A few weeks ago I was Whatsapp’ing with a longtime Kenyan friend of ours, John. Every fall we re-discuss how his birthday, his daughter’s birthday and my birthday all happen in early October. When we first met John, he was a tall, gangly young guy, not even married yet. We barely paid any attention to him in the training he was in, but as the years have unfolded he has become not only a close “family friend,” but proven himself to be “a man after God’s own heart” in every possible way. He is highly entertaining with a giggle that would make anyone laugh, and a very passionate, focused and fruitful disciplemaker.
In our texting I was asking John how old he was this year, to which he answered 35. Surprising to me, since I still think of him as around 25. I then asked him how old Melissa, his first-born, is now, to which he answered 7.
Then I volunteered that I was 68 this year and very grateful to get to do what we do. He replied, “Ah, so you really are getting the bonus!”
As I wrote in a recent prayer note, “The only thing more fulfilling than worshiping with these guys from Burundi (see pic) is to hear their amazing stories of traveling out into village after village to share the love of Jesus.”
We had long discussions on ‘passion’ during our week with these young men and women. We agreed that what makes a leader is more about the fire in a person’s heart than most anything else. But, personally, I was humbled by their thoughts on the subject and, even more so, by the way they live it out.
Some of the discussion included ‘Where does the passion for Jesus Christ and the Gospel come from?’
“From our life being changed by the power of Jesus’ love.”
“From time in the Word of God.”
“From the Holy Spirit who fills us with God’s fire.”
“From time in prayer.”
“From walking out the assignments that God gives me.”
Then hearing their stories of how passion continues to motivate them to travel to remote and rural parts of the country was inspiring:
“My goal is to make 150 new disciples every three months who will be passionate to take God’s love to others.”
“I have been using Bible storytelling to reach Pygmies far from here who are starting groups and retelling the stories.”
“We are taking water filters into some of the most remote areas where people are so happy for this and invite us to start Bibles studies in their homes. We have to keep running to make time to spend with so many people.”
I honestly don’t think my own passion holds a candle to theirs, but I am surely hopeful that just a little of it rubs off!
Philemon 1:23 Epaphras, a prisoner with me for Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you. And also Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, workers together with me, send greetings.
We read a book awhile back called Foreign to Familiar, Guide to Understanding Hot and Cold Climate Cultures, that was incredibly helpful in trying to understand just some of the cultural differences between Africa and America. The number one, albeit obvious, difference being we are a northern hemisphere culture and they are a southern. They are communal, we are individualistic. It’s a fascinating read because it’s incredibly true, worldwide, at least the countries we’ve had the good fortune to visit.
One of the things we experience here in Africa is that no matter where or what is going on, it’s going to involve a lot of people. If I walk up to someone on the street and ask directions, pretty soon there’s going to be about 10 people all around us, some listening, some staring at the mzungu, other’s giving their opinion of the best route for me to get where I’m going. If there’s a funeral, it doesn’t matter who you are, there’s going to be at least 100 people in attendance. If it’s Christmas, the ENTIRE family is going to be there no matter how far away you live or how broke you are. There’s a certain norm that’s not only expected, but practiced. My business is your business, because you are family and with it comes responsibilities, financial and emotional. There’s strength, there’s allegiance and loyalty, no matter what.
For us, we are individualistic. We call it respect…for each other and each other’s property. We call it responsibility. It’s my responsibility to care for myself and my family, not my extended family’s responsibility and certainly not my neighbors. Pride prevents us from telling anyone if we are broke and need help and it also inspires us to “stand on our own two feet,” and do something…anything to improve the situation. We are self-starters, we dream dreams and make them happen, we align ourselves to like-minded people and move in circles doing what we like and inviting others to join us, no matter who you are.
I can’t tell you for sure if it’s cultural or not, but one thing for sure I can tell you. Everywhere we go…Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, or Congo…ALWAYS the Believers tell us, “Please greet those people back at home and tell them we love them.” They feel close to you because in their minds, you are one of them. You are family and as such, not a stranger. You belong to the same tribe as they do and therefore, even though they have never met you, there’s a certain blood tie that no matter who you are or where you live or what you have done or haven’t done…you are one of them and they are one of you. So, from Africa to America, “the workers together with me, send greetings (and our love).”
