MIssional Immersion

8 04 2014

Immersion: It’s a process

There are many types of missional approaches a person can take. Immersion as a missional approach has many benefits to offer. It is also very difficult. It is the approach I have chosen or rather felt called to. To be more specific, vulnerable immersion. The vulnerable is added to actually increase the level of immersion. In immersion missions we live, eat, work and serve practically the people we are called to reach. To be vulnerable is to also, NEED, the people we serve. I came with many preconceptions. I was going to live with the locals and serve them directly. I had the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and with that I was going to teach them to obey the commands of Christ. As I began I found I bore little lasting fruit. I learned I needed to seek to understand before I could be understood. Paul did a bit of this in walking around the Greek city of Athens trying to learn how to best relate to the city he was determined to approach with the Gospel. Jesus instructs us to go in vulnerable when He models teaching disciples to go out without purse, extra clothing and food for the mission work. They were intentionally going out needing to find a person of peace to provide housing, food and a segue into the community. While I teach going house to house to share the Gospel, Jesus says to STAY in one place after finding the person of peace, living and eating with them and using them as a connection to the community around them. It is genius. That is what I have succeeded in personally doing in Tanzania.

 

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I am stared at, misunderstood and imposed upon, by Western standards, daily. I cannot avoid it. It is the price I pay. Sometimes I yearn to simply be left alone for a bit and just to regroup. This, too, is not understood. We Americans, in particular,  are an individualistic group. Perhaps me, more than most. By the very nature that a person leaves their homeland to go and reach another person, they are usually very  individualistic. In Africa, the individual is not what is important. Rather it is the network of friends and family that make up the community or tribe that matters most. One’s peers from school, your age group from school, family and the social network one forms in society, is the very foundation of life. There were no reliable banks or institutions to rely on for thousands of years here so this was a matter of survival during hard times. And it works quite well, while it is foreign to Westerners.

By immersing ourselves into the lives of the people we serve we remove walls and barriers. Cultural, stereotypical and practically. We go in poor, since we serve the poor, and remove as much of the stigma of being the rich white person as much as possible. It is never gone, but we better understand each other and have to deal with these preconceptions head on. So many things are baffling to the Western mind and in reverse, so much about us is baffling to the Africans I seek to serve. We are viewed through the lens of popular culture that says we are bright, rich and almost magical. It seems we have all the answers and power. While saying this, we are also a mystery. To a person, even many generations removed from the animist beliefs of their ancestors, the Africans still have many animist beliefs informing their perceptions and forming a worldview very different from a Westerner. In Animism, if a person is more successful and has an advantage over others, as Westerners do, we have “it”. They don’t know what “it” is but we have it. To an Animist mindset, a person can gain this advantage by witchcraft, being in tune with mystical ways or perhaps some even more puzzling way. While an African may be a Christian, these past beliefs greatly influenced their parents and peers for hundreds of years. They are not removed by simply educating them differently.

 

I recently read a story about a student from India. She was in Med school.  She was going to one of the best universities in England.  On the last day of class she turned in her paper.  She was an excellent student and very confident of her getting a high score.  She turned to her professor and told him as she went out the door that she had now learned what the West had to teach her.  She had seen the bacteria and viruses under the micro scope and knew how to treat disease using Western methods.  However, she told the professor that in her country they KNEW how these killing diseases came to be in a person.  To her professors horror, she announced they came into being as invisible witches bit people on the back. She had heard all he had to teach and all the education he could give but still held to her animist beliefs.  Education will not fix these cultures.

