Friday, 20 November 2009

Two years ago today

First - the new creation/evolution book is published today. Read more about it here. (I blogged about it first here).

Two years ago today I and my family arrived in Kenya. What an interesting time it has been! I've certainly not had any problems with feeling bored since. God has been very good. Almost nothing has turned out as expected, but God's ways are better.

Today I'm a member and elder in Grace Baptist Church, Eldoret (in the Rift Valley - Kenya's 5th largest city/town) and a teacher in a nearby Bible college.

One big lesson is how little we knew about or understood missionaries before we became one. Too much of our thinking about missionaries came out of biographies of bygone years. I already knew that missionaries sin as much as anyone and that the hagiography was wrong. But I hadn't realised just how much else was off the mark too.

It's not the 19th century any more. You can telephone my mobile for 4 pence per minute from the UK, or even (since earlier this year when Kenya got a nice big Internet pipe) video Skype us. As it happens, basically nobody does contact us this way outside of our immediate family circle (or from the mission organisation). This was despite many newsletters mentioning how much my wife would appreciate calls from friends to encourage her, especially as we found our way about. We've spent 2 years wondering why nobody calls. Is it because missionaries are supposed to be isolated, people who've disappeared from the face of the earth, gone on some six-month boat-ride that they'll never return from? To appear on their computer screens would lessen the romanticism of it all and reduce the brownie-points they earn for enduring such things? Just not something missionaries are meant to do? Keep 'em humble? Beats me - answers on a postcard!

Another thing. When in the UK I used to hear about the poverty and financial needs of foreign churches. And what most UK churches then do is try to raise some money to help - of course they do. I never knew what kinds of incredible and chronic problems free money has caused and is causing to Kenya and to Kenyan churches. Are these problems worse that the problems there'd be without that money? No, they're not. Please keep sending money to worthy causes of course.... but do you actually have any idea how to evaluate what a worthy cause is in an African church, and do you know what'll happen when you send money to causes which would be better funded another way (or not at all)? I didn't. Shudder.

Here's another. I've come to see a lot of missionary newsletters as works of fiction. Apologies to any fellow missionaries reading my blog and all that. I probably don't mean yours! :-) I include many of my own newsletters in this. "I did this, we did that, X number of people came" - sounds fantastic; so much being done, quite unlike the slow scene in the UK. Ha! Now I read them more critically. Activity is one thing. Progress in building an indigenous, national-led church can be something totally, utterly, completely different. All the reports of activity can very well disguise a dearth of real progress. Propaganda for supporters, whose funding and encouragement keeps us going. Easy to do because it's natural in newsletters, of course, to say what you've actually done. The long-term and wider picture is harder to summarise quite so succinctly... so we don't.

And another. The holiday visitor's impressions of African Christianity are not worth the paper they're written on. They're evaluating it from a Westerner's point of view, against the backdrop of the problems of the Western church. Because you don't see those problems, you conclude that all is well. The church in Kenya is immeasurably, immeasurably weaker than the UK conservative evangelical church. Your average well-taught teenager in a conservative Christian family is far ahead in Biblical understanding of the typical pastor in a Kenyan church. If someone visits here for a summer and tells you that the Kenyan Christianity they saw is about to save the secular West, they're talking through their hat. Really. Africa's not called "The Dark Continent" for nothing.

I've seen too more evidence that many Christians in the UK have a false sacred/secular divide. I can think of several cases (so this isn't about any person or instance in particular) where I know of people who really, deeply support our work here - but if asked to do some boring, practical job that would help, think it's too much trouble and don't feel inclined to assist. They don't see it as part of the chain of necessity in the mission work, because it's not the exciting, glamorous preaching to untouched savages that they think counts as mission.

This perhaps sounds negative - it's not meant to; it's part of my own learning experience, which is positive. Perhaps I'll post more again later


Anonymous said...

Dear David

Reading your post confirms some of my suspicions, including that (as a minister in the UK) I am part of the problem due to my superficial attitude towards overseas missionaries. I think that my lack of communication (and others’) with the missionaries is shameful and unloving. Perhaps there are not enough “round to-its” in the world (as in, “I’ll do that when I get a round to-it”). So I’m going to try a new approach: I’ll not watch TV until I’ve written to my missionary contacts. That should strengthen my resolve!

Your post also reminded me of some missionaries I met in Africa, in the 90’s. They had battled on two fronts: to learn the tribal language and customs so as to understand and fit in with the indigenous ways, and to fend off the pressures of their (USA) sending churches who constantly demanded conversion stats in return for their dollars. After a decade, they had reached a point where tribal chiefs would honour them and they were called the ‘white Africans’ and they considered at last that their mission was about to begin. But their home 'support' had been a source of some discouragement along the way.

Thank you for posting your helpful reflections.
Grace and peace,

Chad C. said...

Hi David, my beloved brother:

Thank you for this very insightful and enlightening post about your family's first two years in Kenya! It is very helpful to aspiring missionaries (like myself), who sense a call to East Africa, to read such things and to learn from those who have gone before us! Please keep these types of posts coming my brother! They offer invaluable informed assistance to all who have a heart for African missions and want to approach things in a more realistic and wise manner.

Much love in Christ from the Carlsons!