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By James Misner, Pastor of Global Mobilization
For many teenage boys in Kenya, December is an important month—the time of year when they go through a traditional “rite of passage” ceremony.
In many cultures, rites of passage are opportunities to pass on the values of the society to the next generation. In Kenya, it is common for tribes to celebrate the passage into manhood through a ceremony that often culminates with the boys painting themselves in white clay and being publically circumcised.
Before the circumcision, the teenage boys traditionally leave the community and spend several weeks in seclusion with tribal elders and other boys in ‘the bush’ (a remote and often uninhabited area) to learn skills equipping them for manhood. They are taught how to hunt and farm, and how to be husbands and fathers. They are often required to build their own shelters and find or kill their food. They are then circumcised, after which they burn the shelters, symbolically leaving behind their boyhoods and reentering the community as men. The tradition varies from tribe to tribe, but overall the practice is similar.
This is also the time in a young man’s life when he would learn vital religious and cultural rules and practices. For Christ followers, this rite of passage creates a dilemma. While this tribal tradition encompasses many positive elements—which the African church would encourage and espouse—other components are not healthy or helpful or are contrary to Scripture. These would include practices that lead to abuse of women, multiple sexual partners, poverty, fatalism, animism, ancestor worship, and HIV/AIDS.
Christian author Mark Driscoll writes that as Christ followers, we have three options when relating to culture. We have the option to receive, to reject, or to redeem cultural practices. He contends that when a cultural practice is good, we should receive it as good. When a cultural practice is sinful or innately harmful and cannot be turned into something that glorifies God, we should reject it. And when a cultural practice has both good and bad elements within it, we should seek to redeem it.
This is exactly what Christians in Africa have done with the traditional rite of passage for boys.
Back in the 1950s, the Presbyterian Church of East Africa designed a Christian rite of passage for young men. This program allows boys to follow their cultural heritage and to be circumcised as their tradition dictates. However, African leaders who are Christ followers train them, communicating a Christian worldview and guiding the initiates toward biblical manhood.
Through the Christian Right of Passage (CROP), young men are taught Scripture-based concepts of sexuality, decision making, integrity, and crisis management, along with instruction in how to avoid behaviors that increase the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.
Leaders counsel the boys on how to serve women instead of abuse them and to sacrifice for their future wives the way Christ did for the Church. Most important, the boys are given the chance to wrestle with what it means to enter manhood as faithful followers of Jesus. Many decide to accept Him as their Savior and Lord.
With WBC’s financial support, our Heart for AIDS partners have implemented the CROP program for young boys within their communities, and to date, more than 100 boys have gone through this “redeemed” process of becoming men. As a result, many are now living godly, Christ-centered lives.
The Heart for AIDS initiative also provides a trained medical doctor to perform the circumcisions, under sterile conditions, eliminating the risk of HIV and other infections that too often have resulted from the unsanitary practices of the traditional ceremony.
“Our Heart for AIDS partners have taken a traditional tribal ritual and transformed it into biblical discipleship!”
For the twenty-eight boys who entered this process in December, the Gospel was shared and seeds were planted. Lives were changed as eighteen young men made a decision to follow Christ. Among that group was David, a young man who, several weeks before, had planned to end his life. His suicide attempt, however, was interrupted when one of our Heart for AIDS partners intervened.
At the end of the month David and the other boys made the transition from childhood to adulthood, were circumcised, and prepared to re-enter their communities as men. David came through this experience transformed, stepping into the next chapter of life as a Christian and a man.
What a way to redeem culture! What a testimony of the Gospel and the church in action! Many would have written off the tradition or tried to keep their youth from participating. Thank God that the African church had a vision for how this tradition could be transformed for good, recognizing it as an important part of their culture but remaining committed to redeeming this long-practiced tradition so that it is rightly centered on Christ.
|Heart For AIDS is a church-wide initiative of Wheaton Bible Church in Kenya; partnering to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and provide care. To get involved with this ministry, contact Pastor of Mobilization, James Misner.|