The church in Africa as a thriving market (Gitau)

Maggie Gitau, new PhD student in World Christianity provides this imageof the church in Africa:

….Some years ago I lived in the backyard of Toi Market, a bustling and sprawling second-hand clothes market annexed to the Kibera slums.  During the 2007/ 2008 political violence it was razed to the ground. After it was reconstructed the market was as alive as ever, but in the reordered version, I found my way much more easily and could direct a stranger on where to find products. Later, I watched a TV feature that showed how suburban residents come to new Toi Market to shop, freely mingling with kibera slum dwellers, all looking for quality deals on clothes and foodstuff. The Church in Africa is quite like that market. It is alive and aflame with all sorts of activity. It has a lot to offer to the continent, but I do not think we have yet realized let, alone appropriated that potential.  For me, there-in is the challenge and the opportunity. I believe we need to understand our own story, in a way, to ‘make sense of this market space’.  If can articulate the common themes around which we as Africans Christians identify, despite our numerous diversities, we will rally together more easily to resolve the immense challenges facing the continent in the 21st century. And that way—if we solve practical bread and water type of problems, then we will be all the more relevant. We will help those who are on the fringes to discover that there is something for them in the church as well. In short, make order of the market to make room for even more efficient and productive business…

Read the rest of Gitau’s interview here. Images of Toi market., which happens to be where we buy many of our clothes.

Religious Restrictions Rising (Pew)

A recent Pew study shows that religious restrictions have risen for over 1/3 of the world’s population between 2006-2009. More than 2.2 billion people – nearly a third (32%) of the world’s total population of 6.9 billion are facing greater religious restrictions. See Executive Summary for more details.

 

Among the five geographic regions covered in this report, the Middle East-North Africa had the highest government and social restrictions on religion, while the Americas were the least restrictive region on both measures. The Middle East-North Africa region also had the greatest number of countries where government restrictions on religion increased from mid-2006 to mid-2009, with about a third of the region’s countries (30%) imposing greater restrictions. In contrast, no country in the Americas registered a substantial increase on either index.

In China, there was no change in the level of government restrictions on religion, which remained very high. But social hostilities involving religion, which had been relatively low, increased substantially from mid-2006 to mid-2009.

What to do on a short-term missions trip

Preston Sprinkle asked two veterans of theological education in Africa what a positive short-term mission trip would look like.

They said: don’t teach. I know you’re a teacher, you even have a PhD, and it looks like you’re doing a fine job in America, but if you come to Africa, don’t teach during your first trip. Before you teach Africa, first be a student of Africa. Sure, hundreds of schools and institutes would love to have you come teach. You’re educated. You’re white. You’re the very symbol of wealth, wisdom, and upward mobility. But frankly, you don’t know the culture, and you have a better chance at doing more harm than good if you go in and dump all your knowledge—and perhaps a wad of cash—with no awareness of the complexities of the culture. But what you could do that would be hugely beneficial for both you and them is to learn. Find an African bishop, priest, or pastor, and follow him around. Be his shadow when he’s visiting a mother dying of AIDS at the hospital, or at a refuge camp where displaced Christians are wrestling with forgiveness. Go with him to the slums, to the cities, to the villages, and to the homes of congregants living in grinding poverty. Follow him. Ask questions. Take notes. Stare into the eyes of the man who lost his daughter to the militia seeking young soldiers. Don’t teach. Don’t counsel. Just learn. Drink deeply from the rich wells of African wisdom. And if you do this for a couple of months, you will be in a much better place to teach in Africa—if your heart beats hard enough to bring you back.

I might just add that you might also want to talk to one or two “locals” who move in these circles as well (click here for a West African version) just so you see it all.

The dilemma of the African missionary (part 2)

Patrick Nabwera ended part 1 by framing the dilemma: the African missionary comes from a background of the “have-nots to the have-nots”, yet he being pressed into the established blueprint of “the standard missionary”. And then he asked, “What should the African missionary do in such a case?”

Today, he offers a few suggestions:

For one, the African missionary must understand and accept his home/background context. This would stop him from trying to fit into the shoes of “the standard missionary”.  He has to learn to appreciate the fact that God has called him from a different background-the background of “have-nots” to the “have-nots” (often faith in Christ is the only asset which the African missionary may have above the host community-oh, that great eternal life of immeasurable value). David’s humility in choosing to use the five stones in the place of what Saul had given him forms a good model for the African missionary in this context. The testimony of this missionary from a poor context helps show the struggles.

Lotje Pelealu, an Indonesian nurse serving on a multicultural team in Gambia, reflected on her inner struggles as a missionary from a poorer country than the Western teammates…she admitted that it did get under her skin that she couldn’t afford as much as her colleagues. She had to pray and wait longer for the motorcycle for her ministry while they were able to buy a car immediately (Roembke 1998, 145).

