Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Erosion and Conservation Agriculture

By Sara:

Conservation agriculture is a lot about taking care of your soil - having healthy soil will help you to have healthy crops.  In a hilly place like where we're living in Kenya it's especially important to take special care of your soil because it's so easy to lose your all-important topsoil to erosion when there's a heavy rain.

I saw some examples of erosion after a rainstorm a while back and took pictures to show the results.  First of all, I have a couple pictures of where soil got washed about 200 meters down a hill to an area just off a gravel road.  The farms up the hill had ploughed right to the edge of the road and planted up and down the slope instead of along the contour of the hill, so when it rained, the soil went down the field, off the edge, and along down the road to here:

Later, I saw another field that had lots of soil washed down to the bottom of it.  In this picture, you can see how there is so much soil that it covered up the crops growing there at the bottom:

That field, which is the same one in the picture below, was at least planted along the contour of the slope instead of up and down it.  I did watch the field get ploughed, though, and it was ploughed up and down the slope before planting.  Possibly that contributed to these gullies forming when it rained:

This slope kind of sloughed off in the rain, so you can see the roots of the plants that are exposed where the soil went away:

What can a person do to avoid these kinds of problems?  For one, it is good to leave grass or other plants growing around the edges of the field to keep soil and water from running off the field.

Planting along the line of the slope (on the contour) rather than against it also helps catch water and soil.  Some people even plant lines of grass or trees at intervals along a slope, or make terraces so there isn't such a long, steep slope for water to rush down when it rains.

And, practices from conservation agriculture, like keeping the soil covered (by mulch or living plants), helps prevent erosion, as does minimum or non-tillage. 

Revenge of the Sheep

By Sara:

The college's sheep may look sweet and innocent, but they can also be pests.  This one looks particularly mischievous:

The reason this sheep is looking so smug is because she, along with her friends, ate the maize (corn) and beans growing in the garden my practical class planted.  And in fact, they ate it all on two separate occasions.  We planted in March, but because of the double attack of the sheep, the garden is at about the same level as the gardens of people who planted in May.

It has been a very frustrating and disappointing situation.  Although the maize has revived itself again and at least half of the beans weren't eaten, the purpose of the demonstration is kind of defeated.  It will be hard to compare the different techniques we were using in the garden when some parts of the garden were destroyed at different times from others and when some of the beans are now ahead of the maize.

Hopefully we'll still get a decent harvest from what is left, but I'm sad that I won't be able to use the garden to teach the students the things I was hoping to teach them.  However, if the maize that remains survives to be harvested, I'm planning to dry and grind it so we can make maize cake (cornbread) with the flour when it comes time to teach the students how to bake!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

My New Missionary Calling

By Anthony:

If you asked me before what I thought God has called me to do in East Africa, I would have said that I think I am called to equip the local church by teaching and building up the church leaders here.  I still believe that is my calling.  But God has given me an additional new calling to go along with it.  This has been something that has been developing gradually in my heart over the last few years here in East Africa.  I believe God wants to use me to help bring people who are already in the local churches to a true saving relationship with Jesus Christ as their savior.  That this is such a great need in the churches here took me by surprise.

I really appreciate our brothers and sisters in Christ here in East Africa, especially those in the Pentecostal and Anglican denominations I have worked with.  I love them and their churches and there is so much we can learn from them.  But at the same time, I have noticed over the past years that there are multitudes of people worshiping every week in the churches here who loudly proclaim that they are born again, but who have no concept of what that means.  For many people, being born again means that they go to church, pray, don't drink, and don't fornicate.  This is an exaggeration, but you get my point.  While there are very many true Christians here, there are also so many people in the churches who have trusted in themselves and their good works for salvation, and not in Christ.  They are open and honest about this if you ask them the right questions.  In saying this, I'm not condemning them to hell.  Only God knows who are his.  God's grace is amazing and our faith in Jesus can be so small for us to still receive eternal life.  But it's incredibly important for people to learn to trust in Jesus fully and not in their own good deeds to be sure of their salvation.

