Engaging with God through reading the Bible, regularly and comprehensively, will provide answers on how to live as a Christ-follower in Southern Africa, assisted by the guiding role of the Holy Spirit. Our Southern African realities and challenges may be unique, but Scripture does provide direction and wisdom for all issues, forming the foundation of our Christian worldview.

Our realities are different

If someone were to ask you to list your Top 5 issues we face in Southern Africa in the last quarter of 2020, what would be on your list? Unemployment, poverty, gender issues, abuse of children and women, and corruption? Some of these are more “first world” in nature, while others may be considered somewhat “third world”. Each of us may differ in view… according to our reality, heritage, history, personal experiences and cultural bias.

We have a wide range of communities in our country, each having unique and wonderful cultural peculiarities. Some of these have developed over centuries and may be perfectly acceptable to some, and weird (even offensive) to others.

Can you think of a few? Ukuthwala (the practice of young bride abduction) in the Eastern Cape jumps to mind. But it’s easy to look at other cultures first – what about my own?

Christmas mayhem: Biblical?

Truth be told, just hearing the words “Black Friday” stirs something deep inside… the prospect of a fantastic deal on a longed-for item, never-to-be-repeated! This year, major stores that usually make the most of the one day towards the end of November – Black Friday – are now promising to make it a month-long extravaganza, with amazing specials EVERY day during November. And that will surely build the frenzy right up until Christmas.

Have we, as Christians, become willing co-creators of the splurge that is now tightly knit with the “Christmas / Festive Season”? Do we ever stop to consider how Jesus might want us to celebrate His birth? It may be a long way from that to which we currently devote our web surfing time and our credit cards.

There isn’t anything wrong with having a Christmas wish list and fine food, of course – but have we as western Christ-followers taken on board cultural practices that are so wrapped up in money, to the detriment of the truth of Scripture, discrediting His kingdom?

(For a fascinating, yet searchingly provocative take on some of the seemingly Christian traditions we cling to, get hold of Frank Viola and George Barna’s book Pagan Christianity where they boldly explore some of the pagan roots of various of our church practices.)

Bible reading: Closer to God

SU’s annual devotional guide for adults – Closer to God – aims to assist everyday Christians in our Southern African areas to meet God daily in His Word. This is done in a way that covers Scripture in a systematic way and engages the reader with searching questions and comments. Closer to God specifically aims to cover issues that present in our communities, and so hopes to help local Christians meet God in a fresh way and be led by the Spirit to relevant insights and answers to life’s challenges.

Each week has 6 days of writing based on 6 passages, concluded by a 7th day summary and questions that can be used in a group setting, such as a home Bible study.

In the new 2021 edition, you’ll find the gospel of Matthew covered in detail. Quite apt for post-COVID, there is a themed week by Brian Helsby on “Money, the Bible and Me” based on the excellent Heartlines material. There’s a “Call for Sexual Purity Today” from Chantelle Blokdyk. And Alison van Tonder’s environmental theme “Developing Green Fingers”.

SU gets regular feedback from readers on how God used a particular week to speak directly and immediately to them, through the Holy Spirit – and this despite the writer penning the words at least 6 months previously! Praise God for using the writers and Closer to God.

Our range of writers

In all shapes, colours and sizes, Closer to God’s writers all volunteer their services because they are passionate about getting people into God’s Word. There is Tsungi Chiwara from Zimbabwe, a pharmacist and academic; John Hewitson, paediatric heart surgeon and secret Master Baker; Trish Waboraro from Botswana, lawyer and motivational speaker; and Sipho Zondi from Langa, pastor, businessman and keynote speaker… and many more. As the Lord has challenged them through the passages of Scripture they have chosen, they seek to put across to the reader some pointers on what the text may be saying, linking to their own experience and learnings.

Coming back to Christmas, for a sobering but fascinating alternative take on Christmas, see John Scheepers’ Christmas themed week in Closer to God. For a taste, “…our contemporary celebration is, compared to that first Christmas, a largely sanitised affair. While we smile at cute, tinsel-adorned angels, or serious-looking shepherds with tea towels on their heads, the first Christmas was a lot more disruptive. Involving public scandal, shame, disreputable guests, child murders, and political intrigue. Yet, in the midst of it all we encounter something quite beautiful the birth of a king unlike any other. The king who has come for the outcasts and the marginalised.”

Relevance and being contextual

In SU’s view, the Bible is authoritative and relevant, having no mistake, inspired by the Holy Spirit and “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”. One of SU’s key values is to aim to be as contextually relevant in ministry as possible. That means that SU South Africa really tries to immerse itself in the cultures of our countries; we aim to be part of what is going on; to have a voice that is informed and empathetic; we aim to produce materials and resources that “hit the spot” in a way that a foreign resources wouldn’t, or couldn’t.

As we wrestle with living in Southern Africa in 2020, create space for the Holy Spirit to lead each day through Scripture, providing direction and wisdom for all of our local issues, living out our Christian worldview.