The Day I Learned to Read Scripture through African Eyes

By Michael Lumbard

A Google maps search could not help me find the church I was standing in or even the road it was on. All I knew was that we were thirty minutes outside of Kakamega, Kenya. For over an hour worship had permeated the rural community from inside this church. This little church with its dirt floors is where I began to read Scripture with new eyes. 

A small mud brick church with more people outside than inside.

For years I have known that the area wherein I was raised, the churches I had attended, and the training which I received afforded me only a small perspective of our multifaceted and multicultural God. I knew that God loves culture. I even acknowledged that my reading and understanding of Scripture was shaped in part by my view of the world. Reading the book Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by Brandon O’Brian and Randy Richards even helped me to identify and address some of my cultural blinders. 

A motorcycle carrying furniture.

Now, serving as missionaries, my wife, Pamela, and I have been learning how to embrace a new culture. We are learning how to lay aside our own cultural biases and preferences so that we can minister effectively. This is not an easy process. It takes looking beneath the surface to discover the “whys” behind the actions of a group of people. It takes time just listening to hear the joys and pains that drive a culture. Then if you are patient enough, you will begin to see the world through their eyes. These are the same cultural eyes through which they view Scripture. 

Six weeks in this country had begun to show us many aspects of Kenya’s culture. However, I realized that it would take a lifetime to truly grasp the tribal differences and traditions. It also became apparent that for some, the abuses of colonialism had tainted their view of Christianity and its first missionaries. At times the conclusion was that Christianity is simply a western religion. 

For me, everything changed on this particular Saturday in this simple church that I could not even find on Google maps. The worship, the dancing, and the love for God drew me in. It was impossible to simply look on from the view of a spectator. However, the words of one song stopped me:  

When Jesus came down; He came down from Heaven 
When He landed; He landed in Israel 
But when there was trouble; He came down to Africa 
So we must praise Him; praise Him in an African way* 

My mind began to race. I was already experiencing the African way of worship, but the song’s words captured my attention: “When there was trouble, He came down to Africa?” I had to process this. Joseph took his family as refugees to Egypt to escape King Herod’s edict. I always viewed this as simply the country of Egypt, but it was Africa!  

The worship team.

Then the thought hit me: Africa was not an afterthought to God. The promise of God to Abraham was that all nations would be blessed through him. As the worship continued, I began to recognize Africa throughout Scripture. The Queen of Sheba (probably Ethiopia) came to see King Solomon. The man who carried the cross was from Cyrene (Libya). On the day of Pentecost, people were in attendance from Egypt, Libya, and Cyrene – all in Africa. One of the early converts to Christianity was the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8). Then Christianity spread to Alexandria, Egypt, in the first years after Pentecost, and by 300 AD Alexandria had become one of the centers of Christianity. 

The conclusion was clear to me. Before Christianity was “Western,” it was already in Africa!  

By the time worship was over and it was my time to speak, I was changed. I began by acknowledging that Africa has always been in God’s heart; therefore, they needed to keep worshiping God in an African way. They shouted their approval. I was beginning to look at Scripture through African eyes. 

*“Praise Him in an African Way,” by Solly Mahlango from South Africa 

About the Author

Mike Lumbard and his wife, Pamela, are directors of the School of Global Leadership, a missions training school in Trinidad and Tobago. They train future missionaries to have God’s heart for the world and God’s heart for the lost. Through on-the-job training and missions intensives, they show people how to live and minister cross-culturally. Mike and Pam are visionary leaders with a heart for the lost and hurting. 

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