Lynda and Rod Hollinger-Janzen are visiting churches in Benin, Burkina Faso and Congo, through a partnership with Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Mission Network. This is the first in a series of reflections that Lynda is writing as they travel.
Having woken up at 4:30 a.m. on my first day back in Cotonou, Benin, I climbed the stairs to the roof-top terrace of Benin Bible Institute to walk and pray by the light of the moon. I heard the drumming and syncopated rhythms of a traditional religious ceremony in the distance. Across the street, a Christian praised God and cried out loud intercessions. A half-hour later, the muezzin (the Muslim call to prayer) rang out into the darkness.
My heart leapt to embrace the world that had been my home for 13 years, when my husband, Rod, and I served with Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network. We came to Benin straight from seminary, in response to an invitation from 30 Beninese denominations for us to be a bridge between them and North American Mennonites. Rod and I grew as we were mentored by our Beninese brothers and sisters, and as we encountered real world challenges and paradoxes. We learned how to parent three children. We matured in our faith, as we encountered a world thoroughly steeped in the spiritual realm.
Most of our friends in Benin eagerly share their faith. They describe what God is doing in their lives as easily as most of our North Americans colleagues talk about their weekend activities. In Benin, Rod and I learned that the physical world is a doorway to the spiritual world. And little by little, we expanded our dualistic categories of either/or thinking for a more wholistic worldview that enables us to understand the biblical worldview better.
Several days after we arrived in Benin for our visit, Rod and I walked through sandy vons (streets), as people woke to a new day. Rod, who has spent the past decade immersing himself in contemplative prayer, said that the Beninese traditional worldview sees a spiritual reality everywhere. Similarly, a contemplative worldview seeks to find God in everything.
"Contemplative prayer helps to integrate the African part of myself and the North American part of myself in a way that nothing else has been able to do," Rod said.
Rod's reflections help me understand why I have such a sense of wellbeing — or shalom — since I have returned to Benin.
I think of 1 Corinthians 12, which tells how the Christian community needs one another, extolling the importance of sweaty armpits and dusty feet. The Message version talks about how we say good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives when we become part of Jesus' global body, the church. To paraphrase verse 13, we are all part of Jesus after resurrection. The black-and-white labels we once used to describe ourselves — labels like citizen or immigrant, insider or outsider, capitalist or socialist — no longer work, because we need something larger to describe who we are in Christ.
Chapter 12, verses 19-26, tells us that understanding our need for one another keeps us from "getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn't be a body, but a monster. ... The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part ... If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance" (The Message, italics original).
Jesus, open our eyes so that we may truly see one another, recognizing you in the eyes of our neighbors across the street and around the world. Humble us and elevate us, as we engage in mutual conversion as members of your broken, beloved and glorious global body.