Three weeks in Benin is an experience beyond description. Sights, sounds, smells, opportunities, and even needs are different. To communicate the experiences I have been blessed with is in some ways an exercise in futility. The cultural differences are so vast as to seem insurmountable. We, and they, are insulated and isolated by cultural norms.
Working in an environment where just about every one of those norms is different is physically and emotionally challenging. Perhaps the strongest emotion is a feeling of inadequacy. How can you relate to people who do not speak your language? They do not dress as you do, eat what you do, live like you do, work like you do, or think like you do. The impact of those differences alone is overwhelming.
Expressions like “I know what you mean” or “been there, done that” do not apply. How sympathetic or understanding could you be towards a discouraged individual whose biggest struggles have to do with the powerful hold of a witch doctor? To be in an environment, stripped of virtually every common experience, can only lead to a desperate feeling of fear and inadequacy. To live and work in such a foreign culture, even for just three weeks, is intimidating beyond imagination. It lends greater understanding to the fears that the apostle Paul must have endured in Corinth when the Lord spoke to him saying, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you … I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9,10). Yet, in the crucible of that kind of anxiety the power of the gospel becomes so self-evident!
No culture, no matter how radically different from yours it may be, is beyond the effectiveness of the gospel. Confidence and calm security dispel feelings of fear and inadequacy when one stands behind the power of the gospel. All that is needed is the reminder that the word of the Lord will be effective. For me, one of those “breakthrough moments” came as a man in the city of Savé said in a prayer, just before I was to speak, “God, when we heard Your word was going to be spoken, we ran to hear it.”
In our efforts to refine every aspect of life, we have robbed ourselves of the greatest satisfaction there is. We’ve made our homes as comfortable as possible. We’ve equipped ourselves with the best tools for whatever our vocation may be. We’ve learned how to get more recreational time and entertainment time from a 24-hour period than perhaps any other civilization in the world. But in the process of all this refinement, we’ve thrown away the only truly transformative power: the power of the gospel. A simple test to prove this point is to ask and honestly answer one question: When was the last time you could truly say, “When we heard Your word was going to be spoken, we ran to hear it”?
To be surrounded by a people who literally left off everything about their normal routine because of an opportunity to run and come sit on a hard teakwood bench with no back support in a dirt-floored, mud-walled structure with no electricity and no screens and no glass in the window openings, or doors in the door openings, is an experience of a lifetime. To be surrounded with people, whose only disappointment lies in the fact that after an hour and a half or two hours of hearing the word preached the service is too quickly over, is so culturally different that everything changes. Like a tectonic movement, the joy of being among such people suddenly and permanently replaces every fear and feeling of inadequacy. It makes one want to run to proclaim the gospel!
Keep studying and keep serving! DC Brown ©2014