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Mahlatse Mashua

The struggle for leadership in Africa

Many of my conversations about Africa are a mixture of celebration and lament. A portrait of my Africa includes picturesque landscapes, resilient and diverse people, profound cultural knowledge, fertile soil and a plethora of majestic languages to name a few of its many beauties. The story is not complete without the sad sentiment that there is incredible untapped potential in the continent of Africa.

 High levels of unemployment, poverty, disease, civil conflicts and corruption are some of the well-known challenges that many African people have to navigate in their lived experience.  The legacies that provide a helpful framework to understand the factors that give rise to these issues are multidimensional and complex. The problem of leadership is one of them.

The Christian story finds its centre in the historical events surrounding Jesus Christ. It is important to note that one cannot simply reduce the life of a person who claimed to be God to a set of ethical principles or organisational lessons, however, it can be a helpful investigation to look into the type of leadership that he modelled in order to critique the leadership of people and societies that claim his name. When one looks at the life of Jesus Christ, there are several things worth noting about his leadership.

 Christianity tells a story about a God who saw the mess that human beings had made of the world and decided to act to fix it. God does so by being born into the mess, thus being intimately involved with the problem. The very birth of Jesus demonstrates that leadership is not removed from context. There are many leaders who don’t live and identify with the people whose problems they are trying to solve. Some of them are produced by liberation struggles from among the people, only to separate themselves from the very same people when they have access to power and money that is made available at the end of those initial struggles.

 Jesus represented socially-conscious and justice-pursuing leadership. He was born amongst a people who lived under the shadow of Rome, a foreign occupying power. He challenged extreme class division, called corrupt leaders to account, showed compassion towards those who would be considered social outsiders and second class citizens, protested gender inequality, rejected prejudice, challenged unjust behaviour, advocated for the poor and for all people who were oppressed by various things. Colonialism casts a large shadow on Africa and still provides unjust social organisations and institutions that perpetuate injustice. 

Jesus loved people and ultimately sacrificed his life as a demonstration of his love. This is in sharp contrast to some of the leadership that is on display in the political, business and religious spaces, that is self-serving. There are many political leaders who undermine the democratic systems that facilitated their rise to leadership positions and hang onto power. Jesus’ leadership led him to the cross so that he can serve humanity. In contrast, there are leaders today who understand their positions as being seated on thrones that qualify their citizens to serve them.  Jesus’s leadership led him to sacrifice his life for others. 

Jesus was uncompromising in embodying and speaking the truth. When his enemies tried to set a trap for him, they relied on his integrity and disregard for populism that was common amongst other leaders, as key ingredients towards the success of their plans. In a famous passage, they approach him and say “We know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are.” 

Jesus was an exemplary leader. He lived his life with the sole purpose of serving each and every one of us, even to the point of death. If you do not understand the importance of his death or do not realise it’s significance to your very story; please initiate a conversation with us by clicking the button below.

Is Christianity a Western Religion?

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I have travelled to many different countries in Africa and this is one of the most common questions that I get the most about Christianity. Given the mixed legacies of Christian missionaries, the painful history of colonialism and slavery; the persistent nature of the question is understandable and expected. To give a reasonable answer to this question, one has to embrace its complexity and appreciate the force with which it resonates in the social imagery and in the current lived experience of many Africans.

The origins of Christianity show, however, that it is not a Western religion. To be a Christian means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, who was not European, but Middle Eastern. The early followers of Christ were Jewish and were responsible for spreading his message to the different parts of the world because they had learnt from him that his invitation to follow him was universal in scope. It was for everyone belonging to every culture and ethnic group in the world. The idea is that the Church, those who believe in the message of Christ, will be a body of people that are culturally diverse according to God’s design and desire. The message of Christ is for everyone in the world in order that God may receive his glory in the vision that was articulated by the Apostle in Revelations 7:9-10: “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb”

In many parts of the world, including Africa, Christianity has been experienced painfully, unnecessarily and unjustly as a Western religion. The term “West” is a construct that has shifted meaning based on the history of empire-building and the change of human civilisations in the world. “West” eventually came to mean more than a geographical demarcation which includes “old Europe”, Western Christendom and wherever Greco-Roman people and cultures find themselves in the world today. “West” also has a philosophical dimension that is undergirded by ethnocentrism and a “centering” of these “Western” cultures at the expense of other world cultures. Historically, “western Cultures” wrongfully became a standard of civilisation, rationality, the measure of beauty etc. Unfortunately, Christianity as explained and practised by some missionaries at the time, was also wrapped up in “Western culture” when it arrived in many places in Africa, serving the imperialistic ideals of Western countries in this form.

