Better Together provides a space to share experiences with – and strategies for engaging – three critical global issues that PC(USA) global partners are challenging us to address together as the body of Christ. These three issues are 1) addressing root causes of poverty, especially as it impacts women and children; 2) sharing the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ; and 3) working for reconciliation in cultures of violence, including our own. The purpose of Better Together is to feed a conversation to shape concrete action strategies at the October 2012 “Dallas II: Better Together” consultation and beyond.
"My great-great-grandfather was on the Council of Elders in his village, and when they saw the missionaries coming, they said, 'Those people do not look like us. They are ghosts. We should kill them!'"
Standing before a gathered group of Presbyterians and global partners, brought together by the common desire to discuss not just mission but the ability to do so more effectively, Cyprian Guchiendo tells of the historic roots of the Church in Kenya. Long before the Presbyterian Church of East Africa existed, there were two Christian groups there to do mission - The GMS (Gospel Missionary Society), and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. These groups were hindered in their work by the warring factions of the land, and when the difficulties were resolved, they decided to join together in mission, collaborating for greater effectiveness and reach. Thus, the Presbyterian Church of East Africa was born, and missionaries began delving deeper into the bush.
And going out, they encountered tribes that continued pushing them outward, to the very edges and beyond of what anyone might have imagined. They then encountered what Cyprian referred to as the 'Red People' who were very receptive of the missionaries and their work. The missionaries worked to address the sickness that was prevalent, building hospitals and clinics. They built schools, educating the locals. The work of these missionaries, Cyprian notes, is a direct reason why he was standing here today - their work remained, and he benefitted from both the healthcare and the education. Because they took risks, in love, the people benefited.
But the risks came at a cost; the missionaries went to Africa carrying their coffins with them. They did not expect to return. What could possess them to undertake such a journey, such a giving up of their lives to go to a foreign country and expect to die and be buried there?
Cyprian's answer was simple: Love.
Drawing on the example of 2 Kings 5, of the slave girl risking her own life to speak up to her captor and offer the power of God in Elisha, Cyprian reminds us: "The power of God, her desire to make God known even to these foreign captors, was enough to give her courage to speak up." The draw of witness, to someone in need, is perhaps one of the most profound examples we can find. And one of the riskiest.
"What is killing us," Cyprian notes of the church, "is what we know. We are too comfortable with what we know to follow where God is leading, where the Spirit is working. I come to conferences like this, and I am energized! I leave and go to the churches, and all that excitement disappears."
"We are so focused on studying and thinking and talking and learning demographics and numbers before we do anything, and it's killing us! In Africa, we don't worry about numbers or demographics, we go to the people who have the fire of God in their belly, and through them we build up the church! We can no longer train pastors fast enough for the congregations, they are growing so fast! Because of the fire in their bellies!"
The key, Cyprian notes, is being willing to look at someone and see them in love, to want them to know the love that you have known. Hundreds of organizations do mission work in the world; only the Church can change a person's soul. This is what the Church needs to focus on: Sharing the love of God for the bettering of a person's soul. Americans are too good at fixing problems; we cannot fix missions because it is a spiritual problem, not a problem of numbers. We must refocus on God, on God's love, and being able to follow where God is leading.
My question, which does not leave me alone, is, "Where is God calling me, in loving risk, to take my coffin?"