According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, culture shock is defined as “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation.” I’ve decided that there needs to be a new derivative of this term that I’m calling “Christian culture shock.” Just as I’m sure many of you know, there is a vast difference between Christian cultures throughout the United States. The same is applicable and even more dramatic between continents. Although I’ve had the opportunity to experience different Christian practices in a number of countries, I have never felt more out of my element than in Zimbabwe. And as uncomfortable as it can be at times, I’m praising God for bringing me here.
I’ve attended First Baptist Church of Reading since I was born and until the past few years, the only real interactions that I had with other churches were in attending Catholic services with my relatives. Even in traveling the past few years, the majority of the churches that I visited held similar beliefs to my home church. It wasn’t until I was immersed in Zimbabwean Christianity that I faced a major challenges to my faith. Coming into contact with so many different denominations, beliefs, and practices has been a Christian culture shock that forced me to take a long, hard look at what I believe and where I stand with Christ.
There were times during my stay here that I was so shocked by certain beliefs and practices that I felt compelled to do a quick internal check to make sure that I was even a Christian. I see people having these incredible, dramatic experiences with the Lord during worship, but I worship quietly. I have met more people than I can count who speak in tongues, but I speak to the Lord in English. I’ve been asked what the exact date was that I was saved, but I’ve grown up in the Church and I couldn’t tell you the exact date or if there was one. I’ve been told that I have allergies because I’m a sinner, but I repent and I know that Jesus died for my sins. I’ve been told to invite my demon-possessed friends to church, but I’m pretty sure that I don’t have any. Yet, despite how uncomfortable it is to question everything that I believe, it’s been a blessing. I’ve had the opportunity to focus on what I believe and why I believe it. I don’t want to follow something just because my pastor says that it’s correct (as many churches here do) and I don’t want to practice something just because it’s cultural. I want to follow Christ and live a faith that is pleasing in His sight.
In talking to Gordon and Bronwyn Chinamasa and experiencing it first hand, I’ve come to understand that Zimbabwe is not lacking Christianity, it’s lacking educated and accurate doctrine. Just as I have, people here grow up in their Christian culture, being taught a certain set of beliefs. Yet the difference is that they’ve never really had anyone challenge those beliefs. If anything, they’ve been supported due to the speed at which churches are growing here. As a response to this problem, I’ve been trying to ask people lots of questions. I want to know what they believe and why they believe it. I know that in facing controversy, my faith has been strengthened and my hope is that in bringing controversy, unbiblical beliefs will be brought to light (Proverbs 27:17). If their beliefs are truly biblically based, then I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t have any problem supporting them. What I’ve found, however, is that many people don’t have a biblical basis for their beliefs. There follow a series of loop-holes and twisted interpretations that have become so main stream that it seems impossible not to believe them. For example, I was talking to a girl the other day about the use of musical instruments in church. Her church believes that it’s unacceptable to play anything except the piano during the service because the piano is solemn and pleasing to God. I brought up the fact that pianos weren’t invented until far after the Bible was written and that there are many other instances where instruments are played in biblical times. She didn’t have much to say in response. Upon further discussion, I found out that I’m a sinner because I occasionally wear pants to church. In her church, they take Deuteronomy 22:5 very literally: A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God. I asked her if this verse could be interpreted more to mean that women should not try to be men and that men should not try to be women since we were all created with a specific design and purpose in mind. Even though she was wearing pants at the time, she still wouldn’t agree that it could.
Now don’t get me wrong, these extremes are absolutely not found in all churches here. There are varying degrees of beliefs that are close to and far from those that I have come to hold as truth. For instance, I have been attending Bulawayo Baptist Church while I’ve been here and have felt very much at home. Their worship is similar to FBC, the sermons are clear and biblically based, and the people are above and beyond welcoming. Having this church has been such a comfort to me. At times when I thought that maybe it was my theology that was completely off, I found fellowship at Bulawayo Baptist to support me and remind me that my beliefs are well founded. Overall, experiencing so many different churches and such a variety of Christian beliefs has been a great growing experience for me and I feel that it will be very useful in the mission field in the future.