Meet Ken. He is not only inspiring, but contagious to be around! He and I had met before, but it was quite some time ago. That’s why I was especially happy to get to spend a couple of days together in western Kenya this trip. After catching up, I asked him to tell me a little about himself and what he is doing currently. Here’s some of what he shared with me:
“We live in an area where people live hand to mouth. It’s a slum called Matisi. There is extreme poverty. The people there often have so many problems with their feet because of the chiggers and they really suffer. We take them to public health for medicines and then we give them shoes to wear. We don’t ask them what tribe they are from and we have a lot of favor to go there. For example, we can go to any house and be received. We work with our wives and there is a lot of unity for us in that work. If someone has no clothes we will even take off ours and give them to them. Sometimes the suffering is so bad, I will even remove my shoes and leave them with that person and come home with no shoes. The need is so great in that place.
“For myself, I do small businesses of buying second hand clothes and also shoes and selling them. I have one disciple Isaac who joins me in the work. I told him one day, ‘You go this way and I will go that way.’ We dedicated one day a week at first for this work. Now there are so many house churches. I think there are around 35.”
Ken then introduced me to Isaac. It was my first time meeting him. His excitement for making disciples was contagious! Here’s some of what he told me:
“As for me, I focused on Posian Village. There was a man who was a drunkard on the street. He was asking for money for alcohol. We gave him 50KSH. We bought that alcohol for him and also prayed for him. We sat with him and listened to him. He was a very hard and tough guy, but he did agree to book another day to meet with us three days later. We found him again and he told us, ‘You did well to buy me that alcohol.’ We told him we wanted to share the Word of God with him and he said ok. He invited us to come to his house and share with the whole family. That family welcomed us with peace so we shared the Gospel with them. We prayed with them and they, the entire family, accepted Christ as the Lord.
“One week later we went back to that house because the family wanted to be baptized after hearing that it was what Jesus wanted for them. The family invited neighbors for when they meet at their home (to do Discovery Bible Study). Out of that man and his wife now there are 15 house churches. I go to them each week and meet with their leaders and disciple them so they can go disciple others.”
Ken was once a traditional pastor. He was frustrated continually trying to maintain his church. He had little money and had to pay rent for space and equipment to have a service so people would come. Today he is very excited because sharing the Gospel is easy. It requires no money. People are reached loving them in practical ways. They meet easily and simply in their homes in their neighborhoods, sharing life together in simple ways.
We find ourselves spending less and less time in the villages of Africa. Our role of coaching leaders means that we can normally get more done by gathering them together in a central location, a small town which they can access from diverse locations.
To be honest, there are some parts of going out into the villages that I do not miss. The all-day travel on pot-holed roads that jolt your bones forever, the lack of facilities (toilets) or familiar food or comfortable seating or clean surroundings. Yes, in fact, there’s lots and lots of dirt and dust and heat and suspect food that may or may not result in another round of stomach bacteria.
There is something that I terribly miss if we stay too long without touching life in the villages. There is something richly human and vibrant that can be found nowhere else. People that live in the raw simplicity and purposefulness required by rural life strike a chord deep in one’s soul in a way that nothing else can.
I am not sure how to explain it.
There are the faces of people running toward you as you arrive because you have come so far to see them. Even people you have not met before. They greet you eagerly as their guests, and their lives and hearts are obviously warmed just by your presence with them.
There is their hospitality that, despite their poverty, is abundantly generous and overwhelmingly moving. Whatever they have, or whatever they can borrow from a neighbor, they will bring it to you and are not satisfied until you have eaten and drunk all. They are welcoming you into their family, and sitting with them and eating with them is part of becoming part of them. Indeed, within a short time you feel amazingly close, like family, to people you hardly know because life, love, and family just exudes out of them.
There is the vulnerability that you feel because they do not have trappings to hide behind. There are no nice cars, houses, nor clothes to cover up the nakedness of simple humanity. They are simply people living, working, laughing, crying and doing it all together with many family members in the small confines of a one-room hut and an outdoor cooking area.
There is the deep sense of community as you realize how much they truly depend on one another, including extended family and neighbors, just to survive. What you have one day your neighbor may need the next, to avoid hunger or medical or school fees or help with a dowry or funeral needs.
Finally, there are heartfelt farewells from people you have only just met as they hug and smile and walk you down the road as far as they can go.
One feels opened up to a side of humanity that is deeply moving yet rarely accessible… unless you are willing to leave the confines of one’s own world and enter that of another.