 

Below I will give a few examples but to truly study some societal situations I recommend a book call, African Friends and Money Matters. Money, time and communication are the areas where we see these conflicts and misunderstandings confront both cultures in their most blatant ways. Family could just as well be included in that list.
Concerning family, let me make an observation. In an African commentary I found a very interesting observation that shed light on family in Africa. In the bible, in Genesis, we are taught that we are to leave our past family and cleave to our wife. The two become one.  In this commentary, African leaders pointed out that this was not part of the African culture and their perspective has helped me understand things I observe much better. In Africa a man may negotiate with the parents of the wife to pay for her. It is sometimes called a bride price, and can look like this. The women is of value to the agrarian lifestyle here as a laborer. Women do the majority of the mundane farming. They weed, plant, cook, raise the children and harvest in many places, with very little help from the men. As such, they are a valuable part of the family’s success and survival. When a man wants to marry a daughter he is asking to take a valued laborer with him to wed and start a new family. She will be missed and her contribution gone. As such, depending on the tribal context, he may “purchase” her with cattle, money, goats or all of these. In fact, he may make payments from time to time to compensate for her loss his entire marriage. He will be called upon during times of difficulty and need for compensation.  She will go to live with him and contribute not only to his home, but to the shamba, or family farm, owned by his parents and or patriarchs. But she is STILL part of her parent’s family in many ways she will stay connected through communication and perhaps never truly be regarded or accepted into his family in an intimate way. The slums I work in are made up mostly of women. They come here due to a common theme. Their husbands died or fell out of favor with the home family,  and then died and they came here to survive. Most were thrown off the shamba of the husband soon after his death since they have no right to the land or home. They all belonged to the husband and with him gone the home can best be used for other family members. This is most prevalent among the poor. Many can’t go home to their parents  as their position has been filled by another by now and since they have perhaps 5-10 mouths to feed, they may be perceived as a liability. So they are not welcome to their parent’s home. They wind up homeless or in the slums.

The African leaders in the commentary made this curious situation clear to me. I saw it everywhere but did not understand the dynamics. We can quote the bible verses and teach all we want on things being otherwise. But only true discipleship and the embracing of new Kingdom values can replace these old values. I seriously doubt that outside the Kingdom of God and the influence of the Church, this situation will not change, if at all, for many, many generations. Africans don’t embrace change like the West does. The teachers in this commentary were admitting this was a very alien biblical teaching that needed to be addressed. I agree.
Personal space and possessions are another area of great adjustment for me. It is not uncommon to get on the small buses in Tanzania called matatu’s that are designed to carry 11 people in a very crowded environment and have as many as 27 people on the bus when we try to disembark. This is normal here and viewed as acceptable. I have even been in a restaurant eating alone and have people come in and sit at my table to eat. They can’t imagine my wanting to be alone. Besides, it is very interesting to meet new people here and white people, wazungus, have “it” so meeting one and befriending them is viewed as potentially very beneficial. I chose to be immersed but of course no one prepares you for these types of things. Complete strangers, some with noble, curious and good intentions approach me everyday wanting to greet me and become my friend. I simply can’t befriend everyone here. And of course there are those that have less than noble intentions in meeting me. They just see me as an ATM machine of sorts and perhaps may even want to lure me away and rob me. Though this is very rare in Tanzania. Robbing whites I mean, in an obvious, put a knife to your throat kind of way. It is more common in other countries like Kenya and the Congo.

I have had my personal belongings given away to perfect strangers when I was gone out of town. I had three pairs of sandals. A man visited a family member and his sandal broke. So my host family just took one of my extra pairs and gave them to the man. Without asking or really telling me. I had a very nice pair come up missing. The next day I see a stranger with some on just like mine. I asked about it and it was explained to me that he had a need and I had three pairs so they gave them mine. OK. I could have reacted like a good Westerner and told them that I had a reason for those sandals and that I would be happy to help but that it was only polite to be given the opportunity to chose to help. One pair of sandals  was to be a gift for a friend coming to Africa and was a special type used only by the Masai.  Instead I said, great, now I understand. When you have two cloaks and your neighbor none give them a cloak. Even if you don’t get to make that call. I had to laugh to myself on that one.

Money is perhaps the most baffling to us in the West. When we want money we go to the bank, we take a second job, or pull out our debit or credit card. Here, a person goes to their friends. It is actually considered selfish to save money. If a person is seen by a friend in a bank here they will frequently tell others “you did not see me here”. They smile at each other knowingly. You see there is always such need and friends and family are so financially connected, that there is always a need to be met in your circle of connections. Everyone has borrowed and loaned to their friends. So everyone owes someone something all the time. To save is to selfishly hoard here. When a person has a windfall, of sorts, they frequently and quickly start building a home. Even if they only have money for a foundation or a wall they will quickly pay someone to build it. Even if they may take many years to complete it in this piece meal manner they proceed. It is the only way to keep any of one’s earnings honorably. African is full of partially built houses. They are literally everywhere.

