More Missionary Myths: How The “Game” Is Played (Part II)
As I said last month, successful missionaries have to be “successful,” and success is judged by how many of the natives have been baptized, how many churches have been established, and how many of the native men have been recruited to preach. If these numbers aren’t initially impressive, or at least steadily improving, then the missionary’s work will not be considered to be very much of a success. Knowing this, there is the observable, all too frequently documented tendency on the part of more than a few missionaries, if you’re inclined to paying attention, to accentuate the positive and never—I mean never—mention the negative. Such “reports” may not be an accurate description of how the work is going in the various foreign fields—in fact, such may be a gross distortion of the way things really are; but even so, this is the way the “game” is played.
Anyone who has spent the time to read and come to grips with the spread of Christianity recorded in the New Testament understands it was often very difficult for those who were converted to Christ to “put off the old man,” especially when the thinking and proclivities of that “old man” were so firmly entrenched in the target culture. This is illustrated by only a cursory reading of the apostle Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthian church. Furthermore, in the apostle’s letter to Titus, a missionary to the Cretans, one doesn’t need to be a Ph.D to realize that Cretan culture was very, very bad. In Titus 1:12, Paul wrote:One of them, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.
A telling example of this begins with an excellent article in the Daily Nation (a major Kenyan newspaper) of Tuesday, November 29, 1994, by Alex Gege, entitled “Are Kenya's Work Ethics Helping in Economic Reforms?” (Business Week section, p.6). In this article, Mr. Gege addressed the problems Kenya was having implementing economic reforms and how those problems were made much worse by the sorry work ethic of too many Kenyans. Dr. G.K. Ikiara of the Department of Economics at the University of Nairobi, who was quoted in the article, believed that “sweat [and] hard work are the cornerstones of a stable economy,” and the trouble with Kenyan society was that it “does not place a premium on hard, disciplined work as the ticket to economic success.” To be added to this is what Ikiara refers to as the Kenyan workers’ “irresistible urge to steal from their employers.” According to Gege, all this was taking place “despite the strong and pervasive Christian belief in the country.” According to Dr. Ikiara, “Stealing by workers is a serious problem in Kenya.” In fact, he said, it is as if Kenyans think that “stealing from your employer is right.” Actually, many workers in business, and especially the transport business, told Business Week they saw nothing wrong with dipping their hands into the day's receipts and taking kitu kidogo (“a little something”) for themselves. According to Business Week, the general feeling expressed by those they interviewed is that many at the top, who are society's role models, have made it through stealing from the public and nothing has happened to them; therefore, there is nothing wrong with stealing as long as you don’t get caught.
In the same article, Kwameh Njoroge, an industrial sociologist, believed that a great many Kenyan workers view the employer as a selfish exploiter. He said, “Work,” according to many Kenyans, “is oppression and [is] to be missed at the slightest opportunity.” In connection with this, one worker interviewed by Business Week actually traced the genesis of work to the so-called Biblical idea of “original sin.” “Had it not been for Adam and Eve's folly,” she said, “we now would not be toiling and moiling.”
It was extremely unfortunate that many people, even in a so-called “Christian nation,” were totally ignorant of work and economics and the connection they have to religion. So, it was our task to try to eliminate some of this ignorance. In order to do this, I had to discuss these vitally important subjects from two different, but essential, dimensions: the God-dimension and the neighbor-dimension.
It is indeed unfortunate and certainly anti-Biblical that some Christians look at work negatively. As was noted earlier, they view the necessity to work solely as a result of the curse inflicted on mankind because of sin (cf. Genesis 3:17-19). Although it is true that man’s work was made much harder as a result of sin, even so, it must be understood that the human race was given work to perform before sin entered into the world. From the very beginning of God’s creation, Adam, Eve, and their offspring were given the task of subduing the whole earth (Genesis 1:28). More specifically, they were given the task of tending the garden “eastward in Eden” (Genesis 2:15). Therefore, we think it ought to be perfectly clear that mankind’s continuing responsibility to subdue the earth is reflected in the various professions, crafts, skills, services, and industries that provide employment today.
