Pray for Reign in Africa

by Bob Turner on June 06, 2024

They told us not to expect much rain in Botswana during June. It’s their winter: the dry season for a country that is already dry. Miami will see as much rainfall in two months as Botswana will see in a year (18 inches). Complicating this,  Botswana is one of the 44 landlocked countries of the world (of 195).  In a nation where 2.5 million cows outnumber humans, a drought can cripple farms and ruin an economy. So rain is a good thing in Botswana; just don’t count on it in June.

I recently visited Ananias Moses, a preacher and friend whom White Station supports in Oodi, just outside the capital city of Gaborone. The locals rarely say pastor or preacher, instead calling him moruti: a respected teacher in Setswana, the tongue that dominates the rural villages throughout the country's massive, bucolic footprint. Botswana is larger in area than France, but France has 65 million more people—the majority of whom were crammed next to me inside the skinny airport tram in Paris during my connection home. I can’t imagine a better moruti for this village than Ananias. 

The Bible frequently uses the metaphor of dry land to talk about spiritual struggle: “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). The Christians in Botswana understand this verse better than most of us; they grew up on farms and many hold advanced degrees in agriculture and environmental science. They know what water means to those who live on parched land.

A sense of desperation can be challenging for people who experience material poverty. The average salary in Botswana is $500 U.S. dollars per month. This vulnerability is frequently exploited by charismatic preachers who peddle a gospel of health and wealth. It has to be tempting for nonbelievers to give their life to a Jesus who promises financial prosperity. And yet that version of a Savior rarely becomes someone’s Lord. It’s hard to take the radical call of Jesus seriously when we’ve already imagined him as our celestial Venmo.

So the Oodi church is not counting on a flimsy prosperity gospel to reach the masses. Instead, they are praying for discipleship. When asked about their hopes for God’s work in their community, they talk about wanting to see more men give their life to Jesus rather than getting sucked into lives of despair at the bars. They want more gatherings for young adults who are faithfully trying to honor Jesus on campuses and workplaces. They are dreaming of new churches that are closer to people’s homes— easing the burden for commuters whose travel is hindered by winter darkness, road conditions, and herds of cattle reenacting Abbey Road. If a Christian in Botswana is not persuaded by the empty promises of a prosperity gospel, then I see no reason anyone else in the world should be. If they can insist on a rigorous discipleship, then surely I can pursue one, too. 

Americans who visit Africa are often struck by the people’s contentment. Africans laugh, share, and smile with a generosity that can appear unblemished by a life of struggle. But this contentment should not be mistaken for complacency. Someone who has given up hope would not pray the way that Ananias prays. You don’t need to know Setswana to detect how many times his prayers refer to the Lord: Jeso Keresete. His prayers are saturated with honor and submission to the King. This Jesus knows the struggles of life (Hebrews 4:15), including agriculture. But he also demands that we follow him (Mark 8:34). 

A seed requires good soil (Matthew 13:8). And good soil requires water. But not all rain is helpful. Jesus says that a life that is not rooted in discipleship will be like a house built on sand. “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall” (Matthew 7:27). That’s the fate of those who hear the word but don’t put it into practice. Even for seeds in good soil, prosperity can be a threat:  “The worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). The challenge of following Jesus is to receive the salvation he actually offers without craving a substitute that he doesn’t. A gospel of health and wealth writes a check in God’s name that God never promises to cash. 

Instead, Christians need to anticipate another kind of rain. Jesus would have rejoiced when he heard Isaiah’s prophecy read: “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom” (35:1). He would love hearing, “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring” (44:3). This is the rain of God’s salvation. It’s what comes to those who wait, to those who are patient, and to those who are committed to hearing and living God’s word. Jesus is fine with praying for God’s rain, as long as we also welcome his reign.

The worship service during our final Sunday in Botswana was pretty normal until we heard sporadic noise on the roof. Drip. Drop. Drip. Drop. The aluminum roof of the one-room Oodi church building was getting pelted while the air filled with the petrichor of a long-awaited pour.  It was so loud we couldn’t hear what was being said, totally drowning out all other noise. The rain had come. In June. In Botswana.  

I hope it never stops.

The LORD will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail. (Isaiah 58:11)


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