Africa

On Petrol, Providence and Prayer

I was a missionary in Africa once. In Botswana, to be specific. One summer, my very best friend brought her Sunday School class from Texas for a mission trip/safari. We spent the first week of their trip doing children’s camps in the villages where I worked. For the second week, we were off to Chobe National Park in northern Botswana and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.

Early on the morning of our departure the nine of us made our way to the airport with our oversized piles of luggage and supplies. We arrived to discover that our nine-seater rental van didn’t come equipped with a trailer hitch as we’d assumed, so American ingenuity married the folly of youth and we crammed all our supplies plus nine people (three of whom were great, strapping lads) into the van: three in the front seat which was made for two, four in the middle seat which was made for three, and two valiant souls who volunteered to ride, flat on their backs in the 45cm space between the luggage and the roof. (Incidentally, those two heroes—who hadn’t met before the trip—have now been happily married for nearly 20 years!)

With our fearless leader—that was me—behind the wheel, we set off for the bush, eager to taste the delights of rural Africa. The journey was meant to take 13 hours, which to us Americans was a perfectly reasonable one-day drive. We travelled, happy and carefree along the A1 toward Francistown, breezing through villages and small towns along the way. At Francistown, we turned left and followed the less populated A3 toward Nata. At Nata we had a little lunch and carried on, now into the 200 miles of unbroken “proper bush” between Nata and Kasane at the northern tip of Botswana. What a delight for my passengers to be hurtling through this barren landscape, ever on the lookout for elephants and giraffes, even here, outside the national parks! What a delight to be so isolated, so alone, so empowered by youth and ambition and ignorance of the dangers that could so easily overtake us if not for the petrol in the tank and the water in our jerrycans.

And what a moment of fear and trembling for me when, over two hours from our destination, with nothing but empty bush for 100 miles in every direction, the petrol light came on. Somehow in my youthful enthusiasm, I had neglected to fill the tank in either Francistown or Nata. We had about 45 minutes of petrol left for a 2-hour drive. My best friend, who was sandwiched next to me, shot me a look. I gave her one back. We said nothing to the others, but both started praying silently. Suddenly, our carefree adventure had become very, very real.

We flew on toward our destination: seven of us enjoying the scenery, two of us growing our first grey hairs. The minutes passed, the miles slipped by, the petrol levels dropped. We had been below empty for about an hour when I became convinced that we were driving on the power of the Holy Spirit. Then, at the two-hour mark, joy! The outskirts of the town loomed, and at the crossroads, the promise of petrol and salvation. Just as I spied the petrol station about 300 meters ahead at the top of an incline, the engine sputtered and I rolled to a stop. We were out of petrol.

“Alright, everybody out!” I said, and told them the story of how far we’d come on no petrol. My big Texas lads (and my little but hearty Texas ladies) weren’t daunted in the slightest. “Let’s get this thing up the hill!” they shouted, and with me at the wheel, the eight of them pushed that heavily laden metal miracle up the hill and into the petrol station. We’d made it. Only just.

It was just a matter of fuel. I didn’t have enough. I didn’t get it when I should have. I didn’t respect the bush and the dangers it possessed, and I didn’t take with me what I needed to get myself and my friends safely to our destination.

It has long been known that prayer is the fuel of mission. Paul knew that his mission was sustained by prayer, and urged the Philippians (1:9), the Colossians (4:3), the Thessalonians (1 Th 5:25) and the Ephesians (6:19) to pray for him. If he knew he needed prayer, how much more the rest of us?

The mission field is a dangerous place, and our missionaries aren’t just in danger from those who would oppose their message and cause them harm. They’re in danger from spiritual forces, from disease, from natural disasters, from temptation, from car accidents, from burnout, from relationship breakdown, and even from running out of petrol in the middle of the African bush in the dead of summer.

Is it possible that we’re sending our field workers out without the fuel they need? We expect them to have hardships, yes. The Bible promises that things won’t always be easy. But if we who stay home are claiming to be obedient to the Great Commission, but are not praying for those who Go, we’re kidding ourselves. Prayer is the fuel for mission, and it is our job to make sure our missionaries have the fuel they need. Otherwise, they may end up having to push their ministry up a hill in harsh and dusty conditions. Or worse, they may end up stranded and in real danger.

God was very good to us that day in the bush of Botswana. It’s never been more than a funny story about a silly 25-year-old American and a miraculous self-filling petrol tank. But it could have been a very, very different story. All for lack of fuel.

Let’s not risk our missionaries’ lives and ministries because of a lack of fuel. We have a responsibility and a call to pray. Let’s commit to pray for them and give them the fuel they need, not just to make it from day to day, but to flourish in even the most barren of places.

Photo by Jacques Bopp.

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!