I frequently, and that means almost daily, have people I know and strangers come to my door asking for money. This is very frustrating for Westerners. At least until you understand how community works. An example was a widow down the road. She came to my house and explained where she lived. Her son was going to have a formal engagement ceremony. There would be a feast, requiring food, rented chairs and perhaps entertainment. I did not know this lady. But here it was a normal request for a neighbor to make, even if you don’t really know them. By contributing you are, in effect, joining the community. You are deciding to connect with this other human being. To turn them away is risky. It is always best to give something. If you can’t you simply must, let them know that you can’t now, but that you sincerely hope that they will come back the next time they are in need. You must press the issue. It is vital for your position in the community. I gave about eight dollars. A solid gift in this community.

I was at first very taken back by this. As a Westerner, we are taught to never beg or if possible to never even ask close friends for help unless we are desperate. And this desperation is very humbling or even humiliating to us. Here it is expected and of great value in defining relationships. I had a lady down the road needing to pay a huge medical bill. Had she come the first several months I was here I would have felt very burdened and in fact, put upon, to help her. She needed about 2000 US dollars for a huge medical bill for a treatment that had saved her son. She had borrowed, somehow, about half of the money and now if she did not pay it back she would lose everything. She had raised half of it through her network connections but still needed a thousand. She came to me. I now understood she was giving me another opportunity to connect with the community. I now realized that, while I was welcome to pay it all, I was also welcome to simply do what I thought was appropriate giving my financial circumstances and my desired relationship. I told her that I had no money that day for her, but that I would certainly help her. I thanked her for asking me. She was very happy and a few days later I took her the equivalent of 50 dollars. This amount would signify that I wanted a significant relationship with her and was comparative to a gift of a caring uncle, but not the equivalence of a father, close friend of means or adult child.

 

It has been a struggle to understand my place here in ministry, relationships individually and in the community as a whole. Learning the language is increasingly giving me a better connection to these people. I live in a mud and homemade brick home just like them. I have no running water and no electric power is allowed on the park reserve I live on near Mt. Meru, adjacent to the Arusha National Park in Tanzania. In Nairobi I live in an area that you would call a slum. But I know it to be lower middle class. I may someday really be one of these people. For now it is a process that has a long way to go. It is my desire to become a true African. I want to first, of course, be a loyal Kingdom Citizen. The Western mindset is strong in me, as it is in all, raised in the West. But I find myself thinking less like a Westerner and at least very understanding of the African mindset. I am a bit of a hybrid right now. But I stay vulnerable. Needing the help of my neighbors and to contribute to them as a good neighbor and friend would. I bring my Kingdom values into every situation and use them all to teach the love of Jesus and strive to model Kingdom principles. I refuse to participate in all actions deemed counter to the Kingdom Culture and have succeeded in the area. Obviously, I don’t participate in anything remotely animist or festivals and observances contrary to good judgment.

Please pray for me to learn to love and honor these people as I extend Jesus and the Kingdom of God into their lives. They are worth all my efforts, as Jesus counted them worthy to die for them. Who am I to do less than lay my life down for them as well.

 

 

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Why I Don’t Do Micro Loans

9 03 2014

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First, let me say that many dear brothers and sisters around the world make micro loans.  I am not writing nor posting this to be critical of the work of others, done in good faith, to benefit the poor in the name of Jesus.  But I am frequently asked to make micro loans by people that believe in this methodology of helping the poor.  Rather than answer this question over and over, I am just going to make this post on the topic so you know why I do what I do and if you like we can discuss it further. I don’t mean for this post to end communication nor dialog on this issue.  I am happy to consider and discuss the views of others on this point.  I am particularly happy to discuss it with those truly desiring to serve the least of these and are searching for ways to do so.  I applaud the motives and desire of those that disagree with me on this point.  We are together in our desire as brothers and sisters in our determination to help others.  If you disagree with me you are NOT my enemy, nor are you a heretic.

