Man, What a Mess!
I’m in Nairobi these days. While I am here I get to preach at New City-Nairobi, which is really a plant of New City St. Louis. Pastor Joe Muutuki worshipped with them under Pastor Barry Henning while Pastor Joe was at Covenant Seminary. I am fascinated how the New City idea has become international. A lot of this of course is due to the missionary focus of Barry Henning. Cross cultural ministry, reconciliation, and ministry to the poor have many common elements around the world. Nairobi is a large world class city and so many typical urban problems are here, as well as ones that are a bit Nairobi unique. The congregation here struggles with living out what reconciliation means, and how to be cross cultural. NC-Nairobi is really a vision of Joe Muutuki’s to reach from African to Asian in this multi-ethnic city. America has its racial history and pain, and so does Kenya. Peopled by many different tribes, some of whom have a historical antagonism or ambivilance to each other. Invaded and exploited by slave taking Arabs, colonized by the British, seeded with Asians by those same British to build their railroad, evangelized by Muslims, and Christian Europeans, Americans, and Koreans, and now economically invaded by the Chinese. I suppose I have left someone out. Over the years the Asian community (not monolithic except in ethnicity) became the traders and store keepers and the middle class. Sometimes they became “hyper-British” in culture. During colonial days the British were racist to them too, but they were considered one step over the Africans. Of course the Africans wanted their freedom from the British, and this they got in the sixties when Kenya became an independent nation. This put the Asians in a bind, they had the money while now the Africans had the government. As in all world class cities the disparity of wealth is a cause of concern and friction. There are rich Africans and rich Asians, and there are poor Africans (millions of them) and many poor Asians. Even among the poor there is tribalism, the caste system, and feelings of superiority over inferiority. There is prejudice, favoritism, and these things lead to a certain kind of corruption. Here in Nairobi we have all kinds of corruption, and class, religion, and ethnicity all play a role in it. It would be wonderful to say that Christianity ended all of this, that in the church there is no superiority, no favoritism, and no corruption. Actually instead of radical house cleaning of these kinds of sins many folks brought their “isms” with them to church and used both missions and churches to reward their family, clan, and kind while attempting to hamper, exclude, and deny others who were not like them. It would also be correct to say that some of our white American missionaries brought their own kind of racism and classism right along with them when they brought the Bible over here. For one minute let us imagine no racism or classism, no tribalism. Cultural understanding would still be tough even with the best intentions. Given that a lot of us don’t have good intentions, man what a mess! One conundrum is the goal of evangelism. It is easier to do evangelism when you only focus on your own group, language, class. This is a sociological observation known as the Homogeneous principle. At New City-Nairobi they are attempting to reach Asians, but, New City is not attempting to be an Asian church. This means that in doing evangelism we can’t hide from people what we are trying to bring them into and when they see that cross cultural picture, that multi-ethnic and multi-class church, they might not be so attracted to it. Let me try this illustration. You are trying to impress someone, maybe a girl you want to date. However, your mother insists you take your ugly and socially inept cousin along with you. Maybe even the very cousin that has been irritating to this very girl in the past, or at least her family. You know that if you don’t cut the cords from this cousin you ain’t going to get the girl. Of course, if and when you do get the girl your cousin is still your cousin. You can’t hide him forever. Here in Nairobi we have some folks who are middle class and social climbers. They don’t like the embarrassment of poor Africans. It is ok if all of those who come are educated and middle class Africans, but poor Africans just hamper the effort to convince other Asians that New City is a church for them. I find this dilemna in the American church as well. Mercy ministry is one thing, but inclusion of lower class, uneducated, and unruly and ill mannered folks in our congregation is another thing. Let us do something for them, but for pity sake, don’t bring them inside the house. The challenge of course is for a radical Gospel, that not only wins and includes our “target group”, but helps the target group to understand repentance in its fullness. You have been saved because you were lost, not because you had something to add to God. In short, as we seek the lost to win, we don’t need to encourage them to bring that dog shit on their shoes inside the house. Justifying someone’s “ism” so we might see them brought to Christ doesn’t bring glory to Christ, doesn’t bring reconciliation, and puts the church on a faulty foundation. Come to Jesus, and let him figure out how we fit together, because he is going to do that even if he has to shape (break, cut, and mold) the stones to fit in this building.