Friday, August 30, 2013


 This morning as I awoke and checked news from Africa's Great Lakes some matters are happening that I believe requires pastoral commentary.    Much of it is a historically old cycle.    Eastern Congo is a mess.   Kinshasha has never been able to well govern the East.   Rebel groups form and take some key territory.   Then the international community voices concern.   Tentative negotiations take place and there is some measure of retreat.    Yet, nothing really ever changes.    The Eastern Congolese suffer.    The nations that border Congo, Uganda and Rwanda are forced to deal with the problems of Eastern Congo in some way.   Refugees spill into Uganda and Rwanda.   In my experience both Uganda and Rwanda as nations have fulfilled a God given responsibility to shelter refugees.   Yet, there is a more complicated matter for Rwanda and Uganda.    Rebels in Eastern Congo have ungodly intents.    Rebels in Eastern Congo have perpetrated genocide in the past.   Rwanda and Uganda cannot ignore former genocidaires presence.   Thus the complicated cycles of violence without resolution continue.

 Much of this destructive cycle happens due to the enabling role of the international community.  According to the dictionary an enabler is "one who enables another to persist in self-destructive behavior... by providing excuses or by making it possible to avoid the consequences of such behavior (    Psychologists lecture, write, and counsel repeatedly about ceasing enabler behavior (For instance   The gist of their counsel is to choose to stop behaviors that take away the responsibility of an addict while alleviating short-term pain.   This choice allows the addict to "hit bottom," and from the bottom discover means of personal responsibility.   For those from a faith tradition this is an "Amazing Grace" moment of realizing "Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace fears relieved....  Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home." 

Conversations in church receptions
  I humbly submit that the relationship the international community has with Congo is quite similar to one of addiction.   Thus the answer to the enabling lies much in the same counsel one would give a family to heal from addiction.   If this was just a situation in USA neighborhood we would suggest for the international community to visit a pastor or psychologist to learn the skills needed to cease being an enabler to neighborhood conflict.    However, the situation is too complicated for the international community to simply take a  "Stop Enabling" seminar.   

Another matter has also arisen.   The UN Peacekeeping force in Eastern Congo now includes those from Tanzania.   The Tanzanians are our neighbors.   Some violence has occurred, and one Tanzanian peace keeper has been killed.    (Though according to the words of Jesus all men are created in God's image (Genesis 1:27), and as such truly are our neighbors (Luke 10:29-37.)


  One of my missionary mzee (wise elder statesman) once told me to watch the cars in parking lots
of urban churches.    He pointed out cars tell us many things.    One is the origin and social reach of those attending church functions.     I’ve repeatedly noticed Congolese license plates at weddings and funerals that take place in Rwanda and Western Uganda.    Many of the extended families in Eastern Congo, Western Uganda, and Rwanda have intermarried for generations.    The borders between these nations have economic and political significance.    However; historically, culturally, socially, and spiritually the nation-state borders are largely irrelevant.  
 The Tanzanians are also our neighbors that are found in church parking lots.    Our families have intermarried.    We celebrate together.   With those celebrations we also grief together.   The loss of any life is painful.   It is particularly painful when it is a family member. 
  Historians write of the kingdoms of the interlacustrine area—i.e., the region bounded by Lakes Victoria, Kyoga, Albert, Edward, and Tanganyika.    As European explorers reached Africa’s Great Lakes they found well organized and powerful kingdoms.    These kingdoms’ history was told orally so there is some debate about the kingdoms origins.    However, it is obvious that these kingdoms had some ebb and flow of influence.   At times the kingdoms were at war.   At times the kingdoms were at peace.    During seasons of peace the leading families of different kingdoms intermarried.    During times of war families found refuge in neighboring kingdoms.    Thus many conclude historical leadership in Africa’s Great Lakes is in many ways the stories of broad extended families.
                One of the leading historical kingdoms in Uganda was Bunyoro-Kitara.    The histories of Bunyoro’s neighboring kingdoms frequently mention in their origins Bunyoro.    Many Banyoro will interpret their kingdom’s ebbs and flows to have reached deeply into Eastern Congo.    I’ve been surprised to listen to Runyoro speaking missionaries who return after a visit to Eastern Congo with stories of their surprise at how many Runyoro speakers they find in Congo.    Social patterns from marriages and linguistic proficiency make church conversations about Congo conclude, “This is our family.”

