cultural expectations… new divides. 

All of these foreign ideas, having been brought by missionaries, were understandably linked with this new Christian religion. Still, people signed up for Jesus in droves – Grace and forgiveness? Health and healing? Forgiveness and love? Who doesn’t want that? And before long the entire country had officially said, “sure, we’ll take it,” to the white man’s God. But for many people we know, the racial and cultural associations of the faith communicated that this belief system is ultimately true for those who wear certain clothes and eat certain food and speak English and have white skin and live in fancy homes. We’ve heard it many times over, always in different words, “We’ll take it, thanks! But really, the gospel is a white-man’s gospel.”

One afternoon we were talking through the concept of repentance with a man in the village. He explained that his mother had always told him that he should NOT repent. Her reason? “The Americans killed Jesus, not the Africans. Let them apologize.” Though geographically inaccurate, it kind of makes sense. White gospel, white savior, white repentance.    

But the implications of this sentiment go deeper than my what my simple words could ever unearth. The fiercest beast we wrestle down is the belief that the whites got the gospel first because they are somehow “better.” Our hearts shed unseen tears every time we hear self-deprecating words come from our neighbors’ mouths. I’ve heard three times this week already, “Because you know, we blacks, we’re not like you whites. We are… lazy… thieves… petty… (fill in the blank with some other overgeneralized, depressing description.) The abundance of “help” that the white men have offered “in Jesus name” has reinforced an inferiority complex amongst many Zambians who seem to always be on the receiving end of help and teaching and correction. Our fists clench every time we hear a sentence begin with the words, “we blacks…” and we want to shout from the rooftops, “WHO SPOKE THESE WORDS OVER YOUR LIVES? Who ever led you to believe that you were something less than.

We listen to that same sound track play over and over in this village and we wonder where it came from… but every so often we hear that sound track change accents and sound like people we might know and we make a painful connection. I’m ashamed of how many times we’ve heard missionaries talk about their work using White Man’s Burden kind of language. Baptized with Christianese, it doesn’t sound too bad unless you listen to the message behind the message that communicates,

“I don't know what they would do without me.”


“Praise the Lord we saved them.”


"Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase noble…"

I’m sorry, I stopped listening after the word ‘savage.’

The communication of racial superiority has too often left us head-in-hands kind of discouraged … and our neighbors? Finding their confidence and identity in tradition. Because the Christianity clothed in strange threads and singing unknown tunes and always telling people they need help from the white guy - it doesn’t always speak to the village, the Bemba, the African reality. And so in Fimpulu, Christ remains at the margin. Faith observes formality without the freshness of true life. Churches have a form of godliness, but deny its power. The preachers preach, but the message behind the message remains: that the fullness of God in Jesus Christ belongs not to “sinners such as I” but to those who are white enough to get it and western enough to apply it.

With fear and trembling we ask ourselves whether we too have been, or even still are, complicit in this damaging of brothers and sisters. Hoping the best, for our sake and theirs, we long so much to hear a better message.

And Steven preached it for me.

For by the grace of God, this boy saw it fit to sit on the ground with the white girl and tell HER what is True. It didn’t cross his mind - the thought that he needed to refrain or wait for her to get older, because obviously she’s smarter and she would then help him live his life and show him the way because she’s white and white people are better than black people. No. In his precious, unadulterated heart, he saw the pale child for what she is - no better than himself; and the cynical mind of the mother beheld a new hope as she saw Romans 3:23 get dirty the way kids do:

For ALL have sinned and ALL fall short of the glory of God, and ALL are justified by his grace as a gift.

Children, to whom belong the kingdom of heaven, have first hand experience with grace, and know that it is for sure, never, a second hand gift. Thank you Steven, for loving my daughter enough to show her the pictures. Even though she doesn’t get it yet, I trust she will one day, and you’ll be a part of her story. To the praise, and glory of the One and Only.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the beautiful explanation what it means to be a Peace Corp mission. Written thoughtfully with details one can actually feel emotionally. You're right, there's only one God of all people, no color or race. Bronwyn is fortunate to be living the life of a missionary child learning the heart of Jesus among those who look different. Thank you Bethany and Jeremy for loving your child enough to allow her this marvelous boot camp training. She will learn to suffer and rejoice all at the same time to please the Lord. I dream of this for other young American children, a life of endurance teaches freedom within the heart. Loving others as yourself.