Sunday, January 19, 2014

Departures, Arrivals, and Feedback (a day early)

Notice Hannah and Noah messing with each other behind my head.
My dear children left Kenya on Saturday morning.  It was truly a wonderful month with them.  The first two weeks were touristy stuff; the second two weeks were more quiet, on the serene campus of the Africa Theological Seminary, where they took a class in basic counseling skills.  With no jobs or other friends around, we got to spend a lot of time together and had many great conversations.  Both Hannah and Noah read a lot of books, Hannah soaked up some sun, and both got to sleep earlier than they had in a long time.  I loved having them in my world and I loved the fact that they grew to love it here as well.  I miss them already!

But they both took comfort in the fact that they weren't leaving me alone in Kenya for long, for as they left Kenya, Michael Thomson was preparing to fly to Kenya.  In fact, Michael, Hannah, and Noah were all at the Amsterdam airport at the same time and they were able to
connect as the picture shows!  Michael will be in Kenya for two weeks and I am looking forward to showing him a bit of my world; he will be able to see my work firsthand.  As a number of you know, it is one thing to read or see pictures about Africa, but it is very different to experience it yourself.

Last week's blog definitely drew a good bit of reaction, and although I posted a (first) feedback blog just two weeks ago, I feel that I should follow last week's blog up with some of your feedback again. There was a great mix of challenge and support and I was amazed by the thoughtful responses sent to me!  What really challenged me in the responses was to re-examine the issue of motivation in ministry again.  I remember when my former mentor and colleague Earl James said to me, "Most of the ministry that most people do is to work out our own salvation."  I remember thinking that was cynical at the time, but also true.  All of the quotes below were used with permission.

The first is from Mwaya Kitavi, the Director of Africa Ministries for the Christian Reformed World Missions:
Amen Renita.  You are a courageous woman.  You say things that no one dare say.  For such a time as this, your voice is needed.  I pray that this blog will stir the heart of many and rethink their approach to doing missions in Africa.
I am sitting in a class with 20 pastors and are discussing about unhealthy dependency and the issue of missionaries is at the center of our discussions.
Keep talking Renita.  My prayers are with you.
I think it's important that we hear African voices weigh in on this matter.  I had a number of discussions last week with Kenyans about this and there was definitely a feeling of assent.  One quote regarding this subject caught me though when talking about people coming who are insensitive to the culture and even condescending and patronizing.  He said, "Africans know how to spit out the bones when they eat fish."  In other words, able to keep the good and spit out the bad.  I appreciated that!

[In fact, let me share the reason for the fish bone comment as it may help you understand where I am coming from and why I feel strongly on the subject.  The comment was made following a conversation reacting to a group of women who came from the US to Kenya and did a chapel service at the seminary for about 40 pastors, who ranged in age from 25-50+ years of age.  The goal of the women was to teach Kenyans about hygiene and first aid.  They taught the pastors how to wash their hands while singing the "ABC" song.  And then they made the pastors get up, do it, and sing along.  Yes.  The ABC song.  This to Kenyans who are fastidious about washing their hands.  In fact, you have to wash your hands before you drink a cup of chai here or drink a soft drink!  I was mortified.  It was probably the most embarrassing moment I have experienced in Africa on behalf of Americans.  When you see things like that, you do have an inner urge to protect a people who have been colonized, exploited, and now patronized and insulted.] 

The next is an excerpt from Marv Wittenburg, who works for Marketplace Chaplains USA:
And we know that in the area of motives for service, things can become muddled too.  In most instances there is gratification and a warmed heart for the faithful servant while the one who is being served literally receives the love and grace of God as well as the benefits from the deeds of kindness.  But what is amazing is that even when the message of Christ is proclaimed with out-of-balance motives, Paul says, "The important think is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.  And because of this, I rejoice.  Yes, and I will continue to rejoice."  (Phil. 1:18)
I think we must always be a faithful witness to the truth spoken in love (and you've done that).  And it is also always important to seriously examine our methods (within our limitations).  God give you grace and leadership by His Holy Spirit to continue to do that.  As a trainer that is probably the area where I would focus, e.g. could I do a piece of training that could make this better.
And another from Harvey Kiekover, former missionary in Nigeria:
How much of our service "in the Lord's name" really is in his name?  Even our best selves have less than unsoiled motives.  And yet the Lord uses us.  That is humbling and gratifying.
Maybe you are right, Renita, in saying that the Lord doesn't need you.  But I question that.  If the Lord needed a donkey for his trip to Jerusalem, I suspect he has some "need" for you and a donkey (I was going to say "jackass") like e.  You are a coworker with Christ in your work. We see it and appreciate it, Renita.
And lastly, an excerpt from Denny Hoekstra, a long-term volunteer with Partners Worldwide who has been working in Kenya for many, many years.  His email was long and thorough as he has thought through this issue many times.  If interested, let me know and I can email it to you.  I like his summary of the issue and thoughts on what to do about this.
In summary, my view is not to be too judgmental of the persons doing such short-term "airmail from God" evangelism and to simply good naturally brush off their attempts to improve my spiritual commitment by "forcing" me to imitate them.  I think the most serious shortcomings are the dependency enhancing consequence and the comparatively wasteful use of God-given resources over which we have responsibility and control.  Therefore my thoughts are to focus on these two areas as most helpful.
Good stuff.  Good discussion.  Thanks for being on this journey with me!