Under the Mango Tree… The Next Chapter
I will freely admit, I know very little about Asia, Asians, or religion in Asia. In fact, I have never even been curious. That is one part of the world that has never captured my wanderlust. While I studied a bit on Zen Buddhism throughout seminary, I never had a thought creep in about Christians in Asia or how Christianity is practiced within an Asian context. Looking at the title of this week’s book, Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up, I immediately thought of my cohort-mate, Liz, and wondered what she would have to say about the book and her experience in Korea. I also wondered what Stefania would add about the first and second generations of Christian immigrants in America, practicing in a new context, yet holding on to their culture and practice.
These thoughts swirled throughout my imagination even before opening the first page, yet there I sat under a full-bloom mango tree surrounded by Catholics and touch of voodoo while reading Simon Chan’s Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up. (Talk about context! Context is everything.) I grasped tightly onto to one key concept Chan emphasized — community. Christianity is not intended to be an individualistic lifestyle or religion. What one does affects the whole, and as such, the Christian life is communal. This was a prevalent theme in Chan’s chapter on shame and honor, and throughout the book.
Under the mango tree, I sat perched high above the road and watched as Haitians drove by on their whizzing motorcycles, passing lady after lady, each of whom carried a large bowl or bag atop her head on her way to market. Men gathered at the corner, playing dominoes and drinking Prestige, and little children were dressed in their crisp uniforms on their way to school. Community. This is community. The Haitian culture is built upon community. There is little to no economy, the education system is in shambles, and the job market does not exist. Faith and community are the only two things a Haitian can cling to with their heart and soul. When one is in need, others surround him and come to his aid. When one has a job, he provides for his entire family, which may be 20+ people. When it is time for elections, communities come together to keep visitors safe from impending turmoil. A car breaks down on the side of the road? No problem. Several men will help to push the car out of traffic, and a traveling priest will stop to pick you up. I witnessed each of these things happen within just a few short moments of being in my second home, Haiti.
I had only been in the country a day before a friend and Episcopal priest, Father Estil Colbert, called to ask if I would preach two services on the upcoming Sunday. This was not the first time I would preach in Haiti, but reading this book, I wondered if my sermons were actually speaking to those who were listening. Was I explaining Christianity in a way that connected with the hearts of Haitians? Within hours, I was driving through a bustling community or rural mountainside with my Haitian brother, Ancy Fils-Aime. As we rode along, Ancy stopped every few hundred yards to role down his window, yell a greeting to a friend, and wave to another. Everyone seemed to know everyone, I observed, and everyone knows everyone else’sstory. I asked Ancy what we should preach on Sunday, and he answered, “You are Haitian. You know how Haitians love stories. Tell your story.” And so, I spoke on my life-long journey of becoming a follower of Christ. After the service, for the first time ever, a Haitian came up to tell me he liked my sermon.
I tell you this story about my week in Haiti, as it was through this lens that I was reading Grassroots Asian Theology. Chan addressed how the concepts of a variety of theological topics, including the Trinity and work of the Holy Spirit, are presented in Asian contexts. When I arrived at this quote, “Asian Christians are better positioned to appreciate the corporate and relational nature of life, both as sinners and as Christians,” I realized that Asian theology might be comparable to the Haitian doctrine. Relationally centered, corporate lifestyles are predominant in each culture. I came back around to a theme that seems to have emerged all year long – the theme of listening and hearing one’s story. Too quick do we try to impose our own thinking and way of doing onto others without truly understanding the context and culture of those with whom we minister and serve. Relationships change us, and as my friend Stefania once told me — theory is built on what we know within our comfort zone. Theory needs to be adjusted depending on context, and you can only fully understand your context through relationships. Theory without the practice of relationships is unhealthy. How ought “we” do theology and Christianity in Asia? It seems to me that when is comes to telling the story of God and His redemption, context, listening, and building relationships to promote understanding would surely be a step in the right direction. But, equally important, the progress and spread of Christianity in Asia must evolve organically from the hearts and mores of the people of Asia.
 Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), Loc. 1343.
 Ibid., Loc. 1363.