Today’s guest blog is written by Kim Shippey, an avid traveler who grew up in South Africa and returns every year to visit family and friends. He is a full-time writer and editor with the Christian Science Sentinel, a weekly print and online publication.
In a recent blog I referred to the inspiration several American religion writers have drawn from the openmindedness of new believers in Africa. I quoted author Frederick Gaiser who found during months of traveling and teaching in Southern and East Africa that the spiritual healing described in the Bible is readily in evidence in many communities there.
In my own travels in Africa, what has struck me most is that when you set out to share the gospel, especially with those living in rural surroundings, you find that their hearts are already open to it, and God is clearly at work among them.
This eager thrust toward spiritual healing was confirmed in a conversation I had with author and public speaker Michael Cassidy in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. “Africa is a continent that believes in a superior Power,” he told me. So when African people read the Bible they have no problem accepting its truths. In fact, the problem is how to slow down their response. “You have to make sure they understand what they’re responding to, because everyone here has a natural belief in the healing power of Christ.”
For me, that phrase “natural belief” is crucial and comforting. It leaves behind the role of ancestral spirits and medicine men in curing illnesses to focus on the progressive “footsteps of thought” Mary Baker Eddy spoke about in her book The People’s Idea of God. There, speaking of people everywhere, she wrote: “The improved theory and practice of religion and of medicine are mainly due to the people’s improved views of the Supreme Being. As the finite sense of Deity, based on material conceptions of spiritual being, yields its grosser elements, we shall learn what God is, and what God does.”
When I settled in New England 26 years ago, one of the biggest health challenges for me was the severity of the winters and their related contagions. I was always sniffling, coping with sore throats, or voiceless. One particularly bad day I found myself longing for those mild sub-tropical winters in Southern Africa. And along with that nostalgia came a clear recollection of two African women who came to visit me a few years back in KwaZulu Natal when I was confined indoors with a bad cold.
Knowing how much I loved African music, my visitors offered me comfort through singing. I sat back expecting to hear one of my favorite Zulu melodies, but instead came a sound even more familiar. In flawless harmony, the women started to sing a hymn from my church hymnal, one singing in Zulu, one in impeccable English! They sang until their eyes filled with tears and my already moist eyes regained their normal smile.
The phrases they sang shone with fresh light:
“Thou art my strength, O Truth that maketh free,
I know no fear, with Thee at hand to bless,
Health, hope and love in all around I see,
I know Thy peace, for Thou alone art power.”
As you can imagine, it was my visitors’ unshakable belief in the power of God, and their intuition over what I most needed at that moment, that brought about a return to normal health.
And the lessons I learned that day have stood me in good stead right here in New England during many severe winters since then.
There are no limits to the abundance of divine blessings. As a Nigerian proverb perfectly puts it: “If you are going to ask from God, take a large basket.”