                Rwanda was another of the historical influential kingdoms in the interlacustrine region.    Rwanda historians will tell of the Rwanda kingdom reaching at times deeply into Eastern Congo.    There is some debate about whether the reach was completely under the Rwanda kingdom’s control.    However, it is obvious that Kinyarwanda speakers migrated into Eastern Congo and took on new descriptions of themselves with names such as the Bafumbira and Banyamulenge.     The Kinyarwanda speakers of Eastern Congo can be described as both Tutsi and Hutu.    Kinyarwanda speaking missionaries remark that when they visit Eastern Congo they are struck by how much Kinyarwanda they find being spoken in heart conversations in homes and churches.   Again, social patterns from marriage and linguistic proficiency make many church conversations about Congo conclude, “This is our family.”

 Tanzania is also part interlacustrine region.    Their kingdoms of Karagwe and Kyamutwara are part of the historical traditions of our region.    Our families are interrelated.       Tanzanian kingdoms provided refuge when there was turmoil in some kingdoms.    Our languages our similar.   From our greetings to our names for God in the basic language and rhythm of life Eastern Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda are family.   

                Our Balokole (Saved / Evangelical) history in Africa’s Great Lakes tells of beginning in the East African Revival of the 1930’s and 40’s.    From a relatively isolated outpost of Gahini, Rwanda the Revival spread.    Our grandfathers were missionaries who started churches and schools in Eastern Congo.   Some of our historic churches (Episcopal / Anglican) hierarchies once governed Eastern Congo in the same Diocese that governed Western Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi.    Thus it is quite easy in our church conversations about Congo to conclude, “This is our family.”
The Tanzanians also have been deeply touched by our religious heritage in Africa's Great Lakes.    When we come together to worship across ethnic boundaries we sing from common Kiswahili hymn books and read from a common Kiswahili Bible.    When we close our weddings, funerals, and worship we eat similar food.    There is something about this shared song and celebration that assures us we are family.   


                Many of us in Africa’s Great Lakes have a deep fear of soldiers.    Our fear was developed by suffering at the hands of the soldiers employed by those such as Idi Amin and Milton Obote in Uganda.    Yet, another season of soldiering burned deeply into our emotional bank accounts.    Those seasons were of the safety and discipline that came when the Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA) captured ground in Uganda.   Another season was when the Rwanda Patriot Front (RPF) stopped the Genocide in Rwanda.     We know those soldiers as our sons, brothers, uncles, fathers, and friends.    Those soldiers are our family so we know they have failings.    Yet, while our memories are of Amin and Obote’s soldiers terrorizing us at road blocks many of us can’t remember NRA or RPF soldiers ever treating us like prey.    They are our sons.   We are at peace when they are near.   

 (Yet, I recognize that some in my community have had different experiences with NRA and RPF soldiers.   In no way, do I seek to deny or minimize their experiences.    My intent is to display that the soldiers of our region our part of our broader community.)
                Some of us have memories of growing up in Congo in relative peace.   Then after the Genocide of 1994 our lives became chaotic and our safety was threatened.    Our sons rescued some of us.    

                We continued to watch Congo with fear.   The Interhamwe and their military weapons had found safe harbor in Congo.   At times our borders were crossed and our family terrorized by the Interhamwe.
Soldiers were once children and have children
                I remember in March 1997 being on furlough in the USA.   CNN was broadcasting live of Mobutu’s Zaire (now Congo) capital, Kinshasa falling to rebels.   A CNN reporter with entering rebels in the background said, “There are rumors of Uganda and Rwanda soldiers being part of the rebels toppling Mobutu.”    I heard the rebels in the background speaking Kiswahili mixed with Kiganda accents.    I knew the rebel soldiers were our sons.    I giggled at CNN naivety, but thanked God that our sons had taken Kinshasa.   I hoped they would bring peace like they had done in Kampala in 1986 and Kigali in 1994.

                For years we’ve been dumbfounded.   We’ve prayed.   We’ve learned a few things.   We’ve at times been disappointed in our sons.    Yet, we’ve believed the best in our son’s intents.   At times someone asked us to pray for a nephew or grandson serving in Congo.    We know that our leaders tell stories a little different from our auntie’s interpretation, and we’re o.k. with the differences.    We pray for our sons.   We trust God to make things right in time.

