Walking in Memphis….. Uh I mean Africa. (A day in the life of a novice missionary.)

13 11 2013

 

Walking in Memphis….Uh I mean Africa

What’s a day in Nairobi like for Glenn the novice missionary?  Well welcome aboard here we go. This is pretty much the way a day goes down in Nairobi.

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Up at 6:30, I have no idea why, I was up late and don’t have much of a need to arise early, but I do.  Read 1 John, again, make some notes, pray for the day and some brothers and sisters in need and check in on FB and my hometown newspaper.  Breakfast, coffee of course.   Out the door at nine.

I leave the compound I live at.  Normally I try to live among the locals but my brother Imam who just passed, was living in a safe house in a very nice neighborhood.  I have been enjoying the mzungu life of running water and reliable electricity.  Even hot showers!  I leave this environment and head into real Africa.  I wave down a matatu.  A Toyota passenger van that hauls folks to downtown for about 40 bob.  That’s about 45 cents.  We circle the neighborhood several times before we are full.  No bus heads out of the neighborhood till it is full.  Today it took only 20 minutes to fill the bus.  That’s a good day.  The drive to Nairobi is only about another 20 minutes today.  That is very quick.  I visit quickly with the driver in Swahili and then get out my Swahili book and study for the 30 plus minutes I am riding.

 I call my favorite motorbike taxi but find out he was arrested for driving after dark and now has no bike.  The local police swept the city enforcing a law they never enforce just to raise some revenue.   So I decide to walk to the next bus stop that will take me to the Mathare slums.   I decide on a promising short cut only to find out I am quickly lost.  Normally I walk this direction till I see the top of the huge mosque and then right behind it is my bus stop.  I walk for about 30 more minutes and then decide I better get another boda boda.  A motorbike taxi.  I see an Apache motor bike.  It is a new Indian made bike that I have never ridden so I ask the driver if he will take me.  He turns and has very bloodshot eyes.  Normally that’s a problem and has led to me having to get off due to drunken recklessness.  But I think this guys has allergies.  He seems fine.

The bike rides amazingly smooth and he is a very capable driver named Robert.  He is stunned I want to go to the slums, he tells me he won’t even go there normally.  I get that quite a bit here, so I get to tell him about being a missionary and serving the lost and poor.  He drops me off and I get his phone number to get a ride later.  He is polite and pleased.  I meet with the brothers, Pastor Wilson and Fred for a bit.  Then I speak in a classroom situation about baptism to a class of new believers.  It is a subject that takes some finesse here due to cultural and tribal ceremonies.  They circumcise as a part of coming of age here for boys followed by baptism when healed.  The girls have a blessing ceremony then they are baptized.  Now they have Christianized this time of life meaning there are of course some folks that really do surrender to Jesus at this time of life making their baptism valid on some level.  However, I am pretty tough on anyone that has a testimony of a ceremonial baptism.  Mostly the whole Christianizing thing just muddles the whole experience.   Some inform me that they just had their foreheads crossed with water or in fact did not really understand what was going on.  They did not repent and did not surrender to the Lord.  Many questions follow, some quite surprising.  I would love to just lead people to repentance and faith in Christ and baptize them.  But I run into this confusion over the ceremonies so often  I decided to address it with new believers and house church leaders in a big meeting so they could address it personally when the questions arose.  We lead a dozen or so people to the lord in Mathere sometimes and I can’t interview each candidate for baptism.  So this training is great.

After the meeting we head out to look at a sisters business site.  She shows us her little stall and expresses some challenges.  I am making mental notes as to address them as noting opportunities to improve her business that she is blind to.  She is a firm lady that although she is about 70 she is spry and newly saved.  Firm handshake, strictly business.  I like her already.  I served cokes at the baptism meeting and she drank three.  When she realized that I would not deny her, she could not stop herself.  I believe she would have drunk ten if we had them extra.  Growing up so poor made this little drink very special to her.  Let her overdo it.  No harm.

All along the slums we walk.  The streets are black and soaked this morning.  Rained last night here.  I can’t describe the slums to you adequately.  Tin walls that make homes burning hot when we enter in the day.  The streets have human waste in them and children play in the mud holes.  HIV, TB, meningitis, malaria and typhoid are everywhere.  I am told that TB is so prevalent  that everyone, including me, test positive for about two weeks after we visit.  Since I come every month you know what that means.  It is an airborne disease and it is breathed by all.  If that scares you then my advice is don’t come here.  That is just life in the slums.  The murder rate is high but the police could care less.  It’s the slums.  No one even knows how many people live here.  They technically say 3.3 million people live in Nairobi.  But I am told that with the slums it could be 5-7 million.  Some say we are 60% slums either way.

