Saturday, June 11, 2011

Some musings on the meaning of the spring Kibera trip and the last of the pictures are now posted

Kenya Spring 2011
Now that the jet lag is finally over and I am getting back into my daily routine, I've been able to ponder the recent mission to Kibera and it's time to put together some final thoughts on the things that made this mission trip so special. There were several overarching themes that really cropped up over and over again, both while we were there and in my reflections since our return home. They are:

1.) The teamwork between all interested parties was nothing short of amazing. We got help from our experienced volunteers from Kawangware including Pastor Zedekiah for most of the week. This was very important because our team from Redeemer only consisted of 6 members. There are 6 stations in a vision clinic and a minimal team is usually one team member for each station plus the team leader. This allows the leader to roam the clinic and pitch in wherever there is a bottleneck or to take care of inevitable issues as they arise. The local evangelists were fantastic. Last year, we had several evangelists that had come from other locations to help. This year, all of our evangelists were from Springs of Life. I know when visitors ask me about Redeemer, they understand by the time I'm done with them that it's the only church for me! I'm sure our evangelists are just as enthusiastic about their home congregation. We had wonderful help from Lutheran Hour workers, some of whom also belong to Springs of Life. They were spreading the Gospel to our patients as they waited for registration. They have a new program of Bible Correspondence Courses they were stressing. Since mail and even cell phones are iffy ways to connect with people in Kibera, the program requires that Bible students bring their lessons to the church every Sunday to be handed in. The LHM workers then give the students new lessons and take the previous lessons to be graded during the next week. This commitment to the hard work of hands on evangelism deserves our utmost admiration. The program has the added benefit that people just MIGHT step foot inside the church on Sunday, since they are there with their lessons anyway. Also, the Lutheran Hour team members showed 2 movies during the week in the neighborhood (not on the church grounds). Monday night at 9pm, after we were exhausted and already heading for bed, they showed the Jesus Film, dubbed in the local flavor of Swahili called Luo that is spoken in the neighborhood, to about 600 people and of course made mention of the vision clinic. On Wednesday night, they showed a film about Mary Magdalene to about 1,000 people in the neighborhood. Attendance at the clinic was great all week and a large number of the patients who came to see us were there as a result of the Lutheran Hour missionaries. Well done, good and faithful servants! The commitment and cooperation we got from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya and their local Diocese was very helpful as well, with Sylvester, from the staff of Bishop Obare, actually showing up Monday morning to encourage us on our first day. What a blessing! The Springs of Life volunteers were very dedicated and worked long hours side by side with us cheerfully. Our morning and evening devotions with them were particularly special and by the time we had our last devotion and parting ceremony on Friday, there wasn't a dry eye in the place. There were tears of joy at having made new friends and tears of sadness at having to say goodbye until next time. Finally, it was very special to serve with Rev. Bakari and his wife Sophia, both of whom are converts from Islam. They have an all consuming fire for the Lord that is infectious to all whom they meet. I feel that this vision clinic was only the beginning of really building up the Springs of Life Church as a light on a hill in their local community. By week's end, the Pastor had confided in me that he could not have met as many community members in a year as he had during the past week and that everywhere he goes now people yell out "Pastor!" and know who he is and the good that his church does in the neighborhood. No mention of teamwork would be complete without mentioning the support that the LCMS World Missions local missionary, Pastor Shauen Trump and our dear friend Catherine Wangari gave us. There wasn't a problem too big or a detail so small that they weren't able to joyfully help us with. Again, well done, good and faithful servants to all who contributed their time and talents to this evangelism mission.

2.) I am very happy to take note of the extra energy and joy that first time members always bring to the table, which in turn energizes all of us. Starting with seeing some of the sights of Nairobi to actually working in the slum, they brought us a lot of laughs. Both Lupe and Leslie were on their feet for long hours every day, barely taking a break, but continuously smiling and shining for all to see in their service to the Lord. It's contagious! We also had veterans of 4 or more of these missions under their belts on our team, all of whom have a deep, heart-felt commitment for the sharing of the Gospel and the love of Christ. We have maybe a little different joy, peace and overall demeanor about us than the new team members, not any better or worse, just different. I think the mix of new and veteran team members was part of what made this misison so special this time. The wonderment, sense of awe and wide-eyed joy of the new missionaries helped to keep us old-timers from getting too detached or jaded, and I'm sure that in turn we provided a necessary rudder for the newbies who were far outside of their pre-concieved comfort zones. It's amazing how much bigger your comfort zone gets when you get out of the boat!

