Friday, May 10, 2013


   One of the debates in contemporary missions is about definitions.   What is a missionary?  A few of my colleagues use the criteria of a being a “faith mission” as part of the definition.   These friends of mine define missionary to be one who raises his personal support through prayer; and networking with family, friends, and churches.   The definition almost makes sense until one opens Acts 18, and finds Paul without financial support making tents in Corinth.   Does Paul take a missionary break then?   Acts says clearly no.   He keeps preaching, making disciples, and developing churches.

                I’m convinced being a missionary is about the function that a missionary provides to the body of Christ.   A missionary is one sent from his earthly home by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of making disciples and developing churches.

                Yet, sometimes both economics and local sending church dynamics make this missionary task difficult for one to make a living.   

                In Uganda I traded cars and puppies for cash.   In Rwanda, I lectured at Kigali Institute
A batch of our puppies.  Thank you Lord
of Science and Technology (KIST) to first get a visa
.  I also was paid a retainer some years by Hendrix College to facilitate the Rwanda Presidential Scholars.  In all nations I’ve been a missionary I’ve volunteered with many different organizations just to be salt and light.   (A few assumed I was paid as they saw my joy, but it was just pure missionary fun.)

                Each month that passes in the USA convinces me more and more of America’s need for missionaries.   Yet, each month our steady support drops.   I’ve been looking for work.

                A friend called me about a month ago, and suggested I blog about the journey.  It has been a great learning curve and ethical wrestling match.  I was worried if people in the USA knew I was looking for extra work our family’s support would further decline.   My friend felt just the opposite.   I’ve learned to trust friends’ judgment.   Here’s the job hunting journey:

                The first friends to offer their counsel when they heard that one of our key partners was unable to continue to support us as missionaries were employees of the American government.   They knew that God had blessed us with friendships among many diverse leaders in East Africa.   They also knew that the Lord had given us greater insight into Africa’s Great Lake’s region than most who share our skin color.   They suggested we apply for employment with the American government analyzing dynamics in Africa.   They pointed us in an application direction.   I took a look and wrestled for two weeks.   A few weeks before the suggestion a Munyrawanda woman adviser told me there was a rumor already I had such a job.  I think the Lord led her to prepare me for the discussion.   I cannot judge my friends who do such labor.  They keep me and others safe.   Yet, the jobs would require for me to betray pastoral confidences.   Also, it would require living in a world of shadows.   My call is to bring light.  At best I only have five to six decades of life remaining on this earth.   My primary loyalty is to an eternal kingdom.   To pursue this job option was not an ethical option for my missionary call.

                Many consider me to be a skilled preacher.   Churches where I have preached have grown.  At times my preaching has created tension, but time has shown those tense moments were usually ones where the prophetic nature of preaching confronted sin.   My heritage is in a cappella Churches of Christ.   A few Churches of Christ in Chicago were in transition.   I applied for jobs as an interim preacher.   No one called.  All sent gracious letters saying they found another.   I don’t know the reason that no one called.   However, God gave us an opportunity in Rwanda to fully embrace my heritage’s Restoration ideals.   Like those who went before me this came with a cost.  I am rarely called to preach in a cappella Churches of Christ, but always thankful for an opportunity to serve my spiritual extended family. 

                I became aware of part-time pastoral jobs with mega-churches in Chicago.   I put in some applications and was surprised at how rapidly I got into the interview process.   Then the process just disappeared.   In some ways it was a bit puzzling.   Yet, I was thankful to hear that the positions were largely filled with volunteers.   The body of Christ had mature servants.   Yet, another adviser told me something I suspected.  At 46 I’m too old to start in a mega-church system.   The rule of thumb is to only hire those 35 and under to start in the system.