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I love it here.  I have an opportunity to live here or in East Leigh very soon.  East Leigh is actually safer from a building security issue, but I will be living around Muslims and some are radicals.  The Lord will lead.  I will follow.

After several visits and some picture taking I call Robert my new driver for the day.  He arrives promptly and off I go to do some computer work after picking up some printing and other errands.  We weave through traffic in ways that would horrify a Westerner.  But I am told African drivers are totally bland compared to drivers in India.  I find that hard to believe.  But even the Africans say the same thing.

I get dropped off about 200 yards from my destination.   I immediately see a horrified young white couple pushing  two strollers while a street boy, covered in filth and scares,  is walking with them and their children,  begging for food.  I am sure they are terrified that this child will infect their children with something.  They don’t want to be rude, but the look on their face is clearly terror.  I call to him as I approach and hold up a ten bob.  He comes over and I put my arm around him, leading him away from them and give him the coin.  I ask his name.  Isa he says.  AHHHH, I say.  Do you know about Isa Al Mashi?  He looks up at me.  He is not that dirty.  Not by African standards. Not by my standards.  He shakes his head.  I tell him that the Jesus of the bible is the Isa of the Quran.  I assume his parents were Muslim, with that name.  He then nods, telling me he has heard that.  We talk a minute about Jesus but he is only about six.  We switch from English to Swahili and talk about his family.  His mother is at home but he lives with his aunt.  His dad lives in the village back home.  After I get near the internet shop I slip him another 10 bob.  I tell him I would like to walk home with him sometime so he can show me where he lives.  He says he will like that.  He lives in Kibera.  Once it was the largest slum in the world.  I have never gone there.  Maybe I will go with Isa.  Sounds like just the guy to show me around.  I like that.  I will go with Isa.

I post some pictures online and eat supper. I use the free internet to surf the web a bit.  I am tired.  I call Charles my other boda boda driver and he has now gotten out of jail and can come pick me up.  Remember,  I told you they rounded them all up the day before.  He rides me home on his motor bike and it is raining on us.  Hakunashida.  No worries.  We catch up on the ride home in the rain.  I get off the bike at home and give him some extra fare for the ride.  He had to pay 20,000 to get his bike out. Of impound. Over 215 dollars.  He sold the furniture in his living space to get his bike back.

I head in to go to bed.  The power is out.  Great.  I cover my bed in mosquito net and crawl under and light a lamp to read by.  Going through Imam’s things I find two great studies on sharing Jesus with Muslims.  I also, found a book with world view comments on the scripture from an African perspective.  They deal with very different cultural issues here than we do.  I won’t go into them now but everything from money, family to friendships are very different than in the West.  So verses have very different implications.  Things you and I just take for granted are very big issues.  Issues that impact cultural norms in a very important way if taught and understood.  They have blind spots, just like we do in the West.  These books help me understand.  Both tribal Africa, Westernized Africa and of course Islamic Africa.  I am engrossed in learning how to impact this culture for the Kingdom.  Like Paul walking around looking at the idols in Greece, I study and read about the cultures I am in, looking for ways to extend the Kingdom.  What can I use to connect with them?  What must I reject and what can be transformed from darkness to light.  Pray for me that the Lord would lead me and guide me.  Pray that I learn to connect with a culturally diverse community of both Christian, Muslims and Animist.  I am reminded of a quote by C.T. Studd.   I think he is calling me a turnip head in this quote.

“The difficulty is to believe that He can deign to use such scallywags as us, but of course He wants Faith and Fools rather than talents and culture. All God wants is a heart, any old turnip will do for a head; so long as we are empty, all is well, for then He fills with the Holy Ghost. The fiery baptism of the Holy Ghost will change soft, sleek Christians into hot, lively heroes for Christ, who will advance and fight and die, but not mark time.”

