I Was Right but Mostly Wrong about Missions Trips to Africa


SONY DSCI’m finally getting around to writing another blog after a lot of traveling early this summer. In fact, I just returned from leading an amazing team to Kenya to build a playground for a kids’ home run by Kids Alive in Mitaboni, Kenya. From there my wife and I visited a pastor and his family in Kigali, Rwanda who are planting a church out of our partner church, Nairobi Chapel. Now that the trip is over I thought it would be good (and therapeutic) to post a few of my thoughts about missions in East Africa. In all honesty, the trip was very helpful in shaping my thinking about the value of missions trips to a part of the world that has largely been “reached”. I think I was somewhat right but really wrong in other ways.

East Africa in particular has had a Christian missionary presence that pre-dates European colonization in the 1850’s. While colonization of Kenya (British) and Rwanda (Germans and Belgians) did bring with it oppression and misplaced beliefs about Africans, certainly Christian missionary presence had the effect of spreading the gospel, albeit with the sword in one hand and the Bible in the other (as my friend in Rwanda described it). So with that in mind, as a fledgling missionary with Campus Crusade for Christ, when the driving value of reaching the unreached world in our generation became central to my thinking, large parts of Africa outside the 10/40 window were, in my opinion, reached and going there was redundant. Rather than funding more missionary efforts in those parts of the world we should focus our efforts on unreached people groups. After my time in country over the past two weeks, in honestly, I was mostly wrong in my conclusion.

Here’s I think where I was mostly right. Africa does not really need the west to come in with more programs and even traditional evangelistic approaches in order to “reach” more. The default mode of our approach on the part of the west in the past has been to continue to approach the African church not in partnership but rather in a position of authority and with money. In other words, we still believe that because we have financial resources and information, we can approach the church in Africa in a parental way as if we are saying, “Let us show you how to do it.” This has a detrimental effect of creating not only a sense of spiritual pride but also can lead to a dependency by African pastors to go for the money. This is not an African problem – it’s a world problem where “money talks” leading to a kind of missional co-dependency.

That said, here’s where I was wrong…. we have quite a bit to learn from believers there. While we can partner with them to provide certain resources it is always with a humble spirit coming up alongside them in partnership. African scholar, Lamin Sanneh in his book Whose Relgion is Christianity? The Gospel Beyond the West helpfully reminds us that Christianity is a world religion and with the West engulfed in growing secularism, we can look to places where the gospel is flourishing (Africa and South America) to help us gain theological insight from an African point of view. So while parts of Africa might not need “help” in the way we have provided it in the past, there is plenty of room for partnership, to learn and grow together, while co-laboring together for the gospel. In our case, we have much to learn from those at Nairobi Chapel as we partner with them in church planting efforts in Africa.

I was also mistaken in my belief that sending people and resources to a “reached” country is largely a waste of money. After all, it’s quite costly to send teams to Africa to partner with both Kids Alive and Nairobi Chapel. Why should we send people often at an exorbitant cost when we could just as easily send the money? I used to think that money was better spent, in our case, hiring local workers to construct a playground rather than sending a team of Americans. As I was working hauling cement to fill holes for the playground, I thought about this question. What is it about personally showing up at a higher cost that outweighs just sending money?

Of course, giving money can be a good and appropriate action. There is also a level of wisdom and prudence that is necessary in giving. IMG_0408However, personally coming, even at a higher cost points to two things. First, partnership involves being personally present. It’s really hard to capture what it means to co-labor together especially when it comes to “looking after” (James 1:27) the poor and oppressed if we don’t come. Yes, it’s more expensive but actually being present communicates friendship, sharing in joy and burdens, as well as encouragement and support. This was apparent in my time in Kigali with Pastor Nzimbi and his family as “presence” communicated so much more than just mere interest in his church planting effort.

Maybe more important, showing up is exactly what God did with us. God certainly could have announced good news from afar and then left it to us to figure it out. But instead we read in John 1, that Jesus tabernacled among us. It is, as my friend Bryan Loritts says, God moved into our ‘hood. The cost to the Father was unfathomably enormous and impractically exorbitant. Yet, Jesus showed up for your benefit and mine. In other words, when we show up personally we follow in the pattern of God Himself when He sent His Son at a great cost. This is the gospel as the Son “comes down” to those who are mired in the poverty of their sin forfeiting all of His riches, becoming poor so that through His going to the cross and His resurrection we would become rich.

In the end, I’m glad that I went. It was challenging to me in a very different way as it confronted my own sense of pride and misbelief surrounding missions to Africa. How much richer I am and how much deeper is my appreciation for the gospel after spending time with a group of Christ-following Americans and meeting people like Purity Nyamu and the rest of the Kids Alive Kenya staff, and Pastor Nzimbi and his family!  We were adamantly told by a pastor that it wouldn’t rain while we were in Kenya because it was the dry season. One day we saw clouds rolling over the hills and thought, “Here comes the rain!” While we were told over and over again that it wouldn’t rain, it did. Pastor Nzimbi told me while I was in Kigali that in African tradition when visitors come and it rains that is a sign of God’s blessing. Our showing up was a way for God to bless us and the people we came in contact with…

Mission, the Heart of God pt. 2


I’ve been thinking a lot about missions lately. Most of it has been fueled  by our “Joy to the World” Sunday where some of our young adults went into the community to serve, our group’s partnerships with Habitat for Humanity in community renovation,with the Dodgens in providing shower and laundry facilities for the homeless, and with the El Dorado Motel’s church service. That’s a lot but it represents something that serves the good of the city while keeping Christ central!

