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To Lent or Not to Lent

I’ve noticed an interesting trend over the course of the last decade or so: the stealthy backward creep of Christmas. In my American childhood home, there was a strict ban on all things Christmas until at least Thanksgiving, which happens toward the end of November. I still cling tenaciously to that rule as an adult, but I’ve noticed that many of my countrymen—both sets, American and British—are succumbing to Christmas fever earlier and earlier each year. Last year, Tesco put out their Christmas fare in early September! Early September, people!

We can obviously blame the over-Christmasing on rampant consumerism and the commercialization of Christmas etc. etc, but I have become increasingly aware in recent years that we Christians, even those of us who still vigilantly celebrate the true meaning of Christmas, often still have our Christian holidays a little bit out of whack.

I think most of us would agree that Easter is a more significant holiday to Christians than Christmas. I mean, the Incarnation is wildly important, but it would’ve been rendered pointless without the Resurrection. These two events are the one-two punch of the Christian faith, but of the two, Easter is definitely the right hook.

I know, we’ve heard it all before—we should celebrate Easter more than we should celebrate Christmas. We know this, and many of us make strides to emphasise Easter in our lives, in both our private and corporate expressions of faith. I have personally observed Lent for many years, and have always found it a useful way to recalibrate my life toward Jesus.

For those of us who don’t know, you won’t find Lent in the Bible. It’s an ancient church tradition observed by many of the more liturgically-leaning churches. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, lasts for 40 days and finishes on Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday. It represents the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness before the start of his public ministry. Christians often choose something (television, caffeine, chocolate) to give up during Lent as a means of drawing nearer to God.

I grew up Baptist, and didn’t know about Lent until I was in my late 20s. Now that I know about it, I like Lent. I like it a lot. But I haven’t observed Lent for a few years now. A couple of those years we can chalk up to my own Dark Night of the Soul, and a general lack of the kind of spiritual vigor that would lead someone to fast for Lent. Last year, though, I made a conscious choice not to celebrate Lent even though I had (by God’s good grace) emerged from the darkness.

Part of the reason I emerged from the darkness was a book called Surprised by Hope, by Tom Wright (a.k.a. NT Wright for the theology nuts out there). It was the first Christian book I’d read outside the Bible in a couple of years, and if you’ve read it you’ll know that it’s not exactly the Easy-Read, Baby Food, Just-Back-from-the-Brink sort of book you’d recommend to someone who’s recovering from spiritual trauma. This puppy is philosophically dense and raises some challenging questions about what the church believes about the resurrection and our own experience of eternity. For all that, though, it was the perfect book for me.

Not everyone will necessarily agree with the nuances of Tom Wright’s interpretation of scripture regarding the resurrection and eternity. What I think most of us WOULD agree with, however, is the reason I decided not to observe Lent last year (and won’t be observing it this year, at least). Wright makes the point that I’ve made above, though he makes it much more eloquently, that Easter is generally under-celebrated. The resurrection changed literally everything. It made all good things possible. It is the hinge of history, and if we had a firm grasp on what happened on that first Easter Sunday, we would be dancing in the streets, partying for weeks, out of our minds with glee. Instead, those of us who observe Lent spend the 40 days before Easter denying ourselves of pleasures and luxuries, only to get to Easter Sunday just thankful that we can “get back to normal” and hoover up some Cadbury’s Mini Eggs before they disappear from the shelves.

What if, Wright says, instead of celebrating Easter by meditating for a few hours on the resurrection, singing a few joyous songs and then “getting back to normal”…what if instead of all that, we do what Jesus did and celebrate Easter by putting good things into the world?

Easter wasn’t a restoration of the norm—it was the infusion of Eternity into a previously finite world! It was the introduction of Forever Life into humanity’s death-bound soul! It was the ground splitting, enemy squashing, hallelujah inducing culmination of the greatest rescue operation that ever was or ever will be! Why are we not on our feet, whooping with joy and punching the air? Stop right now and do some air punching, please. I can wait.

So if God chose to inaugurate Easter by putting good things into the world, why can’t we?

Last Easter, I started giving to a charity that works to clean up Britain’s beaches, keeping plastic out of the ocean. (Looking after the earth is a big part of Wright’s interpretation of the resurrection and eternity, so it was on my mind at the time and still is.) But putting good things into the world in celebration of Easter can look any way you want it to. Maybe it’s time to start financially supporting that missionary or charitable organisation. Maybe it’s time to start that prayer group for Southeast Asia. Maybe you’ve wanted to take piano lessons or get an allotment—do it in celebration of the day that Jesus made all things new!

This Easter, make a commitment to put something good into God’s world, and tell people why you’re doing it. We are resurrection people. New Life People. By all means, observe Lent. Some of the best people I know do. But at the end of Lent, don’t “get back to normal”. Celebrate! Let’s be known as the people who make the world a better place because of Jesus.

