We Praise The African Way - Cultural Context

Photo by  Annie Spratt  on  Unsplash

By Jim Pool, Senior Pastor Renaissance Vineyard Church, Ferndale, MI
Missions Leadership Team, VM Blogger

When I travel to Africa, one of my favorite worship songs I frequently hear has this line in it: “We praise the African way.” It involves dancing and singing and raised hands and more. I’ve sung it in Kenya, Angola, South Africa, and elsewhere. It’s typically played following the offering at a big conference or celebration service. It’s a joyous celebration of the greatness of God and gratitude for His abundant provision.

On a recent trip, I had the opportunity to experience worship and ministry “the African way,” as I visited three countries in eight days, witnessing the manifold ways Kingdom values are being contextualized in the various cultures of Africa.

First stop was Cameroon. The Cameroonian team leader shared a small two bedroom apartment. For those three days, that apartment became the epicenter of Vineyard activity in Douala. At every breakfast and dinner we hosted leaders for fellowship and dialogue around kingdom topics. What a clear picture of Africa’s beautiful hospitality culture. Then, during the Sunday service, the call to worship included a song called “We Welcome You.” In our Vineyard worship values, we often talk about the importance of singing songs to God. This is a key priority. Yet when this value is planted in African soil, not only does the church dance in worshipping welcome of God, but also to greet one another. Rarely have I received so many hugs and handshakes and holy kisses.

Next stop was Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. Even though I arrived after 8pm, my longtime Ethiopian partner and I shared the traditional three cups of buna (Ethiopian coffee) and talked late into the night about plans for our upcoming team trip the following year. Back in the downtown hotel, the late night sounds from the clubs reminded me that Africa is connected to the global culture.

Last stop was Djibouti, a harbor city nestled in the desert. The church there is doing a great job blessing their neighbors. Some things don’t change. The hospitality I received made me feel right at home. And yet they had their own wonderfully localized encounter with God: simple worship, entirely vocal, all sung from the heart. It was almost ethereal in style, deeply moving to experience, and though I could not understand the words, I could hear with my heart. And I knew I was encountering the presence of God.

In the Vineyard, as we serve in new communities, we are committed to contextualizing the good news of Jesus and his kingdom so that it takes root in the authentic soil of that culture. I’m so thankful I was able to experience that firsthand in three different uniquely African cultures.