The great ones all seem to forge their own path. From the biblical examples of Abraham, Moses, Esther, Ruth, David, and so many others, to the more modern day tales of Thomas Edison, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Teresa, history is littered with great men and women who refused to listen to skeptics. The louder the voices telling them not to do something, the more resolve they had.
Being a missionary is hard work. Everybody knows that. But the things we think of as the hard parts – lack of modern amenities, exposure to disease, and the like – only begin to scratch the surface of the difficulties of real missionary life. Often, it is the things left unsaid that really begin to erode the passion and soul of a missionary. Here are just a few of those things…
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.
Sunday was a busy day here in Nairobi. We had the opportunity to visit two great churches, each with their own distinct expression of God’s kingdom in action. Our first visit was to Karen Vineyard Church, a diverse international church community made up people from over 40 different nations. The culture at KVC is very familiar, the worship style similar to our church back home and the entire service is in our native English, led by Americans, Brits, Kiwis and Kenyans. This is the kind of church that would be easy for me to call home.
Our second church visit of the morning was the Dagoretti Corner Vineyard Church, led by pastor John Gitau. The church is a rock in the community and is filled with some of the most loving and God-fearing people you will ever meet. The culture is very Kenyan, the worship songs in Swahili and the message given in English (for our benefit) and translated into Swahili. In the small room are Kenyans from a variety of socio-economic levels, all worshiping in a way that seems warm and familiar to them, but is completely foreign to me. This is a church where God is doing a great work, but I find myself (as do many international visitors) more of an observer due to the cultural and language differences.
These are only some of the dynamics at work here in Kenya. Churches like the one in Karen and churches like the one at Dagoretti Corner have coexisted here for a long time – each reaching out to the population of people who culturally connect to their church. Rarely, however, do these types of congregations work together or partner in God’s work. The communities tend to stay fairly isolated from each other and independent in their efforts to reach out to the city.
Within the Vineyard churches, however, this could not be further from the truth. One of the things that excites me most about partnering with the Association of Vineyard Churches in Kenya is that we have an opportunity to truly become part of the family. Noah Gitau, the National Director of AVC Kenya, will effectively be my boss. I will serve under his leadership and authority. Our church, along with the two other international (culturally western) churches in Kenya will be on equal footing with the 70+ indigenous (culturally Kenyan and Kenyan-led) churches. We are brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues.
While our experiences at these two churches highlighted some of the cultural differences between Kenya and the west, they also served as a reminder that Kenyans and internationals all bring something unique to the mix that, in the context of this large, diverse family, strengthens the faith of the people and broadens the work of the kingdom of God in Kenya. Are we excited to be part of this great big Vineyard family? You bet.
James Glattfelder uses principles from the world of physics to explore the complexity of the global economy. It all sounds kind of geeky, but it’s intriguing nonetheless. As I listen to Glattfelder explain the way control works in this complex system, I can’t help but wonder about the potential results of similar research in the social arena.
By “social,” I’m not talking about Facebook and Twitter, but about churches, non-profits, NGOs and the like. If similar data was collected and the connections or interactions charted, would we find the social world similarly connected, or would the graph look completely different? Would United Way, the Red Cross and USAID be in the power center, or would it all point back to government superpowers and the money they are pouring into the “system”?
I don’t know the answer and I don’t have the brains or the cash to do the research, but if there’s anybody out there willing, I would love to see the results. I’m writing this today from Kenya, where thousands upon thousands of organizations are trying their best to “help,” with many doing the same things for some of the same people. My fear is that, rather than being too interconnected (like the global economic system) that the social system is too independent. I’m afraid that our connections are too weak, our power holders too aloof and our output measurements focused on all the wrong things.
I would love to see the numbers.