Thursday, November 29, 2012


Steve and Leslie Kenney in Uganda

Have you ever had those moments where you realize your plans for the day need to be completely changed?   Have you ever had a deep wrestling in your spirit, and then found an unexpected sojourner who listens and refines?  

Two weeks ago Jana and I were staying with Steve and Leslie Kenney while at the International Conference on Missions in Indianapolis.    We got up intending to have a quick breakfast and then join the conference.   Instead we entered into a conversation with the Kenneys.   What is going on with missions as we know it?    What about all these short-term mission projects?   Is it getting anything really done?    Is the church really growing?    How should local churches in the United States respond to rapidly shifting paradigms?   Are these rapid shifts positive or negative?   Are they even Biblical?

We found sojourners with the Kenneys.    Our conversation lasted six and one half hours.   Two days later Steve got a phone call that a friend had passed away.    I was unexpectedly asked to preach two services at  the North Central Church of Christ for Steve.    What should I preach upon?   Steve suggested our conversation.    After all, many others are asking the same questions.   Yet, it is painful to ask a church to sit through a six and one half hour conversation when they expect a 30 minute sermon.

The disorienting shift in missions has happened because the questions have shifted.   This reflects cultural changes in philosophy.    To understand the shift and be a good steward requires good questions to refine the discussion in local churches.    I suggest four questions.

Jana and Dave with Sam Gonzalez at Abilene Christian University's Summit
Before giving the questions let me define a missionary.   A missionary is one sent by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of making disciples and developing churches.    I came to this conclusion by reading Acts and following around old missionaries and missions’ professors.    If you want I could extensively explain this, but will choose not to in this blog.    My definition contradicts contemporary American evangelical banter that “everyone is a missionary.”   I don’t believe that every believer is a missionary.   I do believe that every believer is commanded to participate in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20.)    I also don’t believe that every good work done in a location other than “home” is missions.  My definition makes being a missionary a specific spiritual gift and call.    A missionary cannot be self-sent.    He must be called by the Holy Spirit and sent by a Spirit led community.   He must go to a new place or people.   His primary purpose in being sent must be making disciples and developing churches.    From this definition of missionary comes my definition of missions.    Missions are the whole endeavor in the process of training, sending and supporting those called as missionaries.

Now, for question number one:  What is the most Biblical option to address this issue in missions?

Those of us whose heritage comes from Churches of Christ, the Restoration Movement, or what some call the Stone / Campbell Heritage intuitively ask this question from the beginning.    We must keep going back to this historical question.     We must do this in every generation and never assume we have any specific issue in missions completely understood.    As we do this we take great risk.   For as we ask, “What is the most Biblical option?” we lay ourselves bare before God.   We discover the holes in our reasoning and practice.    We must change.

One matter my family has wrestled with since our entrance into Africa has been what some call the Orphan Crisis.    We saw it clearly when we entered Uganda in 1993.   Uganda’s AIDS crisis was at its height.   Research varied from 10 to 30% of Uganda’s adult population being HIV positive.   Towns along the highways looked like ghost towns.   Death was prevalent.    As a result of so much death there were many children left with no adult to care for them.    (For more detailed reading see:   Rwanda faced a similar crisis with Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) following the genocide in which many children had no adult to care for them.   For some of my past reflection see:

For many years I looked at all the options.   For instance, there could be sponsorship programs, foster care, local adoption, international adoption, and children’s homes all as possible answers.    We adopted.   We saw adoption as an individual choice made by individual families that cared for individual children.    Then in year 18 of adult living in Africa, God’s Word spoke very clearly to me.    Adoption is a metaphor of the Gospel.  

 It is a prevalent metaphor in the Old Testament describing God’s relationship with His people.   For instance by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Ezekiel wrote,

On the day you were born, no one cared about you. Your umbilical cord was not cut, and you were never washed, rubbed with salt, and wrapped in cloth.  No one had the slightest interest in you; no one pitied you or cared for you. On the day you were born, you were unwanted, dumped in a field and left to die.

“But I came by and saw you there, helplessly kicking about in your own blood. As you lay there, I said, ‘Live!’ And I helped you to thrive like a plant in the field. You grew up and became a beautiful jewel. (Ezekiel 15:4-7, New Living Translation.)”

Adoption is also a prevalent metaphor in the New Testament.   For instance, Paul by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote, 

“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.  God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure (Ephesians 1:4, 5, New Living Translation.)”

Though there are many Biblical options to deal with the Orphan Crisis Adoption is the most Biblical option.   Though adoption involves individual choices of individual families, God’s Word teaches that God is Commune.   God is Trinity.   We are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27.)   We must act as God acts.   Before the Creation of the world God knew what Creation would cost.   We would rebel and be separated from God.   In order to be reunited, God would need to sacrifice the life of His Son.   I would never continue building any project if I knew it would cost my son’s life.   Yet, God made that choice.    As He describes this remarkable story of Good News He uses Adoption to explain His love.   We are all like children abandoned at birth in our own blood to die in a field.    Yet, God came and adopted us into His family.    We thrive there.    

