Thursday, June 26, 2008

Project Kara Pokot

I am fond of telling my students “Learn the questions, before giving the answers. Too many times we are giving answers to questions people aren’t asking.” Part of the reason I am passionate about that statement is because in my preparation for ministry I was never taught the importance of learning the questions. I launched into ministry in Kenya believing I had the answers, having gone through Bible College and pastoring in Texas for five years. My denomination had (has) a mission philosophy, which in essences states, the primary importance in doing God’s work is (a) preach the word and (b) be faithful. After all, it’s His work, we just need to present His message and let Him use it as He sees fit. This philosophy of missions (wrongly in my opinion) is still prevalent among many mission organizations and missionaries today.

After my wife and I completed language school in Limuru we moved to the western part of the country. Though we were invited to work in Eldoret by two other missionary families, I was drawn to areas where there was little or no missionary activity (Rom 15:20). Eventually our ministry focus was among two semi-nomadic tribes of the northwest bush, the Pokot and Turkana. It was working with these people, who were animist, that I came to understand that, though I had the answers to their greatest need i.e., to know the true and living God, I didn’t know how to make the message understandable to them. It wasn’t until my second term in Africa before I heard the word “contextualization.” Their worldview of misfortune, family, values, life-after-death, was not anything I learned in my hermeneutics class in college or in my ministry in the Bible-belt of the US. Confronted with what I didn’t know I began the quest of learning the questions before giving the answers.

Learning the questions is not easy and in fact is labor intensive. The first place to learn the questions is through research. For me, in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s, before the Internet, it was reading books and journals. I learned about contextualization, syncretism, dynamic equivalence, the purpose of arranged marriages, polygamy, cattle worldview and the role of witchdoctor, initially through reading. Determined to learn more about the questions, my furloughs were dedicated to taking classes to help me understand what I didn’t know so I could better determine the best way to give the answer. In this process of discovery I spent a number of days, weeks and months in the bush of Pokot, living in a mud hut (picture above), formally and structurally considering a people that were totally different from what I perceive as norm. My pursuit of learning the questions continues today as I read and teach others on the process of mining the complexities of culture and religion.

In 2009, 18 years after the publication of my doctoral dissertation on the social organization of the Kara Pokot, I am making plans on moving back down to the desert for a few months to do a follow-up study of this pastoral tribe. Since nothing remains static, how have the Pokot changed since those days I first worked with them back in 1976?

More on Project Kara Pokot next time.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Price of Oil and Missions

I heard a man in church the other day talking about how the price of gas was affecting his business; that fuel cost was up over 50% since the first of the year. I thought to myself, “Yeah, it affects my business as well.”

In India, where I spend a lot of my time, inflation has risen 18% in two months. I recently bought a domestic airline ticket and they now have a fuel surcharge of $50. Couple that with a weak dollar and one begins to get the picture that the cost of doing God’s business continues to rise.

I don’t write this to whine about the financial plight of my or others in ministry, but just a reminder that while Americans suffer under the high cost of gasoline, global inflation is an issue for those who live on a “fixed” income overseas. I cannot pass my cost on to my clients or customers. What I must do, like everyone else, is to manage even better our monthly budget. God’s work will go on no matter how high the price of a barrel of oil may rise. But, like all businesses, some activities will have to be scaled back; some may go out of business all together. What remains constant, in this world of uncertainty, is a Sovereign God who is not frustrated by OPEC or politicians and good people who faithfully give of their hard earned resources so that the Gospel will continue to go to those who have never heard.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Lessons From The Desert

I purchased a new scanner this past week, one that scans slides and negatives, of which I have hundreds that span over 30 years of ministry in Africa and other parts of the world. As I go through the faded images of my past ministry in Kenya I am reminded of the profound impact the desert has had on my life.

There is something profound about isolation, being cut off from the norm of the familiar. It was in the bush of Kenya, working with the tribal people of Turkana and Pokot, that I spent many lonely days and nights away from my immediate family, and of course my extended family in the U.S. When I close my eyes, even today, I can feel the unrelenting heat, the grime of everything made of cow-dung, the pesky flies that swarmed my face and how difficult it was to walk in sand. At night I would listen to the mournful singing of the people in the village and look up into the African sky and see a billion stars. It was in the desert that I learned to think through and even challenge my faith. In the desert I was away from the pressures of my peers, the judgment of a godless world system; it was just God and I, in the desert.

Throughout history the desert has been God’s classroom of instruction for His followers. Moses was exiled to the wasteland to prepare him to lead His people in the desert; David, a man after God’s own heart, was formed herding sheep in the bush; God sustained Elijah for seven years of drought by a brook; John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, did his work, not in the city of Jerusalem, but in the wilderness; the Apostle Paul, after his dramatic conversion, was banished to the backside of the desert for three years to contemplate his Damascus road encounter with Jesus.

