By Eddie Lowen
Providence is the forseeing care and guidance of God over the creatures of earth. We can agree on that.
But has it ever occurred to you that God may not want credit for some of what is attributed to him by human beings? My theology could be flawed, but I don’t imagine God will be disappointed if the next hot dog eating champion or Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover girl fails to credit him for their fame and success.
To go further, some religious statements seem unlikely to have originated with God, despite the claims of those who offer them. How many times have the phrases “I have a word from the Lord” and “God gave me this song” been followed by something that seemed more expired than inspired?
Given my hesitancy to presume on God’s authority, I recently had a surprisingly confident notion about the Spirit’s work in my life: God providentially directed me to be part of something amazing in Africa.
When CMF Executive Director Doug Priest invited me to join a small group of pastors traveling to Kenya in 2007, I agreed to casually investigate a ministry opportunity on behalf of my church. I remember confirming that it would be a “no strings attached” trip. But what has taken place since has convinced me God has given me a small role in a divine script.
Our trip to Kenya followed a period of two to three years during which the attention of the Western world seemed disproportionately focused on the African continent. Natural disasters and atrocities by political and religious zealots provided disturbing news reports of famine and genocide. Quasi-spiritual and secular celebrities called for greater government assistance for troubled African nations. One artist openly chastised American Christians for not investing more resources in African ministry.
As much because of social justice concerns as evangelistic ones, young adults in many U.S. churches asked their church leaders, “What are we doing in Africa?”
During this period, the missions team leader at West Side Christian Church in Springfield, Illinois, asked me, “Do you know of any effective works in Africa that we can help take to the next level?”
As I was considering his question, Doug Priest contacted me to say, “Hey, Eddie, come to Africa with me and some other church leaders.”
Our 2007 journey to Nairobi introduced us to Keith and Kathy Ham, CMF missionaries to the urban poor, as well as an impressive Kenyan couple named Wallace and Mary Kamau. The Hams and Kamaus created a winning strategy for transforming lives in some of the poorest communities in the world: they would invite children to attend a Christian school, while reaching out to their families with the gospel and practical assistance. In the same communities, they would offer health seminars and clinics, job training, and microloans for small businesses. Ultimately, churches would be planted in each community.
The limiting factor, of course, was ministry capital. Schools require teachers, facilities, materials, and food. Health and finance ministries must be funded. Inhome coaching is critical for families being overwhelmed by poverty and disease.
To finance these initiatives, a child sponsorship program was created. American churches were asked to sponsor children and adopt corresponding communities within the slums. Those of us who visited were challenged to consider leading our churches to help.
We came home, fired-up our churches, and watched as people impatiently waited to be assigned a child to sponsor. CMF produced sponsorship packets as quickly as possible. Within a few months, more than a thousand children were being sponsored by several churches. Follow-up trips occurred with more church staff and church members visiting and assisting in the work.
Later that year, my church wanted to provide a boost to our adopted community of Bondeni-Mathare, which appeared frequently in the news footage of the January 2008 Kenyan riots. We told the church that our Christmas Eve offering would go to build our ministry presence in Bondeni. We set an aggressive goal to more than double our previous Christmas Eve offering, asking our folks to intentionally forego part of their usual Christmas indulgences in order to bless Bondeni.
Our people bought-in, literally, and raced past our vision by giving more than five times the previous Christmas offering record.
The message was clear: this is our community to love. We care about these people and this place. We’re going to do this right.
There was a sense of awe and a conviction that we were participating in something . . . well . . . providential. Similar responses occurred in several other churches, like Mountain Christian near Baltimore, Parkview in Chicago, LifeSpring in Cincinnati, and Rocky Mountain near Denver.
I returned to Kenya in January, accompanied by my son, Evan, and two of our church leaders. After investing about $400,000 individually and corporately, our church was eager to see and evaluate the progress.
What we observed stunned us in all the right ways. Hope centers and churches are being established in more than a half-dozen communities thanks to the involvement of more churches. About 2,500 children are being introduced to Christ, taught the Bible, educated, and loved. Middle school children have the opportunity to live at the Joska boarding school, where construction on a four-story dorm is now underway. One of the young ladies living at Joska spoke for every child there when she said: “This is a very good place for me.”
Our team’s final afternoon in Nairobi included what will be a lifelong memory. After enjoying a meal and conversation with our Kenyan partners, we were informed that such occasions are perfect for a traditional Kenyan dance. We assumed this meant the Kenyans would dance—and they did. But we were asked, no . . . required to join them.
As they provided us with gifts by which we could remember them—as if we could ever forget—we sang and danced. Mercifully, no video of the occasion exists. However, the joyful celebration was unmatched.
Act IV (in progress)
Personally, I have never seen God’s grand design for the future. My conviction is that faithfulness to God’s Word and willingness to follow his Spirit allows us to participate in God’s plans, even when we do not recognize or understand them. I never doubt that God regularly works in marvelous ways; I simply do not pretend to always know what they are.
We live during a time when there is plenty of evidence to conclude God is at work in impressive ways in a variety of places. Ajai Lall in India recently saw more than 5,000 people respond to the gospel at a single event. Orchard Group is planting churches growing five times as fast as their older sister churches in New York City and New England. Remarkable ministry is underway in Indonesia, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Paris, Chicago and more.
Every person and every church should seek a part in one of these divine dramas. If you ask, God will write you into the script. Go ahead and investigate with a “no strings” approach. Dare a minister, elder, or missions team leader to travel with you to New York, Miami, Nairobi, or Mexico City to “just check things out.” That’s enough of an opening for God to do what he wants.
I marvel at what Christ is doing in Nairobi. He built a team and prepared the soil for seed long before I ever showed an interest in the people of Kenya. And even I don’t think it is too much to say that he providentially scripted a role for me and West Side Christian Church. It’s not a starring role, but in this masterpiece he is creating in Nairobi, it’s fun to have a role of any kind.
The good news for you is that neither the casting, nor the script, is complete.
Eddie Lowen, a member of Standard Publishing’s Publishing Committee, is senior minister with West Side Christian Church, Springfield, Illinois. For more information about the Hope Partnership, visit www.cmfhopepartnership.org.