 The Tanzanian military is also made up of our sons.    They liberated Uganda from Idi Amin.   When we meet together at weddings, funerals, and church we share common stories of those dark days.    We remember that during the dark days of Amin, some made fun of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.   Yet time showed that Nyerere's substance of character was true and enduring  (For further reflection on Mwalimu's legacy see

                Congo has not settled down despite both our regions and our world’s leaders’ best attempts.   Blaming our son's seems both unjust and unmerciful.   For instance,
American Bomber Pilots in World War 2
My first pastorate in the USA had several bzee (wise elder statesmen) who were bomber pilots in World War 2.    Some whispered that they were war heroes, but the bzee always dodged the compliment.     Over time I learned a few things.   To be an Allied bomber pilot flying over Nazi Germany required great courage and skill.    Many did not return from the missions.    Recently, I’ve learned that there was great debate about the bzee’s missions.    Their leaders concluded that to most quickly end the war they must bomb German cities to break German morale and also destroy the German war industry.   The bombings killed thousands of German civilians.    The History Channel documentaries show photos of German children’s corpses after the bombings of German cities.   Many historians with great ethical wrestling concluded the bombing of German cities saved Allied lives and with the Holocaust in progress prevented the world from falling into a new Dark Age.    Yet, if history had gone a little different my heroic bzee could be labeled war criminals.

                Thus in church receptions we conclude many of these soldiers in Congo are our sons.    Whether they are the Congolese military,Congolese rebels, or Tanzanian UN Peacekeepers these soldiers are our sons.  
 In the American Civil War, General William Sherman remarked, “War is hell.”    We agree.   War is about death and destruction.    We know our sons have seen and done terrible things.    Yet, we hope our sons will be shown in history to have been agents of justice and peace.   We continue to pray for our sons in church reception conversations about Congo.


Gossip magazines or Congo history books?
                Congo’s history reads like the magazines in a USA supermarket checkout line – drama, drama, and more drama.   No good guys exist.    Moral authority is a possession of almost none.     It is little wonder that our region’s leaders are angry when outsiders lecture them.   It is also little wonder why our independent media leaders portray the UN and their allies in the Congo discussion as lacking pragmatic common sense.

                In church receptions we heal from the wounds of history.   We talk.   We pray.   We trust another day is coming.   Yet, we’ve got to live in the here and now and day by day.

                Our Congolese history bank remembers that the some of the first foreigners to enter our region were slave traders.   We’re ashamed that some of our kingdoms participated in the slave trade.    Yet in Ankole, Rwanda, and Burundi slave trading was difficult.   In Rwanda slave trading became impossible.   The slave traders circled some of our kingdoms and set up shop in Eastern Congo.

                Then came the Belgian colonialists.    The British were far from perfect colonialists, but in the oldest parts of their cities we find schools, churches, and administrative centers.   In old Belgium colonial cities we find churches, administrative centers, and prisons.     The Belgium colonialists exploited Congo’s mineral and people resources without building enduring institutions and infrastructure.

One of the last photos of Congo Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba
                Congo independence came with great turmoil, but also hope.   Then Congo’s first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba was assassinated by the CIA.    Some of our parents were friends with Lumumba.   We can’t forget the betrayal of our hope.

                Mobutu followed Lumumba and ruled with a corrupt clique of thugs.   In the end Mobutu sheltered the thugs of all thugs – Genocidaires.   Now Kabila continues the sins of Congo’s fathers.

                The voices that banter with our regions leaders lack a basic message we hear preached in our churches – repentance.    In churches we read of brave men and women who had the courage to acknowledge both their sins and the sins of their fathers.    They deeply grieved over their past and present failures.   Then these both humble and courageous people of the past repented.    The not only apologized they changed their behavior.   They ceased to do the same old bad behaviors over and over again.   They did good things.   They brought enduring change.   

     Quite frankly in church receptions we remark that those who banter with our region’s leaders over Congo have absolutely no moral authority.    Until they repent we in church receptions will simply not listen to their banter.    

Thus while I counsel my Africa Great Lakes brothers to excel in love expressed through justice, humility, and mercy I counsel my Western brothers to stop enabling the Congo conflict.     History since Independence can quite easily document the role of the international community in playing an enabling role.    The help from the international community  many times has made Congo worse.   Many resent the consequences of the enabling.    There are some matters for which the international community may feel guilty.   Both us and God offer our gracious forgiveness.   There is no need for the international community's continued shame.     Congo's future is as mysterious as our God.    Yet, we know Congo's bright future will be found though old virtues such as faith, courage, humility, and service.    The international community is most welcome to join in our old virtues of community.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

MISSIONARY REFLECTIONS ON KATHRYN JOYCE’S, THE CHILD CATCHERS: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption

A new book by Kathryn Joyce called The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption recently came out that takes an overall critical look at the American Evangelical International Adoption movement.   Yet, Rwanda’s journey and our family specifically are reported on in an overall positive light.     Also, the book addresses growing concerns that we have with short-term missions and the applying of industrial economics to our vocation.     The book is as painful to read as a marathon is to run.    Yet, it is a must read for both believers and the secular if one has an interest in these matters.    Following are my missionary reflections on the book.  


