The African Report - May-June 2009

CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS

In the United States of America, we go straight from one public holiday to the next in a heartbeat! No sooner are the after-Christmas sales finished, when you can buy your cards and decorations at half-price for next year, than we are seeing hearts and pretty pink and red items for Valentine’s Day! After that special sweetheart’s day, on the same shelf, you will find specials on heart-shaped cards and boxes of candy beside yellow and white marshmallow Easter eggs, chicks and bunnies. Then we have, in May, all the floral wreaths and red-white-and-blue American flags displayed in the stores in preparation for Memorial Day. And, rightly so, Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day cards and special gifts are on display about the same time. The flags continue until after July the Fourth for America’s most celebrated holiday of independence. Often, I think if it were not for visiting the card sections, we would not become aware of most holidays. Likely I would forget the dates if I didn’t see reminders so often.

Yes, we do have our traditions and customs for each and every holiday in our country, and in our own families. A lot of folks here don’t visit cemeteries where loved ones are buried, but it has always been a tradition in Ann’s family to go, especially the females. Her mom always went to place fresh roses and other flowers from the family’s yard on their dad’s grave. My own dad is buried in a backwoods family plot with other deceased loved ones in Roxanna, KY, his birthplace. Now, we don’t go there often. Ann’s folks are buried in their family cemetery just north of Knoxville, so she and her sisters still carry on the tradition to put wreaths of flowers on the family graves. One or two cemeteries have potluck dinner together at the cemetery. It is a tradition in that community.

Overseas, in Africa, they don’t celebrate all the holidays we have like Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, or Fourth of July. Those are specific to America. These days, in SA, a lot of families don’t bury the deceased, they are cremated. South Africa, as all nations, observe their own holidays, such as Founder’s Day, Republic Day, and, in SA, about 12 others to commemorate certain events in their history. Christmas and Easter are 2 public holidays we share in common with most African countries, but even then, traditions are different in many ways. Families do not put up so many lights and decorations in SA as we do in the USA, many do not even have a Christmas tree. You see, school holidays begin the first of December, and it is their first month of Summer, so most are off to the beach or in the mountains. To us, not having a tree is unthinkable!

Around the dinner table on Christmas Day, in SA we all wear the funny little party hats, and each person will have a "cracker" at his place to pop before eating the meal. It’s like a small gift tied with ribbons at each end of a crepe-paper wrapped cylinder which contains sweets and treats. It is interesting to be present for holidays in foreign lands and take part in different traditions. Though unfamiliar, if you reside in another culture for long, you soon adapt to the way things are done there, and the local folks appreciate missionaries fitting in. Makes life interesting!

A lot of traditions and customs are common in the African culture that are handed down for generations. Each tribe has some of their own, also many are shared by all tribes. Weddings and funerals usually are week-long affairs and certain rituals must be followed. Some social customs are practiced even with Westerners, like the palm-thumb handshake, going back and forth a couple of times is one that comes to mind. Missionaries soon get used to doing it "their way"! Due to a lack of tableware, especially in the villages, it is quite acceptable to eat with your hands, dipping into the pot to roll a walnut-sized portion of mielie pap, but the family will usually provide us white folks with a plate or bowl, a fork or spoon when available. They are aware we don’t normally eat that way.

Another thing to remember is that, as we travel among the villages, we do not refuse to eat or have tea when they offer hospitality. It would offend them greatly. However, we must be cautious for health reasons. Timing is important - not to visit close to mealtimes if you really don’t want to eat right then, for one reason or another. I’ve eaten meals that I didn’t dare ask what I was eating. Didn’t want to know. However, the good Lord has been our friend and guide in all situations and kept us safe.

ANOTHER TRADITION

At Easter time, not so much emphasis is placed on hiding (and finding) the Easter eggs as in America, but some families do give chocolate rabbits and other treats to the kids that are appreciated. In Southern Africa, at Easter Time, a special lectureship among African churches that started many years ago, is held from Friday through Sunday afternoon each year in a different location. This year’s event was in Malawi as mentioned in our last newsletter. I was one of many speakers on the program. A Teenage Camp is also held on Easter weekend at a different location, and is very popular with the Youth.