God’s Word teaches us that we were created to work. If, then, we were created to work, then working is a moral imperative. In fact, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work” was a commandment written right into the moral law (cf. Exodus 20:9). Consequently, it should not surprise us that the moral imperative of work has been reaffirmed in the gospel of Christ. In his letter to the Christians at Thessalonica, the apostle Paul wrote: “But we urge you brethren, that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing” (1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12). And in another letter, writing of those who were able to work but would not, Paul commanded: “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
In this connection, it is interesting to note that when Jesus was incorrectly accused of violating the Sabbath by healing the man at the Pool of Bethesda, He defended Himself by saying, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working” (John 5:17). In fact, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit continue to work for the good of mankind seven days a week. If it were not for their continuous work, we would not exist (e.g., Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3). Although we certainly cannot claim deity as Jesus did, nevertheless, we have been created in the likeness of God, our Father, and, therefore, we do not think it inappropriate for us to say, “Our Father works, therefore, we work.” Furthermore, when the Christian works, he does it “as to the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). In other words, as followers of Christ, we glorify God in everything we do, including our work (I Corinthians 10:31).
When seen in relation to God, work takes on new meaning. Man cannot be pleasing to God without understanding his God-ordained responsibility in regard to work. But the Bible tells us there is yet another dimension that must be factored in with regard to work. The Bible teaches us that we cannot be right with God unless we are right with our fellow man (e.g., Matthew 22:37-39; I John 4:20). Therefore, it should not surprise us to learn that work has a neighbor-dimension to it. In Matthew 22:39, the Lord said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This very important saying of our Lord is the very essence of our responsibility to our fellow men. We are, in fact, our brothers’ keepers. In order to fulfill the love ethic that Jesus was talking about in this statement, it is necessary for us to work. Claiming to love one’s neighbor without work, the Lord is teaching us, is just as dead as the body without the spirit and faith without works (cf. James 2:26).
One of the things the Lord is teaching us in Matthew 22:39 is that He did not create us to be self-sufficient. All members of society are interdependent. For example, in writing this article I relied on a computer, a desk, a chair, my glasses, a light fixture, etc. Taking just one of these items, namely, the light fixture, my use of it depends upon those who made the bulb, shaped the metal, mined the ore, made the tools that mined the ore, made the wiring, provided the electricity, mined the coal that produced the electricity, transported the coal, etc. In other words, my ability to do my work depends upon so many others doing their work. Self-sufficiency is indeed a myth! Well has it been said, “No man is an island.” Work is the individual’s personal contribution to the interdependent needs of society.
When a man works, he not only honors and glorifies God, but, at the same time, he fulfills the law of love toward his neighbor. Knowing this helps us to understand why refusing to work is identified in the Bible as a sin (I Timothy 5:8). If we, through sloth and laziness, do not provide for ourselves and our families, we force our neighbors to work even harder to provide for us and ours. Anyone who really loves his neighbors would never force them into doing such a thing.
Looking at work from both the God-dimension and the neighbor-dimension helps us to appreciate the fact that our work is something more than “employment” or “making a living.” When we look at work from these two dimensions, we come to understand that work is the fulfillment of our duties to God and mankind. Contrary to what some may think, there really is a “work ethic” taught in the Bible. Therefore, we are all required to make a general contribution to the well-being of society. Work is the individual’s personal contribution to a total system of mutual, interdependent support, and this is the way God ordained it to be from the very beginning.
In further contradiction to what too many have come to believe, the “work ethic” does not limit the “labor force” to a proletariat of blue-collar union workers. The God-ordained duty to subdue the earth is reflected in the work that is variously identified as blue collar and white collar, manual and mental, management and labor, hourly and salaried, skilled and unskilled, factory and office, crafts and professions, paid and unpaid. In truth, there is no legitimate work that is not meaningful. Whether one is a neurosurgeon, teacher, bricklayer, bottle cap maker, or garbage collector, one is doing valuable and meaningful work. If Kenyan workers would reflect in their work the work ethic taught in the Bible, there is simply no telling how productive this society could become. With this in mind, we now need to spend some time making sure we understand The Law of Productivity.
The Law Of Productivity
It is an economic truth that man’s material welfare is equivalent to the availability of natural resources plus human energies, whether mental or physical, multiplied by the number of tools available to assist in the doing of a particular task or work (i.e., MMW=NR+HExT). Ultimately, of course, man’s material welfare is dependent upon the God who created the natural resources. To illustrate this, let me use my country, the U.S.A, as an example. Although many in America today would be reluctant to give God the credit, no one would deny that America has been abundantly blessed with natural resources. Until recently, these blessings—coupled with a traditional view toward work derived from the Bible and a Biblically oriented market system that encouraged the creation of tools—permitted America to emerge as the undisputed economic leader of the world. Today, of course, America’s productivity has slipped drastically. Economically, Americans are wallowing in a sea of debt measured in the trillions of dollars. Congress seems to reflect the sentiments of Artemus Ward, who said, “Let us all be happy and live within our means, even if we have to borrow the money to do it with.”
