They are “ours” because we share life together in this land and church.
They are “friends” because the Good News is for everyone, and then Jesus makes them “brothers“.
They are “African” because they have immigrated by the tens of thousands¹ to find work and they are bringing a very distinct cultural perspective on life and truth. Subsequently, when the Gospel begins to win the hearts of our friends it produces a number of signs that transformational change is occurring. Here are some of the excellencies of Christ that shine through:
- Our brothers think more about Jesus than money.
Our brothers have so much cultural and familial pressure on them to perform and become wealthy with European money. The main motivation is often summarized in the word prosperity. Money — obtaining it, having it, showing it, and sending it — becomes the all-consuming focus. One of our brothers shared with us that he had lived every day for thirteen years trapped in the agony of perpetually thinking about money. At the thirteen year mark, the Savior and Lord Jesus broke in to his life and rescued him. Now, he shares with us that he thinks much more about Jesus each day than he ever does about money. The weight has been lifted and the victory allows his soul to rest.
- Our brothers repent of being their family or tribe’s savior.
As mentioned above, our African friends arrive seeking not just for employment for themselves but often for their entire family or tribe. A family in Africa is greatly assisted if their loved-one can send them 30-50 euros each week from Europe. The grim reality is that it is often harder to make money in Europe than what their dreams and ideas had originally informed them. So, this sets up a tenuous system. There is a lot of pride if you do well and a lot of shame if you don’t. When the Gospel comes in, however, that system is up-ended. Our brothers and sisters are no longer motivated on one hand by pride and on the other hand, shame. Jesus buried the first and and bore the second. Now, we see a wholistic and generous love being offered to their families. We also notice that there is much more honesty in reporting their circumstances to their families. They tell them what they can and cannot do — and that Jesus is their family’s Savior, not themselves.
- Our brothers seek to bless the city and not just take from it
It follows simply that if you are here in Europe to prosper yourself, your family, and your tribe back home, you are most likely not interested in integrating into the city or looking to spend your time and resources to benefit the people around you. However, the Gospel settles us and helps us to look around at others. It causes us to give and to seek the good of the society where we live. Our brothers from Africa begin to take an interest in the history of our cities as well as the social conditions. What a surprising message is broadcasted when the natural outsiders seek the benefit of the indigenous insiders who are predisposed to not want them here. Only the Gospel brings our African brothers to say with eager humility, “We are all here.”
- Our brothers pray for and witness to people from other cultures.
The aroma of the Gospel spreads dramatically when our African brothers begin to fervently pray for the cities and the local nationals. The Gospel makes missionaries out of all its followers. It is something special to see when Africans love Europeans as well as immigrants from other cultures. The barriers of tribalism and nationalism are allowed to be taken down by the nail-pierced hands of Christ. This is not a quick and easy process. Often, there are many cultural biases, preferences, and problems between the African nationalities themselves before arriving at interaction with others from Middle Eastern and Asian countries. However, when the realization sinks-in that Jesus was willing to become nation-less (leaving Heaven) so that he might gather people from all nations to himself, the fight for cultural superiority is relinquished at the Cross; lost in an attitude of gratefulness and wonder.
- Our brothers don’t use the church to enhance their social image or status.
Here in Italia, and I imagine in other Euro-land countries, there is a strong amount of syncretism within the African immigrant community and the idea of church. The syncretism mixes forms of tribalism (hierarchy of chiefs and VIP’s of the tribe), traditional customs, and an Africanized form of prosperity theology where wealth equals importance and blessing amalgamated into a strange likeness of something you might see on TBN from the UK or USA. It is often regarded as a prosperous and sociably advantageous thing to become a pastor. Then, many of the self-proclaimed leaders utilize the scriptures to make a cultural refuge for those who are searching for the same kind of prosperity as they are. We have even watched our friends try to out-dress and out-perform one-another. But this is not the gospel based on transformational grace. We see the biblical gospel taking-hold when our African brothers become serious about both learning and living sound, biblical doctrine. They refuse to play cultural charades and the church becomes their queen rather than their stage.
- Our brothers become much more careful about marriage and responsible toward family.
