Why Context Matters
by Matthew Elliott, President Oasis International
When people learn in conversation that I work to help Africans write and publish materials to grow and disciple God’s people in Africa, I am often asked the question: “So tell me, what is Africa like?” People who have never visited but have heard a lot of bits and pieces at their church or in the media want to hear a first-hand account and ask some questions.
My answer is usually a question. “Have you ever visited the Grand Canyon?”
For those of us that have stood at the edge of Grand Canyon, we know that no movie, picture, or documentary can possibly let a person experience the Grand Canyon in the same way as standing on the edge and taking in all the majestic hugeness for themselves. Africa is the same. No amount of watching or listening to a report of a visitor can let you experience what Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo, or Kenya is really like.
The church that has gone from about 10 million members to over 600 million members in a little over a century is equally hard to describe. The sheer number of churches in many places, the vitality of the worship in a four-hour-long Sunday service, and the power of and belief in prayer is hard to understand without spending time there. I often am completely amazed at how much my brothers and sisters in Africa teach and encourage me each time I go—even after over twenty years traveling around the continent.
Thinking of the Grand Canyon and remembering standing on the edge and wondering on all in sight is also the context I want you to understand for discipleship in Africa. Imagine visiting the head of a denomination who is leading a congregation of millions and talking about the few leaders who have been to a full seminary training program. These are pastors who lead two, four, even five congregations! Imagine a student ministry of 40,000 students with only 70 full- time staff—that’s over 570 students for every staff member. Imagine Bible clubs and Bible classes in public schools for millions of children where only one in ten students have their own Bible.
Imagine a teacher trying to preach through Romans without a single resource in their library that tells them about Romans—no access to written resources to prepare lessons and sermons. As a Doctor of Philosophy in New Testament, I have no context and no solution for such things. I could not prepare an excellent sermon series on Romans without looking at the writings of others to help me.
Imagine the difficulties, misunderstandings, complications, and even unintentional heresy that results from this kind of lack of discipleship resources. What kind of churches will come from this lack? Supplying these resources that the Church needs to disciple God’s people in Africa is a Grand Canyon problem. But here is the thing: we serve the God who created the Grand Canyon.
When the over 600 million of God’s people in Africa understand their God and the Bible in their own contexts, that is when Africa will reach its amazing potential to lead the Church in evangelism and impact! Join us in this mission.
Click here to learn more about our mission to grow discipleship through African voices
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