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Reflections on our trip to West Africa

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BY JEANNE HOUSTON, West Africa Team Member

     When I was eight years old my family took a trip to Montreal. While we were there, a little girl came up to me and started speaking to me in French. I couldn’t answer her and was dumbstruck and sad. I came back home with a determination to learn French (and other languages), which I began learning in middle school. That was a pivotal time that sparked my interest in other cultures.

     As a Christian, that interest has extended to seeing the church which crosses all borders, established in other cultures, and especially to see it as it is expressed in Presbyterian churches. This form of church government is not imported from our Western Christianity, but comes right from the New Testament passages describing the characteristics and mandates for leaders and disciples and rightfully belongs in all cultures.

     During our recent trip to West Africa where our team helped with the Safe Girls Home camp, I appreciated how much integrity and respect pastor Mamadou and the other teaching elders and their families have among the people there, and among the girls from the Safe Girls Home, as they live out this understanding of their ecclesiastic life.

     One of my particular interests cross-culturally is examining where the gospel has gone and looking at how it has affected the status and treatment of the weak and downcast- especially women and girls in society. We have seen the fruits of the gospel in Western culture and cultures where the gospel has gone to unreached people and how these societies have changed, sometimes radically, to benefit women and children. Looking at West Africa I wondered how the gospel might affect the culture for the girls and women we interacted with?

     On our trip, Jim told us of the need to “withhold judgment” of cultural norms and practices that we see there, both in and out of the church. I think that is important advice. But there still exists the tension of when to intentionally apply the gospel to speak into a culture in areas that seem disturbing or troubling by our Western sensibilities. I knew something about the culture in West Africa from supporting and talking to our partners and others there. I knew it is 95% Muslim. I knew its expression of Islam was not as extreme compared to many Muslim-majority countries. But its effects on the status of women and girls are still evident as they disproportionately bear the burdens of family and life and yet are restricted in freedom of movement. I didn’t see women out on the street enjoying open comradery the way men did. If women are out, they are working hard as vendors with several small children in tow. Often the husbands are not at home for months at a time, in order to find work in a far-off city, while the wife (or wives) lives elsewhere and may not even know her husband’s whereabouts. So, is this a neutral cultural expression and just one way among many to order family life? You can imagine these examples compounded in all sorts of lifestyle examples. And navigating this as an outsider to the culture can be very tricky.

     Also, we learned there is really no option for a woman to be single there. Marriage is the culturally expected and necessary way to survive. We learned that even for those women going to university, their education will not be very useful to them because of the lack of jobs and opportunities. They need skills and they need practical training on how to market those skills.

     As I reflect on what we are hoping to see accomplished in West Africa, I see it being a whole big complex set of factors that need to work together in church planting. These girls will need to be entrepreneurs. So, business development is crucial. There needs to be a corresponding set of young men to be raised up as Christians for them to marry! Where will these young men come from? They will also need jobs. The farm is also very important with its agricultural component. The RUF fellowship at the University will be connected too. It was amazing to see how much thought they have put into all of these endeavors to work synergistically together, and like the pieces of a puzzle, no one piece can stand alone or make sense without all the other pieces. It really hit home to me standing in the field, where the new village is to be built. There with just a well, a pump house, and some crops, I tried to picture the safe girls living in community there and how long this may take; maybe 10,20, or 30 years. I pray toward the Kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in Heaven to West Africa.


Posted by Jeanne Houston with

The Biblical Narrative: Fall

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BY AUSTIN HESS, Pastoral Intern for Oakwood Presbyterian 

Biblical Narrative / Genesis 3

     Have you ever messed up? Have I got a story for you!

     In my previous role as an instructional technologist, I had a lot of technical responsibilities. One of those responsibilities was to double-check that everything was working properly before an online course started. This repetitive task became second nature, and it was easy to drone through dozens and dozens of courses at a time, clicking away mindlessly.

