It seems to be a rare question these days to hear, “What is the most responsible thing I can do?”
Maybe, it has to do with definitions. Here are some relevant ones of “responsible”:
“Liable to be required to give account, as of one's actions or of the discharge of a duty or trust. Being a source or cause. Able to make moral or rational decisions on one's own and therefore answerable for one's behavior.” (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/responsible.)
“Having the job or duty of dealing with or taking care of something or someone. Able to be trusted to do what is right or to do the things that are expected or required. Involving important duties, decisions, etc., that you are trusted to do.” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/responsible.)
“Having a capacity for moral decisions and therefore accountable.” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/responsible.)
|Dave's parents, Lloyd and Lois Jenkins|
As we entered Uganda in 1993 another side of responsibility gripped our attention. It was communal responsibility. Not only did one have personal responsibility, one had corporate responsibility to one another. (There are many “one another” commands in the New Testament though our individualism before entering Africa did not see their full implications.) We use the phrase, “We grew up in Uganda” to describe those years. They were formative. At times they felt like all the paradigms we used to understand the world were stripped from us. However, Uganda graciously reconstructed us. Finally, the light bulb went on. In our American Christian world of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s the basic building block of society was the nuclear family. In Africa the most basic building block of society was the extended family.
|Jana's parents, Gaston and Jan Tarbet in Rwanda|
One example of those formative years was our local Resistance Committee / Leadership Committee (RC/LC1). As Uganda recovered from her “30 Years of Bananas” (from Alex Mukulu’s play summarizing Uganda’s first 30 post-colonial years) governance went to the grassroots. Every “village” of approximately 3,000 people elected 9 leaders who were responsible for everything in their community that ranged from marital counseling to road building to security.
We went to most of the RC/LC1 meetings. One discussion about security was a literal “light bulb” experience in community responsibility. Uganda’s past had created great poverty with a number of accessible weapons. It was a security nightmare. Yet if addressed from the perspective of a community security could be excellent. One of the difficulties was poor infra-structure. There were no street lights in urban areas. Our RC / LC1 came up with a solution. Everyone who had electricity in their home must have working light bulbs to illuminate the portion of their property adjacent to local roads and foot paths. If one did not take that responsibility they would be fined.
My individual responsibility was a little offended. Shouldn’t this matter just be how I worked out my budget? Shouldn’t I be free to choice where I would place security lights? Couldn’t I just keep my home lit? Why did I need to light the local road?
Yet, Uganda was right. I had not only individual responsibility. I had communal responsibility. For our community to be safe I needed to take responsibility to keep the road near my home lit. If all did this our community would be secure.
The prophets of the Old Testament wrestled with this communal responsibility. Ezekiel’s call was to be a watchman for Israel. If he did not warn Israel he would be held accountable for Israel’s failings (Ezekiel 3; 33.)
I cannot remember my RC / LC1 Chairman referring back to Jesus’ words, but my Boss spoke a very similar message of communal responsibility to bring light.
“And you, beloved, are the light of the world. A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden. Similarly it would be silly to light a lamp and then hide it under a bowl. When someone lights a lamp, she puts it on a table or a desk or a chair, and the light illumines the entire house. You are like that illuminating light. Let your light shine everywhere you go, that you may illumine creation, so men and women everywhere may see your good actions, may see creation at its fullest, may see your devotion to Me, and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it. (Matthew 5:14-16. The Voice.)”
Eugene Peterson translated my Boss’ words,
|Christ's Church Rwanda on Gaculiro Hill|
“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-6. The Message.)”
My Boss another time said,
“No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed. A lamp is
“So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” (Luke 8:16-18. New Living Translation.)
Two years ago our family sensed the Lord was asking us to leave our home in Africa, and return to the USA to grow ROC’s network and shepherd Diaspora from Africa’s Great Lakes (http://jenkinsinrwanda.blogspot.com/2011/10/called-to-return.html.)
As we returned to the USA our support declined and we explored other options besides missionary support to make a living (http://jenkinsinrwanda.blogspot.com/2013/05/missionary-support-making-tents-looking.html.) Yet this exploration brought us right back to church planting.
We followed our missionary disciplines of prayer, compassion, friend making, and listening (http://jenkinsinrwanda.blogspot.com/2012/11/everything-i-needed-to-know-about.html.)
This journey led us to the question, “What is the most responsible thing we can do at a time like this?”
Without a doubt the most responsible thing we can do is to attempt to church plant again.
While we saw God grow church planting movements in the season He gave us in Africa the movement of churches that knew us in the United States declined in attendance numbers and financial strength. Not only did this happen among our supporters Christianity’s influence in the USA declined significantly from 1993 to 2012 in many denominations. This decline of influence was accompanied by great turmoil which left many individuals deeply wounded.
Yet while there was communal turmoil God gave us the spiritual gifts of church planters. He gave us a deep network and experience among Diaspora from Africa’s Great Lakes. He nurtured our gifts, and developed more skills as shepherds. North America’s racial and ethnic composition is rapidly shifting. One of the greatest niches for church development in North America in the next 20 years is among second and third generation immigrants. There are few whom the Lord has given so much as us.
Our parent’s values tell us to always assume personal responsibility. Our AfricanIf we don’t assume responsibility we will be held accountable by our heritage, community, and the Lord. When we assume responsibility the task initially feels overwhelming. Yet God honors and blesses those who obey when the future is full of mystery.
In this season in North America we cannot put a light on every corner. Yet, we can develop local lights near our home. Our Uganda LC / RC 1 is right. Now is the time to church plant again. It is the most responsible thing we can do.