Adoption is not one of the many options.   It is the most Biblical option.    It calls us to live in community.   It is the responsibility of the whole church.    To negotiate away from adoption is to negotiate away the Gospel.   It took me 18 years to come to this conclusion.   I’m embarrassed and repent for how long it took for this for me to so clearly see this Bible truth.

Ruth Jenkins, Gabriel Mugisha Jacobs, Alexis and Grace Hixson at CCR
As I came to this conclusion I decided it was time to preach this message to Christ’s Church in Rwanda (CCR).    I disclosed a secret.   We count cars in the church parking lot.   CCR is an upwardly mobile church.   On the day I preached this sermon we had 39 cars in the parking lot.   I told the church 39 of us cannot use economics as a reason we cannot adopt.   There may be another reason such as youth or old age.   However, if we can drive a car to church we can find the resources to care for one more child.   We lost some families at CCR that day.   A few people told me, “Pastor, you can’t be serious.  No way.”   I was.  We cannot negotiate the Gospel.

A few months later on a Saturday evening outside of our upwardly mobile Kigali estate of Gaculiro, security guards noticed dogs gathering and barking in a field.   They went to investigate and found the dogs had surrounded an abandoned baby girl.   They took the child and kept her safe for the night.   On early Sunday morning, a local government community leader called me about the situation.     We discussed the situation at church.   One of our CCR leaders took the child into their family.   We lived this Gospel truth.

We must keep asking this question: What is the most Biblical option to address this issue in missions?  As we do this we’ll be indicted.   We’ll change.   The Gospel will go forth.

The second question is, “What is the most effective means to address this issue in missions?”     

Let me tell a story of my adaptation back the USA.    One of my habits in transition is to find people a little older and wiser than myself.    When we arrived in Chicago we met an older missionary working with Africa Inland Mission (AIM) named Annette Horton.   After visiting Annette came over to our home with a stack of magazine and books with markers.     You should pay attention when an older missionary gives you a stack of books and points out highlights.    I started reading.    I found something I had missed during our 19 years in Africa.   I found an Evangelical Mission’s Quarterly editorial in 2004.  

The questions about missions that were being asked in local churches in the USA supporting missions had shifted.   From the 1960’s to 1980’s most church mission committees asked the question of effectiveness primarily as they evaluated missionaries and processed their churches involvement.   They were led by the World War Two generation.    This generation was institutional builders in the USA.   As they looked at missions they were also institutional builders.    They may not have completely realized it, but philosophically they were influenced by Donald McGavran and Church Growth Theology largely coming out of Fuller Theological Seminary.   

Dave and Ruth at CCR for her baptism
Our second question of “What is the most effective means to address this issue in missions?” is a question of a previous generation.   Practically, this question asked about matters that were measurable such numbers of baptisms or leaders trained.    Is this a Biblical question?

Paul frequently adjusted his practice for the purpose of effectiveness in Gospel proclamation.    For instance he wrote under the influence of the Holy Spirit, 


Though I  am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23. New International Version.)


Paul also saw himself as a “master builder” in the process of local church development.   For instance, he wrote, 


“According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.  Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—  the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward.  If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15.  New Revised Standard Version.)”


Jesus is the foundation upon which we build.   Yet, the question of effectiveness must be addressed.     As we ask the effectiveness question we see the foundation of Jesus Christ is not negotiable.   Yet, our practice must be very flexible.   


A young Dave preaching in the village in Uganda

I grew up as a missionary asking the effectiveness question.   I was always asking the question, “How do I most effectively develop churches?”   I thought others were following me with the same question.   Yet I would only too late realize the predominant question was shifting.    


I still think the effectiveness question is a must.    However, I also must caution a matter of personal integrity in this question.    Sometimes the emotional need of the missionary is to be known as a “master builder.”   As this happens the glory of the master builder missionary displaces the glory of God.   As we start asking questions that first ask Bible questions we’ll most likely continue to keep the glory of God primary.


The third question to ask in the shifting world of missions is the most frequently asked one among local churches related to contemporary missions.   The question is, “How do we most cultivate involvement in missions?”


The shift to this becoming the dominant question happened in the 1990’s.   It is now pervasive.   It appears that “involvement” now practically trumps “effectiveness” as the question of greatest importance in local churches in America’s discussion of missions.   It is a somewhat of a generational shift so it comes with some generational tensions.   


Here are some examples of how this practically works:


Gabriel Mugisha Jacobs with the nurses who first cared for him in Rwamagana

A younger missionary friend of mine summarized her generation as “experience collectors.”  She noted an older generation collected property, possessions, and bank accounts.   Her generation collected experiences as their markers of wealth.


This experience collection fuels the rapid increase in short-term missions.   (And with it a wide range of debate about their value that I won’t address in this blog.)   


It also makes it quite easy to see missions’ involvement as “liking” a Facebook post or re-tweeting a clever line instead of writing a sacrificial check or serving for many years overseas.


An older missionary friend noted it produces a sense of “vicarious grief” where one assumes the experience of seeing images on the news or internet is the same as displaying human to human compassion that alleviates suffering.


With what you can likely discern are my concerns with this shifting question let me ask, “Is the involvement question Biblical?”   