Some of you might want to comment and say this is a problem in the USA too.  In a way you are right, but here it's taken to another level.  I think many, if not most, Christians in the US have been taught about God's grace and justification by faith alone.  Many Protestant churches still teach this, even to their children, and how it is one of the things that is different from Roman Catholic teaching.  Here, whenever I preach or teach that we are saved completely and fully by what Jesus did for us, and not by our good works, it seems like it is a completely new teaching that people have never heard of before.  African theologian, Matthew Michael, claims that justification by faith is the least preached doctrine in African churches.

I ask people, "what did it mean for you to become born again?" and they answer that it means they wanted to be Christians who really worship God and really obey what he says.  I ask people what happens at Judgment Day, and they say that God will let you into Heaven if you've been a good person and done more good than evil.  I hear people saying you can be saved as a Muslim or a Hindu as long as you are a good person. I hear people saying that "being saved" means you are a person who doesn't do this, this, or this.  I hear people say that if you sin and then die before getting a chance to confess it specifically, that you are going to Hell.  I even hear people saying that once you become a Christian, you no longer sin and you have to be without sin in order to be saved and go to Heaven.  All of this is religion, not the Gospel.  This is believing in salvation by works, not salvation in Christ.  What is tragic is that most do not realize they are trusting in themselves while professing to trust in Christ.  They only realize that they have inconsistent views when I start asking them questions about salvation, sin, or Judgment Day.

When I was young and felt called to be a missionary, I envisioned evangelism and church planting.  Later I learned that my gifts were more in teaching and I felt a tremendously clear call to equip and teach church leaders instead. But what I have been spending so much of my energy and my preaching time doing is a sort of mixture between those two types of ministry.  God has been working in my heart to give me a passion and a burden for these lost people who are already in the churches, to preach to them the good news of the true Gospel, to teach them about justification by faith in Christ, and what it means to really be born again.  Thus I am starting to see myself as something of an evangelist.

I've found that this is a difficult task.  Some few people get it, but some people have a hard time even understanding the concept that we are saved completely by grace, and not by works.  And then many who understand and ponder the concept while I preach don't seem to take the next step of really accepting Christ as their full 100% complete savior.  It seems to me like they think - "huh that's interesting" but then they go back to their salvation by works paradigm in their daily lives.  I can see how blind they are to the Gospel, but they don't know that they are still blind, and I am unable to fully remove their blinders.  (Only the Holy Spirit can do so!)

It's also difficult in that it's hard to preach to people who are already supposed to be saved and know Christ, and challenge them that some of them may not actually trust in Christ completely as their Savior.  To tell them that some people in our churches will say "Lord, Lord, we did all of these things for you," but Jesus will say, "I never knew you."  This is not a fun message to give, and some could find it offensive, but I love people enough to tell them this hard message.  I'm not alone though.  I have seen some other brothers in the churches here in East Africa also preaching the same thing, telling people that it's not enough to go to church, they must fully trust in Christ for their salvation, not in themselves.

What keeps me going is when the few people who actually get it are changed.  I appreciate the testimonies of one or two who come and talk to me after a sermon or a class, and thank me with joy in their hearts. They see that they don't need to fear death or fear God's judgment when they sin.  That their salvation rests solely on Christ and what he did for us, and not on how good they are.  And then it is a joy to see them go out and preach that good news to others as some of my students have done.  That makes it all worth it.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Should Missionaries Preach who are not Theologically Trained?

By Anthony:

I write this post mostly for other missionaries and especially for short term missionaries who come to East Africa.  There are a lot of Christians in East Africa and so it is very likely that as missionaries come and visit churches, they will be frequently invited to preach.  How should they handle this request?  I have noticed that a lot of missionaries go ahead and preach often.  I write this post to give a few cautions so that missionaries will reconsider saying "yes" to such requests.  I write in love with the hope that we as missionaries can discuss tough issues like this and learn together how to best do ministry.

My own opinion is that it's generally not a good idea for Western missionaries to preach in East Africa unless they also preach in their home countries or unless they are theologically trained.  I’m not going to spend my time being legalistic or judging other missionaries who preach in this way.  I'm just going to share a few cautions and start the discussion about it.  I'm very open to learning new perspectives from others who disagree with me.  Also, I want to be open about my bias.  I am an ordained pastor, from the Christian Reformed Church of North America.  So I preach all the time in East Africa.  I'll write my points below out of my experiences in Uganda and Kenya.

