Africa as a Teacher

Published October 19, 2016

In her interview during the 2016 Global Leadership Summit, Melinda Gates talked about the importance of listening to the natives who live in the cultures served by the Gates Foundation. Rather than imposing our Western will, she pointed out that if we stop and listen long enough and well enough, problems we didn’t know existed will be brought to the surface.

Only after this happens, are we able to allocate our energy and resources to serve others most effectively.

With this mission in mind, directors with the Willow Creek Association take international trips to learn how the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) is being leveraged around the world. I’ve had the privilege of taking learning trips to a few different African nations: Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Nigeria. While the GLS was certainly a focal point of many conversations, the takeaways extend far beyond.

Here are three major learnings from my recent trips to Africa:

  1. Freedom in Christ is Tangible

While every country has its own issues, citizens from different nations enjoy varying levels of freedom. For example, in some African communities, things that rightfully belong to an individual may be taken away without just cause. Someone may work hard to earn enough money to buy a plot of land and start building a home, only to have a wealthy individual – sometimes from within the government – repossess the land and redistribute it to someone within their inner circle. Wealthy individuals don’t need a legal reason to take the land. They have a level of power or money that makes it impossible for most to wage any kind of legal battle against them, leaving the individual who originally bought the land for his family with no other choice but to start over.

To these people, the concept of “freedom in Christ” takes on very practical (as well as spiritual) connotations. Not only is the grace from and relationship with Christ given freely, they don’t have to constantly wonder who’s going to come and take it away. In cultures that don’t offer many freedoms, Christ offers the ultimate freedom. Despite their circumstances, this gift from God has led many Africans to a daily reliance and graciousness toward God that I hope to one day attain.

  1. Young Leaders Can Make Immediate and Valuable Contributions

Every generation has seen great leaders who’ve changed the direction of our world. In Uganda, 77 percent of the total population is under 30 years old, and 83 percent of them are unemployed. Both of these numbers are staggering. The seasoned leaders of the GLS in Uganda understand that the future health of their country hinges on their ability to connect with and enter into “iron sharpens iron” relationships with the next generation.

Regardless of age or level of experience, an individual’s voice deserves to be heard. Both young leaders and more seasoned leaders must understand they don’t know it all. Armed with humility, each party can learn from the other.

  1. We Should Always Thirst for Knowledge, Wisdom and Understanding

Imagine having no access to a library. No wireless internet or strong cell phone network for you to access your favorite blog or app with the touch of a button. No to ship items right to your doorstep. This is a reality for people in many remote regions around the world, and the void has left them with a deep thirst for information most of us take for granted. The leaders in these regions always seem to be after one more book, one more video or one more connection that could help them take another step forward in their leadership.

In cultures where these things are readily available, ease of access and over-saturation of information can numb us in our pursuit of understanding more about ourselves and the world around us. We can fall into a trap of thinking we already possess the knowledge we need to be wise stewards.

You may not have a trip to Africa in your future, but it’s likely you have an opportunity to learn from people and organizations you serve or the  circumstances in which you lead.  Are you listening?

Maybe you’ve spent so much time in a position where people expect you to provide instant answers, you’ve left your own personal growth and development behind.

Perhaps you’ve written off the contributions of a young leader because they lack “experience.”

Or maybe you’ve been running the Christian race in such a way that you’ve forgotten the significance of the supernatural gift of freedom in Christ.

Whatever the case may be for you, my hope is you will be encouraged to shift your mindset and look for fresh opportunities – and to learn, in your immediate surroundings, the lessons from Africa.

About the Author(s)
Adam Scharf

Adam Scharf

Executive Director

Willow Creek Association

Adam Scharf is the executive director of Global Initiatives at the Willow Creek Association (WCA). He works on the WCA International team and is helping to strengthen and expand the impact of the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) throughout the continent of Africa.

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