Africa Time: the perceived cultural tendency to be more relaxed about time, including deadlines, meetings, schedules, etc.; a focus more on relationship than physical time.
When you’re in Africa for a short-term mission trip (think a week or two), the concept of Africa Time is funny. It’s easy to think, “I’d never get frustrated about things taking longer, people being late, or friends randomly showing up to my house! Just take a book when you’re preparing to go somewhere or always have some cookies in your cupboard.”
But after you’re in Africa (or similar places) for a longer amount of time, it may start to get to you. Things never (or rarely) start “on time.” People show up unannounced, wanting you to stop whatever you’re doing and chat. Stores are closed when they should be open, or open when you thought they’d be closed.
It gets frustrating.
But if you Google (or Bing, depending on your search engine of choice) “African Culture”, you will likely not see any photos of watches or clocks. Instead, you will see groups of people engaging in… well, life. Dancing. Singing. Working. Talking. They are more concerned with people – with relationships – than they are the physical time displayed on the wall.
“God gave time to the Africans, but He only gave watches to the Europeans.” – Charl van Wyk
Allen and I started this prefield journey with “Western Time” on our minds – meeting our deadlines and goals, developing partners quickly and effectively, making sure we were doing things on-time so that we could attend trainings and get to the field ASAP. And we hit our 50% goal right when we hoped we would, within 3 months of being appointed by ABWE.
And then we didn’t move on our monthly support commitments for about 3 months. We stayed at 50%. We thought by now we’d be inching up on 85%, preparing to attend another training in October 2018 or April 2019. But nope. Still around 50%.
And things started falling apart, at least in our minds: Kids got sick. Meetings had to be rescheduled. Personal financial needs arose that we weren’t anticipating. And it seemed like every time we took one step forward, we were pushed back another ten or so.
Our American timeline was failing us.
But the last week or so, we’ve been thinking… What if God runs more on “Africa Time” than He does Western Time? What if He is more concerned about relationships (ours with Him and ours with others) than He is with whatever the clock or calendar displays?
The more I think about it, the more I think that’s the case:
- God kept Daniel in the lions’ den ALL NIGHT LONG, when He had proved pretty darn quickly that He would keep the lions’ mouths closed. Why didn’t He just pull Daniel out right away rather than making him wait for hours? There had to be something else that God was working on in Daniel’s heart that we aren’t privy to through Scripture.
- In the heat of the day, Jesus visited with a Samaritan woman at the well. He could have picked a more comfortable time for their divine meeting, kept things short and brief so that He could move on in His journey. But instead, He focused on relationship – He looked more at her heart that was so thirsty for the living water He offered than He did the sun in the middle of the sky.
- Moses led the people through the desert for 40 years. He desired a pure relationship with them, marked by obedience, rather than a quick trip across some sand to get to their final destination.
- Jesus waited to visit Lazarus until after His death. Rather than showing up “on time,” He arrived in time to build relationships, to speak truth, to show that there’s more than a calendar and to-do list. And in fact, not even the timeline of death has any hold on His power!
Do you see that focus on people? On relationships? On eternal matters, rather than scheduling matters?
As we grow in our understanding that our ways are not God’s ways, I really want to start looking more to relationships than timelines. Yes, we have goals. We still want to start language school in September 2020. We still want to reach 100% of our funding within the next few months.
But we also want to take the (intentional) time to love people. To be more “African” in our time orientation. To see that sometimes, the most important thing is just sitting with someone and drinking some water at a well.