3.) Communication issues abounded, both involving phone and Internet service. While these problems made it harder in some ways, they ultimately didn't really matter much. I was still able to post almost daily reports about what we were doing, but had to walk about a quarter mile to the LCMS World Missions offices each evening and really only had the time and energy to do minimal reports and I was not in much of a position to post any pictures. Also, because we gladly gave our Kenyan cell phone to another team that was going out into a rural area to replace their damaged device, we were not able to call and let our families know we were OK until Monday, more than 4 days after we left Austin. This was actually kind of funny. On Saturday, Catherine bought us a SIM card and cell minutes for an old Nokia phone that she had, but we couldn't figure out how to activate it or use it until our driver, Joseph, got it going in about 10 seconds on Monday morning. Due to the eight hour time difference, we couldn't actually call home until after work that evening. I'm sure Adrienne would not have appreciated a 2am phone call from me no matter how much she might have been worried about us!

4.) Even though we worked at an existing church that was dedicated in 2003 by Bishop Obare, and though this was our second clinic there, we really got a sense of being involved in ground floor church building. Pastor Bakari was filled with the Holy Spirit the whole time, the congregation had a unified sense of purpose, the Lutheran Hour staff were incredibly dedicated to their work and, of course, it all rubbed off on us as well. Each and every one of us can't wait to get back to Kibera next May to see how much the church has grown in terms of numbers and also in their faith and the many ministries they are doing.

5.) Also on the subject of church building, Ralph Genz was privileged to be a part of the team led by Paul Althoff of Salem at Chesenende, a brand new clinic site that we at Redeemer hope to return to in November in partnership with Good Shepherd Lutheran Church of Cedar Park. It was a wonderful first time clinic and some of Ralph's photos are now included with those from Kibera on the blog.

6.) Finally, these reflections would not be complete if I didn't once again issue a call others to join us in spreading the Gospel to the world. I highly recommend a book by David Platt called Radical that was on the NY Times Bestseller List last year. Pastor Platt shepherds a large church about the size of Redeemer in Birmingham, AL. I read his book during the long flights on this trip and it's a life changer. His basic premise is that we have come to worship the American Dream in our culture and it even extends to the way we do church. Bigger is better. After teaching in home churches in India, China and other places where people were risking their lives, jobs and everything they own to learn more about the faith, he just didn't feel right in his own church, with millions of dollars worth of vehicles outside of a multimillion dollar sanctuary. Entertainment, programs for the kids, and other facets of large American church culture had pushed aside the hunger for the Word and giving glory to God through true worship. He went back to his Bible and discovered that Jesus had a mini-church of totally devoted followers who had given up everything in order to follow him and fulfill the mission he sent them on when he gave them The Great Commission. They didn't need a mega-church to turn the world upside-down. Just committed followers doing the hard work of one on one discipleship training. Since we are called to spread the Good News to the world, and two thirds of the world isn't Christian, and most of that two thirds lives outside of the United States, Pastor Platt has been empowering people from all walks of life in his congregation to participate in one way or another in foreign missions. He has noticed what we have also seen at Redeemer. Those who get outside of their comfort zone and help in making disciples of all nations come back to their local community and are even more involved in doing the same at home. The enthusiasm they bring back is contagious and their congregations are alive. Again, I can't say enough about this book except that I wish that I had written it! I may even base a study in my Sunday School class on it in the coming year.

As always, if you would like to join us on a future trip or have any questions about what we do and why we do it, please contact Pastor Kevin Westergren at 512-459-1500 or or me, Dave DeVore at 512-323-5343 or

To God be the Glory!