SCATTERING SEED

Farmers usually plow their fields into rows for most crops, carefully placing the seed in "hills" spaced apart just so, to ensure easier access in tending the crops, and for a better harvest. Except for wheat!  It is scattered like grass seed. Jesus spoke often about wheat, seed and sowers. He likened these to spreading the Word about His life, His ministry, His purpose. In Acts, we read of persecution that caused the early Christians to scatter. Because of their faith, they scattered the seed of the Gospel as they went into many nations, as far away as Rome.

God used the wrongful deeds of men determined to eliminate this new way of life by transporting His message to other lands, other peoples, all nations. The scattering is what hastened the fulfillment of prophecy that all would hear and learn of Him. Gen 18:18 – "Seeing that Abraham will certainly become a great and strong nation, and his name will be used by all the nations of the earth as a blessing?"  Through the seed of Abraham and the nation of Israel, came Jesus of Nazareth, God’s most profound blessing to the Earth!

SCATTERING GOOD & BAD NEWS

In our modern world, mass media dominates the airways, the news stands, and the postal service, bringing the world to our door! We don’t need to leave the comforts of our own living room to see and read of what is happening minute-by-minute on the other side of the globe. I think often that Hitler would have been stopped sooner if the television cameras were there in his face to record all the atrocities he committed in the 30's and 40's!  And, hearing and seeing the effects of natural disasters in remote places usually brings quicker relief.

SCATTERING IN FRUITFUL FIELDS

Evangelism can be done in many ways. Individuals have taught and converted folks far removed via World Bible School and other good correspondence courses. Even in the days of the Cold War, we beamed gospel messages behind the Iron Curtain. Now, Bibles are freely distributed there and Bible classes taught in public schools. In SA and many other Southern African nations, Bible classes are part of the school curriculum. Wish that were true now in our own land. My, my, how things have changed! At the same time, the Gospel can be spread faster and easier through newsprint, books, radio and television broadcasts. However, persuading folks to change lifelong traditions and become part of some "new" religion is not always easy. There’s nothing like a one-on-one, face-to-face confrontation to ensure success in expanding His kingdom. Hearing it from a relative or village neighbor is usually more acceptable.

MY MISSION TO SCATTER SEED

Teaching and baptizing new concerts is such a personal satisfaction and encouraging to one’s ministry.  It is vital that more workers join the ranks to reach out and find those willing to listen.  In my experience, a lot of the students who come to the Bible College in Benoni, SA are new converts. In all cases, they need further training in order to become a better worker in the Kingdom. This is true as well in all the schools I am now visiting that are under the Sunset International Bible Institute (SIBI) umbrella in about 14 African nations.

In my declining years, I most urgently feel the need to DUPLICATE myself.  I first went to Africa in the late ‘60's with this in mind. There is no way I personally could reach every person, every city, every nation in Africa. What better way than by helping to train and encourage students who are younger, stronger, equipped, gifted in many languages, and ready to teach their families and neighbors in remote villages?  It’s my plan!

OFF TO AFRICA AGAIN

With this in mind, once again I left Knoxville June 25th for a 6-week trip to 5 nations in Africa:  South Africa, Ghana, Liberia, Kenya and Zimbabwe. I was invited to teach and speak for the graduation services for 7 students at the Swedru International Bible Institute (another SIBI?) in July in the country of Ghana.  I have never visited Ghana, Liberia or Kenya before, so this tour of duty offers new sights and experiences for me.  I am anxious to meet, and hopefully encourage brethren along the way. I had promised to be present in Zimbabwe when the new Sunset-related school opens in mid-July. Some kind folks and churches have sent some funding to help with startup expenses for material and equipment. Once again, the Lord has provided so that I do not go without financial assistance to help churches and people in need along the way.

On this trip, I brought books for Ghana graduates, communion cups for 2 places (Kenya & Cape Town), material for SABC, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, plus having to pack both summer and winter clothing. It was very cold when I reached Benoni on the 26th, but in equatorial countries that see NO cold weather, like Ghana and Liberia, short-sleeved shirts will be needed. Kenya should be fairly moderate. A missionary must go prepared for all occasions. I am ready. Ann did the packing!
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Leaving home is always emotional for both Ann and me, but we feel blessed that, even at our age, the Lord is still using us in His Kingdom to reach others. Prayers are most definitely requested for my safety and success, and for the family back home in Tennessee. How could we do all this without so many friends and brethren in the USA who partner with us in the Gospel to scatter seed in Africa through His children in many nations?  God’s blessings of the Kingdom to all who come to know and obey him in all things.
– Jerry & Ann Hogg

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