Missiologist in the Making

It’s been two weeks since my last post. I’ve been sick four times now, twice requiring antibiotics, but no malaria, so that’s good. I accidentally joined the women’s volleyball team, which has been a fun way to spend afternoons, but going for tournaments on the weekends has caused some all-nighters I wasn’t planning. I did well on our first Arabic quiz, which felt really good for all of the work I’ve put into that class. We have another quiz next week and I should be writing my third seminar paper and preparing to lead a round table discussion on the differences between mainstream Islam and fundamentalism. Instead I’m writing an update to you all. There aren’t any pictures, but LOTS of fun links to learn more!

I mentioned in a previous post that I think I might just become a missiologist. The paper I should be writing right now is for my missiology class.

“What is missiology?”

Missiology is the study, historically, theologically and contextually of the mission of the church. Missiologists seek to understand and improve practical mission strategies.

“Aren’t all Christians missiologists, then?” 

I wish they were, just like I wish all Christians were theologians. Many Christians don’t think that formal study should be involved in faith. But just as many are involved in the study and practice of missions; they just don’t always use the formal term.

Missiology in modern day is a branch of practical theology that asks questions that place it in the crux between several disciplines; Why do we do missions (theology), Who is involved in missions (anthropology and sociology), What structures are used for mission (nonprofit management, church administration), How do we do mission better (ethics, pastoral care, law, public policy, economics, development, international relations, psychology, public health, etc). David Bosch, a well-known South African missiologist, described the field as such:

“Missiology acts as a gadfly in the house of theology, creating unrest and resisting complacency, opposing every ecclesiastical impulse to self-preservation, every desire to stay what we are, every inclination to provincialism and parochialism, every fragmentation of humanity into regional or ideological blocs, every exploitation of some sectors of humanity by the powerful, every religious, ideological, or cultural imperialism, and every exultation of self sufficiency of the individual over other people or over other parts of creation.”

This fits in very well with my common answer to “Why are you in seminary?”

Because I’m a rebel.

Over the last year, I’ve lost sight a little bit of why seminary was the right place for me. As I’ve gotten deeper into the path of ordination, I’ve calmed my inner restlessness at the idea of working in a local parish. I know that being an elder is important, and so I expect to serve the church in the traditional role of pastor for some time in my early career. I worked very hard to restructure my thinking; the local parish is not a sign of defeat. I have grand ideas of working at the UN Church Building or for the World Council of Churches. But the reality of serving a mostly white, aging, suburban congregation being my future, at least for several years after seminary, had to be place on my radar to cool my ambitions. And I will go, and I will serve whatever church I am placed in. I will serve earnestly and devotedly. It would be plain ignorance to think that I could help direct the goals of the global church without being in community and relationship with the Christians that comprise it. But the discovery of this field of missiology is so clearly in my path, it’s hard not to want to jump right into a PhD or head to the Bossey Institute for another masters.

The prompt for the paper I am writing is to critically assess two of the six “constants” of mission according to Stephen Bevans:

1) Witness and proclamation

2) Liturgy, prayer and contemplation

3) Justice, peace and integrity of creation

4) Interreligious dialogue

5) Inculturation

6) Reconciliation

Honestly, it’s hard to focus on just two. My brain is pinging away, making connections about the importance of a holistic approach toward mission, especially in the post-modern world we live in. My immediate reaction was to write on three and four, sense since my focus at Candler is in Justice, Peace and Conflict Transformation and I’m here to study Muslim-Christian Relations. But instead I’ve decided to stretch myself.

Through the last two rounds of papers my cohort has written and presented, I realize how Western my world view really is. I consider myself to be a culturally aware person, not culturally competent (I know enough to know there’s a lot I don’t know), but I had thought I had become fairly adept at cross-cultural dialogue. But as I presented a paper on the history of Islam in the United States, I saw how deep my bias is. It wasn’t until after I had heard the rest of the cohort’s presentations that I realized I had written the paper with the assumption that the reader would understand certain American historical and cultural allusions, which of course, my African colleagues did not. It made the presentation a bit of a stumbling mess as I tried to fill in the gaps. I had found out I knew even less of what I already knew I didn’t know.

I’m writing my paper for Missiology on one and five, Witness and Proclamation, and Inculturation. Witness and proclamation in Kenya is an unabashed part of church life. Every church service I’ve been to allows for an open time of testimony, where anyone can come up to the mike and speak to God’s work in their life. Each time someone introduces themselves in a public setting they begin with “Praise God” or say “I’m so-and-so and I’m saved/born again.” If someone in the US introduced themselves that way, I would have rolled my eyes and mentally discredited everything that followed. But I wouldn’t be able to take seriously any Christian I’ve met in Kenya if I still reacted that way. I’m going to take this opportunity to explore my own bias and resistance toward witness and proclamation.

