By Lauren Jenkins
How do you define spirituality? In May 2019 I received the opportunity to study abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. We would receive class credit as well as work with children in the area. Prior to this trip I had lost my grandfather as well as ended my first serious, and manipulative, relationship. When we broke up I was beyond confused and my heart was broken. I spent the next three months battling depression and anxiety. Serving others helps me combat these mental states. The opportunity to serve others, along with being surrounded by an amazing group of peers, in a beautiful country, appeared to be Jesus’s perfect timing.
I knew I wanted this trip to redefine my idea of spirituality. My definition of spirituality at the beginning of the trip was “the practice of having faith and hope in someone or something, to worship and praise, to find peace”. I was thinking of ways that I or others may express our spiritual lives. Over the course of the trip I learned that our spirituality is impacted by our encounters with people, nature, circumstances, and culture. I learned that our spirituality is not as individualistic as I once thought it was. Our trip to South Africa taught me to remember that other people know Jesus differently because Jesus knows them better than I do.
My definition of spirituality transformed into “not limiting Jesus to one’s own culture but experiencing Jesus in the cultural context present”. Journaling on the trip, I wrote that “I believe that Jesus meets people where they are at, including their culture. I do not think Jesus is limited in how He reveals Himself”. I think this is due to Jesus being our commonality. Jesus tears down walls and barriers. Jesus came for all and I believe this means that all people have an opportunity to know Him. So, who am I to correct how someone comes to know Jesus? Or their view of Him? What matters is that we agree on the core matter about Jesus, His life, death, resurrection, and that He is the only way to heaven. Jesus is who connects us all and gives us the opportunity to connect with each other.
Sharing this new definition of spirituality; however, poses its own challenges. The primary challenge I believe would be our individualistic mindset. Ubuntu challenges this. Ubuntu is the idea that we are strongest when we are in unity. What would America be like if we shared this mindset today? What would the Western Church be like if we set aside our hair-splitting differences to simply work together to share the gospel? Surely the Western atmosphere would embrace Christianity a little more readily. Whether we like it or not we all make an impact on the world around us. I think that the spirituality of South Africa lives up to this fact and will make an impact that will survive for generations.
Lauren Jenkins is a CBF Leadership Scholar and serves as an Associate Director of Recruitment for George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas where she is currently working on her M.Div.
Dowden, Richard. Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles (Public Affairs: New York, 2009