Transitions and Thika

How a Trip to Kenya Jump-started One Mission Developer's Call

Where to begin? Literally. As a newly graduated, newly ordained, fresh from seminary first call pastor it can be a bit tricky figuring out how to make the transition from library to lectionary. As a first call mission developer, the transition has been slightly more akin to jumping from a plane.

For the first three months I described my call as “a pastor with no people, no building, and no money.” Thankfully, that description no longer holds. What remains true, however, is the reality that Massachusetts, where I currently serve, was recently identified by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life as the fourth “least religious” state in the union. For anyone wondering, New Hampshire and Vermont tied for the dubious distinction of first. New England, home to quaint white frame churches older than the country itself, once a hotbed of religious zeal and utopian Christian communities, doesn’t consider itself very religious anymore.Given the sordid experience with puritanical puritans, witch trials and, more recently, tragic clergy sex-abuse scandals, these recent revelations aren’t all that surprising. Needless to say, between the culture shock of my new home and watching the ground coming up quickly as a new mission developer, I needed some perspective. So I went to Kenya.

I had no idea what to expect when I jumped at the opportunity to accompany the Kenya immersion class led by Dr. John Karanja this past January Term. What I discovered was an experience so rich in culture, relationships, and mutual learning that I couldn’t help but be lifted up in this call we share across countries and communities to proclaim the gospel of Jesus. While the contrasts were stark, the parallels in mission were even more apparent. The class as a whole spent a number of days studying at St. Paul University, soaking in local Kenyan culture (and wildlife), and visiting various church-sponsored projects. These were great experiences in and of themselves, but the most valuable part of the three-week trip as a new mission developer was time spent living and working with the vicar of the cathedral for the Anglican Diocese of Thika.

Mark Huber, right, in Kenya with the Rev. Joseph Wanyoike, vicar of the cathedral in Thika.

 Hopefully you have a sense of the way church is currently perceived in New England. Now let me tell you about Thika. When we were approaching the cathedral I couldn’t help but notice it was new. Very new. This incredibly large building, visible from quite far off, still had scaffolding and other tell-tale signs of construction littering the yard. Long story short, the diocese of Thika recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. This wasn’t just one new church, it was a new synod, as we would say in the ELCA! The statistics alone paint a compelling picture: in 10 years the diocese has grown from 26 to 54 parishes, from 26 to 66 clergy, and from 9,600 to 23,000 worshippers. Imagine your synod adding 28 new churches with 13,400 new members in 10 years.

Despite the impressiveness of those statistics, numbers alone don’t have much practical value for a new mission developer in New England. It was the experience of living and listening in this emerging diocese that filled my head with ideas and my heart with renewed passion.

Walking around the town with two pastors from the cathedral staff, it was immediately apparent that this was a community church. In my town in Massachusetts we have “community” churches whose members drive 20 and 30 miles to attend worship once a week. The cathedral in Thika was a true community church. Small groups from the church met in various subdivisions around town throughout the week, and the pastors spent their days of pastoral care walking from shop to shop, house to house, meeting with people in the neighborhoods surrounding the church.

As I walked and talked my way through Thika, I realized this is what it means to be Christ’s church. My call, our call, to share our stories of grace, forgiveness, and transformation comes out of our life in a particular place with particular people. I was blessed to share those stories with people in Thika, but they also reminded me of the importance of my own call to learn, listen, and love the people in my adopted New England home. The Puritans are long gone, but God is still moving and calling forth new communities of faith. Now that my feet are back on the ground, it’s time to start walking — and listening.

Mark Huber is a 2009 graduate of Trinity and currently serving as a Mission Developer for SANCTUARY in Marshfield, Massachusetts.