Our family was given a great gift to spend 19 of our adult years serving in East Africa.   One of those blessings was spent practicing an old African virtue of sitting under the trees.   We did it in all the places God allowed us to serve.   Our community gathered.   We shared a cup of chai (African tea.)    We discussed the problems of the day.   We hoped for a better future.   We debated.   If the context was church we debated with open Bibles. 

Yet sometimes it was not a church where we debated under trees.   Sometimes it was our Leadership Committee meetings in Uganda.   Sometimes it was our Umuganda in Rwanda.   Sometimes it was a Harambee in Kenya.   Sometimes it was even with friends in national media debates on Monitor FM in Uganda, or Rwanda Focus.  

When we sat under trees well we rose in unity and labored together.    Our bzee (wise elders) taught us the virtue of sitting under trees.   We did not need to all believe the same things.   However, we did need to treat one another with honor.   We needed to listen.   We needed shared wisdom to refine.   Finally, our children’s future needed us to proactively serve with grace.   

In 2011 God gave our family a privilege to foster a child named Gabriel Mugisha.    We did this with fear and trembling believing God had asked us take steps forward with Rwanda’s orphans and vulnerable children.     We did this with a belief that Mugisha was Spoken For.   We were to be one of the initiators of a conversation that grew from the virtue of sitting under trees.

Rwanda’s Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion had asked for help from Rwanda’s churches and families to de-institutionalize children in orphanages.   The church we pastored, Christ’s Church of Rwanda decided that our niche would be fostering children in vulnerable situations until long-term solutions could be found.   As senior pastor we needed to lead in both word and deed.

As we began this journey Jana was contacted by Kathryn Joyce.   A few friends suggested we not visit with her as Ms. Joyce shared a different belief perspective than us.    Yet, the African virtue of sitting under trees told us that inclusion is part of the answer.   We are thankful to have had Ms. Joyce in our home while Mugisha was also there.    We are thankful that she listened and reported on our journey.

Christ's Church of Rwanda Hand Over Gabriel Mugisha Jacobs
Our Mugisha journey took us to Nairobi as we sought healing from Mugisha’s seizures.   In time Mugisha was adopted by Mark and Chelsea Jacobs.    Throughout our season with Mugisha our community rallied.   Much of the rally came from our church.   Yet, it was a Muslim doctor at Aga Khan Hospital that found a drug combination to stop the seizures.    Also, my agnostic friends called to check on Mugisha, and offered their support and encouragement.   Sitting under trees was the virtue that gave Mugisha healing and we hope.  

On May 6, 2013 a friend contacted us that Kathryn Joyce’s, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption had been released, and our family featured in almost a full chapter labeled, “A Thousand Ways Not to Help Orphans.”   We scrambled to find a copy in a local book store.   We sat down to read.    It was time to again sit under the trees.

We consider Ms. Joyce an acquaintance in our journey.   We hope someday to consider her a good friend.   She raised some excellent points.   There is much in her book for which we empathize.    

The Child Catchers is a painful read.   It took me 2 months to get through it.   My book is highly marked up.    I have read a multiple of discussions on the book.   Most of the discussions that I have read seem to feel partisan.   Some criticize the American Evangelical International Adoption Movement.   Others defend the movement.   I have not read much so far that feels like sitting under trees.    It seemed to me that it was time to also offer my missionary reflections.   


               Ms. Joyce in her book describes herself as “I am a secular, feminist journalist who covers religion and reproductive rights (Preface, page x.)”     She shortly later wrote, “In Rwanda I explored a church-state orphan-care collaboration that may defy the traditional ‘boom-bust’ adoption industry model and that points to a cautiously optimistic way forward (Preface, page xiv.)”    In her chapter discussing Rwanda, “A Thousand Ways To Not Help Orphans,” Ms. Joyce paid our family a great compliment by describing us “longtime missionaries of the old school – immersing themselves in a foreign culture until it became their own.”   She accurately reported on our vision to “build Christ’s Church around a plan to expand the Rwandan middle class.”   She also reported what we perceive about ourselves, as we “learned important lessons from their adopted countries (page 243, 244.)”