In this world of instant communication, 24-hour news and the measure of a man gauged by name recognition and portfolio, one must discipline himself to be alone with God. Depending on the press of the day, time set aside for God could be 10 minutes or 1 hour and perhaps a few smattering petitions throughout the day. While snippets of devotion is better than not acknowledging Him at all, the time needed to allow God to mold the spirit is difficult, if not impossible to find. In spite of the malaria carrying mosquitoes, snakes and scorpions, I often miss the solitude with God I found in the desert.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

YOU MAKE THE CALL: Family and Missions

I try not to write a lot of personal stuff on this blog, and if I do I make an attempt for some missiological or spiritual application. Such is the case with the post today and I appreciate your indulgence.

Yesterday afternoon my 88-year-old dad was diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease. A bit of a shock as we knew he is confused a lot lately, but thought it was dementia or just plain old age. As we think of the future for my dad and, certainly for my mom, it’s challenging time for all of us.

My wife and I moved back to the states last December for the express reason of lending a nurturing helping hand to my parents as well as my wife’s father (my mother-in-law passed away two years ago). Our siblings are local and have been taking care of family matters for the 40 years that Sandy and I have been either overseas or located in some other state. It wasn’t necessary for us to return, but we made a conscious choice to be around in the waning years of our parent’s lives. As a trainer and non-resident missionary, my role has evolved since our pioneering days in the bush of Kenya and I don’t feel it’s imperative for me to physically be on the foreign field to be effective in missions. With the news we received yesterday I think we made the right relocation decision. But the question must, should be asked, is it legitimate for a missionary to come off the field to deal with family issues?

A friend of mine is in California taking care of his mother, who also has Alzheimer’s. He is the only child and he told me his mission agency was not sympathetic to his problem and has asked him to resign. Some of his donors, he confided, also question him on how long it will be before he goes back to the field. He has no idea. Alzheimer’s is not something that has a well-defined time-line. Another friend was home several years because one of his kids was having psychological and emotional problems. After seven years the sending agency asked for his resignation and he is still bitter about it. Were they right to take such action?

Like everything, BALANCE is the key. I do believe that there is a biblical principle as it relates to family and ministry. In Luke 9:59-62 there was a man who hesitated in following Jesus, saying, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But he (Jesus) said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” In the service of Christ family issues cannot, should not, take preeminence. At another, time, however, Jesus criticized the religious leaders for not taking care of their parents, using the work of God as an excuse to let them live in poverty (Matthew 15:3-7).

While not addressing my particular case, you make the call. What are your thoughts on missions and family issues? It’s a difficult decision that missionaries face everyday.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Brevity of Life

When I came home from a recent trip my wife, Sandy, was talking about a series of Beth Moore lessons on the book of Daniel that she and some other women had been doing. In the course of her recounting what she was learning she quoted Moore as saying that “We only have 10 minutes here on earth,” (or something to that affect.)

“Where did she get that” I asked?

Sandy’s response was that Beth was making a general statement on the brevity of life.

“But where did she get 10 minutes?” I continued to probe. Sandy insisted that it was a generic statement and I was missing the point. I wouldn't let it go. I began thinking about the passage in Scripture that says that, “with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years” (2 Peter 3:8). That being true, if the average life of man is 70 years, is that where Moore came up with we have about 10 minutes on this earth?

God knows I am not a mathematician. I tried to figure it out but couldn’t. I took my math problem to my 14 year old grand-daughter and, though she’s a lot smarter than me, couldn’t find the right equation. I drove my whole family nuts for a week trying to figure out, if man lives to 70 years old, how old is he in God’s economy of time? Finally, a friend wrote and gave me, what I assume is the answer – 1 hour, 40 minuets and 48 seconds based on this equation:

70 years is .07% of a thousand.
So we must find .07 of a day.
A day has 1440 minutes. 24 X 60 = 1440
.07 X 1440 = 100.8
So we have 100 minutes plus .8 of a minute, which is 48 seconds.
Thus: 100 minutes and 48 seconds old.

Idle trivia? Perhaps. But as one watching his 88 year old dad slowly moving out of this life, grateful that he has beat the odds and is 2 hours and 11 minutes old, and my own life of not yet 1 hour and half, I understand more the sobering reality of, "For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away" (Ja. 4:14).

Monday, June 02, 2008

Learning Opportunity

Sometime back I mentioned providing training in context. If you know of anyone who would like to learn how to understand culture, how to work in another culture then direct them to X-CULTURAL LIVE.