A controversy is raging on social media with the Uganda community and Luket Ministries, a missionary organization from Oklahoma serving in Jinja, Uganda. The first time I heard of the controversy was when I read about it in http://www.chimpreports.com/mzungu-in-gomesi-video-sparks-social-media-outrage/ with the headline, “Muzungu in Gomesi Video Sparks Social Media Outrage.” I did a Facebook search to see what my friends were saying. Those who were aware were offended. The most quoted Facebook post came from Arao Ameny at https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=10100253194638128&id=41702334. I took a look at the video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hJt-4_kzY0.
My heart sank in mercy for Luket Ministries as I saw the social media commentaries. (For some good columns see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/14/dancing-missionaries-white-girls-offensive-to-africans and http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/10/21/498840456/why-many-ugandans-are-offended-by-music-video-made-by-u-s-missionaries.)
You see I too have sinned as Luket Ministries has. I’ve sat with Americans (missionaries, businessmen, diplomats, scholars, and development workers) who have used humor to process culture. Then as time went on I realized how deep our humor offended.
As many years of missionary service passed my family reached a point where our culture was as African as American. New Americans in Africa sometimes told us, “You are too African.” I took it as a compliment. However, my family was now the butt of Americans processing Africa jokes.
Then we transitioned to a new missionary posting in Chicagoland. My better friends here are African Diaspora. On occasion we make jokes about the American experience. I’m sure our jokes would unduly offend native-born Americans at times. Thus I could see both many of my friends and I wounding others as Luket Ministries have done.
Humor can heal. It also can deeply wound. Only the wise find how to balance it well. As one who had both wounded others and been wounded by poor humor my mercy swelled for Luket Ministries. I hoped they could reconcile with the Ugandan community.
Then in the social media conversations I saw a matter that I couldn’t ignore on Arao Ameny’s Facebook in a screenshot. The Lord’s name was taken in vain. Natasha Perryman, the creative director of Luket Ministries wrote on her Facebook, “Our dance video came in a dream from God. He is so clever and fun. …the video pleased God and he knows the value in it and the intentions behind it and therefore we have peace.”
While I can feel great mercy for Luket Ministries I also saw deeply troubling patterns that went beyond the insensitivity of poor humor creating unnecessary wounds. Reconciliation for Luket Ministries with the Ugandan community mattered. It matters to the offended. However, most of all it matters to God. He sent His son with the message of reconciliation. Surely, Luket Ministries would seek reconciliation.
Arao suggested I write a letter to Luket. I did. It was probably not a great letter. I assumed they’d have no idea who I was so I told a bit about myself. I tried to be merciful. I waited for a response in hope.
I got a brief email response from Adam Perryman, the Executive Director of Luket Ministries and then a public apology was made. It was less than I had hoped, but it seemed to be a starting point for what I hoped would be a conversation that would lead to reconciliation. The apology read,
“It is our absolute joy to serve throughout the world. We respect and honor all cultures within our ministry and family. We apologize to all for promoting any view that would show otherwise. We specifically apologize to any Ugandan that was offended by our ministry dance video.
Adam and Natasha Perryman”
Most who teach about reconciliation note that apologies should be specific and responsible. They should draw out dialogue. They should lead to changed behavior. In fact, many times they should lead to restoring what the flawed behavior destroyed. In the end they should draw the offended one into forgiveness as the offender changes not only their behavior but their own character. I didn’t see those types of actions in the Luket apology.
Yet I waited and watched. A pattern developed. Those in America who knew the Luket Ministries founders expressed support. Many Ugandans and their friends expressed concern. Name calling and insults were then directed at those expressing concern. Then there was push back to the name calling. Then posts expressing concern were deleted. I engaged at one point when John McHale called those expressing concern “fools,” impugned their motives, lectured Ugandans on what was best for their home, and raised the issue of race. Then our dialogue was deleted. A few days later Arao Ameny wrote “Here’s What’s Wrong with the Dancing Missionaries Video and Their Half-assed Apology” (http://www.okayafrica.com/op-ed-2/whats-wrong-dancing-missionaries-video-half-assed-apology/) and summarized many of our thoughts.
“*Disclaimer: We desire peace between all parties involved. We have listened, understand and have sought professional counsel. We have issued an apology for the video and we hope for the apology to be accepted. All comments will be deleted due to cyberbullying that has exceeded far past the video (harassment, intimidation, threats) directed towards us personally and our ministry. We pray all can move forward in peace.
Anyone who is sharing/posting/promoting the video publicly is doing so without our permission.”
In a nutshell I perceive an apology that only desires for the conflict to go away. It seems to have little desire for reconciliation. Luket Ministries has yet to be accountable to the people who have been offended. Though Luket Ministries writes that they are taking counsel I don’t see evidence that they are taking counsel from those who could lead them to reconciliation.
Yes, when I read the comments and concerns expressed towards Luket Ministries many are vulgar. Yet, I’ve also seen comments by those who appear to support Luket Ministries that come across as racist.
A trait that happens to missionaries as they adapt to their host culture is that they embrace the good in it. For those that serve in Africa they pick up African habits. They joke in local proverbs and worship most thoroughly in local languages. Their home is always full of visitors. They only consider real food to be something cooked over charcoal. There is always tea to be served. They use the pronoun “we” much more than “I.” They will drop everything if there is a crisis in the community. They are always at funerals and weddings. They know the pitfalls of both their host culture and passport culture, and wrestle everyday with the best ways to bring Jesus’ light to darkness. Lastly, when their community dignity is threatened they come to the community’s defense by reminding the world how this is a people made in God’s image who reflect His wonder.
I have yet to see Luket Ministries speak of Uganda’s dignity, wonder, and awe.