I would like to point out that I am asked every month to make these types of loans.  There is great need and believe it or not Westerners really believe in this method.  They will almost throw money at programs to help others learn to provide for themselves, particularly, since we in the West are the most prosperous people history has ever known and many of us believe this is due to capitalism.  So Westerners are enthusiastic about spreading capitalism all over the world to make the world a better place.  They are willing to risk their money to make this happen.  It is a noble and admirable motive.

But what does Jesus say about this process.  First let us look at the process we engage in to make a micro loan.  Some of the steps are very wise and prudent, regardless of your position on this topic. Many agencies and ministries require the applicant to submit a business plan, meaning, the borrower has to give thought and display responsible goals and planning to submit the request.  That is a very good idea.

Many loans, before being rewarded,  require borrowers to be trained in basic business practices and ethics.  Another excellent idea.  I am sure there are other great business applications and practices that are implemented by these organizations to help the borrower succeed.

Now on to Jesus. There are some scriptures that give me great pause when looking at micro loans.  The first one may surprise you.

33“Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.’ 34“But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,… Matthew 5:33-34

Now this is a verse commonly explained away by theologians with the claim that there was a problem in Israel at the time of people deceiving each other through the use of vows and oaths.  While I have never read ANY primary source material from that era proving that point I am willing to entertain it.  The verse itself give credence to this theory.  However, does that mean that Jesus’ teaching on this matter is thus void for all of time due to it being a cultural problem?   But lets look at the verse a bit more closely.  First the verse quotes another verse from the OT. Verses like these below are being referenced in this statement by Jesus.

Leviticus 19:12
“‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.

Numbers 30:2
When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.

And Jesus says plainly not to make a false oath or vow.  So He does deal with people being dishonest in the practice.  But He continues,  and says “but I say to you make no oath or vow at ALL”.  Pretty clear isn’t it.  This is one of other verses where Jesus mentions an OT command saying “you have heard it said”, then  and then adds “but I say” .  Meaning the old is passed away and now something new is being commanded.  And what does He command?  “Make no oath at all”.

But when we make a micro loan we ask them to promise to pay the loan back.  In fact we not only make them promise, we typically ask them to sign a contract or agreement, taking their simple yes or no and turning it into an oath to repay.  We are asking them to disobey Jesus and to sign, “vow” to repay.  Clearly their yes or no is not enough for us.

Jesus said to go into all the world and make disciples teaching them to obey all that He commanded.  I am making disciples and teaching them to obey Jesus.  But, when I make a micro loan and ask them to sign a contract or an agreement, I am asking them to disobey this command to make NO oath.  Jesus said if you love me you will obey my commands.  In fact He says His brothers, sisters, mothers and family, are in fact those that obey Him.  He says that those who hear only and do not obey, are building their house on the sand.  And, great will be their fall.

Not only that but Jesus has a great deal to say about lending itself.

 “If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” — Luke 6:34-35

Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.” —Luke 6:30

So those of us lending are in fact expecting to receive something back aren’t we? Now most micro loan people I know routinely forgive those who can’t repay.  But again, we are told that if we love Jesus we will obey His commands.  He is commanding us to loan expecting nothing back.  I know of no micro loan that does not want to be paid back and some also charge interest.  I won’t even deal with that here as even the OT forbid the charging of interest to our brothers and sisters in the Lord. 

Then we have Romans 13:8 Owe no man anything, but to love one another, for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

So I am teaching obeying Jesus and I also teach we obey the scriptures in the rest of the New Testament as well.

So in the process of making a micro loan we are loaning money hoping to get something in return, asking our brothers and sisters for interest sometimes and asking for a vow to repay. I am trying to make disciples who OBEY Jesus.  But if I make micro loans I want them to make an exception. Why.  I will tell you why.