Second, the African missionary can have the perspective of one coming from the kingdom of God to those outside the same kingdom and not as one coming from “the have-nots” to “the have-nots”. This means that he considers the possibility of partnering with all in the kingdom of God to bring the holistic Gospel to those outside God’s kingdom.  To him (and not only him but the entire body of Christ) then, it becomes clear that God can still avail the resources of the kingdom to him for ministry in that community. This view calls for kingdom partnerships (however, it is not just so that he may fit in the “standard missionary” model but so that he would bring the holistic Gospel to the target people).

Finally, his senders need to understand that the community expects the missionary to help in their social needs.  The fact that the missionary has another family which he has to care for should factor into his senders’ thinking. Then they will avail all that they can to have their missionary who has inherited the “old rich title” of the “standard missionary” present the holistic Gospel to the target people groups.

Reference

Roembke, Lianne. 1998. Building credible multicultural teams. Bonn: VKW.

The dilemma of the African missionary (Nabwera)

This is a guest post from Patrick Nabwera, Kenyan missionary to Mozambique:

The missionary in Africa stereotypically comes from a “better” background and context than their host community.  Missionaries generally comes with more wealth, more knowledge, and better technology from “the haves to the have-nots”. Because of this, the host community often sees him as a development worker, the source of new technology and knowledge in the community, or help in the hour of need and emergency.  Typically, the missionary comes to the community with much more to offer than just “preaching”; she comes with knowledge, technology, or wealth. In short, the missionary is associated with help for the community’s needs.

Based on this, the host communities expect African missionaries to fit into this model of “the standard missionary” with all the attached stereotypes. But the African missionary often does not have enough to keep him on the mission field.  The paradox of the “missionary” title without the stereotypical resources creates a lot of  pressure and stress. I have come across some African missionaries who always ask, “What project will I do when I get there?” (The model set by “the standard missionary”).

This is the dilemma: the African missionary comes from a background of the “have-nots to the have-nots”, yet he is being pressed into the established blueprint of “the standard missionary”.

Given this dynamic, what should the African missionary do?

Other missions posts by Patrick:

And his series on why missionaries quit:

  1. lack of financial support,
  2. difficulties in interpersonal relationships,
  3. marriage for singles,
  4. culture shock,
  5. resistance and hostility of radical Muslims,
  6. lack of quick conversion of the Muslims,
  7. a sense of God’s will for leaving,
  8. loss of vision, and
  9. lack of pastoral care.

Onesimus Online: a blog to stir your thinking (Bill Black)

UPDATE: Onesimus Online no longer exists.

Ask any of Bill Black’s students here about him, and they will probably say: “he provokes; he really challenges us to think.”   Thankfully, for the rest of us, Bill blogs at Onesimus Online: history, theology, culture, the church, and other dangerous stuff. If you are at all interested in theology, theological education in Africa, global Christianity, missions, evangelicalism, American cultural Christianity, and other related topics, you might enjoy his blog–and having your thinking provoked and deepened. I know Bill appreciates the broader dialog.  Bill and his wife are both pastors, graduates of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, PhDs from Cambridge, and teachers here at NEGST.  Previously, they taught in Ethiopia. Plus, they are a lot of fun to talk to;  I’ve learned a lot from them.

Here are a few “sound bytes” from some of Bill’s posts to whet your appetite:

The passing of evangelicalism

…We Western Evangelicals thought we were the center of the Christian universe, only to discover that the glory seems to have departed and moved south to Africa, Latin America and Asia. Those tongues-speaking, hallelujah-shouting, other-side-of-the-tracks-dwelling so-called Pentecostals, even more derisively labeled as ‘holy rollers’ by the upstanding Christians in my home church who, of course, knew better, have become the most explosive force in the global expansion of Christianity ever. There is not a single individual person in my systematic theology class who would not identify themselves as either Pentecostal or Charismatic. On the ‘mission field’ at least, the old paradigms of missionary Christianity are in the process of being leap-frogged entirely. ..
…Anyway, the point of all of this is that things have changed. Radically. Decisively. The old verities and polarities don’t work anymore (if they ever did). The systems and structures which we created to manage the world as we knew it are being pressed into service beyond their capacity to cope. This is not a call to somehow change Evangelicalism. It’s actually too late for that. Its day has passed and cannot be recovered. Instead, …

A Plea for Civility, Sanity and Integrity in Theological/Political Debate (3 personal examples)

Theology is not safe:

…there is another reason why I am undertaking this blog. Theology is a dangerous thing. Theology that attempts to reduce God to what I can understand about God is an attempt to tame God. But the God revealed in the Christian Scriptures is untamable. Our Western theological traditions, both Catholic and Protestant, are attempts to mount God onto a specimen board, attempts to dissect and label God’s constituent parts, attempts to deduce divine physiology from divine structure. But efforts to catalogue the parts fails to apprehend the whole. Our orthodoxies miss the point…

…This blog then is becoming increasingly like my own incident at the fords of the Jabbok, my own wrestling with the one who refuses to be named and categorized…

The Western Captivity of African Christianity

…Not only are we forcing Western Evangelical categories on African students as the measure of all that’s true in the world, but we have simply assumed that our model of theological education itself is the baseline for all subsequent thinking on the matter…

