Out of Africa: Who Is Advanced and Who Is Backward?

Out of Africa: Who Is Advanced and Who Is Backward? August 15, 2013

By Galen Dalrymple

I think that it is fair to say that I have been humbled and learned a lot about myself and my shortcomings and prejudices by spending this time in Africa.  I also believe that most Americans and people from first-world countries would come to Africa and find it to be decades behind the west.

I recently spent four days in Kumasi, Ghana, with some of my fellow interns.  Before we left to go there, they told me numerous times that it was such a large, modern city.  They seemed very proud of it, though only one of my travel partners was Ghanian (the others were from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Kenya).  It was a large city (the Ghanian in our group estimated it as five million souls). But modern?  Perhaps by African standards, but not by western standards.  This, to me, only highlighted the differences I have witnessed as I try to make sense of this place.

Americans fancy ourselves to be advanced.  Our science and technology lead the world.  To this day, no other country has put a human on the moon – not even close.  Our medical technology is second to none.  Our industry produces products and services that are the envy of the world, and new inventions and discoveries are made daily.

But what of American spiritual life?  Again, we like to think that we are advanced in that area as well, and I some ways, I suppose we are.  But after being here for this long, I have started to wonder.  To wit:

Our pastors and religious leaders attend great seminaries and receive training and education, yet I don’t believe I have met one of them who can begin to hold a candle in terms of sheer faith and trust in God to the people I have met here at the internship.  These are brothers and sisters who have death threats against them because they are Christians and radical Islamists have marked them for execution.  Yet they soldier on, for less money per month (or even per year as the case may be) than most American pastors make in a single day.  Why?  Because they BELIEVE in the gospel and that people need to hear it and see it modeled.  I find myself humbled by their faith and commitment in the face of their hardships, questioning the depth of my commitment and faith if I were in their place.

These fellow Christians have nothing.  Their lifestyles of poverty, while perhaps the consequence of place of birth rather than something specifically chosen, are real and deep.  They have so little, yet are perhaps the most joyful Christians I have encountered anywhere.  They trust that God will provide their daily bread and for EVERY need, at the right time and place.  They could all be doing something much more lucrative, but for them it is not about money, it is about faithfulness to a call and commitment to their Lord and the African people.

Americans see rational, scientific reasons for everything.  Sadly, this extends into our spiritual lives as well.  When I first got here and started to learn about the culture, I was somewhat shocked to find so much talk about witchcraft, spells and curses, demons and spiritual warfare.  My American-educated mind immediately thought, “What kind of Christians are these who believe in such things?”  But, as time passed, I began to see that they take Ephesians 6:12 deadly serious: For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

As I began to think more deeply about this, I confess that what we explain away in America as some physical, mental, chemical or other failure may in fact be the result of spiritual warfare indirectly or directly.  For example, we think of certain birth defects as being the result of genetic mutations or failures.  But the deeper question may be: what causes the genetic malfunction?  Is it truly random, or is it an unseen spiritual warfare played out at an atomic level in the body?  And what of the “unexplained” incidents of birth defects – what is the cause of those?  Are they just due simply to the fall?  Why should a particular gene sequence go haywire and others not?

As a result, I have been forced to ask myself who is deluded and who is seeing things clearly?  Is it possible that we have failed in America to believe enough in unseen powers that struggle against our souls and have adopted a secularized, scientific and sanitized faith when it comes to spiritual warfare?  After all, Jesus clearly believed in demons and they certainly believed in him!  Jesus was no fool.  If anyone has insight into the spiritual realities, it was He.  While I think a balanced approach and view is called for in this matter, perhaps it is much to our detriment as Americans that we have made mincemeat of the concept of spiritual warfare and its effect on the events of our daily lives.

Galen Dalrymple works for Medical Ambassadors International (medicalambassadors.org) as the Field Curriculum Coordinator and lives in Northern California with his wife, Laurel, and yellow lab, Lucy. His passions are his family, photography, travel, and doing what he can to alleviate suffering and injustice as a call from Jesus. 

Galen (galen@med-amb.org) has to raise his own support.  If you wish to help, you can donate at: http://www.medicalambassadors.org/donate.html.  Find his name in the SUPPORT MISSIONARIES section, click it and you can donate.  If you wish to make a recurring donation, contact suzette@med-amb.org or call her at 209-543-7500 ext. 219.  All donations are tax deductible. Thank you!




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  • Bob Simmons

    I just returned from a 12 day visit to Presbyterian Churches of East Africa, in Kenya. The spiritual vitality and joy was amazing. I agree completely with Timothy’s comments above.

    • Galen Dalrymple

      Hi, Bob. Actually, I’m Tim’s dad and wrote the article, but I hear you loud and clear! It was such a refreshing time of worship! The joy in their Lord and in their worship of Him was truly humbling!!!! Welcome home, by the way!

  • ThisIsTheEnd

    One unfortunate consequence of viewing illness as a product of spiritual warfare is that you get pastors telling HIV sufferers to stop taking their medication and rely on the power of prayer. Some even sell bottles of holy water. Also the labeling of vulnerable people as witches or demonically possessed, which can result in physical and mental abuse, is a cause for growing concern in much of Africa.

  • Nemo

    People used to think that demons caused mental illnesses and epilepsy (and if I’m not mistaken, Jesus at one point cures someone with the symptoms of epilepsy while referring to it as demonic possession). Today, anyone who believes that is considered crazy, and anybody who reacts to those diseases in their children based off of said belief will have their children removed from their custody. Why is it that a skeptical mind is more effective at fending off demons than the name of a man who claimed to the son of the local deity?

  • Marta L.

    As a philosopher, I believe in the principle of determinism – that physical events are determined by other physical events in the past, combined with the laws of physics. Given certain starting conditions, there’s really no way a certain gene wouldn’t have mutated. It is my belief that these really aren’t random changes, although we may not understand the why (yet, perhaps ever). That simply seems to be the way science, causation, that kind of thing works. So it is very hard for me to think of diseases as caused by something non-physical like that – at least not caused in the way we usually use that term.

    But if I’m being brutally honest, I do have to admit I’m very uncomfortable with talk about spiritual warfare. I know the Bible says it and I try to believe it. Can these diabolical elements work through physical processes, the way many Christians believe God used natural processes like evolution to create the world? That’s a real possibility. I’d say that the simplest, most effective way to treat the disease is still to address it in terms of those physical processes. But it’s probably a bit too reductive to give the thinky-thoughts version of “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

    I was touched by your description of life among African Christians. It got me thinking about Jesus’s praise of people who have faith like a child. I think there’s a place for expert theologians and the like, but I also think those people you met had something we’re missing out on, that simple, innocent faith. We could use more of that in this hemisphere, I think.

    • Marta L.

      Btw, thanks for sharing this! It’s particularly nice reading the words of someone with such a personal connection to Tim. I enjoyed reading your words for their own sake, but also reading something by someone close to him. Thank you for the gift of your honesty and courage speaking with us.