In less than two weeks I will head to Kenya to become a fourth generation missionary to that country. I use the term "missionary" in the sense of someone carrying out the mission of the Church in a culture other than their own. I have taken quite a few classes related to missions over the course of my academic career at Wheaton and Trinity, but nothing makes you reflect on missions like actually going to be one.
As Lara and I prepare to go it is amazing to think about how missions has changed over the past century. My great-grandfather went to Kenya in 1907. No one in Kenya knew he was coming, let alone asked him to come. He was sent by a missions agency to do God's work. Unfortunately, at that time doing God's work was believed to include the task of educating and civilizing the ignorant savages. The Good News of God's love and offer of salvation that the missionaries at the start of the 20th century brought was inextricably linked with the "progress" of Western civilization that accompanied it. I am not really interested in analyzing the merits versus the deficiencies of early missionaries. Anyone who examines history with an open mind can see that there was both good and bad that came out of it. What is interesting to me is the idea that if my great-grandfather and those like him had not been sent to Kenya a hundred years ago, then I would not be called to Kenya now.
Let me explain a bit more. Obviously all missionaries should be called by God to their work. This was part of my initial hesitation about going to Kenya. I didn't want to go just to join in the family trade so to speak. I wanted to know I had a specific call. The leading of the Holy Spirit as a conviction that you need to go -- this is the necessary first step. From there the difference between being called and being sent relates to the missionary's relationship to the Church. My great-grandfather was sent. Mission societies in the U.S. felt that the people of Africa needed to hear the Gospel and so they sent him to preach the Good News. Lara and I are going because a Kenyan ministry organization invited us to come be a part of their work. They called us to come to Kenya. Their calling would likely not have happened without the work of previous generations of missionaries. We stand upon their shoulders. We build upon the foundation that they laid. Because of their work the Church as it is manifested in Kenya is strong enough to exist on its own, yet also know where it needs help from other parts of the Body.
Being called by the Kenyan Church allows us to have a very different relationship with those we are going to work with. We can come as learners, benefitting from the spiritual fervor of the Believers who grew out of the East African Revival. We can work alongside the Kenyans to develop a truly Kenyan ministry rather than imposing ministry ideas from above and outside their context. We can come asking where we can help rather than telling how we will help. This is not to say that the fact that we were called necessarily means we will come with this attitude. Nor does it mean that all those who were sent came with the contrasting attitude. In many cases, quite the opposite is true. However, being called by the host country starts off the relationship on a much more equal footing. It lays the groundwork for partnership. It does not insure that a healthy, mutually beneficial partnership will exist between host and missionary, but it does open the door much wider. We pray that we will walk through that door with humility. That we will learn from the successes and failures of those who have gone before us. That he will use us alongside our Kenyan brothers and sisters to further his Kingdom.
Posted by Scott