…We theological educators in Africa are doing a bang-up job of reproducing North American Evangelicals for Africa, replete with our ways of thinking about and practicing Christianity. But in doing so, I’m not at all certain that we are either being true to New Testament Christianity or engaging effectively with the people of this continent as they really are…

Brain tumors, theological education and the church

The human brain is an unimaginably complex piece of work…Though my extended parable may be like the tumor it describes – a malignant profusion of words that obliterates the intended purpose – the purpose itself remains. The concern of this post is with theological education as it is actually practiced, especially at the higher levels, and its relationship with the church it’s intended to serve. My concerns come from my own experience as one who has benefitted from theological education and who has gone on to serve several churches in a professional ministerial capacity, and from my observations of theological education in actual practice…

…I think there are likely a number of reasons contributing to this fundamental dysfunction in our churches. First,…

….The breathtaking irony of all this is, having created such an institutionalized system for training our leaders (the theological education industry), a system that has succeeded in taking us further and further afield from that which Christ is calling us to be, we heedlessly presume our institutional model to be the most effective way to train Nigerians or Indians or Chinese or Ethiopians for the ministry…

Africa, Spiral Logic, Systematic Theology, and the Perils of Theological Education

The Indefensible Evangelical Habit of Shooting Our Wounded

Last week there was a gun battle outside our gate. Four gangsters had hijacked cars and shot drivers and the authorities finally caught up with them just over the fence from my house. In the ensuing firefight, two of the carjackers were killed outright, one escaped over the fence (and through my garden!), and the fourth lay wounded on the road…

Believers Baptism vs. Infant Baptism, Must it Matter?

Evangelicalism Inc.

…Not only are the Western Prosperity gods raking it in, but developing-world prosperity-god-wannabees are trying desperately to get in on the cash…Dare I even mention the Evangelical publishing industry, which seems to have taken on the role of God in conservative academic and popular religion circles, raising up this one and ignoring that one, and on the grounds of whether or not it is ‘marketable’. I can’t imagine Jeremiah being able to secure a publishing contract from this crowd…

…Then there are the incredibly large and wealthy Christian aid organizations poised globally to respond immediately to the latest front page disaster and who must raise gazillions of dollars not only to feed the starving, but to buy the planes and Toyota land cruisers and computers and iPhones and Blackberries and pay the travel fees for all the conferences and meetings and consultations that must happen in the background for the hungry to be fed…

Does this bother anybody else?

…I do not deny the good intentions of most (I hope) of my fellow Christians involved in these so-called ‘ministries’. But I can’t help but thinking that we Evangelicals have become like addicts hooked on methamphetamine. We’ve got to have more, more, more. We’ve got to be successful, or at least appear successful, because if we are or appear so, more people will be drawn to our ‘ministry’ which will make us all the more successful. But like the meth addict, this stuff is destroying us…We dare not take a genuinely prophetic stance on anything, because if we do, someone will be offended and we will lose support. We’ve become like Ahab’s court prophets, cunningly discerning which way the wind is blowing before committing ourselves on any issue, and viciously smacking down anyone who does not toe the party line.

We Evangelicals are seriously compromised. And seriously compromised people are like salt that’s lost its savor…

And much, much MORE.

My Book

Money, Power, and Radical Incarnation—a model for missions (Muriu, Urbana 09)

A little over a week ago, Pastor Oscar Muriu spoke at Urbana–a giant (16-20,000) missions conference for American college students.

[Vimeo vimeo.com/8450561]

Money and Power: Oscar Muriu from Urbana 09 on Vimeo.

For more Urban09 videos, click HERE

(We had the privilege of hearing most of it at Nairobi Chapel earlier in the year—just an average Sunday sermon for us ;-).

Muriu begins by saying that if he were God, he would have brought Jesus as a powerful ruler, or a wise sage. He would have employed the the best marketing and branding strategies for all the world to see. The way God did it was to slow, too low tech. While the world waited desperately for salvation, God sent his son as a poor helpless infant.

His point is that before we go for missions, we must undergo an attitudinal incarnation. This incarnation has four doors:

1. From pride to humility.

2. From power to powerlessness (Phil. 2:6)

3. From privilege into poverty

4. From the harmony and the unity of heaven to the brokenness and dysfunction of the earth.

Side Note: I haven’t been able to locate a smaller MP3audio. I understand that this is directed at a young, American audience, but I couldn’t help noting that the very nature of the video link (124MB by my count), means that many Africans—even many with “reasonably good” internet access—won’t be able to see or hear this message. Just another way that Africans generally can be marginalized (by the missions infrastructure) from “missions” thinking and discussions…even when Africans speak. At least Americans are hearing their voices now; I commend the speaker lineup.

[More detailed notes]

1. From pride to humility.

The incarnation of our attitude is more fundamental than geographical relocation. Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ (Phil 2). Before you go, we must undergo an attitudinal incarnation; consider others better than yourselves. Leave your pat answers, your degrees, your learning…and take on the attitude of a humble servant.

By way of illustration, Pastor Oscar talks about

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