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.”