I was definitely a called scallywag.  I am a bit like my favorite missionary hero in my calling

 “I wasn’t God’s first choice for what I’ve done for China…I don’t know who it was…It must have been a man…a well-educated man. I don’t know what  happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn’t willing…and God looked down…and saw Gladys Aylward…And God said – “Well, she’s willing.”
– Gladys Aylward

I am sure there are better prepared, better equipped, smarter and more talented people called to serve.  Sometimes they come. Sometimes they don’t.  When they don’t you get someone like me.  Pray for me.   It’s 11:20 time for sleep.

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Jesus was only Joshin

1 11 2013

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I was having a discussion recently with a brother about my ministry in Africa. (Joshing is a term implying that someone is kidding).  This brother announced I was teaching a heresy.  He went and read a blog post where I mention that we teach obeying the teachings of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount.  He said that teaching we were to obey Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, was a heresy.  And though we did not mention it, I also teach obeying, the Sermon on the Plain and I suspect if the bible included everything Jesus ever said, we would find the Sermon on the River, in the City and near the Lake.  My brother announced he could no longer support my ministry since I was teaching this heresy.  Why such drama over teaching to obey Jesus?  Well first let me defend his position, a bit.  Most people hold this view whether they admit it or not.  So don’t be hard on him.  More on that later.  Many people say it is impossible to obey the Sermon on the Mount.  Now this sounds  alarming.  First of all, let’s look at some of the words of Jesus about obeying His commands and teachings.  By the way that includes the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 28:18-20, Go ahead look it up.  It is known as the Great Commission and specifically commands the disciples to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey all the Jesus commanded.   I know of few that do not think this is one of the most significant verses in the NT and in fact one of the most important aspects of Christianity.  Are we to believe that Jesus meant the first part but not the last?

John 14:21, tells us that if we love Jesus and keep His commands, we love Him.  If we don’t, we don’t love Him. Do you love Him? You do if you keep His commandments.  He says so.

John 12:47- Says the teaching of Jesus came straight from the Father and that on judgment day we will be judged by how we obeyed them.  These are Jesus words.  Don’t get mad at me!

Matthew 12:46-50 Jesus was told one time that His mother, brothers and sisters were at the door looking for him. Jesus said His family are those, who obey Him.  Are you a member of His family? Only if you obey. At least, according to Jesus.

John 15:14 Jesus also said His friends obey Him. Does that mean you are not His friend if you don’t obey?  Jesus seems to imply that, doesn’t He.

In John 15 Jesus teaches that we must abide on the vine to bear fruit or be cut off and thrown in the fire.  Then He says that He who remains in Me, bears much fruit. He then goes on to command us to remain in Him and remain in His love.  And then says, if you obey me you will remain in my love.  Fruit is obedience, according to Jesus.

Luke 6:46 And finally, He ask why do you call me Lord and do not do what I am saying.

It seems pretty clear that Jesus meant to be obeyed by scripture.  But you will find theologians trying to negate the plain teachings of Jesus at every turn.  You see, the Kingdom of God, and yes the Sermon on the Mount as well as ALL the teachings of Jesus, comprise the most radical proposition ever offered to man.  And make no mistake, the teachings of Jesus and yes, the Sermon on the Mount, are the teachings of the Kingdom of God.  First, let’s look at a few of the theological opinions for NOT following the teachings of Jesus.  I will list them briefly you can study them for yourself.  (Special thanks to Greg Herrick on compiling this list.  You can find him at bible.org.  I have paraphrased and altered some of the text).

