By Dr. Reuben Lang’at
Eleven years ago my family and I left Kenya and arrived in the United States for the first time. We navigated through many culture shocks, such as the drastic change in seasons, food, and cultural norms, just to name a few. I remember when we landed in Jackson, Mississippi, airport and everything outside looked dry and dead and we kept asking ourselves what kind of disease had affected trees because they looked dead to us. The first few months were hard, but as time went on, we started getting used to cultural norms in the deep South.
Sharing Our Stories
Positive adjustment was enabled by good, loving, and caring people we met in Mississippi. We often shared meals with friends where we could fellowship and share our stories of living and ministering in Kenya as they shared their stories of living in the United States. As I reflect, I believe that it was through sharing our life stories that good friendships began to be formed.
These friends practiced hospitality by welcoming us into their homes and churches and visiting us. The hospitality given to us by the American churches enabled us to share about Kenya and the needs that our brothers and sisters back home have. That resulted in a number of our American friends going on short-term mission trips to Kenya. Through those trips, lives have been touched and transformed for the better.
There are many great testimonies on what God has done and continues to do in and through the lives of not only the recipients in Kenya but those who followed the call to go on one of those mission trips. Examples of the ministries that began as a result of these short-term trips are ministry to street children, rehabilitation of commercial sex workers, the Africa Gospel Church Baby Center, and Walk to Emmaus. There are a number of children who once lived in the streets of Kenya who are currently going to school and pursuing trainings in different fields. They now have hope that their lives will be different going forward. Women in prostitution who had been enslaved for a long time can now tell about the true love of Jesus that has transformed them. Like the Samaritan woman in the Bible, they are inviting others to Jesus.
These testimonies exist because of the obedience of the American church to join Jesus in what he is doing in Kenya. These ministries are deeply in our hearts and it has been a great joy to lead a number of Christians to Kenya to visit and help in whatever means they are able to.
I would encourage the American church to continue being hospitable and open their doors to brothers and sisters from other parts of the world to share their stories about what God is doing in their lives and in their countries. Every day there are hundreds of immigrants entering into the United States, and many of them are not Christians. Statistics now tell us that America is becoming a mission field, especially in the cities. It is time that the American church gets to know the implication of this and begin engaging in missions both here and overseas. By doing so, they enrich the American church as well as being enriched and enabled to reach more for Christ.
Though my family and I have been here primarily to go to school, we have engaged ourselves in a number of other activities and ministries outside our academics. Some of those activities are to make sure that we intentionally get involved with other Kenyan and African fellowships where we currently live in Kentucky. We have been able to bring together Kenyans living in Kentucky for meetings that have addressed different topics, including how to navigate through immigration issues, how to raise children in America who might be going through marginality, and how to live in diaspora.
Many of these immigrants are interested in investing in Kenya while they are living in the States. This shows that it is becoming easier and easier to be a transnational, especially because we are at the peak of globalization. Some of these people are coming from communities back home that would not welcome or be receptive to Christianity, but while here they are vulnerable and open to it. The American church has a tremendous ministry reaching out to this international community while they are still here; the American church needs to be missional to invite them in and find ways to evangelize and partner with them to further the kingdom of God.
I would also challenge the American church to pray for the church in Kenya and other countries in Africa. Current missiological studies indicate that there is a paradigm shift in Christianity. Christianity is shifting to the southern hemisphere. This shift is good, but it calls for proper discipleship of those who are coming to faith—we are concerned about spiritual development, not just numbers. Despite a growing number of Christians in Kenya and other nations in Africa, negative ethnic struggles and corruption are still present. In the past, ethnic clashes took the lives of so many people in Kenya and other parts of Africa, such as Rwanda. At the time of genocide in Rwanda, it was 80 percent Christian—one wonders why a Christian nation had to go through such. Corruption is still rampant despite such a high percentage of Christians. It will take mature leadership to fully disciple those who are in the church to be real followers of Jesus.
Another challenge facing Christianity in Africa is terrorist activity, especially the targeting and killing of Christians. I would request that the American church remember to pray for their brothers and sisters who are suffering for their faith all around the world.
Let’s extend hospitality to others, be open to hearing people’s stories, be obedient to Christ, and partner with brothers and sisters from different parts of the world to further the kingdom of Christ. n
Dr. Reuben Lang’at is a minister from Kenya currently living in Wilmore, Kentucky, and serving with Heart of Africa (heartofafrica.org).