A West African man and I were discussing a passage of scripture together. He said, “Brad, you do not understand that passage.” With my best effort to remain humble, I said, “what do you mean?” We were discussing the passage in Corinthians where Paul is telling the church to discipline an immoral man, and he has said, “Do not even eat with such a man.”
The African said, “You are an American. You folks don’t eat together anyway.” This after having lived in the U.S. for a while. He is right. We may sit down and rush through a meal around a table with a group, but it is not like Africans.
The villagers in Mali eat out of a common bowl. And to tell a person that he cannot eat with you, that would be huge. In a similar fashion, this past Sunday I preached from Luke 15, the story that we call “The Prodigal Son”. I have learned how you show respect from the Africans. There are customs of courtesy and honor that are to be followed. I never comprehended the extent to which the younger son, and for that matter the older son, disrespected and dishonored their father, until I saw it in practice in West Africa.
Because the Bible was written by people of an eastern culture, similar to that of West Africans, and I suspect many other cultures outside of western civilization, those who live that way understand some of the things in the Bible that we often overlook. We have tried to squeeze the Bible into our world view, rather than allowing the Bible to determine our world view.
In training volunteer teams to go to work in the villages of Mali, I encourage them to tell the story just as it is in the Bible, and then ask some questions, and most importantly, listen. Often the villagers upon hearing the story teach me what it means.