It has been several weeks now since I returned from a “mission” trip to Kenya. I put mission in quotations because the mission of a mission is very different from the image that probably forms in our minds at hearing the word. No longer do long-suffering ministers sprinkle Christianity on a heathen population. First of all, one must keep in mind that there are now many more Christians south of the equator than north. The center of Christianity, both numerically and in energy, is Africa and South America. While sanctuaries in Europe and North America are struggling, closing and being re-purposed into secular uses, south of the equator Christianity is enthusiastic, growing and very much alive.
Take as one very small example the African Divine Pentecostal Church of Nairobi, where I had the distinct privilege of preaching. Their Sunday began on a busy street corner a couple of miles from the church. Most members wore robes and hats in orange and white to identify their membership. We sang and danced all the way to church, picking up folks along the way. The church itself was a large, sparse tin building that we might call a “shack” by a small lake in a neighborhood of small homes on dirt streets. The music, singing and prayers were joyful and boisterous. There were colorful banners and decorations. As the temperature rose outside and inside to a sweat-producing heat, the joy grew.
While Kenya’s language is said to be English (in large letters) and Swahili (small letters), most average folks stick to Swahili, and so my words to the congregation were translated. The process fell into a rhythm of a few words, a translation and a vocal response. It was a truly invigorating experience.
These days, that very experience is the heart of “mission.” It is not taking Christianity; it is a sharing of Christianity. It is a visible demonstration of solidarity and commonality. It is a ministry of presence.
Following a trip to see some of the specific work of faith-based organizations in Kenya, primarily educational and ecumenical organizations, I, along with six other seminary students and recent graduates, attended three days of cultural immersion classes at Eastern Africa Catholic University. In the mornings, we received classroom instruction on Kenyan culture, religion and politics. In the afternoons, we were sent with a university student into the community to interview native Kenyans involved in what we had studied that morning. There were many opportunities to interaction, riding private “gypsy” buses into the neighborhoods of Nairobi. The areas we visited were sprawling, make-shift neighborhoods of small pieced together homes, many with all sorts of commercial enterprises facing the street. Pots and pans, clothes, hardware of all sorts and furniture were displayed for sale along the dusty gravel street. I was able to interview a native healer, a pharmacist, several church leaders, and a couple of politicians. The native healer was apprehensive, but talked freely when assured I was not from the government.
The trip was sponsored by Global Ministries, which annually takes one student or recent graduate from each seminary affiliated with the Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ to see firsthand the work being done around the world. The trip was preceded by three days of orientation at their headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio in October, 2012. I sincerely believe that Global Ministries if effectively addressing its mission of worldwide ministry.
By Larry Garcia, PTS alum 2013