Can an American in Kenya truly go home again?

I doubt many north american Christians have given serious thought to missionary parking problems. But some days of my four years in Kenya, parking formed the most imposing barrier against the Lord’s work. One day in particular, I searched frantically for a space in downtown Nairobi, a region of bustling streets and high-rise office buildings. I was late for an appointment with John Mpaayei, an Oxford-educated African church leader I had been trying to see for months.

Reaching Mpaayei’s office panting and dishevelled, I apologized for my appearance. “I didn’t want to be late,” I explained. I remember a faint smile passing over Mpaayei’s grizzled face. I had not lived in Kenya long enough to know that an old man like him could not possibly mind a difference of 15 minutes in my arrival time. But he knew missionaries. He knew how we hurry.

In view of the obvious urgency I had placed on our conversation, the vagueness of my questions was embarrassing. Youth for Christ had invited me to come to Kenya and help start a magazine for African young people. Mpaayei had worked with many different missionaries. He knew the problems. How could I avoid them?

He looked at me quite sharply, perhaps with a trace of amusement again. “Oh, we have had such wonderful missionaries come to Kenya,” he said. “Some powerful personalities. People who could do almost anything. Sometimes I think they are almost too capable. You know, sometimes they have overwhelmed our people. We have been intimidated by your capabilities.”

He paused and looked straight at me. “If you see any spark of initiative—blow on it.” Then he repeated himself. “Any spark of talent or initiative, even if it may be wrong—blow on it.” He laughed, ...

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