31 January 2012

Culture, family, relationships and church

Sunday morning, at our Nigerien, service, the preacher reminded his listeners that "...if you just show up to listen to the teaching and are not actively using your gifts or seeking to minister to others in the church family, then you really don't belong... you aren't really a member of the family."

I must admit - when I heard this, I immediately bristled. His statement sounded an awful lot like salvation was dependent upon church involvement - personal doing instead of what Jesus has done. The preacher then followed this statement up by saying something to the effect that if you weren't ministering to your church family, you should question whether or not you were a true follower of Jesus... because others certainly would. I was so mad at hearing this that I heard little, if any, of the rest of the sermon. I stopped translating for my niece... I can't even remember the passage of Scripture from which he was preaching.

Once my stewing had slowed to a gentler simmer, I started to wonder if maybe, in this particular circumstance, my hearing was shaded by my cultural background and understandings. And, of course, my cultural perspective is the more biblical one, right?

That prejudiced sort of thinking happens a lot more than I care to admit... I assume my take on something is right simply because it is what I think - it is what I've always thought - and then I search for "evidence" to support my opinion... instead of simply allowing God to speak to me through His Word, His world or His people.

As I've been learning Zarma, I've found one word, in particular, quite fascinating, just because of the plethora of ways it is used... it is the word I would loosely translate to English as "hear." But it is used in a variety of ways within the language. If I want to ask "What is your name?" I essentially ask "What do you hear?" Mamata, the elderly grandmother in my literacy class will ask her granddaughter, "Do you hear me?" only what she is really saying is, "Do you understand what I just asked you to do and are you going to obey?" Almost clear as day, sitting and stewing in that church service last Sunday, I felt the Holy Spirit say (in Zarma, just like Mamata), "Do you hear me?"

In this culture, in this world, loyalty to, care of and sacrifice for your family - including extended family i.e. community i.e. even entire village - is so important. It is almost the opposite of our individualistic western culture - where at most, the nuclear family remains one of several priorities. There is no such ideal as "being true to yourself." Many who choose to follow Christ lose those family and community ties, responsibilities and privileges - because of that decision. Often publically shamed, they are rejected, persecuted, no longer welcome at family events and functions, forgotten... they are outsiders. When community has been so key, it is a miserable experience to no longer have those relationships. I think my friends who have walked that road understand so much more the experience of the Lord, as He was "despised and rejected by men."

I began to try and consider the preacher's statement through Nigerien tinted cultural glasses. Not belonging is serious. It hurts the person. It injures his or her community. Willingly engaging in behavior that risks relationship and group cohesiveness is, simply put, not acceptable. In every other area of life here, it is wrong - an almost unpardonable sin that is so awful it isn't even considered a feasible possibility. This makes it hard for individuals to place their trust in Christ. But at the same time, this same mentality could lead to some pretty amazing churches. 

Last Sunday, everyone sitting on those hard metal barred "pews" was confronted with sin. Refusing or simply choosing not to particpate in the life, nurture and growth of the church by avoiding moments of ministry (no matter what the excuse) should be as foreign within the life of church as it is in families, neighborhoods, communities or villages all over this country.

This week, I'm trying to wait and listen as I've asked the Lord to show me what I need to do to truly belong to the church community where He has placed me. I want to hear Him...

How about you?

1 comment:

  1. It's so interesting how culture affects our views on community and how we belong in our churches and relationships. I've been thinking about community a lot lately and this was really interesting. Thanks for sharing. I'm really enjoying your blog. I'm an INFJ too. Looks like you've got lots of those on your hands. :)


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