By DANIEL BERGNER
Published: January 29, 2006
The mission church is scarcely more than a shed with open sides. Rusty beams support a roof of corrugated metal, and a wooden lectern, unadorned, serves as the pulpit. No cross rises from the roof or hangs behind the lectern on the blue-painted cement wall; there is no cross anywhere. The house of worship is almost nothing. But it is too much for the missionary Rick Maples. "I want this to be the last church," he said. "This should be the last church built in this section of the valley."...
This is the first paragraph of a lengthy article about how one family acted on their call from God. This was not an easy decision to make, as young children were involved, but they are now immersed in the local culture trying to make a difference.
In the sub-saharan areas of Africa, Christian evangelism has been fairly successful in that the people were encouraged and empowered to take leadership in their own congregations. Since the early 20th century, when missionaries first came to Kenya, female circumcision was a significant challenge; it is still a challenge, and the missionaries then and now have made it a priority. One of the most poignant stories in this NYTimes Magazine article was how the Maples' 12 year old daughter witnessed a circumcision and wrote about it in her journal. Female circumcision is deeply embedded in the culture, and is not easily counteracted.
The ethnic group that the Maples are trying to reach present some different issues. They are monotheistic with a rich oral tradition, and seem to have no concept of a "savior".
Rick and Carrie talked about converting the Samburu in a new way. They envision developing what they call a Samburu-style church. They intend, gradually, to hold more and more Christian services not under a roof but under the acacia trees amid the manyattas. They want the sparsely attended church down the path from their house to be superseded. And they plan to teach the lessons of the Bible not through the preaching of written verses but through an emphasis on expansive storytelling that will fit with the Samburu's oral tradition. Rick said that the first lesson he had to impart, the first truth he had to instill in the people, was "a sense of sin and separation from God" - a separation that could be reconciled only through Jesus. He drew from 1 Corinthians to capture the essence of his message: "I give you Christ and Him crucified."
This article is long, but well-written, and most of all, it is fair in its presentation. It shows the difficulties in serving in such a place, especially the challenges faced by two young children. It shows the mission field on a far better light than "conventional wisdom" would lead people to believe.