Inculturation is obviously a pertinent topic as well. I spent the last year trying to help refugees learn and navigate American culture. Now I’m trying to read into and understand culture here. There are only a handful of people I trust to have conversations deeper than the weather report with, because I know they will be patient enough to clear up any cultural mistranslations. (Check out this great blog post about Cultural Humility) And even with those friends I haven’t yet begun to discuss topics of faith or theology beyond answering questions about what I am currently studying. On more than one occasion someone has asked me how I can live in a country as bad as Sodom and Gomorrah, with “all of that homosexuality”. Trying to explain separation of church and state lead to such confusion I didn’t even try to explain liberal Biblical hermeneutics. But you don’t have to travel outside the States to face the question of how we claim to be one body as the church when we have so many different and conflicting theologies. Crossing cultural borders changes even further complicates the crossing of those theological divides.

The good news is that the students here are facing many of the same questions and challenges we are. How do we reconcile interdenominational disputes? How do we help the church grow? How can the church be a force for change? How can we as clergy and church leaders hold our government officials accountable to ethical standards? How do we interact with our Muslim brothers and sisters or deal with family members that don’t accept Christ? How do we feed the hungry and care for the orphan and protect the widow? Because ultimately, the Missio Dei (mission of God) is about sharing unbridled love and reducing all pain, suffering, evil and inequity in this world.

Though I may have difficulty expressing myself here and now, my eyes, heart and spirit are being widened. It only makes sense that a field meant to unsettle and challenge the work of the church is introduced to me in a place where I am currently, personally, unsettled and challenged. Despite the current discomfort, I could not be more excited to see where else this new focus will take me.

Peace and Blessings,

Blair

 

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Swing(re)set

I’ve had some difficulty getting my course schedule worked out here. Although let me explain some terms for you all that probably added to my confusion in this process.

Course is used to refer to your course of study, equivalent to a program or major in the States. My course is ICMR (Islam, Christian-Muslim Relations), which is a post graduate degree under the department of theology. But considering I am not actually (currently) pursuing a Masters in Christian-Muslim relations but am taking this course as a supplement to my MDiv at Candler, I didn’t know if a whole semester of studying Islam was a good idea. Not because I’m not interested in doing that (trust me, I am) but because I have all of these pesky requirements I need to check off to graduate from Emory before my scholarship runs out and satisfy the UMC ordination requirements.

I tried to figure out if I could take a unit or two in some kind of Christian theology. This is still a little wishy-washy, but I believe units are the individual subjects you enroll in. Most undergraduates take 7 units. This means they are taking 7 different class subjects, sitting in each for 2 or 3 hours a week.  The ICMR takes 5 units, 4 for credit and 1 (Research Methodology) that you have to sit for and take an exam but receive no credit. I figured I wouldn’t take the not-for-credit class and perhaps drop one of the other units to pick up a Christian theology class. I looked at my schedule.

Except it’s not a schedule. It’s called a time table. Each course has its own time table, completely independent from every other course. You tell the registrar what year you are and what course, they print out a slip of paper with the units you’re taking on it. Cross enrollment between courses, I found, is very difficult because of this set up. But looking at my ICMR time table, I could drop Qur’anic Studies because it was in a nice block Tuesday morning and go find another course that would fit there. Or so I thought.

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Are you confused yet?

First I tried to ask for the time table for theology. The postgrad registrar told me Master of Theology was only being offered in the Nairobi campus, so I’d have to go into town. THAT was not happening, so I spoke to the head of postgrad studies (who studied for a year at Candler under Carol Newsome) and he was kind enough to explain to me that a Bachelor of Divinity (BD) in Africa is equivalent to the Master of Divinity in the States.  I’m not quite sure how this works out for the United Methodist Church in Africa, since ordination requires a master’s degree, so I’ll have to look into that more another time. ANYWAY, we had a nice chat and he was even kind enough to print out the BD time table for me.

Score! Missiology was being offered on Tuesday mornings! I would be able to get a unique view of missions from the global south, usually seen as the recipient of mission rather than the missionaries, AND knock out a credit toward ordination. The Candler Registrar said a-OK to everything and I was good to go!

Except NOT.

The problem with each course having an independent time table is that professors don’t have to go through anyone but their Head of Department (HOD) and other professors to approve changing classes. Students don’t have a say in the matter. We’re just supposed to show up when told. Professor 1 wanted to change his class for one of the blocks on my precious empty Tuesday, getting in the way of me taking missiology. The HOD told ME that he’d told Professor 1 no to that change. Professor 1 told me Monday morning the HOD had told him yes. Then Professor 2 (who teaches missiology as well as a course in ICMR) told me he wasn’t exactly sure when his missiology class was, but it might move, allowing me to stay in both classses. The HOD confirmed this was true. Then the HOD and Professor 2 both left the country for over a week.

Trying to get help from the secretaries to confirm the changes, I couldn’t get them past trying to explain that I was attempting to simultaneously enrolling in two different courses. Mind you, all changes to the time tables are posted on various bulletin boards across campus (without the room numbers- you literally just check all the lecture halls til you find the right class), except for ICMR which is only announced in class. Apparently one change had been announced in a class I wasn’t sitting in that week. Another professor I’d never met approached me and tried to get me to explain what I wanted. She promptly told me (very kindly) that what I’d been told changed simply wasn’t possible.

This is where my friend Carrilea would sigh and say, “TIA.” This Is Africa.

To add to that, courses were supposed to begin Monday, September 2nd. I was told by a school official they wouldn’t start til Wednesday, September 4th. Turns out my program started on the 2nd (glad I had the forethought to at least check my classroom that morning), returning students came on the 4th, but in reality, no one (including the professors) except for my course (although we were 2 professors down as well) began class until the following Monday, September 9th.

TIA.

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Things are always done in the most logical way possible, as shown by this local Kibuku traffic jam.

ALSO, I find out from back home that one set of paperwork I filled out for ordination that takes three to six months to process and made sure to turn in before I left (along with a hefty check for processing fees) was actually step one and there was a whole other slew of paperwork I had to fill out before the three to six month processing actually started. Since I didn’t find this out until I was already in Kenya, that’s pushing me back at least another three months into the spring. Again, I question how anyone here gets ordained when practical logistics seem to be an afterthought both in the culture and in the process of ordination.

So in all of this hulabaloo, I’ve been told six different things by five different people and I’m just praying that someone is going to tell me in the morning that they’ve put in a request to have a time turner pulled for me from the Ministry. The whole thing really had me in knots. Adding in the ordination hiccup, I was completely questioning whether coming here was a terrible professional choice as far as the short term goals of finishing seminary, being ordained and getting a job is concerned.

What would the BOD (Board of Ordained Ministry) think of me studying another religion for a whole semester of my seminary training?

How much would this set me back, or at least seriously constrain my course options back at Candler?

Do I even want to be ordained in the Christian church at all or do I want to work for interfaith and intergovernmental human rights organizations?

Why is there coffee growing on the side of the road and I can’t find it in a cup? Unrelated to my vocational crisis but equally as frustrating, disorienting and illogical.

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It’s here. On the tree. Across from Kate’s house. GET IN MY MUG!

I emailed a whole bunch of people. I sat stressing over a situation I could not change without being the annoying and needy American student who wanted special privileges. Worst case scenario I have to take summer school or an extra semester at Candler and push back ordination anyway. Can I live with that?

I knew I needed to spend some one on one time with the big man. Despite my default to seek approval and guidance from other people, I’m old enough now to realize that He’s the only one who can really help me make life decisions definitively.  So I packed my Bible and set off to find a quiet spot.

Next door to campus is a Christian conference center called Jumuia (community). They have pretty cottages, tennis courts and a nice restaurant for visitors of the university. It’s very Karen Blixen. They also, coincidentally have an old but still intact playground.

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Can’t you see her, sitting on that swing, penning her novels?

I tend to break down situations so much during stress that I can’t make decisions or act. My mom calls it analysis paralysis. Anyone who knows me will tell you that when I get stressed out, I do the most childlike thing I can find to de-stress. I learned in college that coloring books were a way to pull myself out of it. The whole wall of my freshman year dorm was covered floor to ceiling with my roommates and my art work.  We added watching Disney movies to that process. When I got a car it became trips to the beach to dig a hole in the sand or just bury my toes. I also enjoy going to the zoo, playing ski ball or cuddling with a puppy.

The process of focusing on something really mundane, but tactile and visual is a sort of mediation. The childhood primer specifically removes me to that state of being unconcerned by the problems of the world. Add to that the sensory stimulation and you have found my recipe for a clear mind.

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Sweet stress relief.

I sat on the swing. Flying sometimes. Drifting side to side for a while. Thumbing through my Bible. I went back to find the verses later and couldn’t for the life of me figure out what I’d found to read that gave me some clarity. Swinging again, feet pumping up and down. I probably sat on that swing for a good  hour and a half. Until I came to the conclusion, as usual, that I was probably supposed to give up control and let my type-A personality be ok with whatever God (and my professors) worked out for me.

The next day they returned our time table to the original order, allowing me to keep all of the units I had originally chosen. I went to my first missiology class this week (during which the professor could only come for only one out of three hours). After just one class, I have a feeling I might just want to be a Missiologist… but more on that later. I’m just glad to finally have a set schedule… err… time table.

Peace and Blessings,

-Blair