May 31, 2012

Post-Kenya Notebook: “There is Work For You Here”

Anytime he talked I just watched his mouth. The way his lips bent and shifted as he spoke seemed so naturally unnatural to me. Pastor Bob was his name; well, just Bob, and when he spoke to me he leaned in close to my face. I could smell his breath. He would often go with us as we traveled to our destinations throughout central Kenya.

Our time there was split up in two locations. We worked out of two churches so to speak. At each, Dan, our introvert leader who has been to Kenya some 38 times, taught local pastors who had been invited to a pastor's conference with "Professor from America Dan Stewart" by the host church. The conferences lasted a few days. While Dan taught an array of topics, biblical leadership to practical ministry, the rest of us piled into the vans and headed off to either medical clinics in some obscure farming village or local schools to meet and share with students and discover Kenya's educational system, which was probably only interesting to me.

Now, Dan had mentioned at one of our last preparation meetings in the States that the guys (Regan, Jordan, Tav and I) would be teaching pastors, once for sure. We needed to come up with enough material to cover five hours. I remember dialoging, leaving the meeting, about getting together to come up with content. But talk is cheap. We never met.

Obviously though, Dan was still planning on having us teach. We would have to prepare after arriving (I wrote some banal sermonic thoughts on the flight there). And we did. Regan, Jordan and I all taught twice, once at each church/conference (Tav most definitely would have as well had he not been vital elsewhere and further along in his education at Life). Fist we taught at Pastor Jeff's church in Naro Moru. We continued Dan's teaching on spiritual gifts, which was a part of his curriculum for one of his sophomore-level college courses. At the second conference, we taught on different subjects. I taught on the art of preaching, something I am very curious about. Did you notice the "art of" part? Just checkin'.

Teaching is God's gift to me. I figured this out early on as a young lad in college because I resented bad teaching, which could be any of the following: unclear, boring and/or superfluous, overly simple and/or uncritical, unnecessarily biased, etc., etc. You get the idea. This to say, I was excited to practice what I love.

Since, at the first conference, we picked up Dan's teaching so he could attend a medical clinic, my session was simple reflections on gifts, how they function, what they look like and their proper motivation. It was junior/senior (in high school) level content.

I like teaching the Kenyans because they let you know if they're getting it. There's nothing like the robust head-nod (more like body-nod) of Kenyan pastors affirming your teaching or the grunts and moans that spring up after an insightful point is made. They never leave you hangin'. And still if there is any doubt, afterwards, they will draw near to grip your hand for a while and commend you for the knowledge they received and the blessing you have been.

[Bob enters, again, into story] Pastor Bob had overheard about our teaching and a few days later came to me at the Naro Moru medical clinic and asked to speak with me. I was sitting. So he sat. He told me God put me on his heart... Hm, ok, I'm listening. Essentially, he felt connected to me somehow and that I shouldn't cover my tracks up upon returning to the States so to speak. He wanted me to find my way back to Kenya, and without much delay. Pastor Bob's words echoed: "there is work for you here."




That phrase ricocheted in my mind as off the walls of a canyon. This is true. If work is Kingdom work, then yes, there is work for me. Pastors need to be taught. Dan was telling some of us that some don't even know how to read. My heart skipped a beat. Come again! First of all, I couldn't imagine not being able to read. Secondly, how can you be a pastor and not read? Pastors need education! Christ's disciples must be taught!

Matthew's version of Jesus' words now ring in my hears as if heard straight from the Master's lips: "teaching them" (Mat 28:20).

[With a look of determination] "Well, that is precisely what I'm guna do." – Me

May 29, 2012

Post-Kenya Notebook: Kenyan Pentecostals Put Us to Shame

During dinner at our hotel, I prayed I wouldn't have to preach the next morning. I usually enjoy preaching and sharing my heart. But this would've been the seventh time in two weeks and I just wanted to relax and soak up the church service in all its pentecostal glory. Alas, as Dan was filling in the details for the next morning, Sunday the 20th of May, he announced the plan and those who were preaching at churches. I was among them. Not surprised, I spoke up, hoping to dodge the responsibility. I was fresh out of 'church' sermons. There were only 'evangelistic' ones left. Apparently that mattered little to Dan. He said that would be just fine.

For some reason though, preaching an evangelistic sermon to a booming pentecostal church wasn't sitting well with me (those were supposed to be for the crusades). Against Dan's advice, I wrote a new one early the next morning, something fresh, something with Naro Moru in mind. It wasn't technically a sermon. I called it a "reflection." Whatever it was, I prayed it would be good enough for the charismatic Kenyans who would fill the seats and rows of Naro Moru's Foursquare Church. With dirty pale red floors, tin walls and overall rickety structure, the building could accommodate well over 100 Kenyans comfortably. 100 Americans comfortably? Not so sure.

Three of us arrived that morning ready for the service, Lyndsey, Danielle and I. It was almost 9:45. The sign out front said main service started at 10. Some of the kids standing in the front yard grasped our hands to say hello. They were much more mellow now. They were used to us wazungu. Inside the building, Alice, 19, was teaching on what sounded like anger to five others who arrived early to listen and learn. She taught surprisingly well. Articulate, insightful and dynamic. Not bad.

White plastic yard chairs were organized in three columns. In the back, when the chairs ran out, were flat wooden benches. I was curious about how and who engraved "New Covenant" into the back of each chair. It looked like the words were melted in. That was no simple job. Each chair was numbered as well, but don't assume that the chairs were actually in order. They most definitely were not. I would've been quite impressed.

The service started shortly after 10. Only a few were gathered. During the first song two ladies moved our backpacks to the front row and slid over a coffee table, which was usually placed in front of the pastors' chairs. She wanted us sitting in front. I don't like the front.

Praise and worship went on for over an hour. I wanted to fall asleep. You have to understand that this was our last morning in Kenya. We are exhausted. Everyone else though was loving it. If I counted right, there were four special songs (and other spontaneous ones), a mini-sermon and, oh let's not forget, lots and lots of dancing trains weaving throughout the rows. Joy and freedom spilled out from that place while the tinny speakers blasted the sounds of the keyboard.

By the time they took offering, I figured it was nearly time for me to preach. All I could think about was how tired I was and how I was not going to be able to be the excited charismatic they needed. Oh well… I would have to man up and deliver this "sermon" I wrote only hours before as best as I could muster.

Finally, Jeff, the pastor, called me up, the one to preach "the word of God." This phrase when used in an introduction for you to preach is quite terrifying. I preached with the little energy I had. I told them what I wanted to say, three simple points: the righteous live by faith, god uses people and pray honest prayers. Turns out that faith had been the theme to their revival meetings the week prior.

I remember looking out. The building was stuffed full with beautiful Kenyan faces, mostly women. Many youth and kids were there too. What was I doing? Where was I? It was all too surreal. Preaching to a poor church in Naro Moru, Kenya. I was telling them things I learned in my faith, which was lived out in a completely different context, a whole other world, a world impossible to explain. And yet it transferred. Faith transfers. Their faces looked at mine. Their eyes full of hope. As Alice translated, some would nod, affirming they were not only listening but understanding. Thank God.

It's crazy that you can get on a plane, fly to a strange country and unfamiliar people, and yet find common ground: faith in Jesus. Though we walk different soil, we walk the same ground.