Why is this happening to America? We believe the answer is not just an economic one. The loss of productivity and increase of debt in America is, we believe, the reflection of a much deeper-seated spiritual problem. The religious foundation upon which America was founded is largely being ignored today. The current generation of Americans is a cut flower generation, severed from its religious roots and living on spiritual leftovers. Consequently, Americans have succeeded in corrupting an economic system (capitalism) that has proved over and over again its superiority to both socialism and communism. As proof of this rather assertive statement, it is important that we now spend some time looking at the much maligned “capitalistic” or “market” economy. Specifically, we need to know what, if anything, is Biblical or “Christian” about capitalism.
Economics And Capitalism
Many people do not think the Bible addresses itself to the subject of economics. They are wrong! The Bible provides us with some vital information on this important subject. For the purpose of this study, we are defining economics as “a study of the choices human beings make with regard to scarce resources.” In view of this definition, the Lord made a very important statement concerning economics. After His miraculous feeding of the five thousand, Jesus said, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost” (John 6:12). Quite clearly, the Lord, in this passage, was speaking of the conservation of capital. By capital, we mean “any asset—material or non-material—that produces continuing benefits of any kind.”
In John 6:12, the fragments that remained were capital, as we have defined the term, and, as such, needed to be conserved. Likewise, in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-14), the Lord taught a lesson on spiritual neglect by picturing a young man squandering his material possessions. Simply put, the Bible teaches a very important principle of economics: wastefulness (i.e., the failure to conserve capital) produces want (cf. Proverbs 21:20; 18:9; 29:3).
Just think how much better off we (Americans and Kenyans) would be if all of us really understood this basic economic lesson. As we have already pointed out, the economic base in America is being eroded by an economic philosophy that says: “Let us all be happy and live within our means, even if we have to borrow the money to do it with.”
Contrary to what some would have them believe, Americans are not spending themselves into prosperity; instead, they are spending themselves right into the “poorhouse.” As we have already mentioned, America’s national debt is now measured in the trillions of dollars. Several years ago, this amounted to approximately fifteen thousand dollars for every man, woman, and child in the country. If Americans started a repayment plan of one million dollars per day, it would take them well over two thousand years to pay back the debt. And furthermore, one cannot afford to be naive about this debt—it will eventually have to be paid back, either through literal repayment (viz., future taxes), deceitful repayment (viz., future inflation), or cancellation (viz., political upheaval). Barring the Lord’s return, there are no other alternatives.
In connection with this, it is interesting to note that, according to the Social Security Administration, only two percent of the American people reach age sixty-five financially independent: thirty percent are dependent upon some type of public or private subsistence; twenty-three percent must continue to work; and forty-five percent are dependent on relatives. As hard as it may be to believe, according to Social Security records, eighty-five out of one hundred Americans have less than two hundred and fifty dollars in savings when they reach age sixty-five. As shocking as this is to Americans, it must be doubly shocking to Kenyans who seem to think every American is a rich man. But, why is it that most Americans reach the twilight of their life with so little? Because they have forgotten how to conserve capital.
It is unfortunate that economically America is decaying; but, there are even more important areas in which they have failed to conserve capital. The family structure, as it was ordained by God, which is the very backbone of any nation, is currently being destroyed. Furthermore, the intellectual competence of America is being eroded. In addition, her legal foundations, which reflect Biblical principles, are disintegrating. Why? Because Americans have forgotten how important it is to conserve these assets. If Americans do not quickly get back to a clear understanding of Biblical economics, then all the prosperity they now enjoy will continue to disintegrate.
“But Kenya Is Not America”
“But Kenya is not America,” you say, and you are right. America is referred to as a “developed country” while Kenya is called a “developing nation.” This, of course, brings us to the question raised in the Daily Nation article quoted previously: Is Kenya really developing or has she become sluggish? The answer is clear: Kenya has become economically and morally stagnant! There is talk of economic reform, and some genuine efforts have been made, but Kenya still has its economic problems. Is this because Kenya has not been abundantly blessed by God with ample natural resources? No, Kenya is amply blessed! What, then, is the problem? The problem is a lack of human effort or energy; in other words, a lack of work. And what is the solution?: The development in wananchi (citizens) of a Biblical world view which looks at work from both the God-dimension and the neighbor-dimension. If, and when, this occurs, the material welfare of Kenyans will increase because human energies will be applied to the natural resources that so abundantly bless this nation. Then, as this nation begins to produce and conserve its capital, and as it wisely uses this excess capital to buy tools, the material welfare of Kenyans will continue to increase. In other words, Man’s Material Welfare equals Natural Resources plus Human Energies multiplied by Tools. A nation that rejects this truth does so at its own peril. God is not mocked: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:33,34). Kenya’s current problems are rooted in the fact that in spite of all its claims of being a “Christian nation,” it is in reality a nation that has forgotten God.
