Thursday, September 3, 2015

Mwingi, Martyrs and Mission

Our mission this past Sunday was to go to Mwingi, which is just enough down from Kenya’s central highlands to be seriously hot and dry.  Mwingi is on the one paved road to Garissa, the eastern town towards Somalia where earlier this year Islamist gunmen invaded the university, separated out the Christian students from the Muslims, and systematically executed them.  152 Christian students were martyred because they chose to own their faith rather than passing themselves off as a Muslim and escaping with their life.  

The names of some of the students who were martyred because they professed Christ.

I mention this because increasingly, for us Christians, the cost of discipleship is no longer hypothetical.  Despite the best attempts of so-called ‘health and prosperity’ preachers (who are legion here) to make our well-being and comfort the mark of God’s blessing on one’s life (the same sort of assumption that infects most actual Christianity in the US!), our New Testaments declare that the true mark of God’s blessing and the Holy Spirit’s fullness will be lives poured out in love for neighbor, as well as joy and peace, patience and kindness, goodness and gentleness, and self-control.  My attempt to gain the world, or even have it both ways, results in losing my soul.  The evidence of two thousand years of Church history notwithstanding, we always think that our case is different, and that what has always applied to everyone else somehow does not apply to me.  The martyrs of Garissa give the lie to all this.  Their sudden, unlooked for deaths underline for all of us the hope of the Resurrection.  Because if the glitter of this world is all there is, and that’s all we have, then we of all people are to be most pitied – we strain towards a mirage; every path ends in death.  That’s why the forgiveness of our sins, though crucial, is not enough – we need a Savior who will also rescue us from this body of death.  And that’s why this ancient gospel is such good news today, because Christ is risen, trampling down death by death.  And He will raise up all the martyrs of every age who have suffered and given themselves as an offering for Christ.  And the rest of us whose ongoing death to self has characterized our own life in Christ, He will call us by name on the last day and raise us up, too.

St. Lazarus Orthodox Church, on the Garissa Road east of Mwingi

So my thoughts were on Garissa as we drove twenty kilometers past Mwingi to what was surely the middle of nowhere.  Only here in the middle of nowhere, a small circle of men and women, looking for the ancient faith of the Church, reached out to our Archbishop to establish an Orthodox Church here.  A very generous man contributed a piece of land big enough, not just for a Church, but for a school and hospital as well.  They built a mud-walled house with a tin roof and celebrated liturgy there for years until they had saved up enough money to build a stone church.  And now, today, we were to help them with what they hoped would be their final fundraiser (a ‘Harambee’, which means ‘pull together’) so that they could finish their building.  St. Lazarus Orthodox Church is the only Orthodox Church in this part of Kenya.  To the east towards Garissa, the population is increasingly Somali and Muslim.  And in Kamba land (the people in Mwingi are Kamba), the predominant Christian presence is the Africa Inland Church, the fruit of the efforts of generations of Africa Inland Mission missionaries.  Though St. Lazarus Church is small, they have the sense of being a part of something bigger. Orthodoxy in Kenya is like the mustard seed I read about in the Gospel this morning – it may have started as the smallest of seeds, but it is growing and will fill this place with its fruit.  

What a mustard seed looks like

With their own giving and the Archbishop’s help, St. Lazarus Church will be able to finish its building, and maybe even construct a bell tower.  The children sang for us.  The ladies fixed a wonderful meal.  And then it was time to make the three hour drive back to Nairobi.

In line for the Holy Mysteries

Since last I wrote I have also taught two courses in my role as Senior Lecturer at St. Paul’s University.  The first was an undergraduate course in the History of Early Christianity at our extension site in the northwestern Kenyan town of Kitale.  The second was a Masters-level course on the History of Western Christianity up to the Reformation.  Both of these courses were ‘modular’, which means I gave all the content in one week of lecturing five hours a day.  And then the students work on written assignments and prepare for the final exam in November.  It’s not my favorite way to teach.  But I am so grateful to be back, and it’s enough to be a contributing member of our faculty again.

My Kitale class of Church Historians ('ACK' stands for 'Anglican Church of Kenya)

Our new term at St. Paul’s starts this week.  Theoretically I will have three courses to teach.  I have been assigned only one so far, a course in our new PhD program (which I helped to design back in 2012-2013) in Systematic Theology on ‘Theological Hermeneutics’.  Just now as I write this, I’ve received an email telling me that I will teach the undergraduate Systematic Theology 3 course, which includes the Holy Spirit and Sanctification, the Church and the end times.  I am guessing I will also be given a course to teach at our downtown Nairobi campus, but so far that is just a guess.  I have learned that this sort of last minute communication when it comes to course assignment is simply the way it is.  I just hope I find out with enough time to prepare!

St. Paul's Library, with the new Admin and Graduate Studies buildings in the background

Our term at Makarios III Patriarchal Orthodox Seminary won’t start until October.  But it looks like we have a new class of twenty who will join us, making fifty students altogether.  It seems miraculous to me that the financial situation (while still not good) has improved to allow us to have this many.  Thanks be to God.

Here are some things to pray for:
1. Pray that I would manage my time well and have enough time to prepare the content of my courses at St. Paul’s.
2. Pray that I would take time to get to know my students and build good relationships with them.
3. Pray that funding would be secured so that all the Makarios III seminary’s needs can be met and so our compound workers’ salaries can be paid. 
4. Pray for wisdom as a committee of us works to transform the seminary’s certificate into an accredited Bachelor of Theology degree.

Here are a few more pictures from a busy month.

The little mission parish of St. Nectarios, not far from St. Paul's Limuru campus.
I helped chant the liturgy and preached here a couple of weeks ago.

Inside St. Nectarios Church

Children singing as the offering is presented.

Members of this little parish have started an orphanage.  These four boys now have
a warm, safe place to call home.  There are 15 additional children being helped here.

Amani kwa wote - Peace be unto you.
His Eminence Makarios Archbishop of Kenya during the Divine Liturgy in Mwingi this past Sunday.

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