Friday, September 9, 2016

History Not Welcome Here

Kenya is a country with 44.4 million people.  Nairobi is a world class city of 3+ million souls with every amenity.  Surveys indicate that fully 80% of Kenyans claim to be Christian of one sort of another.  But when this church history professor went in search of the text books he assigned his Church History I and Church History II students to read (almost 50 students altogether), in Christian Bookstore after so-called Christian Bookstore, nothing.  Blank stares.  Zip.  Nada.  Not only did these bookstores not have N.R. Needham’s 2000 Years of Christ’s Power (Parts I, II and III), they didn’t have any books on any Church History topic.  None.  And these are the major Evangelical/Pentecostal booksellers in the country.  Maybe I showed up on a bad day.  Maybe I missed something.  Maybe there are other enclaves of Christian History out there somewhere waiting to be discovered.  If there are, let's just say they are not very seeker sensitive.

There was plenty of ‘Christian Fiction' (I’m trying to fathom the draw of Amish love stories in urban Nairobi).  ‘Christian Living’ takes up the biggest amount of shelf space, full of books by ‘famous’ authors whose names take up more space than the titles do.  One can see that the people in charge of deciding what books need to be written have done their job in terms of polling.  These books are about the issues these authors and their advisors think people will buy (i.e. are hot) and so they write accordingly. Pandering comes to mind, as does the Apostle Paul’s even less flattering image of those ‘Christians’ who, in their shallowness, gather around themselves a great number of teachers [authors] to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:3)

There is the ever popular ‘Relationships’ section in which book after book dishes out strikingly similar versions of the same advice, depending on one’s age, sex, and marital status.  How many new angles can one possibly create in order to justify writing yet another shallow book on Twenty-two Ways to Better Love Your [Husband? Wife? Children? Parents? Cat?]

And it becomes immediately obvious that the people in charge of these bookstores care only about selling books, not about what the books actually say.  Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Hagin, Reinhold Bonnke, Kenneth Copeland, TD Jakes, Joyce Meyers, Prophet Owour and their tribe sell LOTS of books (and videos) here in Kenya.  But these books and their authors are the equivalent of the 1348 Bubonic Plague to the churches of Kenya (and all across this continent).  Their so-called prosperity gospel is an open sewer that leads gullible Christians and seekers away from the Gospel of Jesus and the Apostles and after the gods of mammon, power and success, the Baal, Molech and Asherah of our day.  The health and prosperity gospel is an invasive species that drives out the native faith and replaces it with a loud, glitzy, exciting, pep-rally sort of religion that is supposed to make one feel good and motivate one to give lots of money to support ‘the ministry’, which actually means to support the ‘successful’ lifestyle of the ‘minister’.  Christianity has been hijacked and is being used by these people to promote their own agendas, not a Gospel agenda.  And people here are drinking this Kool-aid up, not realising that it is endangering their very souls and gutting the churches.  And these ‘Christian’ booksellers have their shelves full of this poison, and they are promoting it, and being very successful at getting it into the hands of prosperity wannabees.  I have noted elsewhere that in a recent survey of the reading habits (such as they are) of Kenyan Christians, by far the most popular author is Joel Osteen.  Imagine!  Joel Osteen!  The go-to diet for Kenyan Christians!

But no books on Christian history.  None are being offered.  None are being sold.  None are being read.  This explains a lot.  In Kenya, there is a revival of just about every heresy that the Church of the Apostles and the Fathers battled against in the first five centuries of Chrsitianity.  Read St. Irenaeus’ Against the Heresies, and it’s like reading contemporary newspaper accounts of Kenyan/African Christianity.  It’s all here, in different forms and in different guises.  But it’s the same weirdness, the same bizarre teachings, the same gnosticisms, the same dualisms, the same paganisms, the same making use of religion to justify what I want to do, the same self-appointed prophets, apostles and bishops running around gathering flocks to fleece.  The only difference seems to be that the heresies pestering and plaguing the early Church didn’t have sound systems, while the ones today do.  Lord have mercy.  There are 5000 different denominations in Kenya and that number will only grow because as the Book of Judges said about Israel, it could be describing us:  ‘In those days there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.’  (Judges 21:25)

Full disclosure:  To it’s credit, my university book store had 2 sets of Needham on sale.  I bought them both so that I could donate them to our library and put them on the reserve shelf and thus make them available for my students to do their assignments.  The library also had a set.  So that makes three sets of my text book on the reserve shelf for my students to access.  And I have 50 students.  Can you see my issue?  This is why I went on a search this afternoon to see if there were any other volumes that I could get ahold of IN THE COUNTRY!  And if that wasn’t enough, some of my students are complaining because they don’t like/want to read.  I provoked gasps and murmurs when, in answer to a question, I said that I would not be providing outlines of my lectures.  My reason was, if I give you an outline of the lecture, then you will lose all motivation to read anything, because you will think that all you need to do is memorise what’s on the outline and you can at least pass the exam.  But I want my students to read.  And I want them to read history.  (But they don’t want to, and I’m having trouble finding things for them to read anyway.)  Is this too much to ask?

To sum up, Christians here are not reading history.  It shows.