 Other friends knew that I usually spent an evening or two per week visiting friends and family from churches I shepherded in hospitals.   Many times our simple prayers for healing were heard.   Also, sometimes we would be able to listen to East Africa's bzee (elder statesmen) as they reflected on the substance of their lives.  I heard stories from those who started churches and schools, thrived in refugee living, blessed farms and businesses, doctored the sick, and even were alumni with historical figures from Revival leaders to Post-colonial political leaders.   The wisdom shared in those hospital visits was immense.   

Could I make a living as a hospital chaplain in the United States?   I sent off a few resumes to hospitals and hospices where a friend knew someone.   I had a few enjoyable interviews.  Yet I was not "certified as a chaplain in the State of Illinois."   I would have to go back to school, spend a year or so, and go through a chunk of change while still providing for a family.   It did not seem prudent to pursue a hospital chaplain job as a living.
               The Lord was very kind with our media involvement in Africa.   Our radio show on Monitor FM (now KFM) in Uganda was well rated.   The column I wrote for The Rwanda Focus was well read.  A few suggested that I seek employment in the media.   I found a Christian radio station in Chicago that needed an employee.   I read their Statement of Faith.   I don’t share their core beliefs.   To apply for the job would be deceptive.   I knew of a few other media houses in Chicago.  In Africa I’d stop by their office, meet an editor, have coffee, and see what happens.   When I’ve stopped by I can’t even get through the door.  I can’t find any way to start the dialogue.   The rumor’s I’ve heard are consistent.   With the internet most media houses revenue is down and few are hiring.   Also, “you need to know someone.”   Those that know me live in East Africa.

                I’ve lectured at various universities for years.   My student reviews have always been
2012 KIST graduation with Ntabgoba Jovani
  It seemed pertinent to apply for lecturing jobs.   I had pleasant conversations, but the smaller Christian colleges were having financial difficulties and not hiring.  The Christian colleges that were doing well were hiring, but required a Ph.D.   I noticed most of those on their faculty did not have as much ministry experience as me, but I only have a master’s degree.   I applied anyway, but was not hired.   I found several community colleges that were looking for lecturers in areas such as ethics, religion, diversity, humanities, and philosophy that would only require a master’s degree.   I have applied, but so far not received any interest.   A friend at one community college told me, “You won’t get a call unless someone you know is on staff and recommends you.”   He’s trying to move things along, but I have not been called.

                However, 21 months ago, Roni Mugaki (a Kenyan youth pastor and friend studying at Moody Bible Institute) had an idea.   What if some of us Diaspora tried to do a church plant just targeting ordinary unchurched people in Chicago?   I thought he was nuts.   Then I’ve started reading, listening, and walking through Chicago neighborhoods.   Somewhere between 60 and 90% of Chicago is unchurched (depending on neighborhood, survey method, etc…)   As many as 50 churches close per year in the Chicago area.   Somewhere in the years between 2040 and 2050 the United States will no longer have a majority of Caucasians.   Ethnic based churches are losing 80% of their youth.   Anglo churches are also losing 80% of their youth.   Yet, I can quickly find a small but growing number of churches that are rapidly growing in the USA.   The winning combination beyond the call of the Holy Spirit seems to be working with second generation immigrants to reach multi-generational and multi-cultural.   In a way it is just a recycle of some of the dynamics that led to the First and Second Great Awakening.    Maybe, Roni is not nuts?   Maybe this is a good idea to gather a core of African Diaspora and do a multi-cultural church plant?

                I decided to bounce Roni’s idea off of a couple church planting organizations in the Chicago area.  They’ve responded, “Can you give us an application?”

                Hmm?  Before I left Rwanda some friends told me that they thought we would church plant in America.   They thought that was what God had created us to be.   Also, they thought our thought process and pragmatic living would take us to church planting.   The last thing I wanted to do was church plant.   Yet, it now is what I see when I close my eyes and dream.   This seems like a call.

                I’m cautious to church plant alone.  Even if a church planting organization offers some financial resources this would require fund discovery.  Yet, America needs missionaries.  Our exploration of tent making has taken us back to church planting.

                Can you join us in prayer and support? 

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