Follow Us

This is Africa: Think African

I’m over here in Africa, trying to “think African.” Believe me, it doesn’t come naturally. World Racer Ian Schumann writes a great blog on the subject. Let me encourage you to sign up for his insights as he tracks his progress moving from narcissism to a kingdom mindset as…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

I’m over here in
Africa, trying to “think African.” Believe me, it doesn’t come
naturally. World Racer Ian Schumann writes a great blog on the
subject. Let me encourage you to sign up for his insights as he tracks
his progress moving from narcissism to a kingdom mindset as he travels
the world. This blog and the one that follows it illustrates the “This is Africa” principle well:

So first, let’s recall that American culture is task-oriented and
time-oriented–you know that, right? But Africa’s not. African culture is
people- or event-oriented, something like that, which means that time and
action aren’t divided into neat little packets like in the US. Instead,
stuff just happens whenever it needs to, for however long it takes. Little
thought is given to what we’d call “efficiency,” because efficiency
just isn’t the priority here. Want some examples?

Schedules in Africa are like weather forecasts–you don’t follow
one, as much as just wonder if it will turn out that way. If the plan is 8am,
8:59 is still “on time.” Interruptions as we think of them don’t
exist–it’s just that first ‘A’ happens when it needs to, and then ‘B’ happens
when it needs to, and so on, until the business is complete. And we’re never
really sure when that is, either. It seems to be a matter of who you ask.

So–Africa can be challenging.

Not that we weren’t warned about this. Before
Kenya we actually psyched up for it a lot–which made our first month a bit of
a proving ground. An experiment. A gauntlet to run. And so, we ran it. We
survived our first month in Africa and didn’t lose our minds. In fact, by the
end of our time in Lodwar, I felt like we’d done pretty well.

Then, as you know, my new-year’s debrief brought good realizations and a
confirming chapter break and gratifying warm fuzzy feelings, etc. So I came
into Uganda feeling sharp and strong and
ready for a new month of ministry.

And then I realized: “Crap, Uganda is still in Africa.”

Our own space is still not our own space. Strangers still
greet us without warning, and linger with no explanation of why they’re there.
Duties still spring on us suddenly–preach to an entire
church, engage 200 children this afternoon. It’s not that our contacts are
slacking–they’re doing great and we appreciate it. But we’re
all still in Africa, and certain things come with that
package. We still have to fight, gently, patiently, urgently,
for our down times to remain intact. And I’m still a “mzungu,” or a
white person, or a beneficent walking vending machine, or the
most interesting thing that any African child has ever seen, ever.
And, if you don’t know, there are a lot of African children

And it’s wearing on me. Surprise.

Comments (7)

  • This is very helpful … especially for me, an engineer who is in charge of planning large projects and having many many tasks to complete in a certain amount of time. Who is leaving for Africa in less than 24 hours and who will need to leave the American mindset at home and take on God’s mindset when I go to Africa!


  • OH MY…right on target. Coming from a mom of two adopted children from Africa…the schedule thing..RIGHT ON! And they knew one speed when they came home…SLOW..unless of course they were playing soccer. Running water and light switches seem to amaze them for months. Not to mention the check out counter at Walmart. 🙂 BUT…I may pick on them in fun, the truth is you couldn’t ask for better hearts and appreciation of all that has been provided for them.
    Thank you for the very realistic picture.

    Standing in the gap for you through your journey…yet a new chapter of radical living.
    Blessed mom to some amazing kids!

  • Ian communicates very well probably why I feel so AT HOME in the Swazi culture and didn’t experience much culture shock at all when I moved over there as a young woman. I am from Mississippi…which is layed back & people oriented…plus I am an Extroverted Intuitive Feeler Perceiver who often flies by the seat of her pants, doesn’t mind interruptions (and is often the interrupter), is herself often running behind schedule, loves any chance to connect and socialize, and will stop to talk to a stranger or hang out with a kid just about any chance I get. Just ask my fellow teammates who traveled to Swaziland with me last year! Aye-yi-yi! Just ask my kids and husband!!! Double Aye-yi-yi! 😀


  • Yep I hear you guys on the time thing! I worked in Africa for 7 years with CCC and experienced this tension as well. I think that, as hard as it is for some to adjust to, it may be the very thing about Africa that “gets into your blood” so to speak. After all, as Christians we know that Jesus was all about people first. My favorite illustration about Jesus’ perspective on time is the story of Lazarus. More grace to us all through the Holy Spirit to live this out!

  • I just wanted to tell you that I wish that I’d read this Before I’d gone to Africa. 🙂 When you don’t exactly know what to expect, it can be a little hard to embrace the culture of a new country. I went back over with my sisters father and mother in-law that run a school for AIDS orphans and I do have to say that I thought that I’d be a lot busier than I was while I was there. The pace of life can be slow and spending every day with attention needy children (and I’m being honest) could, but the end of the day, wear on you. 🙂 And, being the only American, and being 18 and for the first time out of the country, on a missions trip, it could get quite lonely at night after several weeks.

    All in all though, it was a great experience! I’m sure that I learned way more than I ever helped. There is now way that you can do something like that without deepening your relationship with God. I have a deep respect and appreciation for the people that sacrifice their lives in that way. And, I do have to say that now I’m back…I MISS Africa!!! Someday I want to go back…!

  • Oh My… Africa really is Africa. Gotta love it. I have been a missionary in Cameroon since 2000 and got to say it seems and sounds like the places you’ve been. It is great though that the people here dont worry so much about what is going on in life rather they live it as it is. I absolutely LOVE IT! They are truly amazing people…

    Oh, you should come this way sometime so you can really continue to experience all of Africa 🙂

    Be blessed!

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to Radical Living:

Receive updates on the latest posts as Seth Barnes covers many topics like spiritual formation, what if means to be a christian, how to pray, and more. Radical Living blog is all about a call to excellence in ministry, church, and leadership -as the hands and feet of Jesus.

Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

© Adventures In Missions. All rights reserved. | Privacy Policy | RSS Feed | Sitemap