Five Short-Term Uses Of Capital
In concluding this study, we want to return to monetary concerns. In considering the use of capital, we all need to understand that there are only five short-term uses for our income. It may be...
• given away,
• spent to support a lifestyle,
• used for repayment of debt,
• used to meet tax obligations,
• accumulated or saved.
The Bible addresses all five of these areas. How much do you know about what the Bible has to say about these areas? It is interesting that the Bible says very little about these areas by direct commands. Mostly, the Bible teaches on these subject areas by articulating certain principles and guidelines. What this means is that in order to conduct oneself properly in regard to these areas, one will need to be intimately familiar with God’s Word—a superficial understanding of a few Bible passages will just not do it!
Remember, it is God’s Word that separates the sheep from the goats. Consequently, we should be diligent to present ourselves approved to God, workmen who do not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (cf. II Timothy 2:15).
A wrong attitude toward work put Kenyans in conflict not just with their fellow men, but with God Himself, for how one conducts his economic affairs can determine where he will spend eternity. “Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?” (Luke 16:11).
I mention all this here because the Kenyans’ cultural attitude toward work and avarice had (and continues to have) a tremendous impact on the gospel work being done there. Without understanding this, the missionary or foreign evangelist will be unable to help the Kenyans he comes in contact with break free of the ominous influence of their culture. Because Americans, and this includes gospel preachers, have so much material wealth, it is extremely difficult not to simply reach down and throw money at every problem they’re confronted with in the target culture. And because so many American preachers have not taken the time to get themselves educated concerning the proclivities of whatever culture they may find themselves in, gross mistakes have been, and continue to be, made in foreign evangelism.
Enter just here the temptation the missionary feels to “play the game” that has already been mentioned and he will soon be trying to get support raised for those who have been recently “converted” so that they will be able to regularly preach the gospel in the target culture. Most of the American evangelists (and this was the case with Paul Ayres and myself) will be returning home after their relatively short missionary journeys and, after all, one reasons, someone will need to be left to take care of the work. In the case of the original work done in Kenya, this fellow’s name was Lawrence Gitonga, who was the original contact Paul Ayres and I had when we traveled to Kenya in 1992. Lawrence was a denominational preacher who had been corresponding for several years with a few Christians in the northeastern United States. His steady plea was for someone to come to Kenya in order to teach them the way of the Lord more perfectly.
After checking around with various brethren, it was determined that the pure, unadulterated gospel (free from the institutional think-sos of men) had not been taught in Kenya in the modern era. Although there were some things Gitonga had said that disturbed me, Paul and I finally decided that a trip to Kenya was worth the effort. After flying into the country, we met Gitonga at the hotel in Nairobi where we were staying. After several days and nights of study, Paul Ayres got permission from the hotel management to baptize Gitonga. We continued to study with him and then traveled 100 miles north to Nyeri, the provincial headquarters of Central Province, one of the most influential provinces in Kenya. In this town, we met Gitonga’s seven friends, who were also denominational preachers, although they were from several different denominations. After we studied with these men and they were “converted,” they took us to some they knew, who we then taught and “converted.” By the end of the six weeks Paul and I were in the country, more than forty people had “obeyed the gospel.”
Needless to say, we were elated. We were also excited about being able to report on the work that had been done to those who had supported us. Upon hearing of these developments, Christians back in the States were also excited about the opportunities that had presented themselves in Kenya.
It was not long, though, before trouble began to lift its ugly head. It was clear to us that the eight former denominational preachers were still thinking very much like denominational preachers, trying to exercise control that was not their’s to exercise. Consequently, Paul and I decided to return many months before we had originally intended to return (we were committed originally to making yearly trips to Kenya to service the work being done there). In the meantime, the Taylorsville Road church of Christ, for which I regularly preached, decided to pick up Gitonga’s support, which amounted to a small amount of money when compared to American thinking. Unbeknownst to us, this support made Gitonga the “Pope,” if you will. All this was discovered later, but in the meantime Gitonga was exercising his power as the “money man.” After all, he had gotten two preachers to come to Kenya and to manipulate them so that he was able to be supported. As a result, he would be able to get support lined up for the other preachers, but they would need to be careful and let him handle everything, as he had worked, he claimed, with white men before, knowing how to manipulate or “play” them in order to get everyone a piece of the action.