               I am a believer in Jesus of Nazareth’s resurrection.   This belief is defining for me.   It seems appropriate to reflect on this old belief as we discuss Ms. Joyce’s book.   The very title proclaims a new Gospel of Adoption.    I think she does a masterful job of reporting a historic trend in the American Evangelical movement.    Yet, I think like many of us (myself included) she misses this idea of the Gospel of Adoption being a remarkably old story.    The Apostle Paul in his writing to the Corinthian church defines the Gospel as the historical events surrounding the death of Jesus of Nazareth (1 Corinthians 15:1-4.)    I share Paul’s conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead.     It is this historical event of Jesus’ death and the belief many of us share of His resurrection that is the historically defining moment of the Gospel.

               The death of Jesus is brutal and horrific.   Why?    

 Believers in the resurrection seek to explain it through theology.    Many times we use metaphors to make sense of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.   Adoption is one of those metaphors.     Paul uses adoption as a metaphor five different times (Romans 8:15; 8:23; 9:24; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5.)   Most scholars will place the dates of Paul’s writing in the first century so the Adoption metaphor of the Gospel has been used for approximately 2,000 years.    Ms. Joyce accurately points out that the Roman culture did not understand adoption in a similar way as Twenty First Century Evangelicals.   For the Romans adoption many times was of adults being given full status and inheritance, but not entering into a family as a child.  

               Yet, Paul was an Old Testament scholar.   As such his mind would have remembered metaphors of adoption in older Jewish literature.    In two notable sections of the Old Testament Yahweh God’s relationship to humanity uses adoption metaphors.   One is A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling (Psalm 68:5.  New International Version.)”   Many date this Psalm to the reign of King David (approximately 1,000 B.C.) though there is room for discussion.    

 The second one states,On the day you were born, no one cared about you. Your umbilical cord was not cut, and you were never washed, rubbed with salt, and wrapped in cloth.  No one had the slightest interest in you; no one pitied you or cared for you. On the day you were born, you were unwanted, dumped in a field and left to die.

“But I came by and saw you there, helplessly kicking about in your own blood. As you lay there, I said, ‘Live!’  And I helped you to thrive like a plant in the field. You grew up and became a beautiful jewel (Ezekiel 16:4-7.  New Living Translation.)”   The history surrounding Ezekiel’s writing put it during the time of Babylonian Exile of 597 B.C.

Ms. Joyce quotes me quoting J.I. Packer’s Knowing God, “Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better grasped than our grasp of adoption.   Adoption is the highest privilege the gospel offers.”    Packer’s book was first published in 1973.   

Thus I think there is great evidence among the historical literature of both broad Judeo-Christian thought and Evangelical thought that adoption is a metaphor of Yahweh God’s relationship with humanity that is much older than the contemporary American Evangelical International Adoption Movement.   

Painfully, I must admit though I had read the historic literature, I missed how powerfully historic the metaphor of adoption has been upon Christian thought until 2011.   I am guilty of making the old Gospel of Adoption read like a new gospel simply because I needed conversion again in my life.   

               One of the reasons many have reacted so strongly to Ms. Joyce’s book is it hits home to our deepest beliefs and experiences.    We have been converted.    Yet, we need to be converted again.   We are not all God intends.   We hunger for more.  


               For instance, as my family left Africa’s Great Lakes and has started over in North America’s Great Lakes friends on occasion give me honor in the transition.    They many times speak of my courage and compassion.    I think they exaggerate.    I may be a bit like those of old who know in their hearts that the numbers of times I may have acted courageous are dwarfed numerically by the number of times I acted cowardly.    I also know the number of times my compassion was dulled.     If there is any accuracy to describing our journey in East Africa with the words of courage and compassion it is not by my strength.   It is character that was shaped by others.

               My African Great Lakes community has many bzee (wise elders) who I was fortunate to follow.   They are men and women of great compassion and courage.   Their stories are amazing.   If I have a few of their traits it is simply osmosis of 19 years.

               Secondly, the greatest intimacies of this community were shared with those who shared a common faith.   We believed the good we did was not of our own, but of the Holy Spirit living in us.           
               Thus this old Gospel of Adoption is very personal.   It is where our community became new.   We were converted.   I was converted.   I missed a lot in the past.   I’m thankful to have shared a journey of sitting under trees.   I hope for another day.   