  1. The Absolutist View. This is my view.  Jesus, says obey Him and in fact if we don’t we have built on the sand and great will be our fall. Matthew 7:24-27.  Amazingly this way is dismissed by most because it is a threat to society.  They are right.  It is a new society.  The Kingdom of God.
  2. The Modification View.  Most folks, whether they admit it or not, fall into this category.  It holds to the teachings of Jesus, but just modifies them so that they are not so radical.  Softens them, as it were, and thus leaves society and in fact most lives in no need of any change.
  3. The Hyperbole View.  In this view Jesus simply used hyperbole to make a point.
  4. The General Principle View, proposes that Jesus is laying out some good general principles but they must not be taken to the extreme.  For example turn the other cheek has it application but certainly it must also be ignored or society itself is at risk.  The risk of society and the risk to our capitalistic way of life in particular, is a common theme to ignore the teachings of Jesus.
  5. Another way is the Attitude Not Acts View.  In other words Jesus just wants you to be willing to turn the other cheek.  I heard this one a lot when I was young.  It is that willingness He admires.  He certainly does not expect you to do it in all situations.  Again, society and normal life is at risk if you do.
  6. The Catholics enjoyed using the Double Standard View.  Holding clergy and priest to these special standards but not the general public.  It’s okay for St. Francis of Assisi, but not expected out of Joe the Plumber.  Protestants modify this to mean, this is only for disciples, not believers.
  7. Martin Luther liked the Two Realms View.  The Sermon is practiced in church, but again society would fall if it is practiced outside the church.  Two moralities.
  8. Most reformers love the Analogy of Scripture View.  Taking the various teachings of Jesus and them combining them with other scriptures on similar topics and kind of averaging them out.  I am oversimplifying of course, but like in turning the other cheek one would apply it in a Sermon and explain that wonderful message of forgiveness and gentleness but then quickly turn to an OT verse or a NT verse, sometimes not even addressing the topic, and mitigate the plain teachings as being not necessary or practical.   A very popular view.
  9. In just in the last two years I began to hear of the Interim View.  A truly strange one.  The Sermon on the Mount only applied to the time from Jesus till He died on the cross.  Relegating everything Jesus taught to irrelevancy.  Some go a bit farther and say His teaching applied to the Jews only.  Of course this is an innovation unknown by the church ever in history until these innovators concocted it.  A very recent innovation.
  10. Then I have heard theologian and preachers like Vernon Magee and Hank Hanegraf relegate this to the someday coming millennium.  I think this is a Dispensationalist View.  This is interesting as it seems Jesus did not bother to share this view with anyone.  Neither did the apostles.  It is a position arrived at outside of scripture, from theologians.
  11. Then we have another view, that I think my brother holds that resulted in this post.  It states that Jesus was giving us impossible to follow teachings, so that we would trust in the saving grace of Jesus.  Like the law of the OT it is impossible to keep and drives us to Calvary.  Like the observation above, Jesus and the Apostles failed to contribute to this train of thought.  In fact from the verses listed above you will see that Jesus taught quite the opposite.  He took His teachings very seriously.  Hence my title, in light of this view, Jesus was only Joshin.

So is it impossible to obey Jesus?  Jesus certainly commands it.  We are not His family if we don’t obey, according to Him.  We don’t love Him, unless we obey.  At least that is what Jesus says.  In fact unless He is just “joshin”, Jesus says we will literally be judged by His teachings.

The writings of the first century shed some light on this dilemma.  The disciples of John, Paul and Peter all not only taught the teachings of Jesus were to be obeyed but they wrote about it extensively.  The Didacte, one of the earliest writings we have written around the time John died, perhaps well before, gives clear indication that this was the universal position of the church.  Now before you dismiss these guys as heretics too, let’s take a look at them.  Jesus handpicked the disciples to go into all the world and spread the Good News.  The great commission, as we have seen, told them to spread the teachings of Jesus, to be obeyed.  Paul and possibly Peter, commission such men as Clement and others mentioned in the bible.  Clement and others within one generation of the death of John were teaching obedience to the Sermon on the Mount.  These same men were burned alive, crucified, speared and tortured for Christ.  They are the same men that collected and passed down the documents that make up your bible.  The only reason you know that Gospel of Mathew came from Matthew is because these early leaders recorded that is who wrote it.  History records the early church living the Sermon on the Mount, literally. If they were lying about this, then how can we believe them about the bible you have on your desk?

History records believers like St. Francis and others living the Sermon on the Mount, literally.  The Anabaptist were persecuted for teaching and living this way.  It is a historical fact.  But I am told it is impossible.  I have brothers that have sold all or much of what  they had, given to the poor and changed their entire lifestyles to live this Sermon.  They turn the other cheek and give radically to the Kingdom.  They make no vow and forgive even their enemies.  I am learning from them as they modeling this way of life to me.  I am sincerely trying to follow this model.

Why can’t we live the sermon?  Let’s take a quick look.  Most of the teachings of Jesus, not surprisingly, we all teach to obey.

Repent and be baptized.

Let your light shine, to be great in the Kingdom, be least.

If you are even angry you commit murder,  Well we don’t like that one.

A radical value of relationships even above religion.  I think we all aspire to that and I see it preached often.

Lust is adultery.  I think most everyone agrees this is the case and even one as immature as me can testify to victory in this area.

