Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cross-Cultural Training in Tomball is underway!

Monday September 24

I arrived in Tomball at Salem Lutheran Church yesterday in time for a noon lunch and then an afternoon filled with cross cultural training by missionaries and staff from LCMS International Missions.  What a blessing it is to have lifelong, called church workers sharing their insights with short-term mission teams such as ourselves. Over the last 25 years or so, the short-term mission movement has gained steam and done much good around the world.  Of course, there have been problems, especially ones caused by groups that go on a mission to a particualr locale and never return again, leaving the host congregation wondering if they are not worthy of a second visit and the career missionaries in a position to mop up after any cultural faux pauxs.  Our Vision for Kenya Project is very different from this.  It began in 2007 as a five year commitment to spread the Gospel via vision and dental clinics.  It has grown geometrically from being a program of Salem Lutheran Church in partnership with the LCMS through the Congregation Connect initiative to a major effort with three churches making up a mentoring group and many other congregations having a stake in locations throughout Kenya.  About 60 team members will depart in November for our biggest effort yet, serving two locations in Nairobi and many more sites in other parts of the country.  One of our guiding principles is that we do short-term missions with a long-term commitment, returning to the same areas, building relationships with the pastors and congregations we serve.  The churches grow and the blessings are abundant, both for the areas that get human care ministry and for those of us that go into this mission field.  While this was to be a five year project, all involved have signed on for another five years, since we can see that we are still gaining momentum and there is much work left to be done in our obedience to the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20.
Our LCMS International Missions staff on hand includes Dave Birner, head of the program, Mike Rodewald, who oversees all of our missionaries in Africa,  Jennifer Prophete, short-term missions coordinator from the St. Louis office and Shara Cunningham from our Nairobi office.  Also particiapting with us are Ivan and Jennifer Rasch, missionaries serving in Ghana. We have participants from Salem Lutheran Church in Tomball, Concordia San Antonio, Trinity-Klein, Peace Hewitt and Redeemer Lutheran Church in Austin, my home congregation.

After lunch, our sessions began with everyone introducing themselves.  We range in experience from some team members who will be going on their first mission with us to old-times saddling up for the eleventh time.  I love the mix of experience and wide-eyed enthusiasm that has been a hallmark of each and every mission I've been on.  And yes, I'm somewhere in between, going on my eighth trip to Kenya this time since November of 2009.

Mike led a devotion based on Psalm 56 and then he went into the Gospel of Matthew geneology, stressing that relationships are highly prized in Africa and the Middle East (it's who you are, not what you do that counts).  As an excercise, he then asked us to write down what our reasons were for going on this next mission trip.  He proceeded to give an historical overview of the LCMS' role in world missions, followed by a look at the size and history of the Lutheran church across the African continent.  It was an eye opener, seeing that most of our denominations work has been from near the equator and to the south, with the northern part of the continent largely untouched, since it's a Muslim stronghold.  He did stress that while all of us have studied the formal teachings of Islam in order to be better evangelists, Islam in Africa is largely cultural rather than orthodox in many places.  More is to follow on this over the next two days. 

In response to the exercise previously noted, Mike reviewed the many reasons people have gone into the mission field over the years and explained Missio Dei or God's mission to us, which is why we are sent and why we go as Lutherans. We are privileged to be called by God to his mission field, He doesn't need us to accomplish His purpose but in His grace and mercy He has chosen to work through us.  What a blessing!
After a short break, Mike explained the spiritual heritage of Africa, starting with ancient beliefs that we call animism.  He illustrated some of the key features of this world view by using the Bible story of Namaan's being cured of leprosy by God throught the prophet Elisha.  It was very enlightening.

Next, Shara instructed us in some conversational Swahili basics such as greetings, thank yous, etc.  We will buld on what she taught us over the next couple of days.
Finally, Jennifer Prophete led a lively discussion of African Friends and Money Matters topics by asking those of us who have been to Kenya before to tell about five experiences involving money that we had witnessed.   We then discussed them based on insights from the book and with some great input from our missionaries.  It comforted me that there are many ways that awkward situations can be deflected graciously so that strong relationships can be formed rather than unintentional rudeness ruining the possibility of friendships blossoming.  These insights will probe most valuable to us and I thank our LCMS mentors for this.

At 5:30 or so, we broke for dinner at the Harris County Smokehouse, where many of us got to know each other better before heading home or to our respective lodgings for the night.
More to follow as the training continues.  Stay tuned.......


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Preparation for November Mission going well

It's been a very busy summer since returning from Nairobi in May.  We had the pleasure of hosting Catherine and her family while they celebrated Mark's high school graduation, then it was time to produce the DVD slideshow to commemorate the mission trip and finally we hosted a meeting of our Vision for Kenya partners and the leadership of LCMS International Missions at Redeemer.  All the while, we were working out all the details that go into fielding a mission team in November times two, since we will be holding vision clinics at two separate sites in Nairobi this next time around.  One will be at the church in Kawangware, where we have served multiple times and are looking forward to renewing the friendships that have already blossomed there. I will be leading that team while Pastor Kevin will be heading the team that will be working in Kitengela, a suburban Nairobi location near the airport.  The distance between the two sites is such that our teams will need to stay in separate locations this time.  It has always been a joy and a blessing to gather everyone together at dinner to have a devotion and compare notes, this time we'll have to wait until the end of the mission to see how our other half fared. 

Pastor Kevin and I have also been busy preparing for the orientation we will hold at Redeemer on September 16th for our two teams and for those from other churches that might not be able to attend the sessions scheduled for them at our other partner churches.  I always love the mix of the quiet confidence of our team members that have served multiple times before and the excitement, enthusiasm and more than a little bit of anxiety that first time team members bring to the training.  This mixture is one of the things that helps keep me pumped up and coming back again and again to the wonderful mission field we serve in east Africa.  I will be making my eighth trip in 3 years. It never gets old and I pray that I never get jaded.  I am always looking for that next blessing that I can be a part of giving, all the while knowing that the Lord has blessed me abundantly every time I have stepped a little further out of my comfort zone to answer His call on my life.  I can't wait for what the surprises will be this time, and am anxiously anticipating the upcoming trip with all the zeal of a child that sleeplessly can't wait for Christmas morning to arrive!

Once the orientation has been accomplished, our next pre-trip task is to undergo cross-cultural training in Tomball from September 24-26th.  Our LCMS mission team, including Dr. Mike Rodewald, head of African missions, Pastor Shauen Trump, who is over the east African national missions and Shara Cunningham of the Nairobi staff will immerse us in lessons about the culture, language and best practices for sharing the Gospel during our next trip.  We are very thankful that they are so committed to making our missions better and better, both for our teams and for those that we come to work with and to serve.  Pastor Kevin and I will represent Redeemer at this training.

Stay tuned to this space, much more to follow as final preparations get into full swing during October, culminating in the actual mission taking place from November 8-18th.  Please continue to pray for us and, if the Lord moves you, to contribute to this next mission.  Contact me at dave@mrpcaustin.com or Pastor Kevin Westergren at pastor@redeemer.net for more details.

To God be the Glory!!!