We are serving in Africa.
That is statement I often hear from missionaries or when short-term teams arrive back in the US. In one sense it is true, they may have traveled to the continent of Africa. However, I think more precise wording is in order.
Imagine for a moment three short-term teams from Kenya come to the United States to serve. One goes to Dallas, TX, another to San Francisco, CA and the other to Lake Placid, NY. The trips go well and when they return they tell everyone what North American culture is like, how North American people act and how the church is flourishing and struggling.
Can one location really tell you what a country is like, and even more, a whole continent?
Africa consists of 47 countries (the UN says 54 and the African Union says 53). There are around 2000 languages spoken and an estimated 3000 people groups on the continent. To the north, Isalm dominates the religious and political landscape. To the south, most countries have a majority of professing Christians. Have you considered that Kenyans and Egyptians are both African?!
When we live and travel overseas, we only get small pictures of the overall culture of a country. Honestly, on short-term trips we probably come to understand the culture of a neighborhood, not a county, a province/state, a country or a continent. Even missionaries, who live in one location for many years, may live among one tribe in a country or they may live is a major city. It's not enough to say "we serve in Africa."
Let's be more precise in our wording.
Darren Carlson is the Founder and President of Training Leaders International. As President, Darren oversees the general direction of the ministry and serves as an advocate for pastors with little access to formal training and thoughtful cross-cultural theological engagement. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.