Sometimes the most painful opposition comes from people on the inside, from so-called friends who see themselves as self-appointed warriors rushing to the defense of the Church. I usually don't allow personal attacks to stay, but I felt I needed to respond to this. I think it is important to realize that 1) there are people who are saying things like this; and 2) there are people who think it is ok to say things in this way. I personally believe it would be good to have an honest engagement with the issues that my unhappy correspondent raises, as well as the ones I raise. But I also want to flag that personal attacks are never acceptable in any context, much less between people who consider themselves to be Christians. Sadly, this person was not interested in engaging with me further, for reasons this person has kept to themselves. But it it doesn’t mean I/we can’t learn something from the interactions.
So this ‘friend’ wrote to complain that I was trying to raise money to send a bunch of books given to me to the libraries at Makarios III Patriarchal Orthodox Seminary and St. Paul’s University, the schools where I teach in Nairobi. When I indicated with a ‘?’ that I didn’t understand why she was unhappy, this person wrote what follows below.
Oh you want a comment? Okay, here ya go. So why are you soliciting Orthodox people to send you money to ship Protestant books to a Protestant school for Protestants? In fact whay [sic] are you teaching at a Protestant school? You can't have one foot in Orthodoxy and one back in your old religion. I have thought for some time that you are just some gung-ho Protestant missionary who for some obscure reason found it more convenient to do your own missionary thing under an Orthodox umbrella, And that you are still basically doing your own Protestant thing, still filled with and teaching all your old Protestant ideas and practices and using your old Protestant models and methods. I have thought of unfriending and blocking you before but thought no, I'll stick around and see what you are up to, Well I have heard enough. This soliciting money from Orthodox to ship Protestant books---and using a picture of Orthodox priests to get it-- is as sleezy [sic] as it comes. You are exactly the kind of person we do not need in missions in Africa. I would suggest you go back to America and join a traditional congregation there, as a layperson, where you can learn instead of trying to teach--because all you are doing is sowing Protestant seeds in Orthodox Africa...."the blind leading the blind". So, I am sending this same message to you privately, so you can see it, and then I am blocking you. I want no contact with this kind of nonsense.
I tried to respond to the message, but had already been blocked. This is what I wrote:
I am willing to be wrong, but you sound like a person who has a lot of unresolved anger, and I just happen to be the latest recipient who has gotten in the way. I have my own set of issues which I have owned and am trying to get the help I need. I hope you can take the same steps. As to your charges (and it does rather feel like you have taken the role of prosecuting attorney here), probably about half of the books are appropriate for and intended for the Makarios III Patriarchal Orthodox Seminary library, for which I am administratively responsible as deputy dean under HE Makarios. As to involvement with a Protestant school, I look at it as a strategic opportunity to introduce colleagues and students who would otherwise be ignorant of Orthodoxy to the treasures of Orthodox theology, history and spirituality. I know this kind of engagement is effective, because it is in this way that I became aware of Orthodoxy after 40 years of knowing nothing about it.
As to me being influenced by Protestantism, well duh. I became a Christian as a Charismatic Presbyterian, worked with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in campus ministry for 8 years, attended an Evangelical seminary, served as a Presbyterian minister for 21 years, was a Protestant missionary for 11 years in East Africa and published a book on the man who wrote the most influential book on Protestant pastoral ministry. So yes, I would agree with your insinuation that I have been influenced by Protestantism. Unlike you, though, I think we Orthodox can learn a few things from our Roman Catholic and Protestant brothers and sisters, not in a way that changes what we have received in terms of our written and apostolic tradition, but in terms of how we apply it. Too many of our churches are bound by the chains of ethnic identity or self-centeredness which serves narrow ethnic and personal agendas rather than the kingdom of God. We could learn a thing or two from our Protestant and Catholic friends who have been much more effective at reaching out in evangelism and charity than our own ethnic enclaves. There are exceptions, but they tend to prove the rule. Given that Jesus says that the tree is known by the fruit it bears (and not by being precisely correct in doctrine, by the way), while I would prefer to get both right, if I am going to err, I would much rather get the love and outreach part right than nail everything down perfectly on the doctrine side.
Lastly, you talk as though you have inside knowledge of Orthodoxy as it exists in Kenya and the rest of Africa. You sound like you know exactly what we need and how to make it work, how to solve our long time dysfunctions, how to get around the substantial conflicts, how to reach the hundreds of different cultures around us with the Gospel, how to order our priorities and how best to come up with the funds we desperately need, how to make bricks without straw. Since you know what we need, and what we don't need (i.e. apparently me the former Protestant), please come and help us. Come put your life on the line the way I and my colleagues have been willing to do, going into places that the rest of the world doesn't consider to be 'safe'. Come pour your life into what so often feels like a lost cause. Come leave your family, your home, your friends, your culture like I and my colleagues have done, and come instead to a place and culture that's strange and different and hard. Come give your talents and your abilities and your money like I and all of my colleagues there do on a daily basis to people who will never be able to pay us back. It is so very easy to sit behind a screen and lob snark in someone's direction. And you may be right in some of your critiques, or even all of your critiques. But so what? Unfortunately it reveals more about you than it does about those of us trying to serve our Lord in Kenya and other parts of the world. If I had any sense that you actually cared for us, for the work there, for me, I might be willing to listen and hear you as a valuable counselor. But unfortunately I don't see your motive as being trying to help, or to build up; but rather to hurt and tear down. I end as I began - there is a lot of anger in your words, and I have lived long enough to realize it's probably not aimed at me. I'm just in the way of whatever it is that spins your wheels. Please get the help you need. You probably have a lot to offer, but not like this. And when you have dealt with the log in your own eye, please come over and help us. We surely need it.