Paul writes lengthy explanations of spiritual gifts in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12-14.   The simplest way I can summarize his point in all of the lengthy discussion is the Holy Spirit places many gifts in our community.   We need to use those gifts in love to build the unity of the body of Christ.


As Paul and Barnabus returned from their missionary journey with news that the Gentiles had come to faith in Jesus there was great rejoicing (Acts 14:27; 15:3).


The local churches in the New Testament age were mutually interdependent.   For instance, Jerusalem seemed to lead in depth of theological reasoning (Acts 15.)    Antioch became the launching pad for Paul’s missionary journeys (Acts 11-18), and Corinth shared their wealth with the church in Jerusalem during a time of famine (1 Corinthians 16:3; 2 Corinthians 8-9.)


Yes, involvement is a Biblical question when thinking through missions’ practice.


Yet, like the question of effectiveness involvement must be tempered by seeking first the glory of God.   Blogs, Facebook, twitter, and short-term missions easily can displace the glory of God in a quest for inappropriately fulfilling the emotional needs of donors.   Our involvement must make all engaged in the missions’ endeavor more Christ like.


The fourth question I propose in the shifting world of missions is, “How do we shepherd well missions?”


Some have and will ask this question in all generations of history.   Yet this is usually not one of the first questions asked.   It requires for one to think broadly.   It requires thinking of others before one’s self.  It takes us to a place of reflection and responsibility that neither the effective nor involvement question will raise.    It takes us past the shallowness of personal or corporate emotional needs.   After all most of are proud of either our effectiveness or our involvement.   


I will refrain from giving examples from my missions’ experience of being shepherded.


Instead, if you are interested in finding examples I suggest you find a missionary.   Then have the courage to start asking questions.   “Have you been well shepherded?   If so, how?  Who?  What happened?   If not, how?  Who?  What happened?   What can I do to be a better shepherd?”   When you hear the answers don’t become either proud or defensive.   Listen well.   Take responsibility.   Make changes no matter how costly.


For myself I’m at a new place in life.   I am 45.  My oldest kids are in university.   I have gray hair.   I have 4 scars on my spine.   In my home region people call me, “Mzee (elder).”  They also call me, “pastor.”   I can’t complain about being poorly shepherded now that I am at a stage where my community expects me to shepherd them.


Let me tell a few stories of why we are missionaries now to North America.    Our parents are old, and though in good health we need to be near them for a season.   Our kids are at university age, and also need our close presence.   We believe the God who placed within us missionary gifting and call will continue to use those gifts.   We also believe He has prepared us with relationships and experiences for our next posting.


Three years ago, Jana and I spent a portion of our Christmas with old friends from Uganda; Godfrey Lutalo and Tabitha Mugabi.   We had known them as university students in Uganda in the early ‘90’s.   They immigrated to the USA.   They did very well academically.   Tabitha completed a master’s degree.   They did very well professionally.   Tabitha had an executive job.   Godfrey had his own business.    They owned a home.   They had 3 kids.   They helped their family immigrate.   Godfrey’s brother joined the USA military and served in Afghanistan.    They were very spiritual people yet they were unable to understand and acclimate to American church culture.   We left dinner with them with the same emotions of compassion that we felt as we first visited Rwanda in 1999.   We knew if God ever called us to the USA we would need to serve people like Godfrey and Tabitha in America.


Dave performing the wedding of Yves and Nicole Musiine

                On our first Sunday in the USA we went to church with Sophia.   As we were walking across the parking lot we saw a familiar face who greeted us, “You are the pastor in Gaculiro.”    Some of our people are in the Chicago area.   In fact, it is at least 11 who are the sons and daughter, and nieces and nephews of our church in Kigali are now in Chicago.  


                They call themselves, Diaspora.   They are from the nations surrounding Africa’s Great Lakes.   They are in Chicago for wide ranging reasons such as education, refugee living, and for many they have become upwardly mobile professionals.   They are “transnational.”  They live practically on two continents.   Their financial contributions home to Africa are the largest source of foreign income.    They also are quite busy on Skype, twitter, Facebook, and email.   They are frequently called and offering advice to complex issues back in Africa.


                Yet, many lack shepherding in America.


                God’s word proclaims, 
“The word of the Lord came to me:  “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds…: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds… who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost… So they were scattered… They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them. (Ezekiel 34:1-6, The New International Version.)”

One of my favorite professors from Abilene Christian University, Dr. Ed Mathews delivered a lecture on the motivation for missions.  He concluded there were three motivations: fear, duty, and love.   Ideally, we’re motivated by love.   However, there will be seasons in which we are motivated by fear.  I love my people, the Diaspora.   I feel a duty to care for my people, the Diaspora.   Yet, as I read Ezekiel’s words I am also afraid of how the Lord would judge me if I ignore my people, the Diaspora; and simply move on to something more profitable in Chicago. 

 God has called me to be a missionary to the Diaspora.   We do not know all this will involve.   However, we do know that God prepares us for whatever difficulties may come.  To answer these four questions related to the shifts in missions for my family means we will seek to serve the Diaspora of Africa’s Great Lakes in North America.

What do these four questions mean for you?

No comments:

Post a Comment