My reasons for caution:

1. While it is true that in some East African denominations non-ordained people can preach, it is not true that those churches let “just anybody” preach.  People need to either have had some training, or they have to be well known over years, so the church knows that their testimony is solid and that they are knowledgeable enough about God’s Word to preach.  If a missionary is not well known by the church, and is simply a new visitor, that missionary may want to reconsider saying "yes." 

2. When a missionary has not prepared a sermon ahead of time and is suddenly asked to preach right before the church service, they should consider saying, "No."  It might actually be better for there to be one Sunday with no preaching (and instead just some Scripture read) than to encourage the bad pattern and mindset that it is okay to preach sermons on the fly with no preparation.  I have said "no" in these cases for that reason, even though I had sermons ready in my head.  Ugandan Pentecostal pastors told me they are often asked spontaneously to preach and they also are advising other pastors to start saying "no" more often to set a good example. 

3. Unfortunately, perhaps because of racism in history, many East Africans assume that just because Western missionaries have white skin that they are superior, not only economically, but in their spiritual lives.  This causes some East Africans to think that Western missionaries are all able to preach.  And sometimes, Western missionaries themselves have this attitude of spiritual paternalism, feeling that they are more spiritually mature by virtue of their level of education or their nationality (we are all guilty of this to some extent, myself included).  If missionaries want to go against these false assumptions of spiritual superiority, and affirm that Africans have equal worth and dignity, one good method is to humbly say "no" to preaching, especially if the missionary knows they do not have the gift of preaching or the appropriate biblical knowledge/training.

4. Too many East Africans assume that any missionaries that come have been trained beforehand to preach.  This is simply not the case, and I’ve talked to Ugandans who tell me they have been severely disappointed at times by missionaries who preach instead of saying "no thanks," even though they don't have the ability or knowledge to preach well.

5. Many missionaries are in East Africa in the first place because of the need for teaching and discipleship.  This is something missionaries are offering because sadly there is a lot of bad preaching and a lot of places without good knowledge of God’s Word.  But this is all the more reason that there should be stronger and stronger restrictions on who is allowed to preach in churches.  There is some positive growth in this direction.  Churches are thankfully becoming more strict and wanting only people who have been theologically trained to preach.  When missionaries who are not theologically trained jump at the chance to preach, they could unintentionally be undermining this positive trend.  In essence they could be affirming the bad practice that just anybody can preach whether they are trained or not.  They could be accidentally communicating that theological training is only important for Africans, but not for wazungu (foreigners) – in other words, theological training is not really important.  This is the OPPOSITE of what many missionaries like me are trying to accomplish.

6. Missionaries need to be careful that they as foreigners are not used as advertisements for a church.  It is entirely possible, and happens often, that churches will enjoy foreign visitors for the sake of making that church look important, or making that church look like there might be money coming into it.  This is not usually the motivation behind invitations for missionaries to preach.  But even if this is the motivation behind only 5% of the invitations, missionaries should be aware of this and be cautious.

7. Finally, a good general rule for short term missionaries, and even long term missionaries is this – Don’t do in the other country what you wouldn’t be able to do at home.  If a missionary has no carpentry skills in the United Sates, they should probably not plan to lead a carpentry project on a short term missions trip in East Africa.  If a missionary does not preach at their church in their home country, they should probably not plan to preach at a church in East Africa.  It is condescending to African people for a missionary to think they are not skilled/prepared enough to preach in their home country, but that they are skilled/prepared enough to preach in Africa.  This may apply to other activities missionaries do as well.

Like I said, I do preach all the time in East Africa.  And I do believe this issue is complicated.  I'm only presenting one side of the argument.  If you are not ordained in your home country, but you are skilled and knowledgeable to preach, I’m not going to criticize you.  These things take wisdom and there are no easy answers.  And sometimes, simply because you have been discipled your whole life, even without theological training, you are still more equipped to preach than many an African pastor.  That’s a sad reality that I admit.  But let's at least consider these cautions and discuss them together.  Thank you for hearing me out on this tough issue.