In light of how missions is positioned (central to God’s heart and one of the underlying narratives throughout the Scriptures) then how do we relate to the Great Commission?

First, we are to live intentional lives of mission representing our Master wherever we go… from our neighborhood to our place of employment to places of poverty to places around the world where the good news can be proclaimed. The mission of God’s people has always been to bless others because we are blessed. We follow the Great Commission because it leads us to more opportunities to express the Great Commandments – to love God and our neighbor! To hoard the blessing and not live missionally or to entrust mission to the “professionals” is destructive not only to our lives but to the church.

Second, maybe more counts for mission than we think. That’s not to say that we need to stop sending people on traditional missions trips. Those trips have incalculable value! What if seeking the shalom of the city (Jeremiah 29:7) meant there is a redemptive element planted in our neighborhoods? What if we began to see vocation (and everyone has at least one) as, in part, missional. I used to put it like this to college students: Your degree is not for your comfort and a way for you to eke out a living. Your college degree, in part, is a ticket to mission field that I can never go. You get to go to a group of people and before them  you get to live out a robust picture of work, you get to serve the common good of your neighbor, and you get to talk to them about Christ!

What I’m mulling around in my mind is how overseas missions and missions “here” (for lack of a better way to describe it although I don’t like separating the two), fit together. What if the they fed each other? What if our relentless pursuit of redemption in the city as we prayed for the city and acted in the city, led to a greater hunger to go where worship of one True God currently doesn’t exist? What if going overseas on a missions trip fed the desire to actually be a part of something great happening here in the city? What if it led to people living out the Jesus kind of life and speaking to people unashamedly about Him?

I’dl love people’s thoughts on this! Fire away if you have comments!

Mission, the Heart of God


What component of discipleship to Jesus is critical? If we simply take the Great Commission at face value, Jesus is sending His disciples into the world to announce to the whole world, the news that God’s Kingdom is here and available for all! It is the life you’ve deeply wanted and includes forgiveness, peace, joy, meaning, and stability to name just a few characteristics. And all of this now and into eternity!

This has been God’s heart from the beginning! We see this in Genesis 13 where Abram is given a promise that is again given more specificity in Genesis 17. Abram will be the father of many nations! From the beginning God was going to use a man to bless the entire world (does that sound familiar?). Then we see further clarity as it relates to the nation of Israel in Numbers 6:22-27 when Aaron is instructed to offer a benediction to the people: You are blessed to be a blessing. If you want to understand the comprehensiveness of God’s heart for mission read Christopher Wright’s outstanding book, The Mission of God.

What should astound us is the Great Commission is not new. God always has had a heart for all people, for all time. God’s desire has been to use His people, especially those who have been blessed with the gospel, the Kingdom in all of it’s resources presently available, to be a blessing to those around us. One of our greatest problems as Christians is that we isolate mission. We study it and we build programs for mission. Those are helpful but they tend to isolate it in an unhealthy way from the rest of the Christian life in a way where people often conclude, “That’ not my ‘calling'”. We end up with what Wright calls a “missionary stereotype.”

Your following Christ was never intended just for you. It was always with this sense that as the gospel grips your heart so you will be “propelled” or some translations use the word “constrained” (2 Cor. 5:1-15). It literally means a pressing in on all sides. It certainly doesn’t mean that you are forced to tell people about Jesus. The meaning (and context) is clearly that as the gospel takes root in your heart, it has nowhere to go but out of you!

So here’s an intense exercise: what if you saw your job as a mission field? What if God actually sent you there and paid you (through your employer) to represent His Son through the quality of your work, contributing to the common good of people, and to talk about Jesus in very natural ways? Or what if you began to see that even a trip to the grocery store can be an opportunity to represent? I’ll give a few more specific thoughts about mission in my next blog…

God’s Amazing Work in the World


I remember as a young Christian reading Don Richardson’s Peace Child. It probably was one of the first books that got me thinking about world evangelism. But it also taught me that God is at work around the world in ways that don’t quite fit our neat boxes. We even heard about it this past Sunday… Jesus appearing to people in dreams and visions in parts of the world!

This is a video that recounts his parents work with the Sawi people in Western New Guinea, how the gospel became real to them, and the effects today. It is an incredibly moving story… Would you take 15 minutes, watch this, and take a moment to reflect how awesome God is! And take note of some key phrases and how the gospel has this incredible effect that moves his people outward. I’m sure you’ll be blessed!

Never The Same