|Pentecostal Church in Ghana|
Before I tell you about Brent’s thoughts on Christianity in Africa, I want to mention two organizations he visited. In South Africa he and his wife Julie went to Rehoboth Children’s Village, which cares for children who have HIV/AIDS. The children live in houses, with a house mother, and attend school within the village. Brent sent me a wonderful picture of the cartoon images that the teachers use to educate the children about what HIV medication does in their bodies. In Kenya, Brent and Julie visited a child they have been sponsoring through ChildFund International, Mary Mwende. They visited the school ChildFund runs in the Mukuru slums and saw some of the projects to provide clean water and other necessities to the children there. Brent would want me to mention that both are doing wonderful work and (as with every non-profit) are always looking for donations.
The Children Are Free (which discusses biblical passage related to same-sex relationships) into Swahili, this plays into the concept of homosexuality as a western problem. Brent explained further in an email to me later:
“Homosexuality is seen in Kenya as a western problem that has bled over into their country. So when a western book defending homosexuality is offered to people there, it means nothing to them. It doesn't change anything in their minds about God's view on homosexuality. ‘Of course people in the west are going to defend their abominable behavior and then try to spread those lies in Kenya.’ But if the book was changed to introduce African characters in African cities/towns, and if the book was reviewed by reputable African allies, it would mean that homosexuality is not just a western concept.”
|Brent and Julie bring Mary Mwende a gift|
Finally, Brent and Julie spent two weeks in Ghana at a cultural arts program run by the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. There, Brent told us, he discovered that he is “not a dancer.” Instead, he spent his time weaving baskets and speaking with Ghanaians about their religious beliefs. Brent visited a shrine and learned about the five gods in Ewe Brekete, a local religion. Brent also visited a Pentecostal church and learned about how Christians in Ghana view their non-Christian neighbors. Brent told me about this visit:
“ . . . during an interview with an elder in the church, I discovered that their African context makes Christianity look much different than mine. I live in a society where the commandment against worshipping other gods means things like money, power, work, or sex. To them, other gods take the form of actual fetish idols – gods that are carried around in positions of honor for all to see and bow down to. The Christians in Kopeyia read the Bible much differently than I do.
"I asked the church elder how much interaction they have with people of the Brekete shrine. Does religion come between Christians and non-Christians? His initial response was that people respect each others’ religions, but digging a little deeper in the conversation, it was clear that fear was the foundation upon which their relationships were built. I was warned not to have a meal with anyone who practices the Brekete religion. After all, you don’t know whether the meat they serve you had been first offered to Kunde or Bangle or any other of the fetish gods.
“'What would happen,’ I asked, ‘if I knew that the meat had been offered to the idols, but I was hungry and it smelled good? What if I decided to take the meat anyway? Would there be any repercussions with God or the church?’ The elder looked at me solemnly, hesitating for a moment. I wondered if my question had offended him. Was it too disrespectful to insinuate that I might willingly eat food offered to idols?
“‘You will be on your own then,’ the elder finally said. ‘God will not protect you.’ I was curious at this statement. He explained that when a person is right with God, if they get into a car accident or if a scorpion stings them, God will protect them from harm. But if a person willingly eats meat offered to other gods, God will turn His back on them until that person repents and asks for deliverance from the evil spirits that entered their body with the meat.”
|Julie and Mary Mwende in a slum outside Nairobi|
I believe that Brent’s experience with MCC congregations can teach Friends something about working with African Quaker meetings. As Nancy Bowen would say, “Context is Everything.”
Valerie Hurwitz is Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Richmond, Indiana and serves as choir director at West Richmond Friends Meeting.