Opportunities

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!

The Gospel According to WhatsApp

BY ISAAC, A PIONEERS MISSIONARY IN EUROPE

Increasingly technology affects and changes every part of our world in ways which are both positive and negative. It also presents great opportunities for the gospel.

I recently attended a Christian technology conference, where the keynote speaker told how he was one of the first missionaries to arrive by aeroplane, and his wife one of the last to arrive by boat. Cheap air travel has transformed our ability to send and support both short and long-term workers, and was one of the driving forces for church planting in the 20th century.

Radio and television increased the reach of the gospel, giving access into closed countries and allowing people to hear the message in their own language. In recent years, however, the response rates to radio broadcasting have been declining in favour of newer technologies.

Companies who were once working in radio are still providing recorded content, but distributing it in a wider variety of ways. Solar-powered MP3 players can be bought cheaply in large quantities, loaded with appropriate language resources – including whole recorded Bibles – and are being distributed widely. In the midst of the growing refugee crisis they are being received warmly along with practical aid, and listened to avidly by people traditionally closed to the gospel.

Recordings can also be loaded onto micro SD cards, and these have been handed out in large quantities, loaded onto phones and passed on from person to person.

Video can be distributed in this way too. The Jesus Film, originally shown around the world by teams of people carrying film projection equipment, is now the most translated film in the world and available to download and share.

As well as helping on the front lines, technology has massively increased the pace of Bible translation, enabling experts to collaborate around the world. Projects such as Unfolding Word are seeking to speed up the process by crowd-sourcing translation and enable the production of royalty-free Bible translations, which can be used without copyright concerns.

It is the rise of the internet and more recently the increasing availability of mobile phones which is proving the biggest opportunities at the moment. Globally nearly three out of four people owns a mobile phone. Perhaps more surprisingly, two out of those three phone users will already have a smartphone.

Non-smartphones can be used to share the gospel via SMS or USSD codes (similar to SMS but widely used in Africa to provide more interactive two-way services). Many can also be used to play MP3 audio files.

Where the mobile phone really comes into its own, however, is in allowing access to the internet. Increasingly discipleship resources can be shared on social media, and follow up carried out in voice or messaging apps such as Skype and Viber. We often hear of families who come to faith in the west sharing with their relatives back at home in phone calls, or sending recordings via WhatsApp.

My own contribution to the online discipleship arena began as a mobile-friendly website. We resisted requests to turn this into an app until we were approached by an underground church who explained that they needed to use it in places with no reliable power or phone signal. These brothers provided us with the initial locally-voiced recordings, which enable listeners to feel an immediate connection to the app. Their vision was to reach their neighbours, their country and the surrounding area by sending people with the app to run studies in houses and to pass it on to those who believed, encouraging them to do the same.

The app has since been downloaded in over 120 countries and translated into Arabic, Somali, Dari and Uyghur with Pashto and Indonesian in the pipeline.

The app is being used directly in discipleship groups amongst the unsaved, and we have received numerous stories of God at work through it. It is also being used to train local leaders with access to countries which would be difficult for us to enter. It can be shared from phone to phone via Bluetooth, and is simple enough for anyone to use.

Given the pace of change in recent years, it seems certain that mobile internet access will continue to grow worldwide, providing increasing access to unreached people, and new opportunities are bound to emerge as a result.

 

Photo by Thomas Kvistholt.