Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Missionaries: The Most Clueless People On Earth

(What is going on here? I don't understand.) This is the way I feel a lot living over here in Africa. The truth is, no matter how much studying or listening you do, it's very difficult to adjust living in a different culture especially one that is Third World. A lot of times I feel like I am 4 years old again. Just this morning I was in my language class, and was trying to read a book. I have been here almost 6 months, and this morning I am talking like a 5 year old, trying to work my way through a 5th Grade level Swahili children's book. Every couple of minutes having to ask my teacher what a word means. So what do you do? You practice. I start talking to people in Swahili and ask them to slow down and repeat their sentences several times until I can comprehend what is being said. Then I stand there with a blank stare on my face for several seconds while trying to construct a decent sounding Swahili sentence in my mind. I spend my days watching over children that are mostly below age 4. I constantly am unable to reply to there comments simply because I have no idea what there saying. Baby talk is difficult to understand, but baby talk in a different language is impossible to understand. I hear people talking and am able to make out about 30% of their words, but still am completely unaware of what they are saying exactly. I am clueless... and that's just with the language.

So much of the culture takes a while to get used to. Some days a random man will walk up to me and start holding my hand. My first reaction is to turn around and punch him, but then I remind myself that this is normal. So I fight the awkward feeling and hold another dude's hand for a few minutes. Reluctantly anyways....

I hear them talk about their ancient traditional tribal religions and am just so lost. Most of what they say just sounds ridiculous and laughable. Most of these tribal religions are rooted in witchcraft, and a lot of what they do is very weird. But to them it is normal, so I try to understand where they are coming from and listen to their experiences.

I listen to their stories, about how people relate to each other. I see how husbands and wives interact. I see how parents interact with their children. I see how they spend their days. And in the course of all this, so much of it just doesn't make much since to me.

I think when you are in the mission field (well anywhere really) but especially in the mission field, you have to really be humble and set aside your pride. I have to ask a lot of questions. I have to rely on a lot of people. I find that things work best when I ask actual Kenyans what they think about a certain thing. It's hard. Sometimes I don't understand why they think a certain way, but I know they do so for good reason. You definitely don't go into the mission field if you are looking for recognition and praise. You will be disappointed. You have to humble yourself and work alongside the people you are ministering to (in our case Kenyans). If you try to just take control and not listen to them you will end up doing some very foolish things. The truth is that this is their country. It's not mine, so I don't try to act like I am the answer to all their problems, because I'm not. This is the way I have found to best approach ministry. I don't tell them how I am going to minister. I ask them a lot of questions about what we can do to help, what the plan is, how it can be implemented, and what role we will play in that.

I do this because missionaries are the most clueless people on earth. Even if I stayed here for 50 years, I would still have so much about Kenya that I would not know or understand. Just a different worldview. We have to listen, ask questions, pay attention to what's going on, rely on local leaders, and learn from our mistakes.

In my short time here, I have developed a deep disgust for something. I absolutely hate it when a Mgheni (visitor) comes in and "knows it all"... If a Kenyan tried to tell me about how to do things in America, then I would just laugh at him. Cause it would make no since. I am from American and he is not. I don't care if he has a doctorate or has even visited America. It's the same way here. The Kenyans know so much more about Kenya than I do or any other western visitor does. Because they live here. (Go figure!) This is their home. I'm not saying that visitors or myself can't help them. We can. But we can't come in to another country and take control and act like we know more than they do. That's just arrogant, ugly pride!

In short, I am trying to say that when we go into other cultures at missionaries we really need to be humble and rely on the locals to figure out how to best minister in the country we're in. They know more than we do. But most importantly, that is the way of Christ. We are servants, not masters! We are not above them.

Be blessed!


  1. Amen! Loved reading this and it is so very true!!! I wish this was taught more especially with those who are going on short term missions trips. Some of those can do more damage than good. I have a couple of good friends who have or are serving in the mission fields in developing countries and I am grateful to have learned so much from them. We need to be learners. Love your analogy about being a child again. I am praying for you both as you serve the Lord and these amazing people. :)

  2. Hello! Hopped over from the Motivating Monday link up. Glad to find you... enjoyed reading this post.

    Julia @ Mom on the Run x2