The Colliding Worlds of Africa

As we climbed the 204-steps required to make it to the top of the African Renaissance Monument, the wind began to pick up.  At that high of an altitude and with the ocean breeze hitting us, I was attempting to maintain my footing so that I wouldn’t take the quick way back down the stairs into the belly of Dakar, Senegal.

Standing at a height of 10-feet higher than the Statue of Liberty, the entire structure is impressive.  The young child in his father’s arm is actually pointing across the ocean directly at Lady Liberty.  Designed by a Romanian and built by Koreans, this statue has received numerous national criticisms due to its ginormous price tag, unrealistic features, and idolatrous reception by some.  As we walked through the museum inside, it was a collection of Senegalese history but also evidence of a lingering shadow regarding what some believe that Africa should be.

As I walked back down the clean stairs of the monument, I was greeted with the reality of the rest of Dakar as soon as you cross the vicinity’s threshold.  The beautiful and glorious city is struggling with a lack of sanitation and order.  What is evident in the capital is even more obvious in the villages.

Worlds are colliding in parts of Africa and I don’t know how they are going to hold up to it.

Living in Different Centuries at the Same Time

In some parts of Africa, change is happening rapidly in some ways and yet other ways are still trying to catch up.  It’s almost as if they are living in different centuries all at the same time.  Let me give you some examples:

  • They have packaged food before they have garbage cans.
  • They have cell phones before they have transportation.
  • They have cable in homes before they have water.
  • They have vehicles before they have directional order.
  • They have selfies before they have mirrors.
  • They have Facebook before they have toilets.

As I watched water jugs being transported by donkey carts with drivers talking on smartphones, I became overwhelmed.  I tried to imagine what rapid changes combined with consistent circumstances does to the ethos of a nation.

I reckon that it took the United States 200 years to make certain advances that Africa is experiencing in less than 15 years.  

I know what the rise of technology and the expansion of options has done to the American soul in those centuries.

  • What will it do to the African soul in a mere manner of years?
  • Are the changes too fast?
  • Are they too much?

As we traveled through a remote village and spent time with the chief, we commented on how many homes were going up in that area.  Before we knew it, this chief was on his cell phone.  Minutes later, a goat herder walked into the room to take us on a property tour.  As he chased down a rogue goat with one hand, he was operating his cell phone in the other hand apparently making some other deals for the chief.  This was the village real estate agent showing us property lines with rocks placed on the ground for corners.

As we walked on the path, I tried to fathom the societal shift taking place.  Many of the villagers missed their former land that had been taken by the government, but yet many were appeased by the amenity of electricity.  As different villagers questioned continually about what it was like to live in the United States, it simply felt awkward.

  • Many had a handle on the American political climate.
  • All assumed certain things regarding the wealth that every American surely must have.
  • Some desired to move to America to satisfy a certain longing that the Senegalese advances had whet for them.

Living in Different Continents at the Same Time

In addition to the incredible gospel work that we were apart of during our trip, my heart ached for what these cultural changes and yet lack of changes will do long-term for these incredible people.  It was almost as if some people in the country were like that little boy pointing to Lady Liberty and implying that western direction was the genuine goal.

I wanted to stand on top of that monument and shout to the masses: You don’t have to be anybody but you!  You don’t need to be any nation other than who you are!

You don’t need to be like Romania, Korea, or the States.  You don’t need to be like Europe, Asia, or North America.  This nation is Senegal.  It is beautiful.  It has so much to offer the world without having to be like the rest of the world.

The effects of globalization are beginning to be felt in some unintended ways.  Each nation seems to be standing in the shadow of another land or another time.  Can Africa endure through such seismic shifts?  Can America persevere through such times?

It’s a unique time to be alive.  It’s a weird feeling and yet growing opportunity.  What used to take centuries to change is now taking months.  And for all our advances and after all our striving, each nation must grapple with this truth:

We can try to catch up with one another, but we can never catch up to God.

He still reigns supreme.  No matter our advances and our plotting, the Lord seated in heaven laughs at our grandest efforts to prove our worth (Ps. 2:4).  Senegal and the States, each nation will one day come to an existence only in the heavenly archives.  We can build our towers for now, but what are we building for eternity?

Psalm 2

1 Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
    and cast away their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
    the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
    and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
    on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
    today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
    and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
    and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
    be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
    and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son,
    lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
    for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Travis Agnew is married to Amanda and the father of two sons and one daughter. He serves as the Senior Pastor of Rocky Creek Baptist Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is What God Has Joined Together.