4 Reasons Why American Christians Need Africa

Oct 25, 2004Find joy today

Paul Napari is the kind of man whose eyes tell a story. And though our time together in Northern Ghana bustled with ministry plans, evangelistic crusades, and meals spent in fellowship, I knew I wanted to know this man, hear his story. The time came on a bumpy “road” strewn with sleeping goats and sheep as we ventured away from a village one night. We’d battled bugs larger than my hand, intermittent generators, and stifling heat to bring the message of Jesus to a large group of villagers.

“I spent ten years,” Paul told me, “not knowing when my next meal was coming.”

I couldn’t make out his face in the darkness, but I heard his voice, saying those words so matter of fact as if I could relate to a decade of foodlessness. He spent ten years doggedly pursuing education, becoming the most educated man from his village, but the journey cost him nearly everything. Except his faith.

I marveled at such a man who oozed Jesus from every pore, and yet had suffered so much hunger. His words, his faith, made me realize four things:

Wealth can inhibit our dependence on God.

The West has not deepened my spirituality. In my abundance, and sometimes gluttony, I’d forgotten what it meant to hunger, to trust God for my next breath, morsel, cup of water. My cornucopia of wealth robbed me of contentment and dependence on Him. Ease, in all its fatness, had whispered twisted lies to my soul, promising joy but delivering cardboard happiness.

Knowledge doesn’t necessarily make a deeper faith; obedience does.

We who have theology on the airwaves aplenty, who webcast our spirituality, who glut ourselves on doctrine, are overweight with lethargy because we’ve not understood neediness. True spiritual depth comes not from hearing a slew of teaching, but by actually living the teaching we know.

My Ghanaian friend Paul thirsts after knowledge. He wants to attend seminary. But here I sat next to him, feeling like all that knowledge I possessed in abundance hadn’t profited my soul. I hadn’t hungered and sought as he had.

God is more easily seen in an elemental, simple life.

We think we Americans are so advanced. Yes, running water and electricity are wonderful things, but the merchandising and materialism that follow chokes a person’s need for Jesus.

Simply put, we are fat. We have few needs. When we are sick, we go to a doctor. If we lack food, we use food stamps. We don’t need to call on something higher than ourselves. God is an addendum to our lives. A postcript to our daily agendas. He is an appendage, but He is not everything. We do not need Him because on this earth we live like kings.

I once heard a preacher say, “The average American lives far better than queens and kings centuries ago. We are wealthy beyond belief. And yet, we have lost our imagination. We have heaven here on earth, so we do not reach heavenward.”

Yet every person I met on the streets of Ghana wanted prayer, whether they follow ancestors or Mohammed or Jesus. They believed God would listen, that He was big enough to answer prayers. They had nowhere else to turn.

Being Lukewarm is not an option.

May it be that we who have much will realize we are naked and poor and blind. The Apostle John puts it, “I know your deeds that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich and have become wealthy and have need of nothing’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:15-17).

We satisfy ourselves not in Jesus Christ, but in stuff. We settle for things instead of investing in people. But God tells us to lay it aside and gain His wealth. To forsake the hold money has on us (because we believe it to be the answer to all our problems), and instead become rich in other things.

Good works—feeding those who are hungry, like Paul.

Prayer—interceding for those in need.

Evangelism—sharing the sufficiency of Jesus.

My stint in Ghana made me want to run to God for His provision instead of spending my life conjuring up my own. I want to obey. I want to live simply so I can give away the abundance. I don’t want to be lukewarm. I want to be on fire for Jesus. To not be so preoccupied with the décor of my house, the state of my cars, the clothes on my back that I forget to ask God for His mercies to fill me up.

This is what Africa has taught me: All I really need is Jesus.