Africans in the West: seasoned missionaries share their insights
By Sunday and Grace Bwanhot
The Church in the West for decades has been declining, making it a fast-growing mission field with many young people choosing to be atheists or non-religious. As African missionaries serving in the US since 1995 through SIM and ECWA, we have learned a lot and would love to share some critical issues that new African missionaries coming to the West need to be aware of.
- Your calling: Be very sure of the Lord’s call to serve in the West because it is a spiritually hard ground. It is easier to preach the gospel to people who have not heard it than to people who have been exposed to it and have decided that it is not for them. You may be like prophet Jeremiah who preached, and the response was insult and persecution.
- Pray: Devote yourself to intensive prayer as ministering in the West can be discouraging. You will have confidence in your prayer if you are perfectly sure God called you to serve Him the West. You can then bring every difficult situation boldly to Him and ask Him to solve it, since He called you to this place.
- Learn: Be a good student; learn and adapt. You may speak English, but you have to learn American English. Get used to being told you have an accent or to repeat what you just said. Watch people’s body language to know when they do not understand you. Speak slowly and sometimes repeat yourself in different ways.
- Culture: This may be the missionary’s most significant challenge as it has numerous appendages to it. An African missionary arrives in the West with invisible baggage that he is not aware of. His culture taught him behavioural norms, but coming to the West, he encounters new norms, which may conflict with what he cherishes. Challenging areas will include language, thought pattern, roles of husbands and wives, discipline, time orientation, my space, leadership style, and conflict resolution, to mention a few. The West is changing fast, and you have to be aware and know how to live. If you have a family, the challenges will be more. Your African values will clash with Western values. Your children will be taught things in school that are unacceptable in your culture. The relationship between spouses will be tested. While African wives and children love their newfound freedom in the West, husbands feel threatened and hold tightly to African culture to exercise control. That is where most African marriages and homes in the West begin to break down – even Christian homes. Since cultural differences affect the messenger and the gospel message, proper communication in any culture is needed to ensure that the gospel message is transmitted correctly.
- Diversity: Most Western cities are multi-national, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious. Even if you serve a particular people group, there are opportunities to minister to others. Jesus Christ, Peter, and Paul ministered to specific people groups, but also to people different from the main group they served. Be ready and open to minister to all those God brings your way.
- Stay focussed. It is easy to get distracted in the West as it opens doors to opportunities you never dreamed of before. Stay away from charging credit cards for things you cannot pay for immediately. Live below, not above, your means.
- Racism: You will experience the sad reality of it, and you cannot be too prepared for it. Your experience with tribalism will not hurt as much as racism. Sadly, it is not an exclusive situation in the secular arena; it is right there in the Church.
Despite all these challenges, the Lord who called you promised to be with you and never leave you. He is faithful, and He will meet you at every point of need. Fix your eyes on the Lord.
Sunday and Grace Bwanhot serve with SIM Culture Connexions, Chicago, USA