It’s always amazing to travel. Especially to new lands, to places one has often heard of, or perhaps only seen in the movies! With it comes an invitation into the soul of another civilization, a revelation of life beyond one’s ancestral confines.
America is often described as a land of great opportunities, a sort of dreamland. I would like to think this is true. I do not have reason to doubt, at least not yet. So, I will tell of the land through my lenses; that I am well acquainted with.
This fall I travelled to the United States, to commence my studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton MA. It is a wonderful opportunity for me to which I am grateful to God.
This land is surely different! I love New England already: I’m enjoying making many friends and getting ready for classes. I was warned about the cultural shock I would find but perhaps it will come later. I am yet to be shocked by the food as well!
I love that most of the people I meet are very courteous. I like the streets, and their villages? They are unlike our own back in Uganda. Here, the rich live in the villages! Also, their systems are functional and independent of individual leaders!
But I will speak of a few things that broke my heart.
The Grass not as Green
As we drove to one of the African food stores in Boston, seeing the homelessness and encountering stories of it- even in church, I realized that perhaps all is not as rosy as painted.
What I have heard from those I have interacted with… What I saw on the streets of Boston and witnessed at Church this Sunday… What I read from the bulletin of one church and what I have known from fellow students, it is hard to live in America. The ‘American Dream’ is costly. And don’t get me wrong, not all men face these hardships the same way.
When it comes to intentional building of friendships and communities, one of the warnings I received on arrival was: ‘when people are nice to you, don’t assume they like you. They may be friends because they have business with you, but they will act like strangers when business ends’. This is unlike Africa, unlike Uganda.
Community in America is not as big a deal as it is back in Uganda. That can be understandable, especially when everyone just loves their space, and when they must utilize every minute to make ends meet.
The cost of education in America is as well high! So high that many must seriously consider whether they need that degree. The cost of living is equally high. A single mother of two has to work her back off, to send her kids to school and will still hardly have a roof over her head.
And because the cost of raising children here is so high, couples must plan if and when to have children!
And The Church
With as many difference between America and say Africa, in my observation, the one thing that remains the same is sin. It is everywhere. Same substance, different packages! My wife is shocked at how someone goes about business half naked. I remember her mutter ‘I can’t let my daughter get out of the door dressed like that’. To which our host replied; ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet sister’.
But what most brought tears to my eyes is how much churches are struggling in New England, which is the part Boston is located. People are leaving church, and churches grow by depleting other churches here. It is sad. It is painful. You can almost see the pain in the eyes of a Pastor. I believe they are doing their best. But the effects of secularism are visible, and I am yet to know how churches here are dealing with this. I think apologetics is as greatly needed here as in Uganda.
In Uganda, apologetics is mainly needed to answer questions believers have, or don’t know they have. In New England, apologetics must answer questions skeptics pose. The church here is shrinking and will soon collapse if evangelistic strategies don’t change!
The Fall orientation at seminary will be starting soon, and I am led to believe that various churches shall be positioning themselves to woo as many seminarians as possible. In them, they have ready ministers, because here, Pastors are quitting, and less and less people are willing to commit to pastoral ministry.
Let me slightly backdrop to put some context to New England. Christianity at its deepest was experienced here, with Johnathan Edwards’s legacy, and the 18th century revivals. Universities like Harvard, Yale and Princeton were once bedrocks of truth. The sweep of secularism can be noticed from how these very institutions established by deeply committed Christians for the sake of advancing the gospel have forsaken the foundations and danced to the popular secularization song.
This shifting has been happening for a time, decried by Dr. Francis Schaeffer, and vigorously protested by Gresham Machen, co-founder of Westminster Theological Seminary.
So the battle is not new, and I suppose the church here had enough time to prepare, if only it listened to its prophets.
But a glimmer of hope today, as I was talking to the Director of Financial Services here at Seminary. I was glad to hear about the efforts his church puts annually towards missions, and weekly conversions as a result. The church of Christ must always be outward looking, seeking to be the light of the world. The Church was commissioned for mission, and a mission-less church is a dead one.
Just a few words and I will be done. I think, given the economic hardship, the homelessness, and the individualistic nature of the community here; the only way the church will grow is by being intentionally evangelistic, and offering wholesome solutions to life’s questions.
The church must be the head, the hands and the feet of Christ! It must proclaim the enduring truth of God’s redemption accomplishments in Christ! It must be willing to walk with those who are crippled, touch the feet of the cold and offer warmth, visit the prisoners, feed the hungry and give shelter to the homeless.
This sort of environment is where the church of Christ must shine brightest! And I must say, these hardships are opportunities for the church to demonstrate the care of Christ. The church therefore should be booming, not dwindling with the hope of many here.
But what do I know? I am just a week old in America, and more is yet to come. Greater things are yet to come to New England, and this must be through an awakened church. Apologetics, expository preaching, and visible charity, as always, are the torchbearers of the hope of Christ in a world broken by sin.
My prayer though, is that I might be fruitful here! That I may be remembered as a faithful servant, who not only talked, but also walked the talk! Keep praying for the church where you are as well. Pray for your Pastor. It is hard to be a Pastor. It is hard.