Monday, 3 April 2017

A Journey of Faith

In Zambia conversations frequently refer to a person’s belief in God. There is an assumption that everyone you meet is probably Christian or of a religion. Recently I was speaking to a Zambian I had just met and he was asking about churches in the UK. I explained that the majority of people in the UK don’t attend church regularly and not everyone believes there is a god. He appeared surprised but intrigued, and asked, “So what do they believe in?”

Misaka Church

His question got me thinking about the factors that impact our personal beliefs about the existence of God. Our worldview, parental attitudes, upbringing, society, individualism, cognitive style, financial resources and personal experiences can all contribute to and affect our belief system. For some of the people I work with in Zambia, I expect that cultural attitudes, high death rates and poverty bear influence on their thinking. Interestingly though, I haven’t heard people question whether there can be a god even though there is so much suffering. It appears that poverty and high death rates mean people are more aware of our frailties as human beings, which perhaps a more comfortable lifestyle in the West sometimes protects us from.

A burial near Kaniki

For me, it's a mixture of creation, conscience and coincidence.

When I look around the world I see amazing design and evidence of a creator. For example, the beautiful sunsets and wild animals in Zambia point to this; the stars are also phenomenal at night - so bright in comparison to the UK since there is far less light pollution. In the book ‘Questions of Life’, Nicky Gumbel suggests that the stars give us a sense of God’s size and power:
On 20th August 1977, Voyager II, the inter-planetary probe launched to observe and transmit to earth data about the outer planetary system, set off from earth travelling faster than the speed of a bullet (90,000 miles per hour). On 28th August 1989, it reached planet Neptune, 2,700 million miles from the earth. Voyager II then left the solar system. It will not come within one light year of any star for 958,000 years. In our galaxy there are 100,000 million stars, like our sun. Our galaxy is one of 100,000 million galaxies. In a throwaway line in Genesis, the writer tells us, “He also made the stars” (Genesis 1:16). Such is his power.
Evening time in northern province

When flying between Zambia and the UK I always choose a window seat on the plane when given the option. I love looking out to see the landscapes and sea from an incredible distance. This perspective gives me a tiny glimpse of how big God must be to have created it all and reminds me of our minuteness as human beings.

View of Ndola from the plane

Despite our size in the grand scheme of life, we all have an innate sense of right and wrong. As C.S. Lewis puts it in ‘Mere Christianity’, “human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it”. Admittedly we don’t all see situations in the same way and some issues appear very black and white to one person but can seem distinctly grey to another. But whatever our perspective, we are all influenced in some way by an internal moral compass. My logic suggests this is most likely to have come from God as it is an innate sense within every human, whatever country they live in.

Perhaps the biggest factor that has influenced my beliefs are coincidences. There have been many occasions where I have prayed about something and seemingly coincidentally, something has happened which has made a real difference – perhaps the situation itself changed or my attitude towards it. For example, before coming to Zambia I prayed that God would provide the finances for me to volunteer since I would not receive a salary, and although I had some savings they wouldn’t have been sufficient. I prayed for a specific amount hoping that somehow it would happen bit by bit. Amazingly I received a cheque in the post for that exact amount!

Preparing to come to Zambia

I am not at all suggesting that God answers our prayers in the way we want him to. When I went through divorce, God didn’t answer my prayers by saving my marriage but he definitely did use the situation to change me. In fact I had an amazing peace throughout that I can’t explain apart from God. I learned to believe verses in the Bible that proved true during the ghastly experience - God will never leave you and his grace really does enable you to get through difficult circumstances.

Individually, occurrences such as these might seem like coincidences. But over time, seeing these coincidences increase and re-occur when I have prayed specifically for them, my faith has grown so I am convinced that there is a God who is involved in our lives. And despite our different lives and experiences, it is the same conclusion that many of my friends in Zambia have come to.

Friends in Ndola

I can't assume everyone believes in a God but it is interesting discovering what makes people in different parts of the world believe what they do. There are many things, including our experiences, which shape our beliefs. A wise friend once told me that life and faith is a journey. Parts of the journey might be like a gentle stroll in the park, and at other times it’s more like a roller coaster where we're hanging on for dear life. Although it doesn’t tend to go the way we plan and we don’t know what will happen next, it certainly is an adventure. 

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