Wisdom from one of our African partners, Noah Gitau
“A view from the other side”
Given our lenses shape our worldview, we need to learn from each other on some of the finer details of working together in the mission field.
As an African church minister and church planter, there are some things I would have our Western friends and colleagues to know about working in Africa.
First, Relationships are more important than “tasks.” This is most important, especially, for short-term ministry teams. Due to the pressure to do as much as possible within the shortest time possible on the part of the Westerner, most Africans can feel “carried along” rather than being part of the goal. This results in a situation where someone is doing something for them, instead of with them.
Relationships are built by hanging around together, sharing stories, interest in family members including parents and relatives, interest in activities that engage the locals in life generally.
While you may not be physically working, this is certainly not doing nothing. In the course of this interaction, don’t mind that someone will interrupt with the better side of the story that is not in anyway related to the current one. This is what makes it interesting!
Become one with them by liking their stories, what they eat, where they live and ask and care about their parents.
Please note that your mannerisms will be watched closely, so avoid any signs of distaste and discomfort arising from an African lifestyle, as they can go to great lengths to make you comfortable.
This way, you become a burden rather than a blessing, and you will never know.
Listen and ask questions before you talk. This way, you will learn a great deal of their thinking and approach to issues. You may be surprised to discover your suggestions or ideas were taken as both godly, as well as friendly, instructions. Come with a learning posture, and Africa will change you!
Money matters. Be careful, as many Westerners will be seen as a source of money. The first impression of being monied serves as a confirmation to them that finally their “sponsor” has come.
Keep money away from this process of building relationships. I know it is hard for someone coming from the other side of the globe where poverty is not as high as in Africa. But please remember that you have found these people going about their lives (unless you came in on a disaster response, I am serious!). Whatever you start with money may require your continuous money supply. But whatever starts with their creativity will require their input and continuous attention.
It is theirs, not yours.
You will need a lot of wisdom to balance between a project and someone’s need when it comes to generosity. Perceived needs may be considered above real needs.
Work with a team as much as possible. Working with one good person may eventually land you into great trouble. It is empowering and lacks accountability. Africans will rally to someone who relates closely with a westerner (power by association) and may create competition and bad relationships among the locals.
Never be in a hurry, for you will be disappointed. In Africa, what is important is the event, not time. Wherever you go, you will do yourself a great favor if you develop enough patience to go along with the people.
This is the time to learn to practice the African proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Never expect a straight answer, so thank God when it happens. The answer is normally somewhere in a story, a parable or many words (for those who may not understand it).