Saturday, August 16, 2008

Transition back from Kenya

We're back in the US, but where do I belong?

It's a tough question, but only one of the difficulties facing returning missionaries.

We find few people who understood the world we came from. They mean well, but their questions reveal how little they know about Kenya and the people.

And I find that even though I've made this transition a few times, some things strike me as so wonderful....and so horrible about my own home culture. It's so wonderful.... have smooth roads, orderly traffic, and (mostly) considerate drivers behind the wheel. have modern conveniences, easy access to news, and FAST internet. have a home with air-conditioning, nice furniture, and a comfortable bed. have the convenience of Walmart down the street. Everything I need within a few minutes and not an hour away. have orderly trash pick-up and a society that esteems cleanliness and order. have quick access to all of my sons by phone.

It's so horrible.... face the drivel of western TV. face ungratefulness of a society with "everything." be reminded at every turn that we are obsessed with "who is at fault" and victims, rather than understanding God's sovereignty. face the temptation of having Walmart down the street.

I miss my friends in Kenya, the fellowship of the "trenches" of cross-cultural mission work in the hospital, sweet mangos, and the seeing the sunsets over the Great Rift Valley. I miss the simplicity of shopping at the local duka, walking to work in three minutes, and the expanse of the Kenyan sky. I miss helping desperate patients, the daily challenge of surgery on advanced disease, and patients who say thank you with a flat of eggs or a bag of tea. Mostly, I miss being consumed by something larger than myself and focusing on helping someone else.

Thanks to those of you who pray for your missionaries, whether they are "on the field" or struggling to fit in back at home again.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Jesus Vaccine

Most of you are familiar with the concept of vaccination. You give an altered, maybe even dead version of a virus to a person so that they will develop immunity (virus protection) in the form of antibodies. That way when the person is exposed to the real virus, the antibodies attack and they repel the real invader. Well, I've been thinking about a new concept, the "Jesus Vaccine."

Some people seem to be immune to our message of grace and hope.

This has puzzled me. The Gospel is the most wonderful news of all. Why wouldn't anyone want to be a Christian?

The answer to that, I believe, has to do with being vaccinated against our message. People get a little exposure to a lesser, altered or deadened form of the Gospel and then reject the real thing when it comes along. Essentially, they've received a "Jesus Vaccine."

It sounds a bit crazy, but I thinking of it in this way may be able to help us understand how to overcome their "immune" response.

In immunology, or the study of our own host defenses, we use the term "antigenicity" when referring to how big of an antibody response is generated. If something is highly antigenic (or has high antigenicity), the immune response will be strong, and many antibodies will be formed. If something is only weakly antigenic, the response will be lesser.

I'm sure that in my life, there are times when I've been a Jesus Vaccine rather than "infectious" or contagious for Jesus. My behavior will either be antigenic ("I don't want to be a Christian if that's what it's all about") or contagious ("I want to know why he can have peace and hope during a difficult time"). In terms of Christianity's history, the crusades stand out as a period of mass Jesus vaccination. What a turn off to the truth of the gospel!

I Googled, "Why I'm not a Christian" and the results were revealing. There are lots of blogs are out there with people sharing why they can't believe. There are a myriad of reasons people give, but almost all of them have been exposed to a lesser gospel or a weakened, twisted form of the truth. In nearly all cases, they have been exposed to Jesus without love.

Someone said, "Build a bridge of love strong enough to carry the message you want to give." The gospel is wonderful news. But there are aspects of the gospel message that are hard for people to swallow. Sacrifice. Taking up the cross. Suffering.
Unless we've built a bridge of love into their lives, our efforts might look more like a vaccine than we'd like.

I believe love is contagious. Perhaps my tendency to rely on false gospels such as legalism (If I work harder, God will love me more...what a joke!) is a Jesus vaccine to the world.

A bridge of love...That's what medicine has been for me....a way to build a bride of love into the hearts of my patients. It's one reason that I'm so outspoken on the value of medicine as a spearhead for the gospel. I've said it many times: "Love is the language of the Great Commission." If that is true, then medicine is the dialect of that message that I speak.

My prayer is that my actions are more contagious than antigenic for the gospel!

Some of you are wondering about my transition back into life in the USA from Africa. I'm still processing that one. I'll give you an update in my next post. Transitions are the bane of missionary life!