Florence, my 23-year-old “sister”, looked not only shocked but also disappointed as Brian (my roommate) told her Jesus probably wasn’t white and Americans didn’t write the Bible. As she recovered from her mild state of shock, she asked us one more time, I guess to be certain that we understood her question, “Jesus, he didn’t look like you [Brian]?” As far as I recall, I’ve never shared identical emotions with someone for completely different reasons. Florence and I both sat in our dimly lit kitchen – shocked and disappointed.
I noticed the blue eyed fair skinned portrait of Jesus that hung in our sitting room within minutes of arriving at my home stay, but never would I have imagined that my family actually thought the portrait was accurate. I had lots of expectations about Christianity/spirituality in Africa as a whole. I naturally associated the words: miraculous, charismatic, Holy Spirit, and healing with “African Christianity”. All those words were synonymous with Christianity in Africa, at least a month ago. I expected to attend charismatic church services and see blind people see and deaf people hear – literally. I at least thought I would hear testimonies from people who had been raised from the dead. I even thought there was a slight possibility I would hear the audible voice of God.
These stereotypes are not far-fetched based on stories I’ve head about Christianity in the “Global South”. I was expecting to finally see what all the hype was about. But in my first month, instead of encountering what I thought would be similar to the book of Acts I listened to an African pastor describe how to use an “EvangeCube” (manufactured in Tennessee). Instead of listening to African songs African drums in a worship service with no time restraints I’ve endured brutally boring Anglican liturgy (manufactured in England), and contemporary worship songs. The stereotype that I had of African Christianity is that it would be – African.
So as Florence and I looked at each other's shocked expressions the last of our stereotypes came crashing down. I destroyed her hope in a white Jesus and she destroyed my hope in an African one; I guess we’ll both have to settle for a Jewish Jesus for now. I’m disappointed in how influential “Western/white” culture is, but I’m not convinced that the expression of faith I have found here is anything but authentic and genuine. I may have not found what I thought I would, but it’s not less “Ugandan”, and the Jewish Jesus I know probably doesn’t care as much as the African American Manny that faith and culture don’t collide as neatly as I would have thought. As more stereotypes are dissembled, I’m ready to encounter this culture on its terms, not mine. Hopefully, in that process I’ll learn to also encounter Jesus, also on his terms, not mine.