A friend just returned from a couple of months in Africa, where he was developing a safe-water project in a rural village, as well as traveling for pleasure. Yesterday afternoon he was fresh off the plane and we were sitting around, hearing about his trip and all of its twists and turns. And he certainly wasn’t making a huge case for or against any major world religion, but I took note of his comments.
His experience of Christianity in the rural areas was of Western influence (architecture, economics, philosophy, fashion, and theology) acting opportunistically, building a worship service toward a crescendo of a pass-the-plate collection. Following the collection, the farmers whose gifts consisted of produce or other non-monetary gifts sat around for a long time while the preacher converted their offerings to currency by loudly auctioning them off right there in the worship service. My friend said he was sick for a whole day following the spectacle. He was deeply saddened that Christianity had come in as an outside influence that seemed ignorant of and disrespectful toward the indigenous agricultural traditions and sensibilities. This struck he and I as strange, since Jesus spoke to a primarily agrarian culture, using predominantly agrarian illustrations and examples.
But when my friend went to the coast, where the people are predominantly Muslim, he saw multi-culturalism and overwhelming hospitality and unconscious generosity. He went as a complete stranger with zero contacts, and quickly made friends with a restaurant owner, who spent most of an afternoon explaining the culture and the city. After a night with his new friends, he was introduced to still more people, who gave him a day-long tour of the city and who seemed very interested in both their city and in my friend and his perspectives, as well. He enjoyed many more days exactly like this, and was– even weeks later– having a hard time not going on and on about the unexpected welcome which he (a cross-wearing, blond-haired American) had received.
Which brings up a question that I’ve been asking since I’ve made a few Muslim friends in DC: are Muslims better Christians than Christians?