Walls are everywhere in my host country. I don’t mean fences that you can see through, hop over or dig under. I mean solid masonry of one sort or the other. They are a fixed feature of every private domicile.
I don’t know if walls are a hold over from the days of tribal raiding or if they’re built to maintain privacy within the context of the relatively new urban lifestyle that people have these days. One thing I do know is that walls are not only useful to keep things out, but they are also useful to keep things in.
The main compounds of Christian worship in my host city are all behind walls. At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be anything sinister about this. As I’ve said, walls are just part of the architecture around here. However, I think that upon closer examination we might find that the walls have been very useful to the local authorities to keep Christians from exercising much influence within the culture.
While the law does allow for Christians to worship in designated compounds, absolutely no proselytizing is allowed. Additionally, Christian literature and media are permitted inside the walls of the compound but may not be sold or distributed outside the compound. These and other restrictions which are not especially aimed at Christians have, I believe, boxed in our thinking…at least the thinking of the leadership of the group where I’ve been worshipping for the past several years.
No one inside the walls of our church compound talks openly in our assemblies of doing anything outside the walls of the compound. I’m not talking about hassling folks with pamphlets or anything overtly evangelistic. I’m talking about organizing an effort to alleviate some of the suffering that is all around us. When I pressed one of the church leaders about this idea, he told me that there are such things going on but that they are not talked about. The reason they’re not talked about is because a culture of extreme caution has been cultivated. As someone once told a friend of mine here, “It’s better (for the church) to be here and do nothing than to not be here at all.” Whatever good we’re up to, it needs to stay inside the wall.
Recently, I’ve learned about something going on outside the wall that I hope to get involved with. It’s an organization that seeks to help some of the poorest and most ill-treated people around by giving them food and clothes along with other kinds of aid. While the organization was started by a Christian couple, it is certainly not a bait and switch operation that lures folks and then tries to stuff religion down their throats. (They wouldn’t be allowed by the government to operate if it were.) All the same it is an opportunity to get beyond the wall and be Jesus to people, which is good for everyone involved.