There are often many pieces to a puzzle. We moved to a rural part of Kenya as the only westerners. It was lonely at first. Then God gave me Millicent. She is a Kenyan lady who is in her 50’s. She is a trained mid-wife. She has served children, the poor, the sick, and the marginalized all of her life. She runs a resource center for the poorest in our area. The children can come and eat, play games, and hear a Bible story on Saturdays. She is involved in community projects to bring mothers of malnourished children and mothers of nourished children together to cook a meal with what is locally available to teach the mothers how to feed their children well. She works with schools to distribute reusable menstrual pads to enable girls to stay in school consistently. She and her husband started a local soccer team for young men to keep them active instead of turning to unhealthy choices to occupy their time. She has worked hard to meet the physical needs with compassion to the suffering. I came to Kenya knowing that if I only brought physical things to people, then I wasn’t making sacrifices for anything that lasts. I was primarily focusing on the spiritual.
One day, Millicent and I were at a school giving out menstrual pads with some short term visitors. Mentally, I had been sitting there questioning myself, “What am I doing here today? What value does this activity have for eternity? Did I hear you, Lord? Am I supposed to participate in this or did I miss the mark?” The visitors had been giving the teens the “self-esteem talk” so common in the west and without basis. “You are special. You are beautiful. You can be what you want to be. You have choices.” I was telling myself that these speakers were not in tune with the reality of these girls’ lives. I recognized that all of us, except Millicent, were outsiders, just visitors here. I knew that even I had no real idea of these girls’ real world. I had glimpses, mostly taught to me by my friend Millicent. It was at this point that the Holy Spirit moved. I spoke to the group next, completely unprepared, as I had come to help and transport the group. I shared with the girls that I knew they often had their choices taken from them. And that they were special because God made them in His image. And that they had the choice to be redeemed by the blood of Jesus. And that no sin was too great for Him to forgive. And that is why they were special and beautiful. That day changed everything for Millicent and I. We saw the missing puzzle piece. How could we integrate meeting physical needs with the spiritual?
So we searched for training to help us. Joy Phillips from World Gospel Mission as Wholistic Transformation Coordinator, along with Adhonam Hidug and Theresa Manchester, came to see what training would best help us. Joy recommended that we start by doing a free online course, Coram Deo, to help us understand how worldview affects a nation. Three Kenyan friends and I did the training online within 3 weeks. It was geared more towards the western worldview but this let us know that we had hit on what we were looking for. It answered the mail so to speak. From that training we learned that there was a Samaritan Strategy Vision Conference that was geared towards the African culture. The bottom line for this training is that within every culture there are lies that we live and act on that keep us from being the believer, the church, the community and nation God wants us to be. The individual and church should be the driving influence of a community and nation. So we carefully crafted an invitation. As local missionaries, my husband and I, we were able to invite others from all denominations in our area. We invited and hosted 50 church leaders from about 20 different churches to a Samaritan Strategy Vision Conference.
2 Chronicles 7:14 says “If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” This training is an example of our philosophy of ministry here: come alongside the people but let them do it. So we had 3 Kenyans and 1 Eritrean come and teach the seminars.
Wow! It was amazing. I learned so much from them about the culture. They were able to speak boldly with relevant examples. Here are a few:
“The church isn’t telling the whole truth. We should be like Dorcas in the Bible who was always doing good. Her life was one picture every day. She didn’t go to church one day and live like someone else on all the other days. “
“Am I bearing God’s image? Do I see God’s image in my neighbor?”
“We are a nation of thieves. Kenya is the 3rd most corrupt nation in the world.”
What is the foundation of the destruction for individuals, communities and nations? It is lies. The facilitatior said, “An African always carries God with him. What god is that?”
The pastors gave example after example of situations where the culture acts counter Biblically. The African culture has within it an animistic or traditional religion worldview. This belief carries over into the way they see the world. For example, spirits are everywhere. They are to be appeased or bribed. History happens to you. You are a victim of events. An African person is hopeless. They demean themselves and think they can do nothing. Nature is just there. Very few Africans enjoy the beauty of their country, nor do they take care of it. In contrast as a people with a secular worldview, our own country thinks that the ultimate reality is nature. Man is motivated as a consumer who believes resources are limited so we fight over them. We are not very spiritual on the whole. So you see, it isn’t just Africans with wrong thinking. Our churches could benefit immensely from this teaching as well. Until we as a nation, whatever nation that is, are honest about where we are and what beliefs we are acting on, we won’t be able to move forward or change.
The speakers went on to tell more of the story. They said over and over how the African church was only focused on the spiritual, but Christ Himself grew in wisdom, stature (physically), with favor with men (socially) and God (spiritual). He showed us how to do that in ourselves and then our churches to then go out into the community and then the nation.
The pastors went on to tell people about the abundant resources that are present in Africa. Although Africa is monetarily the poorest continent in the world, it is the richest in terms of natural resources, which many other nations are exploiting. They went into details about the water, agriculture, minerals, energy, and beauty that are present here and now. The people were visibly shocked to hear this.
One person said, “I am shocked by what we are sitting on. We are like an elephant with a big head who digs in the dirt with his trunk.”
I could go on and on, and tell you all of it, but let me say that in the end, the people had hope. They had vision that THEY could change. One man reported that he cooked an egg for his wife for the first time ever. She said, “Surely the spirit of God is at work.” They were inspired to change themselves and the church.
One pastor told me after the second day that he had been awake until 2 in the morning because he had only preached at the people and had never done anything to reach out and meet their physical needs. His church had never helped those in the community.
The final day we divided into 9 groups based on communities where we live. Each group planned a seed ministry that would reach to someone outside the church with local resources involving the local people to meet a need that would encompass all 4 areas that Christ grew in: social, physical, spiritual and in wisdom.
As we look to the future, some of these church leaders are looking to provide this training in their own churches to more and more people. I have talked with some groups that are on their second seed project.
As Millicent and I looked for the missing puzzle piece, we found purpose in seeing things from God’s perspective.
Just yesterday, she and I were moved by the Spirit to talk with 4 street boys who were living under a storage container sniffing glue to numb their pain. These boys had no mother. They were unrelated to each other. We learned their names and ages and that they wanted to go to school but had no means of getting a school uniform to go to school. So we told them that God cared about them and that was why we came with food. We told them that God didn’t want them to harm their brains. We exchanged the food for the glue bottles they were sniffing. We told them we would return soon and if we found them not sniffing glue we would buy them school uniforms. We wrote their stories down. We are going back in 2 days. In such a simple act, we are trying to influence a change in these boys, spiritually, physically, in favor with God and man. We have been changed to see this and it has given us such encouragement in everyday life, having purpose and satisfaction to participate with God in touching those who are near.
Martha Ritchie is a Missionary Disciple with WGM and is finishing up her first 2 year term where she and her husband, Jim, serve at Chogoria Hospital in Kenya.