As we go on this journey we find that old presuppositions are not true.   The way we judged the world, others, and ourselves was flawed.   Ms. Joyce’s third chapter, “Suffering is Part of the Plan” takes on the holes in Calvinism and the pragmatics of Predestination.   True to her beginning presuppositions she does not point out the holes in the arguments with an open Bible.   She well uses pragmatics.     Ms. Joyce quotes Brian Luwis of America World Adoption stating, “God knew there was going to be a Fall…  It’s part of His plan that other families raise other children, because he knew that this world was going to have sin…  When we know that suffering is part of a loving God’s plan than we can understand that the existence of orphaned children is not an accident or failure of God’s plan (page 97.)”   (It appears the quotes were compiled together from interviews and writing.)

Allow me to use an open Bible to demonstrate the fatherless are not God’s intent.   The word “predestined” can only be found 6 times in the New American Standard Bible (Acts 4:28; Romans 8:29, 30; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 1:5, 11.)     Of the times “predestined” is used it is close to adoption metaphors of the Gospel in Romans 8:15, 23; and Ephesians 1:5.   

Some other words that may give insight are “sovereign” (used 297 times in the New International Version), and “grace” (used 124 times in the New International Version.)     There is a bigger theological picture than predestination and adoption.    The dictionary defines sovereign as “One that exercises supreme, permanent authority.”   It defines grace as “Divine love and protection bestowed freely on people.  The state of being protected or sanctified by the favor of God.  An excellence or power granted by God.”  (  

Predestination and adoption make most sense when we understand them in the bigger picture of God’s sovereignty and grace.    God has all authority.    Yet, He allows the consequences of sin to come upon His creation.    He does not force His creation to be like programed robots.   We make choices.   Those choices have consequences for us and others.   Also, this world is just full of chaos.  For instance, wars, poverty, disease, and natural disasters.   It is impossible for any to be free from the effects of sin and unpredictable chaos.   

The Ezekiel 16 adoption metaphor offers insight.    Ezekiel told this metaphor not to make adoption a predestined way to take away the pain that comes with adoption.    He told it as metaphor to illustrate Israel was like an adulterous wife.    The baby found in a field had been abandoned.   God nurtured the child to adulthood and married her.   Yet, the wife committed adultery and left her husband’s love.    God then punished adulterous Israel.   Yet God would also forgive and restore Israel.

Pragmatically, Evangelicals make both a Biblical and pragmatic error when we assign tragedy to the predestined will of God.    It is never God’s will for tragedy to befall children.    Being fatherless is not God’s intent.   

The choice we have when fatherlessness happens is the place where with an open Bible we can seek to find answers.   


Jana and Ruth with Senator Mary Landrieu, 2004
               Ms. Joyce in her book points out that the American Evangelical International Adoption movement is very well connected with one another.   I think her perception is accurate.    My career was spent in East Africa, but when she describes Rwanda almost everyone she mentions is a friend or acquaintance.    I was also surprised as she discussed the broad pictures of the movement with how many of the players an isolated African missionary like I had met.    This experience of a community under the trees creates great empathy.

               For instance, while Jana grew up in Africa I grew up in Minnesota which has one of the highest per capita adoption rates in the United States.   Besides our own adopted children and foster child; Jana has an adopted brother, and I have an adopted sister.    Empathy is the emotion of the day for a community under the trees, and our community is one that promotes adoption.

               Ms. Joyce’ book is a difficult read.   Her critics have pointed out that the book is heavy on anecdotal evidence.    They point out there are other adoption stories worthy of attention.   I agree with both Ms. Joyce and her critics.    Part of the reason that reading The Child Catchers is so painful is because I too could fill a book with anecdotal stories that are both disastrous and inspiring.   

               One area that Ms. Joyce well points out is the need for clarification of numbers.  I admit I’ve been confused for years.   I’ve noticed a struggle with definitions.    Part of it is contained in different cultures sense of empathy.   Part of it also is contained in vision casting and even International Non-Government Organizations marketing.    One can quickly find numbers in the millions of children in vulnerable conditions.   Some of that is poverty.   Some of it is due to children who may have no father in a patriarchal society.   Some of it is due to children who may have no parent.    Yet, in the above mentioned conditions of poverty, fatherlessness, and parentlessness in the context of a clan based society a child may not necessarily be a “true orphan” where there is no adult caring for the child.   Most of the time when the numbers are tightly defined there are millions of children in vulnerable conditions, but typically only thousands that have no adults within their extended family offering care.    To reason well under the trees our community needs clear numbers.    


