Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Roman Catholic Church once remarked that “Americans have never liked history” since the “past comes with obligations on the present, and the most cherished illusion of American life is that we can remake ourselves at will.” This self-imposed historical amnesia causes us to have an unhealthy “egocentric obsession with the present” as noted by Brian Zahnd. Other cultures, however, have a different view of history with adherents drawing great pride and value from the lives of their ancestors. For these cultures, the past is just as important as the present, with the stories of their heroes being told over and over again.
While this focus on history may seem strange for modern Americans, it fits beautifully into the Way of Jesus. The Scriptures themselves, after all, are a collection of historical stories about people who heard the call of the Spirit and walked boldly into the darkness of the unknown following the Creator King. We can read about a farmer named Gideon who nervously stepped out in faith and followed the Lord’s command. Or we can hear how a few fishermen, a tax collector, and some backwoods “nobodies” changed the course of human history. Furthermore, when we are awakened in the night by a thought-provoking dream, we can open the Scriptures and read about Joseph and his dreams. In reading the stories of our faith ancestors – both those whose stories are found within the pages of Scriptures and those who are not – we can build up our faith and courage as we see how God worked in and through average folks just like us.
Embracing the historic stories of our faith ancestors can also help those of us who have a passion to share the good news of Jesus across cultures.
Embracing the historic stories of our faith ancestors can also help those of us who have a passion to share the good news of Jesus across cultures. While there are areas of the world that have never had the presence of a Jesus follower, most parts of the globe have had some contact with the Way of Christ at some point in history. In reviewing the history of the area or people group we have a heart for, we can find faith ancestors who can help re-introduce the love of the Creator into that area. It is a way of valuing the culture of a people group and giving them a hero of the faith that shares the same background and culture as themselves.
The value of this concept was driven home to me a few months ago when I made a comment on the Vineyard School of Ministry Africa (VSM Africa) Facebook page. VSM Africa, which is based in Nairobi, Kenya, had posted an article that referenced the African theologian and church father Athanasius (296-373 CE). Having read Athanasius’ Life of Anthony, I commented about how impactful he was on my life. The page admin then responded asking if I could share “with some of the local pastors who follow this page some of why you, on another continent, enjoy this ancient book by an African church father about an African church father?”
At first, this request seemed strange to me but then I realized that my fellow Jesus followers in Kenya were eager to share their faith ancestor with me. All too often it is the other way around, with American believers sharing modern American stories or beliefs with people of other cultures. Yet here was a chance for me, an American Caucasian male living in Idaho, to encourage my sisters and brothers in another culture by listening to and embracing their faith ancestor. Though the action itself may seem small, it is actually a considerably powerful action in a world that so often rejects and/or ignores the faith ancestors of other cultures. We are, after all, members of a new Kingdom under a new King whose citizens span the globe and the course of history. Let us, therefore, boldly embrace and tell the stories of the faith ancestors of those who we serve for they are in fact also our faith ancestors.
 Charles Chaput, “Remembering Who We Are and the Story We Belong To” (speech, Notre Dame, Indiana, October 19, 2016), National Catholic Register, accessed October 20, 2016. http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/remembering-who-we-are-and-the-story-we-belong-to
 Brian Zahnd, Water To Wine: Some of My Story (Spello Press, 2016), Kindle edition, 1349.
 Vineyard School of Ministry Africa, Facebook Page, October 25, 2018, accessed December 14, 2018. https://www.facebook.com/vineyardschoolofministryafrica/posts/1881210091999044