Live a life of sexual purity, “if you eye causes you to sin pluck it out”.  We teach this to our children.   Marriage and divorce, a very hot topic in the NT and clearly a stumbling block in the church today.  We DON’T want to follow this one. Period.

Turn the other cheek and love our enemy is one Americans struggle with mightily.  We imagine ridiculous scenarios where serial rapist might enter our homes and we need to be able to dispatch them with extreme prejudice to protect our family. We DON’T want to obey this one. However, even secular society has adherents to this type of teaching.  Pacifist, Anabaptist and many other groups are historically documented to be obeying this literally.  So it can be obeyed and was for centuries in the church.

Be perfect.  AHA!  It’s impossible so “let’s call the whole thing off”.  You know potato, potato, tomato, tomato.  Okay, if you don’t know the song you won’t get the pun.  The problem is Jesus never called it off and neither did any of His disciples.

Give unto God, not as unto man, check. (We agree).

Pray for the Lord and not mans benefit.  Check.

The Lords prayer.  No problem here.

Forgive to be forgiven.  We don’t like it always, but hey we’ll let this one go.

Fast for God not man.  No worries there, we say, since we are not commanded to fast, so, we don’t.  This is looked at as just another irrelevant teaching of Jesus anyway.  As for me and my house? check.

Lay treasures up in heaven NOT on earth.  WAIT A MINUTE!  Houston, we have a problem.  We all know that God has ordained America and that means He chose capitalism.  Capitalism requires me to accumulate capital to invest and make more capital.  But Jesus says here and elsewhere that where your treasure is there is your heart.  Sorry, we reject this, hands down.  In fact let’s stop right here.

We really have just a few problems.  We are Americans.  We want our money, our stuff, our big houses our vacations , 60 inch TV’s and we want to be able to get divorced and remarry as many times as we want.    We want to kill the bad guys because that is what brave Americans do. We can’t be perfect anyway so this is just an object lesson.  This is too radical and yes, if everyone did this society as we know if might would be transformed.  But lets face it.  We are worried about ourselves, not society as a whole.  Imagine if we turned the other cheek.  What about Hitler?  I need my IRA, my stocks, bonds and my cool car and I make all this money and lay up all this treasure, um I mean, I am a steward over all this stuff for the glory of God.  The problem is we don’t understand the teaching of the early church on the Two Kingdoms, a principle scattered all through the NT.  More on that another time.

Frankly, you can be a great American.  A great American Christian, tithes, goes to church, reads his bible and may even teach Sunday school.  He prays and every now and then he “might” tell someone about Jesus but most likely will invite them to church.  Great American Christians, vote republican.  They try to raise their kid’s right.  They do many wonderful and Godly things.  I know, that is how I viewed Christianity.

I am not writing this to condemn anyone.  I want to tell you about an amazing way to live.  I want to tell you that the Sermon on the Mount is the abundant Life.  You can obey Jesus. I want to invite you to step outside and beyond being a great American Christian.  I want to invite you on a journey to become a loyal citizen of the Kingdom of God.  You may not be there yet.  That’s okay.  You may want to cut me off for being a heretic.  That’s okay too.  But listen to what I am saying.  One day I discovered something new.  I met men and women that lived the sermon.   They gave radically of their time and recourses, yes money, to extend the Kingdom. They believed that if they invested in the Kingdom, to the determent even their personal comfort, their world, they would have reward in heaven.  Just like Jesus said.  Some reduced their personal work load to spend more time in the Kingdom.  They sacrificed the American dream and replaced it with a new dream.  A Kingdom Dream.  They served the poor and the orphan, they turned the other cheek.

Stop right there Glenn!!!!! This is just radical stuff!  You are crazy!  Heresy!  Yeah, I get that sometimes.  I actually got called a heretic for quoting Jesus one time on Facebook.   But if you don’t believe you are to obey Him, then none of this matter does it?  However, if you do believe Jesus meant what He says, then you know, it matters, oh so much.  So I admit it.  I teach obeying the commands of Jesus, just like the Great Commission says to do.  I am trying to obey my Lord and Master.  He is not only worthy of worship in church on Sunday, but He is worthy of believing and obeying.  And as I am so often seen as quoting Dietrich Bonheoffer, only the obedient believe; only believers obey.  Am I obedient all the time?  Of course not.  But by His grace, the power of His blood, the help of His body and the Holy Spirit, we can be transformed from glory to glory.