As a child, I loved to listen to my parents talk. One night I sat up as they talked with a friend of theirs from Northern Ireland. I remember that friend saying: "you can become a true world citizen by being very deeply immersed in one culture more than by experiencing many cultures." This comment has stuck with me my whole life, as I have experienced many cultures and sometimes lacked the depth of time and understanding in any one culture.
When we began work in South Africa, we expected to visit many churches connected to the Bible school. But invitations were not forthcoming and we found ourselves deeply frustrated with our inability to get out and know these churches. When we began to regularly worship at our little church in Mandela Park our administrator, Steve Wiebe-Johnson, was glad for our attendance there because: "you can get to know the culture well by being deeply immersed in one church." Almost the same words as my parents' friend used all those years ago.
Over the past years I have become dissatisfied with many of the books I read on Africa in general and African Christianity in particular. Scholarship based on a huge diversity tends to generalise and pick out particulars that fit what the author wants to convey. I am troubled by a western desire, which I recognise in myself, to find a pure, true Africa that fits an ideal we hold out of communalism, non-commercialism, spiritual rather than scientific world view, and connection to the land and other people.
I have begun a book that I find much more satisfying: African Gifts of the Spirit. Author David Maxwell spent many years thoroughly researching one particular African-founded pentecostal church. In deeply analysing one church, he is able to portray it with its negatives and its positives, where it agrees with his theology and where it does not. He considers the complexities of prosperity gospel as it is preached in this church--neither totally glorifying it nor totally demonising it.
It is a challenge to me to get to know people as they are and not as I want or assume them to be. I pray for the deep immersion that can accomplish this goal.