When does a boy become a man? This question is played out in every males life, but it has new meaning through my time spent in Africa. To many tribes the answer is around age 13, when they are circumcised.
To most Americans the idea of a boy being circumcised at 13 years old sounds crazy and even cruel, but it is a day that many boys look forward to; it is a time of deep tradition and celebration.
The proceedings can vary by tribe. For the Maasai, the boys begin with a period where they parade through the village. Circumcision marks the time where they become a Morani (warrior). During the circumcision, the boy can show no sign of pain. If his face cringes, he may be viewed as weak for the rest of his life. For the Ndorobo man doing the circumcision, his goal is not to make the procedure as quick and painless as possible… He has a reputation to keep as well.
Other tribes follow different proceedings but one thing seems to be universal, it takes about 3 weeks to a month for the boys to recover and during that time the boys are taught by the community elders what it means to be a man. Another aspect that seems to be generally universal is that the teaching is not very biblical.
Often times the boys are taught that they do not have to respect women. Being a “man” means they can do what they want and they are in charge of their own lives. Understandably this can lead to a lot of problems. In modern society, it is common for circumcision to take place when a boy graduates 8th grade. In high school, many female teachers have a difficult time because some of the boys believe they no longer have to listen to any woman.
Imagine what it would be like to have teenage boys going around thinking they are in charge (I know it sometimes seems like boys in the U.S. act this way too). It leads to a lot of problems, but churches are coming up with a unique way to utilize this transition period for the Kingdom.
Many from the church outside African culture have wanted to eliminate the tradition of circumcising boys so late in life all together. They see the ritual as pagan, which it often is, but some African pastors have embraced the culture and now use it for the good. Churches are starting to host “passage to manhood” ceremonies, where the church hosts the transitioning boys, providing a clean safe environment for procedure and then using the three week downtime to teach what the Bible says about being a man.
The boys do not leave thinking they are independent men. They leave knowing that the power of a man is not gained through strength and dominance, but that it is in respect earned through respecting others. Their graduation day marks the beginning of their passage into manhood as they desire to be godly men, following the humble example of our Jesus Christ.
I was able to visit the passage to manhood camp at Timau Baptist Church. They hosted over 120 boys this year. They had so many that they had to knock down a wall and extend the room just to fit all the boys! 102 of the boys professed Christ as their savior for the first time during the camp!!! This is not a service just for the church members, but for the community, and it grows each year.
I was able to speak at the camp on two occasions. One Sunday I visited the boys and encouraged them from 1 Timothy 1:5, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and a sincere faith.” I taught them that being a man means serving God and others in love from pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith, just as Paul charged the young Timothy.
The second time I spoke was as the guest speaker for the graduation. It was an honor and a privilege. I spoke to the boys from the end of Ecclesiastes where King Solomon encourages young men to enjoy the fullness of life, but to always remember that they must answer to God for their actions. Solomon says to remember God before your youthfulness and strength start to fade.
Then, I was able to challenge around 500 parents and relatives from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 which talks of the responsibility of parents to teach their children about God. At the end I shared about Jesus Christ and gave an invitation for salvation finishing with Ecclesiastes 12:13-14:
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”
6 responses to “Passage to Manhood”
I think that’s quite self righteous to brain wash under age children to go though the traumatic rite of passage. I do not care if it is done under a clean and safe environment.
Any act of body modification, female or male circumcision, scarification, removal of teeth, elongation of the ear lobes in the name of “now-you-are-an-adult” has no place in our century when it is performed on children whose consent is under peer pressure.
Thank you for taking the time to read my post. I would agree with you on most of what you said, but I feel like in part you misunderstood my intentions. I am completely against FGM, scarification, and teeth removal (although tooth removal use to serve the practical purpose of allowing a person to survive if they got “Lock Jaw”). I’ve never encountered a negative instance of ear elongation, but I’m saying there couldn’t be.
The purpose of my post is to highlight how a group is moving beyond the standard “now-you-are-an-adult” rite of passage. The teaching they receive is very different. They leave knowing that they still have a lot of maturing to do and that they have to earn the respect of being a man as they grow up. They’re taught about proper sexual behavior, not taking advantage of women, and the dangers of STDs. Lastly, they are taught to love God, and to follow Jesus’ example of humility and service to others. There are plans to develop a girls camp next year, of course without any body modification, that focuses on giving girls valuable teaching on respecting themselves and the dangers of sexual promiscuity. This is needed teaching that is too often avoided.
The boys are going to get circumcised either by the church or their tribe, which is not a demoralizing, pleasure-robbing procedure like FGM. Male circumcision has many known hygiene benefits, and a clean safe environment is a major help. Ultimately my stand is to promote infant, male circumcision (which is a commonly accepted procedure in our century), but these boys are already beyond that stage. I don’t think it is wrong to take small steps, and it would be even more arrogant of me to come and demean a longstanding tradition of someone else’s culture as outdated, ignorant, and foolish.
What a great way to use the traditions of the culture to bring glory to God! It sounds like it was a wonderful experience. It is neat to think how many young men will now live their lives for God and not for themselves based on the teachings they walked away from at this camp.
Keeping you and Abby in my prayers,
We miss you all alot…I will be going from U.S. to Nigeria, then Dubai, then to Uganda…sorry to miss you all in Kenya…Pastor David is looking forward to seeing you all in Kenya…Much love from all of us…by the way, the above post is simply you reflecting on culture and context…any fine missionary thinks about both and its reality to the Gospel…let any opposition sleep in their disconnectedness…Love, G
We are sad we are going to miss you, but I know you have important and exciting things to do in the other countries! Say hi to the family for us… Thank you for the encouragement on the one post. I was not going to approve it because of the belligerent nature, but I figured it was best to be open to opposition because it shows the ability for God’s prefect will to overcome even in difficult situations.
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