I recently received a paper of personal reflections from Kingdomizer Garry Tissingh, who has served in Senegal and traveled widely across Africa. This paper shares principles that he has observed are hindrances to development.
We could easily make similar observations about many of our cultures. Our goal here is not to single out one culture, but to promote the flourishing and development of all people by observing culture and promoting its transformation to reflect the biblical worldview.
I hope you will share your comments, feedback, and interact with others in this post. Perhaps your comment could share a testimony of how you have responded to these worldview hindrances, or ask a question of others. Maybe you could share a Scripture that has been useful to you.
Here is the first part of the paper from Garry Tissingh:
Beliefs & Values of Africans/Muslims that may hinder Transformation (Part 1 of 3)
Observations by a foreigner, resident in Senegal, widely travelled across Africa
What is the desired picture of a community you would like to see? What would the Kingdom of God look like and what values would you observe therein? How would it be, what would it look like, if Jesus was the Mayor of your city or the President of your nation?
Here are some of the basic values, beliefs and worldview that have been observed that may impede transformation and development in Africa. Obviously, they vary from region to region, context to context. Also, they are continually changing as all cultures do, ebbing and flowing from season to season. All cultures are influenced by other cultures and the thinking of groups influence other groups. These are realities.
I put these out there as observations, not as determinative judgments but as something to interact with, go deeper into and together be challenged to take these into account in our ministries and in seeing the Kingdom come.
- A pervasive attitude of fatalism – whatever happens is so because it is God’s will (or spirits). The poor, disabled, garbage, destruction, success or failure are all attributed to God or the gods. Everything that happens is because God is sovereign, all powerful and arbitrarily does what he decides and desires.
- There is an apparent perceived injustice of God and the spirit world meaning in reality that life is not fair and therefore its ok to adjust things to make it fairer and to defend your own place and lot in life.
- Apparent insignificant worth of an individual life. Death is normal and accepted without great loss or serious steps taken to stop it. Good health is gambled with and no strong sense of responsibility for ensuring ongoing care for self or others.
- Women are inferior to men in value and purpose and children even less so with their worth being seen mainly to provide in the future for parents and family. There is therefore little priority of investing in the next generation or education or sense of progress being possible or even desired.
- The community is of more value than an individual so we should all be in it together. All decisions are based on the good for the community and responsibility acted on in that way. This brings a false sense of worth and an egalitarianism which is not real or helpful. Behaviour as well success or failure is endorsed or frowned on by the community at large.
- Tribalism says that one’s tribe is superior to others and loyalty is always to be to the tribe above truth or cost. There are privileges and value to being part of the same ethnic community.
- Time and the present relate predominately to the past not to the future. It is respecting of the ancestors of the past that is important not the wellbeing of the future generation and therefore progress appears to not be a high priority. Predictability and status quo are seen as normal and expecting or seeking change is not a great desire.
- There is the perception that resources are limited so the assumption that there is not enough for all to go around or sufficient so get whatever when you can by whatever means you can. This means queues don’t exist, everybody rushes to get to a source first, and generally the value of respect for others is not seen.
- Most relationships and friendships are for what you can get out of them, so use them for that purpose, to benefit you. The development of patron relationships is a key to survive well, and everyone seeks them. Being indebted to others is good so that in the future when needed pay-out will come.
- Often failure in life and business is accepted and forgiven but success is often resented and despised by others. The community monitors this and will seek to ensure an egalitarian stance so that all are relatively equal.
Don’t forget to share your comments, feedback, and interact with others in this post. Perhaps you could share a testimony of how you have responded to these worldview hindrances, or ask a question of others. Maybe you could share a Scripture that has been useful to you. Thanks in advance!
A few comments on worldview… Some things that could be added to the worldview points…
In Africa, there is an idea that development will continue without someone’s effort and they can ride along on the coattails of an intrinsic upward movement. This is reinforced by the Western concept of humanism or human potential movement (society is moving toward Utopia).
The fatalism of animism is disguised in the Christian concept that “God will take care of us” no matter what we do and that the “fatal” combination results in reckless and unnecessary risk-taking.