Sidewalk bookseller's wares across the street from St. Paul's Nairobi campus.
Notice the titles and note the books in the upper left of the picture.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


Dear Friends and Praying Partners,


His Eminence has authorized me to announce that I have been asked to serve as the new Deputy Dean of the Makarios III Patriarchal Orthodox Seminary here in Nairobi, the school where I have been teaching and living this past year.  The Archbishop, of course, is the General Dean under whose blessing I will serve.  I have about a month or so to pull things together before the students arrive and a new year begins.  I am beginning by consulting with as many people associated with the seminary as possible -  the three former DDs whom I know, faculty, staff, students, just to get my mind around all that goes on here and all that needs to be done.  I will have my own raft of courses to teach as well in addition to my administrative responsibilities. We face a lot of challenges which space doesn’t allow me to enumerate right now.  Just to say please pray for me and for us.  This job will be impossible to do unless the Lord goes before me and prepares His way.  The strategic nature of our work is apparent to everyone aware of the growth of Orthodoxy on this continent.  But it also draws the unwanted attention of the enemy who is keen to thwart any advance of the kingdom of God in this place.  So please pray.

His Eminence with clergy, faculty, visitors and students of
Makarios III Patriarchal Orthodox Seminary

I have had to implore my administrators at St. Paul’s to keep them from loading me with an impossible number of courses.  They started by assigning me five (this was after I told them I had to go halftime because of my new upcoming responsibilities).  But ‘halftime’ evidently means different things to different people.  Ideally, I should teach two.  They have talked me into three.  And still I hear of attempts to add at least one more Masters-level seminar course.  So as of now, I’m teaching the Bachelor-level Church History survey courses, I and II (3 hrs on Mondays and Wednesdays, respectively), as well as a repeat performance on Fridays of the Masters-level Theology and Society course I taught this summer.  In fact, as I write this, I am sitting at a coffee shop in downtown Nairobi, which becomes my office every week about this time.  My course is held at ‘Church House’, St. Paul’s high-rise ‘campus’ in Nairobi’s Central Business District (CBD).  Because parking and traffic in Nairobi are both ridiculous, I ride local buses, and leave myself enough time to run errands, finish preparing and drink coffee.  Class starts at 5:30pm and runs till 8:30pm, which means I’m scrambling for a bus back home at the same time as everyone else getting out of class at one of the 10+ universities that have downtown campuses like St. Paul’s.  Usually I get home before 9:30pm, unless I stop at a local burger joint for a bite to eat.  Tonight, however, the Archbishop will be waiting for me because I am helping him with his correspondence, and he uses my laptop to access his email.  At some point, we’ll retire to his office and he will dictate correspondence.  And finally at who-knows-when o’clock, he will say, ‘OK, Professor, I think we are finished for today.’

In my office at St. Paul's University, Limuru campus.

The big events of this past month were the three conferences I attended.  The first was the first annual women’s conference for the new Diocese of Kisumu and Western Kenya held about an hour’s drive from Eldoret.  His Grace Bishop Athanasius asked me to speak on the subjects of Money and Sex.  I asked the ladies if they had ever heard a man give a talk on sex before and they all shook their head ‘NO’!  At the last minute, I realized what a fantastic opportunity I had to sample the opinions of Orthodox women in Kenya with respect to this subject (sex, that is). I was so pleased with their response, I decided to try the same thing at the next conference, the all-Kenya Orthodox Youth conference, held in Nandi County also in western Kenya.  At this conference I was also asked to speak on Sex and Money.  And I also had the opportunity to give my ‘testimony’ of how I converted from being a Protestant pastor and missionary to becoming an Orthodox Christian.

Me speaking at the Diocese of Western Kenya's Women's Conference
His Grace, Bishop Athanasius addressing the All Kenya Youth Conference.
Me speaking at the Youth Conference, talking about sex, pregnancy, abortion, domestic violence,
and forgiveness in Christ.

The final conference was held in Arusha, Tanzania, and was a training conference for university lecturers.  Like most such events, some of what was presented was rather obvious.  But there were other things I took away that give me some new perspective on things to try as I seek to engage my students to learn at a deep rather than a surface level.  Tanzania looks a lot like Kenya, except, at least where I was, considerably more laid back.  I get to go back in January for part 2 of the training.  I think I’ll be ready for more laid back by then.

With my St. Paul's colleagues at Tumaini University near Arusha, Tanzania

A couple of matters for prayer:

I have written a book: Stewardship and the African Orthodox Christian -The Forgotten Secret Behind Christian Giving and Healthy Churches 

I have struggled to find a publisher.  Currently I am thinking to self-publish here in Kenya.  There is a desperate need to get Christians here interacting with these ideas, and nobody else is addressing them.  I think I can keep the cost down to $3-$4 or less per volume.  I have asked the Archbishop for his blessing and also to write the Forward.  My ideas are ancient (Jesus, the Apostles, and the Church Fathers were all in agreement as to how we should use our money, as opposed to the default positions here of Dependency and the so-called Prosperity Gospel) which means they are RADICAL for the Kenyan context (and maybe even the American context as well).  I also hope to publish with an academic press so that it will ‘count’ as a legitimate publication in the eyes of the university and academic world.  Pray that the right doors will open.  Pray that I can come up with enough capital to finance self-publishing the book here (such things are not in my budget).  And pray that His Eminence will find my book and its message useful in furthering his own vision for the Archdiocese.

His Eminence Makarios, Archbishop of Nairobi and Exarch of Kenya
and His Grace Athanasius, Bishop of Kisumu and Western Kenya
preparing to concelebrate the Divine Liturgy to close the Youth Conference.

Well that’s more than enough for now.  Thank you for praying.  Thank you for your financial support.  As our new Liturgical Year is underway, may we all find renewed strength and perspective as we follow our Lord these next steps along the way.

By grace,