As we think about going to Tanzania, one of of our big prayer points is for humility. There’s an arrogance that comes with being western and theologically educated that is counter-productive to learning from Tanzanians. I’ve been learning that already as we meet different people doing church visits.
At supper after we’d spoken at one church I was approached by an ex-missionary who wanted to give me some advice. In impressing upon me the importance of a vital prayer life for a missionary she told me:
- that I was too cerebral and that I didn’t feel my faith enough.
- that she felt I didn’t pray enough. (She believed an inadequate prayer life is the number one reason missionaries return to Australia.)
- that I was naive about evil and the spirit world.
These conclusions she’d come to without having a conversation with me.
Then she asked me if I was ‘spirit-filled’, the mark of which was whether I speak in tongues.
I just listened and nodded and thanked her for her advice.
But inside, I was feeling quite affronted. I felt like she was judging me before getting to know me or asking about my background. I felt like she was projecting her own experiences onto me. I wanted to dismiss her and her suspect theology.
And yet, I need to hear what she has to say. Because I probably am naive: all the training in the world can’t do what experience can. And I’m sure I don’t yet grasp the importance of prayer. And my theology may well change as I read the Bible with new eyes because of my context.
This is where I need humility. And not just on the outside with a polite smile, but in my inner attitude as well. To get past the offensive package to accept the wisdom of another part of Christ’s body. To leave open the possibility that there might be something prophetic in her words.
Humility means considering another better than yourself. So I need to listen when I feel theologically superior. To reserve judgement when I feel that same respect hasn’t been extended to me. To hear again what I think I’ve already learned.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.