One afternoon I came out of a meeting and saw a large group of men parading down the street. They had completely taken over the road and were blowing whistles, horns and singing all kinds of songs. It was a traditional Bagisu circumcision parade. The last two months of each calendar year is the season for these celebrations, and they mark when a young boy becomes a man in the cultural society. Yes, they do involve circumcision.
They also involve heavy drinking by everyone involved, several elements to pagan worship, and witchcraft. The people celebrating will drink all day and then perform the circumcision (dangerous, right?) in front of everyone. While doing all of this, the elders and leaders of the village are making offerings to and saying spells for the gods and spirits they worship.
These rituals are a part of the culture here; they are ingrained into life. And even as people come to Christ, they struggle to break free from rituals such as this. Many of these practices are steeped in darkness and pagan worship, but people hold onto them long after they have committed to following Jesus because of the strong pull and influence that their upbringing and CULTURE has on their lives. Don’t get me wrong, there are many elements of culture that are not sinful, some even are God-glorifying (such as community and family). But many elements are in direct opposition to our faith in Jesus and a lifestyle of being made into His image.
But let’s not pretend this is an African problem. This is a human problem. It has been this way since the beginning of man. At our last meeting during our National Conference here in Uganda, we focused on the history of culture invading God’s people. The Old Testament is filled with examples of God’s people adapting to their culture and sacrificing their own holiness. We see in Acts 15 how the early Christians were being invaded by legalistic Jewish culture AND by pagan Gentile culture. And we can see throughout church history similar stories.
So as I watched this parade, my first thought was about how they were letting culture dictate their lives in ways directly disobeying the Word of God. But my second thought was much more personal: How do I do the same thing?
- How do I let my culture (both my passport culture and my new culture) trump the culture of the cross?
- Do I allow my American individualistic spirit shape my theology more than the Word?
- How do I allow consumerism to shape my experience within the body of Christ or how I view other people?
- Am I concerned more about my nation (America) than God’s Kingdom?
- Do I let the “rebel spirit of Texas” influence my obedience to God’s call?
As I process these questions, I can’t help but be torn when I know that my call is to serve God and His people, but this call is sometimes clouded by my own desires and wants. While I don’t go after the next best technology, the latest styles or fancy cars (we live in Uganda after all), that doesn’t stop me from wanting to buy things. I let my own wants (time, money, resources) trump others’ needs. I hurt inside because I see so much poverty in the streets, yet I live in a pretty comfortable and protected home.
How am I truly loving my neighbors? How am I living out God’s Kingdom rather than my own kingdom? How are my reactions to people shaped by my personal, American views rather than God’s view of people when I think they shouldn’t be doing something?
I’m hoping you also think a little bit about these questions: How do we try to hang onto our culture in a way that contradicts our Christian faith? What types of things do you need to let go of from your culture so that your faith in Christ shines more brightly? How do we live as an “exile and stranger in this world” (1 Peter 2:11)?
Leland Sawyer, his wife and 6-year old daughter have been missionaries in Uganda for 3 years. Leland has a passion for life-on-life relational discipleship and the development of spiritually healthy leaders. He works with pastors and church leaders throughout Uganda, walking alongside men and women to help them learn more about what it means to fully live like Jesus. Before moving to Uganda, he was a youth minister for 11 years in Colorado and Texas. You can follow their family and ministry at Sawyers in Uganda.