We are not trying to stumble, nor trying to make others stumble.  But we love and believe in capitalism.  Frequently when I talk about giving money to the poor to start a business I am flooded with arguments about the advantages of capitalism over communism.  I am always puzzled by this.  I never mentioned communism.  But somehow to disparage an application of capitalism I am cast into the position that the only alternative is the failed and ungodly practice of communism.  I find this troubling.  Was Jesus a communist?  Were the Apostles?  No, they were loyal Kingdom Citizens.  Loyal to King Jesus.  When the church grew in Jerusalem there were great needs and many brothers and sisters had property and goods.  Did they set up a Christian banking service?  No, there was no precedent for that in any of Jesus teachings.  Rather, they obeyed the King.  They gave to the poor.  They preferred others more than themselves.  They would not see their brother in need and say “be warmed and be filled”.  They knew that was in fact, NOT an expression of saving faith.  The Good Samaritan did not loan the wounded man money.  They required no oaths from those that they helped.  No, they sold what they had and shared among each other and there was no need among them.

Acts 4 records what they did.

   32And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.

I am fully aware that many tout the great success of micro loan programs.  I must say I am very suspect of the claims of 95 to 100 percent repayments.  I know many who have engaged in micro loans and NO ONE has experienced these numbers.  Wall Street would die for those claims to be fulfilled in the business world of the West.  Even in the U.S. there are times when only one in seven new businesses make it the first two years.  Am I to believe that in the third world, that illiterate destitute people are outperforming Wall Street bankers and the American economy?  My brothers in Africa’s experience is quite different.

We are called to make disciples, but many of my brothers have seen their relationships changed more to resemble collection agents and loan officers.  Frequently, when a brother in the Lord fails in a business venture and cannot pay a loan back they are ashamed and literally hide from the lending brother.  We have actually had believers move from an area for the shame of failing a brother, never to be seen or heard from again. 

Does everyone that I make a grant to succeed? NO.  But I don’t lose brothers and sisters when they struggle.  They don’t owe me anything.  I give with the understanding  that should they be able to provide for themselves and have some left over to help others, they will do so.  An admonition in the bible.  I teach you don’t work you don’t eat, work as unto the Lord, share with those in need, sacrifice to serve and give to others.  I ask all believers I help to train three other people in the same trade.  That’s it.  Instead of hiding from me when they are behind on notes, they come to me when they are struggling and ask for advice.  Sometimes I have to help them with a hoe in my hand or picking corn.  We figure it out together.  Because they owe me nothing, they are free to engage me and be honest about the business condition and challenges.  There is no fear.  They cannot fail me.  

Well I hope you at least understand my position.  I am reminded of  statement from Jesus. 

You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.  And you do many things like that.” — Mark 7:9-13

This verse opens with an amazing statement. 

You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!

To Westerners I would make a similar statement.

“You have a fine way of set aside the teachings of Jesus, whenever it conflicts with your beloved capitalism”.

American Christianity has become very interested in what “works”.  I remember the Baptist getting all involved in buses for bringing kids to church when I was young.  Later everyone added greeters in the parking lot to make people feel more welcome when they get out of their cars.  They added gymnasiums and kids programs to bring in young couples with children.  And yes, we have decided to use our successful capitalist model in the Kingdom as well.  I do not criticize the motives on any of these practices.  I would merely remind people of a few things.

It is obedience, not success that is my goal.  I don’t care what works, if what works is in conflict with the plain teachings of Jesus.  I don’t even embrace things that work, when they don’t conflict with Jesus plain teachings.  I want to walk in His steps.  I want to do things the Jesus way.  I can take scriptures from all over the bible and make any point I want to.  A man took me to task on that statement once and I said chose a topic.  He chose tattoos.  It took me about five minutes to prove that tattoos were awesome in God’s eyes using the bible.  You see the bible says that my name is written on God’s hand and over His heart. So if God has tattoos I want to be like God.  Forget that the Israelis were told not to mark their bodies.  That was just a historical cultural problem.  See what I mean? 

Sola scriptura can be insufficient.  Even Luther, despised parts of the New Testament even why crying “sola scriptura”.  I am into solo Christo.  It is He who will judge us on that day.  It is He who I will obey.  And yes I know all the verses in the OT about this subject. 

God bless you.  I am not your enemy, I am your brother.  I hope you can at least understand my position and I am happy to visit with you on this topic any time.