Monday, November 24, 2014

You Make The Call: What To Do About FGM?

Thirty-five years ago I began my work among the Pokot people of Kenya.  A semi-nomadic tribe, the Pokot practice initiation rites for both and girls.  For the boys, circumcision is the first of two initiation rites into manhood.  Unlike other tribes in the country, Pokot males do not perform this ritual every year but once every decade (give or take a year or so) and therefore the age of the boys for circumcision range between ten and twenty years old.  This group is identified throughout their lives as an age-set, which would include a specific name identification (equivalent to baby-boomers or millennial’s).

For Pokot girls, their initiation into adulthood is called lapan.  For those outside of Pokot this ritual is called FGM (female genital mutilation, or female circumcision).  The average age of girls who take lapan is around fourteen years.  After the procedure they are in seclusion for a month and under the care of older women.  During this time of healing the girls are instructed in the ways of proper behavior as a wife.  After the healing period the girls are then eligible for marriage.  There is usually a joint celebration at the home of relatives, a coming out party, so to speak, where gifts are brought to the parents and prospective grooms attend to inspect this year’s crop of eligible brides. (below is picture of my daughter Becky with Pokot lapan girls).

When I was a resident working in Pokot my approach to FGM was latent, meaning I was not a social activist.  As a student of anthropology I first wanted to know the meaning of lapan.  As I tell my students, before you condemn people on what they do, you should know why they do it.   I also did a great deal of field research how Pokot girls felt about this ritual as well as the Christian community.  My conclusion was that, though a disgusting and potentially life-threatening procedure, lapan is a non-salvation issue.  Working with unreached people with the Gospel, it is my opinion that every issue, no matter how repulsive it may be, is not the main thing Christians are to do.  Challenging behavior rather than confronting people with the Gospel may, in some cases, cause more harm than good.

I have been criticized because of my non-engagement in social issues.  Though I am quick to point out that I am opposed to FGM practices and talk at length with parents about its harm, it is not a cause I feel I need to champion.  I have in the past, and believe today that it is the responsibility of the local church, not a foreigner or foreign organization that should lead the charge on social issues.  The government of Kenya has made FGM illegal and it is a dying practice in Pokot, though held out by a few and vehemently defended among the Masai.

On my most recent trip to Pokot I met a local Pokot Christian who has started an organization called Exodus Rescue Education Centre.  The five targeted groups for rescue are (1) FGM (2) early forced marriage (3) cattle rustling (4) children from poor families and (5) orphans.  They now have ninety-five kids in this program, five which I interviewed (left to right).

Cheroto (15) ran away from her home because her parents wanted her to marry.  She said she didn’t want to be married to an old man but wanted to go to school.

Kamarinyang’s mom died and she was living with her grandmother.  She left her grandmother because she was insisting her granddaughter take lapan and marry. 

Celestine (16) was the third wife and has a child.  She was willing to run away and leave her child because, as she told me, “I was treated as a slave and abused.”

Loremoi (back row) was a cattle rustler, which is the main occupation for Pokot boys who don’t go to school.  He told me that he regrets those days as he was involved in killing people in cattle raids.  He wants to go college one day.

Mnangai left his grandparents applied to Exodus because they were too poor to help him go to school.

I am inclined to help this social project, but I still have questions.  What is your opinion?  This is one of those case studies where I challenge missionaries…You Make The Call.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Shoebox Missions

It’s the Christmas season and that means, for many Christians,  filling a shoebox.  Every year at this time Samaritan’s Purse, Franklin Graham’s organization, promote their annual project of sending toys to underprivileged children all over the world.  Along with a well-done video presentation, flyers and shoeboxes, evangelicals are encouraged to fill up a shoebox for a boy and/or girl along with a check for $7.00 to cover the cost of shipping.  A worthy project to be sure, especially for people who want to help the needy at this season of the year.

Last year I was in a church on the east coast and they had shoeboxes piled high in the lobby.  The pastor invited me to speak at their church about missions.  He was concerned that his people had no real sense of missions or the work of the missionaries they support and wanted me to come in to help their global outreach effort. 

“Missions is confusing,” he said.  “Our members don’t understand unreached people groups, church planting or even what a missionary does on the field.  Our people get the ‘shoebox’ because it’s simple.  I wish there was a way to make missions as simple as the shoebox.”

Though I did my best, I don’t think my time at the church helped a great deal.  How does one explain the complexities of missionary work in a thirty-minute sermon?  But I got the pastors point; our culture is one of sound bites, fast food and shoeboxes.  Shoebox missions push all the right buttons for millineal's…quick, easy and helping the poor.  Conversely, traditional missions, for the most part, are counter-cultural; long term, distant and impersonal.  The career missionary is rarely seen, almost never heard, and serving Christ in ways that people just don’t get

I have heard more than one person say that in today’s church people want to be personally involved; they want to do more than write a check.  I was encouraged recently to hear a leading evangelical state unequivocally  “Writing a check is probably the most important thing I do as a Christian, because I am committing myself with my finances to the work of Christ.” 

I find no fault at all with the work of Samaritan’s Purse and their Christmas shoebox drive.  I wish real missions could be as easily understood so that people in the pews could wrap their head around the need of taking the Good News of Christ to those who have never heard His name.  The truth is, serving cross-culturally, though not complicated, cannot be reduced to two-minute video clip.  Being involved in global outreach requires study, a well-designed program, prayer and, yes, just writing a check.