A Church on the Back of a Camel – Malcolm Hunter

pb-120818-camelThe worldview of nomadic societies, especially those which depend on pastoralism, is usually extremely focused on God. Nomads often have a high view of God, usually seeing him as a monotheistic Sky God who sends the rain on which their survival depends if the people pray to him and act properly according to their customs. Their view of God is usually less animistic than that of rural farmers, for nomads do not usually worship objects on earth such as rocks, trees, or rivers. Most pastoral nomads have ceremonies, or certain individuals whose primary purpose is to pray to the God in the heavens, in order to win his blessings of rain, grass, milk and health for them and their animals. Many have a belief in a good God who sends these blessings, but he is often thought to be remote. So there is usually some bad god (or gods) who needs to be appeased to keep evil away.

If it is appreciated that, almost without exception, nomadic peoples have this strong belief in a powerful, benign God in the heavens, then presentation of Christianity becomes much easier. You can begin with the worldview of that society and look for the keys within that culture that God has built into it to make himself relevant.

To be relevant to nomads the church must also extricate itself from the usual sedentary model of a building. This is the greatest obstacle to overcome in countries where Protestant and Catholic missionaries have competed to build the biggest churches. The best commentary on this misguided model comes from a Somali camel herder who said, “When you can put your church on the back of a camel, then I will think that Christianity is meant for us Somalis. I am a Muslim because we can pray anywhere, five times a day, everyday. We only see you Christians praying once a week, inside a special building, when one man stands in front and talks to God while everybody else hangs their heads and looks to be falling asleep.” Such is a nomad Muslim’s view of Christianity.

The church is also most relevant to nomadic societies where relationships are more important than real estate. Whatever else nomadic people may lack, they are usually socially rich, with strong family and clan ties. Abandoned or abused children are rarely seen and old people are respected and cared for within their families. Unless other influences have been introduced, such as Islamic practices, women can have a relatively high social position, as many nomadic societies are quite egalitarian. The question arises: Whose society is primitive?

The Nomadic Church by Malcolm Hunter

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