The African cultural norms in regard to marriage and family vary widely. We have encountered people who have upwards of 30 half-brothers and sisters because their fathers took many wives. Our experiences have led us through messy circumstances where a man leaves his wife and family to come to Europe and then takes another wife in Europe as well. Regularly, men and women have made numerous children on both continents and are reluctant to care for them or lead them. We also recognize the immense difficulty that families assume when the father (sometimes the mother) will not be reunited with their family for 5-10 years because they are trying to get established in another country. The temptations to infidelity in the sickly sensuous land of Italia are enormous, but not impossible in Christ. And the list of variations and perversions of holy matrimony and familial responsibility goes on and on including admixtures of animism, potions, and formulas for fulfillment of the sexual appetites. However, the power of the Gospel and the Word of God is the Great Purifier of it all. It is quite noticeable when men begin to take responsibility for the leadership and care of their families. The Gospel calls them to bless their wives (and move away from treating them as property) and also to teach and play with their children. It is Christ who calls us all to produce children properly and also raise them in the same way.
- Our brothers begin to tithe out of joy and freedom; not out of magical obligation
Nine times in ten, we encounter this charlatan gospel that is nothing more than a guise for personal greed. Inherently, it has a mixture of treating God like an animistic, magical spirit to be appeased and manipulated. The charlatan gospel has many key words to detect it and one of them is “seed“. You may have heard some of these lines used before: If you just seed 300 euros, it will become 30,000 if you only have enough faith. And, if you don’t give, you can’t be forgiven. Also with added Osteen-flavor, God wants you to be wealthy and prosperous, you just have to be like these other contributors. Or here is another that just makes me nauseous — The more you pay, the more the anointed ones will pray special blessings over you. I am strongly opinionated about this kind of spurious teaching for sneaky gain because it’s an unholy minestrone and stinketh of injustice under the good name of God. I have seen the ruin and bitterness and rancor that it causes through many communities. One African couple came to me in tears asking, “If we come to your church, how much do you require us to give?” Their income had been regularly “inspected” and “over-sheared” by the charlatan gospel. My simple response was, “Stop giving until your hearts can respond out of love to how much Jesus has given you.” They were surprised by grace. The biblical Gospel came in and brought them rest. It is also teaching them to be delightful givers. The tears have changed to those of joy and freedom.
- Our brothers hunger to read
Before our friends come to the Gospel, their interests and expenditures are often found in things we might consider bling. In contrast, at the arrival of the Gospel, we see less bling and more hunger for reading. In the western context, we often take it for granted that we have good materials available. How often do we say, I’d like to finish that book when I get around to it ? They haven’t had that kind of access and ease to rich resources. So, we have noticed in our African brothers that they receive a new-found passion for reading books about the Bible. We regularly run low on ESV study bibles and other materials. As a missions-pastor, this is a thrill to witness for me personally.
If you made it to the end of this article, have you noticed some other signs that I didn’t mention here?
¹ in northern Italia, we predominately encounter friends from western African nations such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, & Senegal. This is the context I am working from. I imagine it may be similar with eastern and southern African nations but not necessarily so.
Very good Rob. You are putting necessary information out there on a huge phenomenon on dealing in a gospel way with the immigrant population. – Gene
Gene, thanks for the encouragement. To add to your thought, one way that we want to approach the immigrant population is to remember that no matter where we go, we *are* the immigrant population. If we can see our pilgrim identity, our immigrants will be seen as our brother-pilgrims and that goes a long way toward cross-cultural ministry.
Just another thought that jumped in my mind when I read your post. Thanks again.
Amen brother Rob!!! Very recognisable!
I also would like to add that many people (not only in African context of course) mostly compare themself with others and also compeet themselfs with eachother (even trough family’s). Being on top in a lot of area’s is very important. This brings a lot of jealousy and bitterness. When Jesus realy comes in the centre, i blieve things things are changing. It all have to do with Identity, i believe. An interesting topic in a ‘hot-community-culture’.
An other thing is bringing things in the light instead of hiding and unspokeness.
Well, maybe you have an idea to continue on this.
Warm greetings, Ellen (from Holland)
Thank you, dear Ellen for the thoughtful response as you understand this area first-hand. Please give our best to Armstrong and the whole ICP family.
I noticed in your comment that you were sharing how people seek to express themselves individually — to show both their uniqueness and independence. But we know that when we enter the family of God, we are saved to become a people that builds others up. You mentioned words like, “competition, comparing, being-on-top, jealousy, bitterness, hiding.” These are all words that assert my singular identity while destroying community to do that. So, I agree with you that when Jesus is in the center, things change and we begin to belong to his family and not to ourselves. The action words of our lives begin to change to “giving-way, esteeming more highly, pleasing others, affirming and admonishing others, gratefulness, and honesty.”