It is this aspect of the question that gives power to the association between Christianity and the West and is largely responsible for the view that Christianity was just an ideological tool that was used to disrupt African civilisations and progress. This was an abuse of what Christianity is. To commit theft of African resources, to enslave people, to assume sovereignty over people, to commit epistemic injustice against them while undermining their right to self-determination, to centre the world around one “Western” culture… This is not biblical Christianity, but an abuse of it. True Christianity brings freedom and hope, because it is God’s story, good news for all people of the world.

Is Christianity a Western religion? No, it is about following Jesus Christ and believing in him for salvation. Unfortunately, the history of Christianity also contains the history of the failures of us as his followers to always present his message clearly and justly. May God heal the hearts and memories of those who incorrectly experienced Christianity as anything else other than what Christ intends. May Christ use us as his body to answer this prayer.

If God is so good, why is there evil?

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There is something dreadfully wrong with our world. As I write this, part of my world is still in shock and mourning over more than 200 lives that were lost just a few days ago in horrific attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka.

Suffering has a way of raising serious questions about life and who we are as humans – and it is especially challenging for Christianity because of the way we think about God.

Even though the Bible doesn’t really explain why a loving God permits suffering, could there be good reasons for Him to allow a certain amount of suffering in this world – and good reasons for us to trust in this loving God even if we suffer?

Let’s think about this logically: If God is all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful, then evil cannot exist since such a God would hate all forms of suffering, know what to do to eradicate them from this world and have the power to do so. But suffering and evil does exist in the world – so it seems as though one would have to give up on some characteristic of God to avoid this contradiction and inconsistency between the existence of such a God and evil in the world. However, I believe it is reasonable to say there is no contradiction in the existence of God and the existence of evil in the world. An all-wise and timeless God could have good reasons (morally sufficient reasons, scholars would say) for allowing a certain amount of suffering in this world that could be outside of our knowledge and as finite beings. Furthermore, an all-loving and all-knowing God could decide that the best possible world is one with creatures that are capable of love. For love to be possible, these creatures need to have choice which includes choice between right and wrong. The existence of suffering in the world is what you would expect from a creation of a loving God with humans that are free to choose between good and evil in a meaningful sense.

There are other issues, too. Even if humans are responsible for suffering in the world, and even if natural disasters are not meaningless suffering to a God who can see how everything is tied together, it is still God who allows suffering to carry on. How can we possibly trust a God who allows the worst that this world has to offer? How can we trust a God who allows our children to die of cancer without revealing His reasons to us? We can trust that God is good even though the Bible doesn’t describe in detail the explanation as to why God allows suffering in our specific situations. What the Scriptures describe in detail however, is how God’s goodness was shown when Jesus died on the Cross and this gives meaning to our questions and trust in the goodness of God. Tim Keller says that the Gospel is “the true story that God made a good world that was marred by sin and evil, but thorough Jesus Christ he redeemed it at infinite cost to himself, so that someday he will return to renew all creation; end all suffering on earth; and restore absolute peace, justice, and joy in the world forever.” If Christianity is true, we do not only have a God who allows suffering, but who suffers alongside us. If Christianity is true, we do not only have a God who allows suffering, but who died for our evil. If Christianity is true, then we do not only have a God who allows suffering, but through the Cross, has put an expiry date on suffering and now offers real comfort in our times of pain through His Spirit and through His people. He works now to comfort those who are in pain and invites those who are called by His name to participate in His work to fix His cosmos. And while we work with Him to give and receive healing, comfort and peace in times of pain, we hold on to His promise of ridding this world of evil once and for all.

Vince Vitale says that even though we might not have the goodness of God explained in detail in our specific suffering, we have the goodness of God displayed on the Cross. For what kind of God would come and die? A God of love. A God we can trust. A Christ we should trust in the midst of our pain.

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