Kenya is a beautiful country. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t the green fields and mountains I saw. As we flew from Nairobi into Kisumu at sunrise, we were taken aback by the sheer beauty of it all. I knew that Kenya bordered Lake Victoria, but I wasn’t aware that we would see it from the air, and later, from the beach.
And in addition to the beautiful landscape, the people of Kenya are very friendly; we were greeted with singing and dancing. The joy of the Lord was evident upon their faces.
The next day, we joined them for Sunday worship. It’s common to hear of churches in the South arguing over the color of the carpet. That seems petty when you worship with believers on dirt floors and sense the pleasure of the Holy Spirit to dwell in their midst.
But as beautiful as the land is, and as joyous as the people are, the poverty of Kenya is striking. To be sure, there is a financial poverty, but there is also a spiritual poverty that characterizes the land. Those who have the least are often most susceptible to teachings of prosperity charlatans, who tell them that their poverty is the result of a lack of faith on their part. But what is faith, according to these fork-tongued preachers? Faith is a willingness to line the preachers’ pockets with what little the people have to offer, in the belief that the Lord will bless them with greater wealth and greater health.
But the Lord is doing a work. He is raising up a people for himself, unwilling to settle for such false teaching.
In like manner, a people unwilling to settle for a syncretistic Christianity that uncritically adopts ancient tribal practices and attaches Bible verses to justify their presence.
So what, if anything, can we as the American church, do?
While the solution is complicated and the work hard, there are some certain needs that we can begin to meet.
While I felt perfectly safe in Kenya, there are many believers in various parts of the country that are facing real persecution. Just this past week, 11 Christians were executed in northern Kenya by Somali Islamic terrorists. The likelihood that American Christians will ever encounter the real possibility of martyrdom is minuscule. In some parts of Kenya, believers are under a constant and very real threat. Whatever else we have to offer them, let us offer them our prayers as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and serve your brothers and sisters in Christ for the sake of the Gospel. I recognize that this encouragement may come something as a surprise in light of the previous point concerning persecution, but much of Kenya is perfectly safe for Westerners. Just be sure to follow what my friend Chuck Holton describes as the “rule of stupid”: Don’t go to stupid places with stupid people at stupid times and do stupid things.
I am convinced that every believer given the opportunity should go on an international, cross-cultural mission trip at some point. The benefits to those we encounter are too great for us not to. In addition to that, I’ve almost never seen someone minister in that context and not been affected by it as well. Begin praying now for an opportunity to go. And while you pray, get your passport. Then, when the Lord provides you the opportunity, you can step forward in obedience.
Share the Gospel—not a soft-peddle gospel, or a prosperity gospel that feeds off of their poverty. Tell them about who Jesus is and what he has done. And offer them eternal life in Christ Jesus. Offer them ultimate satisfaction in this life and the promise of God’s watchful, sovereign love. Give them hope that the Lord is near the downtrodden and that does not only love the wealthy or white, but that he cares for the orphan and widow. And that he cares for them.
We who have had the opportunity to receive formal theological education have a responsibility. We are responsible to steward the gift we have been given well. That means taking what you’ve had the opportunity to acquire and helping get that training to those who have not been able to receive it. If a study Bible tops the list of a pastor’s request, it says a good deal about the training he has been able to cobble together. What a blessing you could be if you were to go and share some of the insights you gleaned from your seminary education.
There is a real need in Kenya and the poverty is overwhelming. Just walking down the street, I was repeatedly encountered by open palms asking for help. But, as is true of any situation, things are more complicated than outsiders can discern immediately. While there are real needs to be met, it is imperative that we stop giving uncritically. We must think through real, practical solutions. We need to partner with churches and ministries on the ground in-country and work through avenues that do more than alleviate poverty, but help to eradicate it as well. The old adage holds true: give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime. Our burden is to find a means to do both—provide for their immediate needs while also equipping them to overcome their situation.
What, then, can you do for Kenya?
Be willing to pray for Kenyan believers.
Be willing to get out of your comfort zone and go.
Be willing to open your lips and tell them of the Savior’s love.
Be willing to take that which you have been able to learn and teach them.
Be willing to open your hearts and hands and share in such a way that meets real needs.
Pastor at University Baptist Church, San Antonio.
Professor. PhD in Theology.
Runner. Cyclist. Roast Master at caffeinatedtheology.com.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.