When Paul and I returned to Kenya early, even though we did not know all that had been going on (most had been effectively silenced by fear of Gitonga shutting them off), we began to get whiffs here and there of things that were not right. Although we could not be sure that some of these were not attempts to blow out the other guy’s candle, we dealt with those things that came to our attention, trying our best to teach these brethren what the Bible said about the work of an evangelist and the autonomous nature of the local church.
But it was clear that someone needed to go to Kenya and stay for awhile. Because Paul still had children in school and because my kids were already in college and away from home, it was decided that Anita and I would move to Kenya for a year. The Taylorsville Road church graciously agreed to continue my support for the year we would be there.
When Anita and I arrived in ’93 for our first year’s stay, we arrived, I think, not a moment too soon. Morris Mwangi, who had been the assistant housekeeper at the hotel Paul and I stayed at in Nyeri, had been converted at the end of our first trip in ’92. Because I believed him to be trustworthy, I had entrusted Morris with my property prior to our arrival (a house had been rented and furniture purchased and delivered before Anita and I arrived, and someone needed to be responsible for and provide security for such.) I asked Morris to quit his work and work for me as my caretaker and right-hand man, my cultural eyes and ears, if you will, and he had agreed to do so). As a non-preacher type, Morris was the odd man out, and thankfully the eight preachers did their best to ostracize him. This only served to grab his attention. As he got drift of Gitonga’s plan, he began to make this known to me and I started to make inquiries. However, the other seven preachers were understandably being careful not to give me too much information.
As soon as I could get my investigation complete, I invited the eight preachers and some other brethren for a week-long Bible study (the Kenyans call these “seminars”) at my house. Thus, with Gitonga in the audience, I revealed what I knew about what was going on, quoting as best I could some of the exact words that had been used to describe the “game” Gitonga and others were playing. That was the last time I ever spoke with Lawrence Gitonga. Of course, the Taylorsville Road church discontinued their support of him, but you can imagine the distress such things caused the good brethren back home in America, as it appeared that Kenya was nothing much more than a den of thieves. There are many thieves and beggars there, but there were also folks who were ready for the gospel and were willing to obey it from their hearts. Some of these have since died, but remained faithful until death. One of these, bro. Mathenge, was one of those original forty-plus who, regardless of the turmoil and difficulties, served the Lord rather than man, even though Gitonga had been instrumental in bringing him to the Lord. So, even when Gitonga forsook them by going back to the weak and beggarly things of the world, there were those in that original forty-plus individuals who were serious about their relationship with the Lord.
However, and over a fairly extended period of time, all eight of the former denominational preachers proved unworthy of wearing the name Christian. When these men’s sins were manifested and exposed, they were bitter and tried to cause problems for me and the other Christians, but the Lord always seemed to vindicate what we were trying to do. In the first three and a half years Anita and I were in Kenya, many hundreds of people were “converted.” Few of these proved genuine and now, it seems, were only looking for “something to eat,” as the Kenyans are wont to say. This frequently reminded me of what Paul said in Romans 16:18 concerning those who were causing division and offenses contrary to the doctrine which they had originally learned: “For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.” The apostle said these were to be noted so they could be avoided, but this process sometimes takes years. In the meantime, the work must go on. As it did, Paul and I too often learned that some we had helped and trusted were in it only for what they hoped to gain materially. In other words, too many were being converted not to the Lord, but to the Almighty Dollar.
During this time, several new Americans were introduced to the work in Kenya. Holly Turner, Marcus and Frank Vondracek, Mildred and Leon Ladyman, and last, but certainly not least, Matt and Gerry Sandusky. In addition, two others were introduced to the work whose names are not recorded here. One of these, in my opinion, has conducted himself most unwisely and, as a result, caused great harm to the work in Kenya. This evil influence continues to this day, as others have now been enlisted in this preacher’s efforts to continue sowing perpetual discord. Knowingly, or otherwise, this preacher has become the linchpin of much ungodliness both in Kenya and here in the United States.
But before continuing this saga on how the “game” is too often played, there is more background information that needs to be filled in and, Lord willing, I’ll do this in the next installment.
All editorials are written by Allan Turner. You can contact him at email@example.com
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