There is a pervasive fear of change rooted in animism that is also starting to be seen in the extreme environmentalism movement as people start to accept animistic or traditional mindsets in the West.
There is the idea that you don’t mess with mother nature (she knows best) so the concept of subduing, reigning, ruling over, and mastering human, natural, justice, and spiritual resources is not there. (There is probably a better way to say that but maybe you get the point.)
Idealism and philosophies based on wrong assumptions about the origin, meaning and purpose of life replace factual scientific inquiry based on God as the creator. Due to the spiritual void people are drawn to find meaning in saving something such as the planet or species or the “exploited” in our midst and “ends justify means” mentality becomes commonplace.
Man is considered to be a latecomer to hundreds of millions of years of the delicately-balanced evolutionary process and all his interactions with the natural realm are destructive so there is found justification for population control.
The book “Demons of Poverty” concerns Ted Boers observations in Haiti which has an African mindset.
“[Calculated] Risk is discouraged rather than encouraged
Success is resented rather than celebrated
Obstacles are proof that progress is impossible
Foreigners are either viewed with deep suspicion or are idolized as the exclusive source of economic salvation
The future is considered to be hopeless rather than filled with purpose and opportunity
Relationships are governed by suspicion, distrust, and fear
Corruption is expected from institutions, officials, and leaders
Initiative and responsibility are resisted by pervasive fatalistic beliefs
Passivity rather than active involvement is the primary political/economic posture
Bureaucratic procedure is more important than efficient results
Circumstances rather than time control plans and agendas
Foreigners and even the Diaspora are viewed as donors, not participants
Cooperation is a threat to individual power rather than a means for mutual success.
Deception and dishonesty are regarded as virtue not vice.”
I really appreciate the reply of Shawn on Dwight’s comments. It really took a way my worry about the sovereignty of God.
Thanks once again.
What exactly does the 2nd bullet point mean?
Thanks Nova. This is really just saying that life is perceived as being unjust, not fair and therefore we can take it upon ourselves to actually make it a bit more fair. An eg might be that a thief can take from a wealthy person because its justified by this unjust perception. True story: my friend had his mobile phone taken but all his friends advised him that its better to let the robber go because he probably needed the phone more than my friend.
Thank you Garry and Shawn for sharing these insights. Regarding your first point. You say, “Everything that happens is because God is sovereign, all powerful and arbitrarily does what he decides and desires.” Last I looked, the Bible says God is sovereign, all powerful and does what he decides and desires. Not necessarily “arbitrary” but he does say “My ways are not your ways”. So, what’s missing here?
I think what is missing is that God has invited and created us to participate WITH Him. When we follow Him and do what He asks us to do then we are participating in His will. For example, if our streets are filled with garbage, we should work to clean them up not just sit there and say, well, I guess God wills us to have dirty streets. If I have no money to pay my bills, I should get a job. What is often attributed to ‘God’s will’ is due to a misunderstanding of His intentions and purposes for you and me. We must return to Genesis 1 and 2 to renew our understanding and align ourselves with what is true.
I don’t think that Africans or Muslims believe that street filled with garbage is God’s will or responsibility. No. What you consider as participation with God, a muslim will do the same activity but he will not consider it as participating with God. This is because we don’t have the same concept or understanding about God. There is even an adage in Mali (+90% muslims) that says: “if you don’t help yourself, God will not help you”. That means in certain situations man has his role/responsibility to play and God has his too.
Thanks Dwight for this question. I am very aware that many Christians also believe in an ‘absolute’ sovereignty of God, meaning that everything that happens is God’s will and that God is behind it and in it. However, it is always God’s will that God’s will be done and clearly that is not the case that it’s being done. So rather than attributing everything to God I believe we have been empowered to make decisions and cooperate with God in the human project. We have free will capacity and this comes into understanding God’s sovereignty. If not then this leads to fatalism where we actually become inactive and passively attribute everything that happens to God. We really become the victim of God’s sovereignty. I do not believe this is healthy and keeps transformation and change from happening.