I’d like to believe that this is just a lapse in cultural adaptation, but a friend suggested I take a look at Luket’s Instagram. I did. Here’s what I saw
Friends, this is not a temporary lapse in judgment as one processes culture. This is a way of viewing Ugandan culture that has been going on for some time. When it has been going on for such a long time a thorough reconciliation really does matter.
How does Luket Ministries intend to seek reconciliation with their last statement in the apology? Is the professional counsel a psychologist, pastor, seasoned missionary, anthropologist, or a lawyer? What consequences does Luket Ministries intend for those who share the video without their permission?
I’m just stunned.
Here’s one of my missionary habits. I try to leave written records behind me. They can be newsletters, proposals, correspondence, sermons, teaching, and columns. To be brutally honest some of what I’ve written sucks. It makes bad judgements. It unduly wounds. Then I change my mind even about theological matters and I have to do re-writes and apologies. It’s tempting when I’ve really screwed up to try to wash away my stupidity. Yet, here’s the biggest reason that I’m a missionary. I’ve been forgiven. God’s grace is amazing. If He can work with a knucklehead like me He can work with anyone. I have to leave a trail not only of God’s wonder in my life, but of God’s grace when I’m failing. Then God easily is the Hero of my story. It’s His story and I just share the journey for a short time on earth as we wait for His Return.
Luket Ministries appears to be scrubbing away failings. Arao Ameny thought it was important the world see the video that has left so many so concerned. It was taken down today. Here’s the link and explanation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_DV0kXg0_P8.
Luket ministries reconciliation with Uganda matters for the sake of the missionary enterprise.
There are good missionaries in Uganda. They know the history, language, and culture. A few are people of great influence and almost all know their names. Most are quite humble and could easily be lost in the shuffle. There are real issues in Uganda that need addressing by an outside perspective. When those such as Luket Ministries become the missionary story associated with Uganda good missionaries in Uganda unduly suffer. Luket Ministries are hurting the missionary enterprise in Uganda. Yet, there is a bigger issue in global Christianity than the missionary enterprise in Uganda.
For those who don’t know Uganda’s missionary story let me give a brief history. It was born in blood and martyrdom. An Anglican missionary James Hannington was killed as he journeyed into Uganda for his faith in 1885. His death was but a whisper of what would come to the first Ugandan Christians. At least 40 Ugandan Christians were martyred between 1885 and 1887.
There is also a
movement in East Africa called the East African Revival (most followers are
called Balokole / Born Again / Evangelical) It was born in Uganda and Rwanda in
the 1930’s and 40’s when missionaries such as Joe Church began confessing the
sins of missionaries in matters of race.
Joe Church paid a price for his commitment to Revival, but Ugandans such
as Kosiya Kyamuhangire, William Nagenda and Simeon Nsibambi paid more. Uganda’s Christian history is one of the
richest in the world. I’m thankful that
I can call it part of my own history.
Yet, I can’t in good conscience lecture Ugandans about what real
Christianity should be. During events
of my own short life, Uganda Christians such as Bishop Janani Luwum were
martyred in Idi Amin’s regime (1971-1979.)
As you follow the Christian history of Uganda it is a missionary
one. You’ll find that Ugandan
missionaries went to other African nations like Tanzania and Congo, started
churches and schools, and shaped a region for faith. The world should listen to Ugandans who
speak to missionaries because many of those Ugandans are missionaries.
|Joe Church, William Nagenda, Festo Kivengere, Claire Lis De Benoit|
They don’t often get to use the title missionary as they journey to the West but something like our grandparents faith is stirring. Friends serving as missionaries from America in Europe tell me that the most rapidly growing churches in Europe are multi-cultural and led by African church planting missionary pastors. They’ve encouraged me to be open to that Spirit moving in America. When I do missionary math I can’t find a viable missionary force to address the complications of Post-Christian America without East African missionaries in our midst.
In fact, while East Africa has a growing middle class in America economic class divisions are getting more pronounced. While we joke in East Africa by calling Nairobi NaiROBBERY the crime rate in Chicago is many times worse. If we’re looking for vulnerable kids there are actually more kids without family taking care of them in Illinois than there are in Rwanda. The story Luket Ministries tells about Ugandan poverty is true, but it is only part of the story. The American need for missionaries is actually more shocking. We, American Christians do these missionaries from Uganda a great disservice when we don’t tell their story of thriving church movements, a growing economy, and prophetic Ugandan voices of social justice.
One of my saddest memories as our family closed our season in Africa and came to our missionary posting in America was listening to one of my brightest students tell me, “We feel too inferior to consider ourselves missionaries.” How did we American missionaries create such a wound?
I think one way was when in our quiet times with just others from our own culture making jokes about Africa. Our misplaced American humor merits authentic repentance and reconciliation for the sake of the missionary endeavor.
Now I see my African Diaspora friends gathering to pray for new church plants in America’s global cities. In their humble missionary ways they come as university students and then become the brightest ones in their classes. They bite their tongues at times, but they are the ones who reshape secular conversations to ones of faith. Others stumble right into America’s almost extinct extended family structure, and care for the elderly. Some have great success as doctors, business people, and university lecturers. They may have a secular job but they bathe it all in pray. They are missionaries much like the Apostle Paul and America needs their spiritual influence greatly.
If you follow the conflict with Luket Ministries among the Ugandan community you’ll notice that much of the conversation is being generated by Uganda’s Diaspora. I see them as my fellow missionaries as well as those Western missionaries in Uganda.
Both the Diaspora missionaries to America and the Western missionaries to Africa are discredited in many people’s eyes when there is not reconciliation with Luket and the Ugandan community.
Lastly, because our Lord said,
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23. New International Version.)”