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The Blur of Urban Africa

April 7, 2017

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brett grew up as an MK in Central Africa. He and his family are church planting in urban West Africa. For more on his ministry click here.

To the American eye, few things are more otherworldly than the blur of urban Africa. Trained to see the beautiful savannah or mud huts surrounded by lowing cattle, Africa’s urban jungles of concrete are stark and unexpected. Instead of the verdant hues of rainforest where silverback gorillas play, the eyes are overwhelmed with vibrant neon and innumerable colors of African-print clothing, each one as unique and bright as the wearer.


As soon as we begin to adjust our eyes to these unexpected surroundings, we’re on the move again, streaming along deep-grey highways accented by red-dirt tributaries in every direction. The flow of traffic—marked by vehicles of every shape, size, and design—seem to dance and come dangerously close to playing tag with the panels of our transportation. Bright yellow taxis fearlessly ford the crash-infested roundabouts. Buses loaded high with packages perpetually lean to one side as if they are ever ready to flip over or turn left.


This is where most of us, invested with an interest in survival, close our eyes and begin to pray. The blur of urban Africa becomes a shaded world—unseen and unexperienced. But what if we could slow down the track and take each picture, each image on its own? Could we discern the unfocused images of life?


Careening cars and leaning buses full of people. People with needs, schedules, and lives.


A young man desperately looking for work to provide for his family in the village. His mother and younger siblings waiting to see what he is able to save and scrimp.


A woman dressed in the brightest colors—flowing robes draped over her weary shoulders and head wrapped in creative swirls in the hopes her husband will take joy in her.


A child begging in cheap fifth-hand clothes with a cracked mustard-colored butter tub in his dirty hands, tapping on each rolled-up window, trying to bring home enough coins to avoid another beating.


Men. Women. Children. Each one with a story, a list of wants and needs, expectations and dreams—a life.


There is only one way we will ever learn their stories, hear the experiences of their lives, and slow the spinning blur of mysterious urban Africa: We must open our eyes.


Open our eyes in prayer to see the faces of people made in God’s image. Open our eyes and hearts as we give on Sunday mornings to our missionaries and listen as they tell us their stories. Open our eyes as we step off the transatlantic flights that bring us face to face with the mission of God in urban Africa.


As we open our eyes, drinking in the colors of life, the dancing motion of people who create the blur of urban life comes into focus. We see not just a blinding fog of millions, but a clear vision of a man, a woman, a child. Waiting. Waiting to hear. Waiting for us.


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