Missionary mentor to many, Wendell Broom
               One of the reasons we need clear numbers is the task is very complicated.    A missionary friend of mine uses a phrase to describe recent mission’s trends of “the amateurization of missions.”   Ms. Joyce well raises the issue a few Evangelicals are debating, but many missionaries are whispering.    Missions over the last 20 years have significantly changed.    

               She writes, “many churches in recent decades have traveled overseas in unprecedented numbers…’volunteerism’ vacations in developing nations…. Volunteerism frequently amounts to deprofessionalization of missionary work, a shift from career missionaries who learn the language, culture, and laws of the country to amateurs combining sightseeing and charity…   volunteerism is often centered around orphanages, with wealthy Westerners paying to spend time on their vacations or mission trips playing with institutionalized children.  Too often… the emotional needs of the tourists are the key focus of these trips as visitors seek personal fulfillment by forging immediate emotional connections with orphanage children.   But after the tourists leave, the children suffer yet another abandonment, leading to a pattern of intense connection and loss that is detrimental to their emotional wellbeing and development (page 7.)”


               In the past the better mission’s thinkers I knew advocated three purposes for short-term missions.   The first was a vision trip to expose donors to opportunity.   The second was an internship to train a new generation of missionaries.   The third was a project when there was a task that needed outside expertise.   With a clear perimeter short-term trips were kept focused and followed the adage of “do no harm.”   Most of the better mission’s thinkers I knew thought only a very small number of people had skill that required outside expertise.   Thus “short-term projects” were very limited in both number and scope.  Today, most short-term mission trips fall in the old category of “project” yet the vast majority of those coming to do a short-term missions project have no skill that could not be found in the local community.    In all practicality at best they hurt the local economy by taking away a local job.   At worst they create immense confusion and undermine good strategic long-term development.    

               Ms. Joyce points out what many missionary friends have pointed out privately.    Volunteerism is an industry and requires industrial strength infrastructure.   One of the infrastructure components is orphanages.    A few years ago I heard a wise old missionary state, “If you want to increase the number of orphans in a community start an orphanage.”    His point was well taken.    There are thousands of ways to help, but creating an orphanage undermines the extended family and community that has the capacity to nurture vulnerable children.  

               I was thrilled to read our old missionary mentors words restated in Ms. Joyce book by UNICEF’s Doug Webb stating, “If you build an orphanage, it will be filled with kids (page 155.)” 

               A few times I’ve heard discussions about ways to lessen the extent of damage done by volunteerism.    Yet, almost all the suggestions on limiting volunteerism usually run right into concerns about limiting travel, communication, and the freedom of religion.   I’m puzzled by a way to slow the damage and respect basic human rights. 

               Yet, Ms. Joyce well raises an issue that should not be ignored.   That
she so well raises such an issue to Evangelicals like me from a secular perspective is especially insightful.   A wise mission’s supporter of mine in critiquing volunteerism once said, “It is all about the slide show.”    When volunteerism is done for the purpose of meeting either the emotional needs of donors or volunteers the discerning quickly calls a spade a spade.

Approximately 2,000 years ago Peter the Apostle raised a similar issue.   He wrote “Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls.  Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world (1 Peter 2:11-13.  New Living Translation.)”

I believe similar counsel is needed today.    The social pressure among Evangelicals should speak into volunteerism and demand higher standards.


               Among my missionary friends in Rwanda a frequent topic of conversations was defining missionary.   Our call, vocation, and culture were rapidly shifting.   I stuck to an old theological definition my mentors taught me.   I argued a missionary was one sent by the Holy Spirit for the purposes of making disciples and developing churches.   The implications were that we became cultural insiders.   Also, the processes that we engaged upon made us put down roots and build systems to break cycles of poverty.

Africa Inland Mission Founders
A few of my missionary friends argued for a definition of missions based upon economics.    They refer back to old “faith missions” where a missionary goes to the mission field financially supported by family, friends, and local churches; but with no guaranteed salary.     They argue that what separates missions from Christian industries is the economy of trust.    As I read Ms. Joyce’s book I realized in a greater way my friends who argue for missionary economics have quite a point.

               Ms. Joyce points out throughout her book that ethical compromises are likely when benevolent missions require businesslike efficiency.     A mission’s economy is just the opposite.   When one is sent by family, friends, and local churches who trust you there is liberating freedom.    The faith missionary does not need to be economically efficient.   Thus he can speak truthful but unpopular words.   He can also put down roots and last out the fads.    Lastly, he can be part of enduring answers.   The process may take years or generations, but only a faith missionary has an ethical hope of succeeding while the business like efficiency of an industry will likely lead to compromises.   