     One morning, I got a wake-up call. I received an email that a course had a broken link that needed to be fixed. As I began clicking through the course, which was in its first week of class, I went to click on the link resolver, which just happened to hover right above the “Delete this course” button.

     Guess which one I clicked?

     Panicked, I called my boss and our IT manager to see what could be done to recover the course and student data. I definitely thought I was getting fired for this one.

     Thankfully, none of the students had participated in the course, and we were able to recover all the data. (For whatever reason, to this day, the link resolver still sits above the “Delete this course” button.)

     Because of sin, I had become careless in my work to fix issues. Because of my misery, I suffered emotional distress when I was unsure if we could recover important student data. The Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC 20) tells us that we all ultimately find the roots of our sin and misery in the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Genesis 3.[1] This post will explore the fall and how sin and misery impact our reading of Scripture and our life together.

Reading the Fall

     We all like reading about the creation account in Genesis 1-2—heaven and earth were together. But we hate reading about the fall in Genesis 3 where heaven and earth are torn asunder. I mean, it barely took us two chapters before we messed something up in God’s good creation.

     While the details are minimal, at some point after God created all things, Satan and an army of angels rebelled against God and were punished for their sin (cf. Isaiah 14:12-15 to Luke 10:18 and Revelation 12:7-9). As a result, he actively worked to undo the goodness in God’s creation by tempting God’s growing creation to do the very same thing: rebel. He cast doubt in Eve’s heart (Genesis 3:1) and he outright denied God’s Word (Genesis 3:4). Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and gave it to Adam (Genesis 3:6). The one prohibitionary command given by God to them in Genesis 2:16-17 was broken.

     As a result, they are now sinful and experience misery. They hid from God (Genesis 3:7). They “lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and [...] liable to all the miseries of this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever” (WSC 19). God cursed them for their disobedience. Rather than enjoying the covenant blessings of union with God, they suffer under His covenant curses and experience a fractured relationship with Him.

     The final blow was that they could no longer live in the Garden God had created for them. They had to live as exiles in a world that was foreign and hostile to them and attempt to cultivate its potential.

Life in the Fall

     The effects of the fall that Adam and Eve experienced are the same ones we cause today.

     We cause division in our community. Rather than enjoying the union we have with Jesus and thereby with each other, we malign, gossip, hate, and attack each other. We’re drained emotionally, physically, and spiritually. We’re anxious, uncertain, and paralyzed by fear. We work harder and harder, always scrapping by. We rebel against God and his ordained authority, or we’re rebelled against. We follow other gods and leaders, looking for salvation. We experience death, disease, and illness. We see death coming from afar or it visits us quickly. Diseases seem to come at us harder and harder, with more sinister symptoms and longer-lasting effects.

     Because of the fall, we do not experience communion with God and life together as God intended. We’re still wandering, looking for our eternal home. We’re looking for eternal peace and deliverance from our sin and misery.

Where Do We Go from Here?

     This is not the end of the story. Although it’s not an attractive topic, we need to discuss it and think about it. God did not just leave his creation to burn out from all this death and decay.

     As we’ll learn in the final post, God did not leave us to perish in this estate of sin and misery. Rather, as WSC 20 proclaims, God worked “to deliver them [us] out of the estate of sin and misery and to bring them [us] into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.”

 Resources for Further Study
  • Kapic, Kelly M. Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2017. Written by the professor of theological studies at Covenant College, Kelly explores pain and suffering in the Christian life as he faces his wife’s cancer diagnosis.
  • Plantinga, Cornelius. Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995. I cannot think of a better treatment of sin than what Cornelius offers. He helpfully dissects the anatomy of sin and its impact on our life and creation.

[^1]: There is a vast theological debate as to federal headship and the procession of sin. Rather than diving into it in this post, I’m assuming that because Adam is our federal head, when he sinned, we fell with him and sin is transmitted to each and every one of us (WSC 18).

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