On my first trip to Kenya, I had no idea what to expect. The trip itself was a bit of an impulse buy, and I knew almost nothing about Africa except what I had seen on National Geographic. I wasn’t prepared for the cities, nor for the mountains, nor for the many varieties of lush trees and plants that grace this little corner of the world.
But as I began to get a feel for the natural environment here, one thing that stood out above all else: there are a ton of birds. In fact, over 1100 species of birds can be found in Kenya, including some very large varieties.
One of those birds is the ibis. There are actually several types of ibis here, but the one I want to focus on here is called the hadada ibis. The hadada ibis is named for its unique call, which sounds like “haa-daa-daa” (and is incredibly loud). The bird itself is large, with dark plumage. While not exactly an attractive bird, it certain demands attention as it yells out across the Rift Valley in its signature way.
And it struck me this morning that a lot of churches are like the ibis. They call out, demanding attention. They try to work their way into every issue. They make bold statements about people they’ve never even attempted to understand, and with whom they’ve never pursued a relationship. They are ibis churches – getting attention by being loud and annoying.
But there’s another kind of bird here in Nakuru that gets a lot of attention. This area is known for its large concentration of flamingos. The pink flamingo, with its long neck, curved beak, and spindle legs, is a sight to behold. A flock of flamingos, painting a pink streak across the sky, seems almost surreal. But unlike the ibis, the flamingo doesn’t really seek attention. They simply go about their lives, while other people take notice.
That got me thinking. What would a flamingo church be like? Contrary to the ibis approach, a flamingo church wouldn’t attempt to draw attention to itself. It wouldn’t make a fuss over every little news item. A flamingo church would be the kind of community that focused on doing what it was designed to do (which is a lot, according to the bible), and would trust that those actions would be plenty attractive enough.
A flamingo church would help the poor and marginalized, welcome the outcast, pursue the kind of abundant life God has designed for us, and do it all without calling out, “Look at me! Ha-da-da!” And yet, somehow, the flamingo church is attractive. The flamingo church, just going about its business, paints a brightly colored streak through a city – one which can’t be ignored. The beauty of a church loving its city serves to draw others in, and in turn, to send them back out as flamingos themselves.
I have no desire to be an ibis. My prayer is that our new church in Nakuru will be a bright pink flock of flamingos.