               One of my hopes from Ms. Joyce’s book is that more Evangelicals will wrestle with the economies of Christian industries vs. missions. Then with an ethical compass guided by the Bible choose mission economies.   


Gabriel Mugisha Jacobs with the Rwamagana Hospital nurses who first cared
               As we sat under the trees there was a unique place of labor.   Some translate Umuganda as “community work,” but that seems far too simple of a translation.   Yes, we started with labor, stopped for conversation, had a little chai on occasion, continued the conversation, and concluded usually with a shared plan of more community labor.    Yet, we also debated.   I loved all my neighbors, but at times that was difficult.   We didn’t share the same beliefs.   Some made fun of my beliefs.   They probably thought I made fun of theirs.   Some of us were ornery and argumentative.   At times we were unreasonable.   Many of my neighbors were like family, and we knew each other’s failings.   (Mine included.)    Yet in the end whether we believed an old Gospel or not we lived out grace.    We forgave one another and made a choice to do community work for the good of our children and grandchildren.   Usually we were laughing as we made that choice and started the next round of community work.

               As many are critiquing Ms. Joyce’s writing I as an American Evangelical who is also part of the International Adoption movement think she has a great amount to contribute to our conversations.   I hope she and those like her will feel welcome in our shared discussions.

               The critique I do offer Ms. Joyce is that her book does not fit well in our East African tradition of sitting under trees.    There are some suggestions made, but they are few.    Also, I can’t imagine any of our bzee not accepting her help.   I ask for her to engage our vulnerable children with substantive action.     I hear the bzee say, “Karibu sana.”   (You are very welcome.)

               My intent in writing some missionary reflections was to be brief and I have been lengthy.   I wanted to clarify the Gospel, and I hope history will report I did that well.   I also wanted to affirm my missionary colleagues (as Ms. Joyce did a masterful job of laying a foundation for our vocation among those who may not share our beliefs.)    In the tradition of my vocation let me offer some missionary suggestions.

               To clarify I in no way define missionary by nationality or economic wealth of the sending nation.    As our family has relocated to the United States we are still missionaries by both theological and economic trust definitions.    With this definition I am in the process of calling my brothers and sisters from Africa’s Great Lakes to join us in the USA as missionaries.    There is a universal need for our vocation.

               To address the issues of vulnerable children in the context that we know well of Africa’s Great Lakes I offer three suggestions.

2010 Oklahoma Christian University Rwanda Graduates
First, poverty and her repercussions are the root cause of the numbers of vulnerable children.    The root causes must be addressed.   Frequently those causes are rooted in political and economic dysfunction.     The answer is to build enduring institutions.    My friend, Andrew Mwenda said it well, “Leaders make things happen.   Institutions make them last.”   For some of us missionaries the Lord has given us an opportunity to like our forefathers counsel leaders.    We must well use that privilege to gently speak for sound policy.     For others in the region who may not have a missionary call their voice and labor is still needed under the trees.    We missionaries will always be about church development.   Yet, other labor is needed.   National policy must be developed.   Schools must grow.   Business must thrive.   In such a climate the number of vulnerable children will decline.

               Two, as Ms. Joyce well points out many of the millions of vulnerable children do have extended family that provides nurture.   One simple pragmatic answer to functional extended families in poverty is the growth and continuation of child sponsorship programs.    There are many good child sponsorship programs out there.   If you are interested I can make some recommendations, or you can do your own research.     Relatively small donations can do wonders to help children with functional extended families go to school, learn employable skills, and break cycles of poverty.

               Lastly, despite all of our best intentions and hopes there will be a
Our family, Christmas 2011
reality of some children who land in tragic situations with no extended family to care for them
.    I believe the best answer for these situations are the old ones of faith.    Communities of faith (I’ll even include mosques in the pragmatics) can develop networks of families who can immediately foster children when they fall into these situations.   No child should ever be without some type of family.   Then it is time to let government systems go to work.   Investigations need to be made.   As time discerns the situation re-unification with an extended family may be possible.   Yet, if it is not the very best answer is adoption.   Children belong in families.    The complexity of poverty and culture mean that some children will be adopted domestically in their passport nation.   Others will be adopted internationally.   The point is not an either or.   The hope is that under the trees our community will find enduing answers so that our children can flourish.

               Thank you Ms. Joyce for giving us so much to think through.   You have made us wiser.  Karibu sana.   Please stop by our home if you are nearby for a cup of chai.