Pastor Javon Learned about “African Time” & the Importance of Relationships

Reflection from Rev. Javen Swanson who serves as Associate Pastor at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

One of the things I was told about beforehand but couldn’t fully comprehend until I had spent some time in Kenya was the concept of “African time.” Our trip leaders encouraged us before we left to keep an open mind and to go with the flow; we were taught that Kenyans have a more relaxed relationship with time.
Pastor Javon Swanson with Daylight Students

Once we arrived in Kenya we discovered just exactly what that meant: Those of us from America who are so used to organizing our lives around our calendars and keeping a close eye on our watches spent a lot of time confused and wondering what was going on. No class period ever began “on time.”

The 30-minute mid-morning break for tea always lingered well beyond the time allotted for it. Teachers ended lessons when the lessons were done. And nobody at Daylight School thought twice about canceling an entire afternoon of classes to make time for different kinds of activities that gave the American visitors an opportunity to really get to know the Kenyan students.

Mid-morning porridge and tea break

At the end of the day, that’s really what “African time” is about: It’s about relationships. Some have said Africans have more of an “emotional time consciousness” that is different from our Western “mechanical time consciousness.” There’s more of an emphasis on the personal interactions happening in the present than on strict adherence to a schedule.


Most of the time, those 30-minute mid-morning tea breaks went longer than planned because Americans and Kenyans were sitting together having good conversations, and in that moment, those good conversations mattered more than the class schedule.

School lessons were postponed to create opportunities for Americans and Kenyans to spend time together, because in that culture, relationships take priority.

The sad takeaway for me was that we Americans often cut short those most important moments because we have busy schedules to keep. Too often we miss the amazing things happening right before our eyes because we’re determined to play out the agenda we had planned ahead of time. We’re so certain we know how things are supposed to go that we don’t even notice when something awesome and unexpected is happening right in front of us now. – Pastor Javon Swanson