A Monster Slowly Dying?

by Chris Kamalski

(Each Wednesday I will attempt to post a story or reflection about some aspect of the work that our missional community, NieuCommunities South Africa, is currently engaged in here in Pretoria. I’ll simply attempt to answer the question, ‘What stories are you co-writing with God in South Africa, and how does this story fulfill your unique mandate to apprentice South African leaders into sustainable mission around the globe?’)

This past Sunday evening at 3rd Place I reconnected with Nic Delport, a sharp young theology student at University of Pretoria who facilitates 3rd Word, weekly discussions on the Scriptures for our young church community. Nic has just entered into his practical year of studies, essentially a mixture of internship and practical learning opportunities that seems to include a bit of travel for most young South Africans, whereby they visit and learn from other faith practioners throughout the globe (Side note: What a healthy practice for Western seminaries to begin, although my hunch is that there is a lingering mentality that Africans ‘must travel West’ for the ‘best’ in theological thinking, which I find to be rubbish).

Needless to say, Nic had just returned from a month visit to the States where he spent time with his girlfriend who works for Disneyworld as an “African animals expert” of some sort (Another HA!). Sunday night, Nic walked straight up to me and asked to have coffee early this week, wanting to ‘share his experience with Americans’ with one of three Americans he knows in Pretoria. Amused and a bit curious, I quickly agreed, and set up coffee for Tuesday afternoon.

Our conversation meandered all over the place, from the familiar (“Everything is huge! I like Motel 6’s! The food portions are massive, and I love meat!”), to the ‘truer than I’d like to admit about my countrymen’ (“It seems like most people I met were incredibly overweight! People were largely disinterested in conversation with me, and rarely asked anything about my life and experience as a South African”), to the universal (a lot of shared laughter over cultural mis-steps that take place whenever anyone enters into a culture foreign to their own).

As we were leaving, Nic said something that stopped me in my tracks, and has my mind spinning even now as I type these words. Even though it was merely his observation, I wonder if he is onto something. Nic said, “I think the States are like a monster slowly dying, and that for most Americans the US is the whole world to themselves.” Granted, this perspective may be somewhat harsh, and not accurately reflect both the political, economic, nor spiritual realities of America’s standing in the world. I found myself instinctively wincing as he made these comments, simultaneously wanting to defend my homeland while admitting that in some instances, he may have a point.

With the growing chatter of China and India’s massive growth in almost every sector of public life, seen in arenas as serious as Time magazine features to the silliness of the recent Office episode spoof where Michael Scott voices America’s anxiety in hilarious ways, to the lingering effects of the recession and subsequent lack of new job creation, I wonder if Nic could be onto something.

Regardless of agreement with his assessment however, I found myself ‘on mission’ yesterday morning simply listening to the experiences of my South African friend, offering an ear in helping Nic process the wild mixture of emotions he faced while in the States last month. Sometimes I wonder exactly what it means to be an incarnational reflection of Jesus as an American in the midst of the complex reality that is South Africa. Yesterday, that simply meant coffee with Nic, listening as he reflected on time in my homeland. I hope it served him as much as it helped me…