The following is a journal entry from my time serving in Africa as a missionary. It remembers a lesson I received from attending a celebration hosted by a Muslim family.
One of the neatest aspects of my time here in Africa is watching the bible come to life. The culture and way of life here is far removed from the western world and often touches the biblical world in ways we never witness in the States. For instance, I never felt the full impact of the words of God when he called Israel a “stiff-necked people” for turning to worship a golden calf until I witnessed my neighbor here plowing his field with an ox. How stubborn that animal was! It would stiffen its neck and not allow him to direct it as he turned around the field.
Another such example came today. I was given the opportunity to attend a baby naming ceremony. The process of naming a new child is done in a very different manner here. Instead of having a name picked out in advance (or possibly one for a boy and one for a girl) and this issue settled before the baby is even born, the people here will wait an entire week to give their newborn a name. A party will be held to announce the baby’s birth and its name to the world. In many instances, the mother may not even know the name of the child before this moment as the father has the right to choose the child’s name. Family, friends and prominent people from the village or community will be invited to the festivities, so a lot of chairs are needed.
By the time we arrived at the celebration, many people had already made their way to the home and quite a crowd was gathered. I was ushered in and directed toward some of the last remaining seats. Soon enough, the yard was full and the hosts were scrambling to produce more chairs, which continued to depreciate in quality until small stools were being pulled out of the house. Then the shuffle began.
I watched as some guests were asked to give their seat up, and as new guests were seated in the remaining chairs. During this fiasco, a small crowd of women produced themselves in a particularly showy fashion. Each was dressed in elaborate, traditional dress and it was obvious that this group had a high opinion of their net worth to this event. Upon seeing that the seating had been taken, these ladies began to complain as they were lead to a group of seats they deemed unworthy of their rear ends.
I was taken back as I watched a biblical parable unfold right before me. Luke in his gospel reminds us of Jesus’s words on this issue.
Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:7-11)
What a privilege it was to see this play out in real life. As these women began to protest the offense made against their honor, it became evident they viewed themselves in a much higher fashion than reality would exhibit. I watched on as a deep spiritual truth was laid out in the light of day by a group of egotistical African women.
God’s Word calls those of us who profess Christ and his kingdom to a much different way of life. Instead of proving our prominence and asserting our place in front, we are called to the end of the line. We are to place others before ourselves, as Christ placed us before himself. If we are ever to make a difference in this world for the Kingdom of God, we will certainly not do it from the front of the line.
Keelan leads the Peoples Next Door project and is a Senior Church Consultant with the Union Baptist Association in Houston, TX. He is working on a PhD in Missiology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In previous years, he spent time as a church planter in West Africa with the IMB and doing ethno-graphic research in Washington, DC with NAMB.