From the Ends of the Earth

AN INTERVIEW WITH WAIRIMU
DIRECTOR OF PIONEERS EAST AFRICA

Pioneers: Hi Wairimu! Thanks so much for agreeing to chat with us today. Tell us a little bit about yourself—who you are, where you’re from etc.

Wairimu: I am a Kenyan missionary in my mid-fifties, a widow with one daughter whose family has two sons. I was born and raised in Nairobi from independence after my parents’ migration to the new capital. I coordinated youth and children’s ministry in two churches for a total of fifteen years before going to seminary to study missions. I have worked with refugees in this region for about eight years. I am now finishing doctoral studies in missional theology and development. I am also serving as the first Pioneers mobilisation office director for the East African region.

Pioneers: Who is the East Africa mobilisation office looking to train and send to the mission field? And where in the world are they going?

Wairimu: In theory, we are set up to send people from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, Congo, Zambia, Malawi, Madagascar and Botswana, based on geographical and cultural affinity. French-speaking people from Congo are often drawn to North Africa; Kenyans seem to have quite an interest in the Middle and Far East. Ideally, they should be able to go to any destination the Lord has called them to if they can effectively raise sufficient and sustainable resources from their home communities. To that end, we normally encourage them to reach unreached peoples within their own country first.

Pioneers: You’ve implied here that one of the challenges in mobilising Africans is the lack of financial resources in the local churches. What are some other challenges that Africans face in answering God’s call to mission?

Wairimu: I have been involved in missionary care for a number of years and have seen first hand the challenges that indigenous missionaries face in part due to negligence and perhaps ignorance on the part of their sending churches and agencies. God has called many people to missions through local missions events, but a large number of them don’t reach their mission destinations because there are very few viable sending agencies and churches, if any,

Pioneers: So as a general rule, the local churches don’t have financial resources to support indigenous missionaries, but are there other ways the African church is contributing, or could contribute?

Wairimu: The church has made some effort in planting diaspora churches (for instance, Kenyan churches in the UK), mainly to meet the needs of Africans in other countries. These are maintenance churches that have potential for outreach, if given sufficient training, motivation and guidance. Church and mission leaders need to support missionary sending much more than they are doing, especially among unreached peoples where the need is great but the workforce is small.

Pioneers: More and more of the global Church’s missionary efforts are coming from the Global South. What do you think are the contributing factors to this increased sense of calling in people from the Global South?

Wairimu: There are a lot of teaching, training, envisioning activities happening in Kenya these days. Kenya is a global missions, business and public service hub so many mission strategies and ideas get tested here first. There is also a growing number of well-discipled Christians who are venturing into missions even though the sending efforts are still low.

Pioneers: What can people in the “traditional” sending nations (the UK, the US, Germany etc.) do to facilitate the sending of Africans, South Americans and Asians?

Wairimu: It would be good if they could come and visit and see that their financial endowment is being used in God’s work, regardless of who uses it. In addition, they could share their expertise and be willing to work under indigenous leadership. The challenges of local resource mobilisation make it difficult to send those who clearly are ready to go but don’t have the financial muscle to sustain themselves. Trade imbalances continue to keep the Western nations rich at the cost of Southern economies so we may never really be able to compete at the same level.

Pioneers: When we think of the word ‘missionary,’ a European or North American face usually springs to mind. But the fact is, God has been calling Africans to missions for a long time. We’ve been told missions runs in your family…

Wairimu: Yes! I just found out recently that my grandmother, who I didn’t get a chance to know, was a missionary. I hope to start writing her story in another year or so. Many intruiging stories are told about her but what is clear is that she and her husband were commissioned to reach many in the Kenyan highlands, she built a church in her compound and was non-denominational in her work. She is my current hero.

Pioneers: What’s going on in the East Africa mobilisation office these days? What do you need prayer for?

Wairimu: I have spent most of this year recruiting and training potential volunteer staff. I have learnt the hard way a lot about the aspirations and expectations of volunteers in Christian service. Those who have experience in the positions we require are looking for jobs and not for volunteer positions. Those who are willing to volunteer don’t tend to have the discipline to learn what they need to contribute meaningfully. I am praying for God to bring those whom he has called to commit to this work. I need urgent prayers for this office team to come together. We are open to staff members coming from any part of the world if they feel called to serve in a mobilisation office in admin and accounts, training facilitation, resource mobilisation, research and publications, and in missionary care.

I have had the opportunity to walk with about fifteen people who expressed interest in being mobilised. It turns out that many of them are looking for paid positions. I am learning that we will need creative sending ideas such as sending people as students, business people and professionals for mobilisation to succeed. Also, we will need locally to engage young believers who are indigenous to their own unreached people to make it sustainable.

Pioneers: Thank you for your insights, Wairimu. You’ve given us a lot to think about! We will keep you and our Kenyan brothers and sisters in our prayers, and who knows, maybe one of us will be called to come serve alongside you to mobilise Africans to the nations!