Vice President Kamala Harris has spent much of this week in Africa, attempting to forge better relationships with key governments across the continent. She has announced more than $1 billion in funding for initiatives ranging from fighting against extremist groups like al-Qaeda to building up infrastructure, agriculture, and the economies of partner nations.
And though American officials are quick to state that their primary motivation for the new policies is a genuine desire to help, China’s uptick in involvement across Africa in recent years has likely played an important role as well.
As The Dispatch notes, “While the U.S. financed about $14 billion of projects in Africa from 2007 to 2020, comparable institutions in China financed a whopping $120 billion-worth.” In addition, “China’s developmental banks lent more than twice as much for public-private infrastructure projects in sub-Saharan Africa as the U.S., Germany, Japan, and France—combined.”
The nature of that help also plays an important role in the relationship between African countries and the West.
As Mvemba Dizolele, the director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, notes, “When the Chinese go to Africa . . . . they talk about Africa’s needs, and they try to bridge that gap.” By contrast, western nations have often spent their time focusing on humanitarian aid and promoting democracy. And while many have benefited from those efforts, Dizolele notes that “people don’t eat democracy and good governance. People need jobs. People need schools. People need hope as they contemplate the future.”
In short, too often American involvement in Africa takes the form of a hero coming to the rescue when what most Africans want is a partner to help them grow.
That’s a lesson Christians in America need to learn as well.
The plight of Bhutanese Nepali refugees
While western missions to Africa, Latin America, and other parts of the world are usually undertaken with the genuine intent to help people and share the love of Christ, the reality is that we often do a poor job of taking into account what the people to whom we’re ministering actually want from us. Moreover, it can be easy to forget that while God asks us to join him in sharing his love and gospel with those who need it, he is the one ultimately responsible for saving people.
To that end, a recent story from Angela Lu Fulton about the amazing work the Lord has done in and through Bhutanese Nepali refugees offers an important reminder for each of us.
As Fulton describes, the refugees are ethnic Nepalis who were expelled from their home in Bhutan on account of their largely Hindu faith. Many traveled to Bhutan—a small country between India and Tibet—in search of work only to later face persecution from the Buddhist majority. Those who protested the discrimination were arrested, tortured, and often killed, eventually forcing upwards of 120,000 people to flee the country. The vast majority would eventually settle into seven refugee camps in Nepal established by the UN.
However, the stories of how God worked within those camps sound like they belong in Acts more than in the modern era.
Fulton details many of these accounts in her article for Christianity Today and it is worth reading in its entirety.
One such story is about Bhadra Rai, whose family converted to Christianity after his sister was miraculously healed when a group of believers prayed for her. Rai noted that “many people in the camps were drawn to Christianity after seeing miraculous healings from illnesses, both physical and mental.” Others describe how God protected people from poisonous snake bites and drowning in rapid moving rivers.
Still more “were drawn in by the equality they found in Christianity, where there were no castes or discrimination.” As Fulton describes, “Several Bhutanese Nepali Christians said they came to believe in Christ in the camps because of the love they found at church—a love that was missing in their home lives.”
And what’s most important for our conversation today is that all of this occurred because “the power of God was actively moving.” As John Monger, who ended up in a refugee camp after his family and the local government tried to kill him for converting to Christianity, notes, “There was no missionary, no denomination, just the simple power of God, the love of God, and the presence of God.”
The Lord continued to work in and through the refugees after they were eventually resettled in America and other western nations. Those who started churches in the camps did the same wherever they ended up, often reviving the communities and more established churches with whom they partnered in the process.
As Manoj Shrestha, the pastor of Nepal Baptist Church in Baltimore, notes, “I think God was preparing them there [in the camps] so when they moved, everywhere they move, there’s a church. They have a zeal to share the gospel, they want to plant churches, they want to become missionaries.”
And when it comes to missions, there is much they can teach us.
Sharing the gospel out of gratitude
Christy Staats, who helps to train churches in cross-cultural ministry, warns that “there is a tendency for Americans to jump into refugee work thinking we are the hero, and we need to curb that.” She goes on to add that “what’s really deep in my conviction is the leadership and capability that the Bhutanese Nepali refugees display. I need to learn from them.”
And when it comes to what we can learn from groups like the Bhutanese Nepali refugees, how to share the gospel from a place of gratitude rather than obligation belongs near the top of the list.
When we truly understand how good our God is, it becomes much easier to share his love and message with the people around us. Conversely, if we haven’t encountered or don’t fully appreciate what God has done, it can be hard to get excited about telling others.
It’s the difference between sharing the gospel because we think people need it—even though they do—and sharing the gospel because we think it’s genuinely going to make their lives better.
When we look at how the first generations of Christians shared their faith, gratitude was the defining characteristic. In American churches today, though, I think obligation has become a far more common motivation. As such, perhaps it should not come as a surprise that many of us struggle to do missions well.
So take some time today to ask God to help you understand the degree to which you are genuinely grateful for all that he has done for you. Ask him to bring to mind examples of the ways that he has blessed you and redeemed your struggles. And if those struggles threaten to block out his goodness, look to the Bhutanese refugees as an example of how to find solace in the Lord even when your circumstances make that difficult.
God doesn’t need heroes. He just needs people who understand how good the good news really is and who are willing to share it with those we meet.