As one who has lived and served in both Europe and Africa, I have come to have a deep appreciation for the different perspectives believers bring to the table in Christian discourse. Partly to understand, in some ways to express my own multifaceted identity, and to possibly serve as a “bridge”, I often try to put myself in situations where Christians of different stripes can come together.
One such event I have been trying to attend regularly is the International Gospel Service in Hamburg, Germany, a monthly service that essentially brings German mainline Christians together with West African Pentecostals and blends elements of worship from these traditions. Combining weighty theological prayers and dancing the offering to the front creates quite a mixture of traditions! However, one aspect I have come to deeply appreciate and look forward to is the scripture time before the sermon. Each service allocates about ten minutes for people to turn to their neighbors in the pews and do some inductive Bible study on the text. (I would strongly recommend doing this in a service sometime since it is actually possible for lay people to see things in the text that the preacher doesn’t necessarily see!)Recently, my breakout group consisted of two Germans, two Ghanaians, a Kenyan and myself. Our assigned text was Mark 6:31-44, the feeding of the 5000. We floated in and out of both the English and German languages, depending on which one was the sharer’s stronger language. The phrase that stuck out to me was when Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.” (v. 37) My American-ness was coming through—those disciples needed to fix the problem. Meanwhile one of the German men pointed out that Jesus sat them down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. (v. 40) He was challenged by the fact that Jesus was a master organizer. And a Ghanaian woman observed that after the 5000 were fed, the disciples picked up the left overs (v. 43), presumably to feed others because “with Jesus,” she said, “there is no waste.”
I have been trained in inductive Bible study and exegesis, but how often do I miss things because of my own cultural trappings! I need to listen to Ghanaian and German believers, lest I have a “small” perspective of the Gospel. It is so easy to spend all of our time around people just like us and not get a fuller picture of both the Kingdom and even God’s Word. May we find those opportunities to learn from one another.
Kirk is also working on a Ph.D. in West African missiology through the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies.