The necessity of outside in voices
On 27 February I wrote a column entitled, “The polarizing perceptions of Rwanda.” In the column I compared Rwanda’s leaders to historical figures that Jewish and Christian theologians call, “post-exilic prophets.” Approximately 2,600 years ago, the nation of Judah was in exile. While in exile her brightest youth became masters of foreign thought, language, and culture while never giving up their national identity. After exile they returned, and built systematic institutions of security, education, business, and religion. In the process their voices polarized the known world. They spoke as outsiders with inside understanding. The term prophet refers not so much to their mystical ability to predict the future as it does to their gifts of profound moral insight and exceptional powers of expression.
Allow me to use another term to describe why Rwanda is so polarizing – missionary. I am not writing purely about odd foreigners with romantic ideals, colorful personalities, and strong convictions. I am writing about a much older definition. One of my favorite seminary professors, Dr. Ed Mathews defined missionaries as “one sent by the Holy Spirit for the purposes of communication that creates followers of Jesus.” Let me make the definition more pragmatic. A missionary is one sent in God’s perfect timing with message. He is an outside in voice.
Though few dare use the term missionary to describe when Rwanda’s leaders speak to world powers who consider themselves gods, I think it is quite appropriate to use the term missionary to describe Rwanda’s role as an outside in voice. As can be expected those who consider themselves gods respond in polarizing ways when their godhood is threatened.
The catch about missionaries is that every culture needs them. Without an outside in voice not only does a culture slip morally it slips economically. Even the great economic power, the United States of America needs outside in voices to economically thrive. Some of America’s brightest economic minds are now arguing one way to restore America’s economy is through immigration reform. When economics meets good religious reasoning the term becomes economic missionaries. All cultures need an outside in voice to see a new possibility and launch entrepreneurial endeavors. The ethnicity, nationality, and race of these outside in voices is irrelevant. What is relevant is that they come sent with a message that is transformational.
From Rwanda’s current government, business, and religious leaders to her brightest youth scattered in the world’s top universities many Banyarwanda meet the definition of missionary. Conversely, there are many in Rwanda who look like traditional missionaries and are missionaries.
My best atheist and agnostic friends in the Great Lakes have whispered to me, “What is the deal with these missionary characters? Do they really hear God’s voice? Do they have some hidden agenda? How do they benefit from being here?” I am thankful for friends willing to be candid.
Please allow me to be candid. My mzee professor got it right. Is there evidence they have been sent? If no one from their country of origin is willing to raise their hand, and say, “We sent them,” they are not a missionary. Instead they are delusional. If they don’t have a message that inspires with its hope and goodness they are not missionaries. If their actions do not lead to transformation of a culture in all its many facets – education, business, and leadership – they are not missionaries. Some who claim to be missionaries are not missionaries. They and Rwanda are best served with a gentle conversation that leads to a quiet departure.
Yet, the vast majority of those who claim to be missionaries are speaking gentle transformational messages and building generational endurance. I am very thankful to have been considered such honor as mine, and to have served in the Great Lakes for so many years with so many inspirational comrades. They heard God’s call to leave all comforts of home. They came with no personal agenda. Their reward has been many earthly friendships and the hope of heaven.
Many have asked our family as we transition back to our passport country, “Do you need to go?” We leave called. We would much rather stay in Rwanda. Yet, our community needs us in another location. Our parents have not had us consistently near them for 19 years, are getting old, and we need to be near. Our children are reaching university age in cultural transition, and need us near. The institutions we have built must be stronger than us. In order to become God’s intent we must relinquish the institution’s leadership. Lastly, we sense God wants us near the many Banyarwanda youth we have been fortunate to facilitate studying in the USA. We leave our home of Rwanda as missionaries to the USA because of our hope in our heavenly home.
My boss once spoke about this odd relationship as the ones who receive a missionary become missionaries themselves and inherit missionary rewards. He said, “Anyone who receives you receives me, and anyone who receives me receives the Father who sent me. If you receive a prophet as one who speaks for God, you will be given the same reward as a prophet. And if you receive righteous people because of their righteousness, you will be given a reward like theirs. And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded (Matthew 10:40-42, New Living Translation.)”
Seven years ago, our family first entered Rwanda with an idea of beginning an English based church with a good children’s program. All we had was a few friends who sent us and a few Banyarwanda friends who received us. The results have been more honor than a single man is due. If honor must be given to humanity it should be given to the community who accepted us as friends, nurtured our lives, dreamed, and labored with us. We are immensely grateful.
This is the last column I will write for Focus as a Rwanda resident for this season of life. Thank you for such a thrilling journey. I will go as your missionary to the USA. I will seek to be near your youth and give them my best pastoral care. I trust you will continue to share your abundant grace and kindness to my fellow missionaries. I also trust that the Lord will continue to use you as missionaries to our world’s powers. May God bless all.