“African Echoes”. By Henry Regehr
“Black people are unable to love at the depth that White people love”. I was stunned to hear this from a couple who were assigned as mission personnel in East Africa. We were sitting at the dinner table in their comfortable home in Nairobi, and I wanted to be certain I had heard accurately what they had said. “Did you say…?” I repeated what I thought I had heard. “Yes, we believe that Black people are not able to love like we do” they repeated. After going through this a third time, they confirmed again what they so firmly held to be the truth.
I was in East Africa on a study trip to understand my task of helping the mission organization select candidates for overseas assignments. It seemed unbelievable that senior staff, who had worked with African people for many years, would have what, to me, seemed like such a primitive idea. I was shaken.
I spent the next day with Peter, now a California seminary graduate. He was Black, handsome, articulate, and nattily dressed in creased trousers and sports jacket. He had grown up in his native Kenyan village, like other young lads, with traditional values, in a mud hut, within the comfort of a typical family. But he had shown outstanding abilities in the local mission school. He was encouraged to attend high school, again demonstrating intelligence and a keen willingness to learn. The mission invested time and energy to send him to America where he completed his undergraduate work with flying colors and was given scholarships to attend seminary. Peter was the ideal trophy student. In California, however, he had learned to depend on the generosity of donors for scholarships, luxurious hospitality, fine clothes, and a comfortable Western lifestyle. All this I found out as we traveled by car to a school where he was to give a guest lecture.
On our return to Nairobi, we continued our visit over dinner at the hotel dining room and our conversation became more personal, even intimate, and it went on for several hours. We had developed a warm friendship and we were sharing our personal spiritual and cultural journeys. Suddenly, in mid-sentence, Peter stopped. The silence lasted for several minutes until, puzzled, I said, “Peter, what’s going on?”. There was a long, thoughtful pause. “In all the years I have spent time with White people, I have never had this kind of personal conversation with any of them. I came to believe that it was not possible”. I asked more questions to have him clarify this. He quietly, thoughtfully, and a bit awkwardly, said, “My friends and I have often spoken about this and we have concluded that White people simply are not able to love to the degree that Black people love”.