Saturday, 21 November 2009

More missionary musings

2 years is almost nothing in a foreign culture - we're still scratching the surface of understanding people and beginning to fathom their mysterious way of life. 2 years is hardly enough to understand a different part of the UK, let alone a different continent. It ought to have been enough to learn far more Swahili than I have, but that's another story!

If we can't say much that's deep about the people we're with yet, we can at least try to understand ourselves. So here's another observation.

Being a missionary is spiritually dangerous - really dangerous. These factors may vary depending on the type of missionary and situation, but what I mean is this. Many missionaries I know, like myself, are on their own. We might meet up to fellowship with others from time to time - but here in Eldoret, I've not met a single British citizen living here who's still in the country (we met one couple who've since gone to Hong Kong). Neither do I know any other local-church based missionaries. And being from the West, I'm the richest man in the church - this bit wasn't hard. You would be too, and I don't need to ask your income to know that - I just need to know you have a computer to read this! (A typical church member in Grace Baptist, Eldoret will pay about £10 rent for a single room in which the whole family lives). The missionary will often be vastly more educated and be in the highest social class of the church. Add to that, he's the teacher. He might also be the gateway to Western funds for this or that project, and pay the salaries of a few or many people. (Well, he may not pay them - but he sources the money, and that's all the same to the person receiving the salary).

In short, if things follow their natural, fleshly course, then the missionary can soon be being looked up to as a superior being and because he has so few peers, starts to imagine that he is. Others are servants, needy people and those needing teaching and advice. Soon the missionary can stop seeing himself as a servant of the local church, and more like some sort of semi-divine being who descends from on high to dispense his wisdom, favours and cash to the grateful locals. With no-one around to put the brakes on by telling him that he's becoming a self-centred jerk, you can see how it could easily spiral. Instead of being the lowest in the church, he starts to see himself as set apart - and how privileged the locals are to have him around! Any visitors from his homeland or mission organisation won't necessarily identify the problem, because the missionary may be the visitor's only key to local goings on - they have no independent standpoint to evaluate him by. The problem can be compounded on home visits. Home-land churches may have read too much 19th century missionary hagiography, and also treat him like some semi-deity who has descended from a higher plane and be in awe of all of his reports of his great deeds in a far-off place. Christians will naturally offer him loving hospitality and treat him like royalty especially if he's from a third world country and they want him to enjoy some rest during his visit. But if the man's soul is going the wrong way, this can all re-inforce the sense of entitlement as a superior being.

I was genuinely shocked a few months after arriving in Eldoret when I spoke to someone other than my co-elder who was self-confident and articulate. (This was a leader of the law school Christian Union. Of course there are oodles of people wealthier and higher up the social scale than myself in Eldoret - they're just not in our church). I was pulled up short - I'd forgotten what it was like to relate to such people! A conversation as equals - this is a blast from the past! Nothing particularly remarkable in the conversation - the kind of interaction I might have with anyone back in the UK. But I realised I hadn't had such a conversation in person except with one individual for a long time. And so if when I'm next in the UK you feel like I'm talking or preaching to you as if you're an idiot, do be patient with me...

The answer to all this is quite simple. If the missionary believes the Bible, he'll see that God describes him (and every other minister of the Word) as a servant of servants. Christians are servants, and ministers are their servants. To lord it over the flock is the way of the world - the world which is under God's wrath.  Does the missionary believe what God spoke, or not? If that question is remembered and by the Lord's gracious help answered properly, that'll go almost all the way. To visit some dirty little shack that someone causes home and drink tea with them (that might turn your belly out before the day's done), in the name and service of Christ, is a far more immense privilege than to be the new President of Europe. Do you believe that? By God's continuing kindness, I do. Van Whats-his-face and Baroness Ashton may be getting all the newspaper headlines today, but that's because the world in sin is ignorant. Thousands of servants of Christ do far more important work every day - and it's not the work of being the (self-deluded) "Great Leader". It's the work of getting themselves out of the way and ministering the word in the name of Jesus to those who are willing to receive it.

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