Posted in reflections

O Africa, Ability is your name!

Ability took our order, and got me thinking.

Friday is date night, but this week, Amy and I did a Friday date lunch instead. When I was done ordering our fish, as I’ll often do – gregarious Greg that I am –  I made conversation with the server. Reading his name tag, I discovered a name I’d never seen before: “Ability.”

We chatted a bit, and later I reflected on the optimism behind his name. Twenty or so years ago, a son was born. Of all the names his father and mother could have chosen for him, they chose this unique name, one that says:

Look what we were able to do, together.

Ability’s name is not so much a “Yes, I can” as a “Yes, we can.”

North American media has done Africa a grave disservice. It seems to cover only wars, famine, and disease. The story of Africa Rising rarely makes the news, yet a huge part of that story is optimism, fueled by a deep trust in the goodness of God and the Lord’s desire to see life on this Great Continent not just survive but flourish.

O Africa, Ability is your name!

This week, 800 optimistic Nazarenes from across Africa are converging on Johannesburg for a time of worship and equipping. In the laughter and let’s-take-time-for-each-other conversations around the dinner table, a confident can-do attitude is never far away.

Here are some of the other positive “Abilities” that I’ve seen in Africa since arriving in 1993:

– Responsibility

– Dependability

– Respectability

– Accountability

– Flexibility

– Capability

Are they always demonstrated? Of course not. After all, what human society anywhere in the world perfectly reflects these characteristics? But I have come to cherish the dominance of these values, the sweet fruit of  placing an emphasis not on independence but interdependence. Africa is at her worst when she forgets these communal values. On the other hand, she is at her best when she celebrates and rewards them.

Reuben Welch said it well:

We really do need each other.

Ability in all its forms takes root in the soil of dependence upon God, then blossoms in mutual assistance. It’s as simple as loving God and loving neighbor (Mark 12:28-34).

I’m glad I met Ability at the fish shop. His name reminds us that – with God, and working together – all things are possible.


Greg is interested in many topics, including theology, philosophy, and science.

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