Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Sovereignty of God in Intercultural Perspective

In his excellent book, When Helping Hurts, Brian Fikkert relates the following story of how he came to a deeper and richer understand the sovereignty of God during a visit to a Kenyan slum. The story is a great illustration of the value of intercultural perspectives both for theology and Christians around the world as they seek to grow in their walk with God.

One Sunday I was walking with a staff member though one of Africa’s largest slums, the massive Kibera slum of Nairobi. The conditions were simply inhumane. People lived in shacks constructed out of cardboard boxes. Foul smells gushed out of open ditches carrying human and animal excrement. I had a hard time keeping my balance as I continually slipped on oozy brown substances that I hoped were mud but feared were something else. Children picked through garbage dumps looking for anything of value. As we walked deeper and deeper into the slum, my sense of despair increased. This place is completely God-forsaken, I thought to myself.

Then to my amazement, right there among the dung, I heard the sound of a familiar hymn. There must be Western missionaries conducting an open-air service in here, I thought to myself. As we turned the corner, my eyes landed on the shack from which the music bellowed. Every Sunday, thirty slum dwellers crammed into this ten-by-twenty foot “sanctuary” to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The church was made out of cardboard boxes that had been opened up and stapled to studs. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a church, a church made up of some of the poorest people on earth.

When we arrived at the church, I was immediately asked to preach the sermon. As a good Presbyterian, I quickly jotted down some notes about the sovereignty of God and was looking forward to teaching this congregation the historic doctrines of the Reformation. But before the sermon began, the service included a time of sharing and prayer. I listened as some of the poorest people on the planet cried out to God: “Jehovah Jireh, please heal my son, as he is going blind.” “Merciful Lord, please protect me when I go home today, for my husband always beats me.” “Sovereign King, please provide my children with enough food today, as they are hungry.”

As I listened to these people praying to be able to live another day, I thought about my ample salary, my life insurance policy, my health insurance policy, my two cars, my house, etc. I realized that I do not really trust in God’s sovereignty on a daily basis, as I have sufficient buffers in place to shield me from most economic shocks. I realized that when these folks pray the fourth petition of the Lord’s prayer-Give us this day our daily bread-their minds do not wander as much as mine so often does. I realized that while I have sufficient education and training to deliver a sermon on God’s sovereignty with no forewarning, these slum dwellers were trusting in God’s sovereignty just to get them through the day. And I realized that these people had a far deeper intimacy with God than I probably ever will have in my entire life.[1]

[1] Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor. . .and Yourself (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009), 68-69.

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Filed under African Theology, Intercultural Theology