I had just settled in to my seat on a South African Airways flight from Jo'burg to Cape Town. I had my copy of Complete Nepali (excellent, by the way) in my hand, ready to be read. Then Greg sat down. Followed a bit later by Azim. Both men were my age. Both native South Africans. Both 3rd generation Indian immigrants. What followed was a lively conversation about Cape Town, life, world affairs.
At one point, I said to my traveling companions, "I'm curious about your perspectives on things going on in the U.S. What does it look like to a South African?" There were some attempts to answer me, but eventually Greg explained, "You know, we all pretty much feel that Americans are arrogant. That they have no idea about what's going on in the rest of the world. So in response, a lot of times, we just don't care about what's going on in the United States." The conversation continued, building on the theme that Americans must learn how to listen.
Greg told me of a time he was in the U.S. on business, consulting for an American company. One of the American's asked him if he knew what an "MP3" was. Well, Greg was taken aback. He felt offended that the American assumed that since Greg came from the majority world, that he knew very little about technology. "This guy didn't even know that actually MP3s were already an outdated form of technology!"
Let me paint a different kind of scenario:
A kind of coalition of churches is formed in an American city. The several churches represent several different ethno-linguistic groups. There is property involved. Electric bills. Space and time negotiations. Etc. The assumed head of this coalition is the one American church. Not that this was ever mutually agreed upon. It just was. It is simply assumed that since the property that is being used by all is legally owned by the American group, that they are the ones who have the final authority. And, by the way, it isn't just the Americans who make this assumption. Everyone else does as well. At the end of the day, it appears that finances and power are woven together very tightly. We should pause and consider if this is true and if it is as it should be . . . ok, now let's move on.
Then there is a meeting. The Americans have been struggling for some time, but recently some of its leaders have experiences a fresh vision and hope for the future. They call the meeting to discuss their vision with the other churches – the immigrant churches. Their exciting new plans are laid on the table. The other churches are invited and challenged to get on board in prescribed ways. The immigrants are encouraged to consider how they might make adjustments to their plans and ministries in order to prepare for growth. In as sense, it sounds very exciting.
Except . . .
Here’s the thing, the immigrant churches have already been growing. Some of them have planted daughter churches after only existing for a couple years themselves. The growth is heavily through making new disciples. They are already vibrant, hopeful, excited. Beyond that, some of the leaders in those immigrant churches have accumulated very significant experience in evangelism, church planting, missions, and more. As a matter of fact, from the perspective of a fly on the wall, the meetings seems very strange. The one church that has not been growing, is the one leading, the one casting the vision, the one (indirectly) demanding to be listened to. But the question is never raised, nor does it appear to enter the mind that the Americans should go to the immigrants and ask, “Will you teach us how to reach our neighbors?”
Greg said it. Americans like me just have no idea how to listen. How to learn from the rest of the world. How to be humble before them and recognize that our brothers and sisters in Christ from the majority world have been gifted and blessed by God in ways that we need. That I need.
So, these thoughts are very much on my mind today in Cape Town, South Africa. Because of the people I’ve been talking with. Because of what Greg said. Because of what Paco said. And Niove. Because I’ve been asked to lead a table and I want to listen. Because of David Ruiz’s tremendous paper, “Cooperation in the Body of Christ: Towards a New Equilibrium”. There is so much good stuff in his paper that trying to quote something or sum up something seems an injustice. Just read it. Pay careful attention to what he says about COMIBAM. It made me write in the margin of my paper, “What if the Cooperative Program was actually cooperative?” Some of you will understand that.
Take note of what Ruiz says about the best “motor” to empower and drive missions. Take note of the “high price” of cooperation. Take note of this, “a united group starts with me.”
Together with Patrick Fung (who’s paper I review here), Ruiz will be presenting here in Cape Town on Sunday the 24th. I have a feeling that’s a plenary you’ll want to download the podcast for.