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A foolish missionary mistake and the lessons learned.

“Pastor Ed Compean, a SS missionary serving in Kenya shares his contribution to the missionary folklore of Nairobi.  But that’s not all.  He also shares a crucial lesson learned through his own foolishness and what he gleaned from the way Jesus did ministry.”

At a recent missions conference Kelli and I attended a handful of experienced missionaries shared about their mistakes. Some stories were tragic and some were funny.

All were situations where God used foolishness for His glory.

My Foolishness

If I had been on that panel I would have told of Easter 2009 and my foolishness. The week before, one of the faithful ladies in the church had been accosted on the matatu, (crowded public transportation), on her ride to church. She had not only been accosted, it was the matatu conductor who had sexually berated and harassed our friend.

It all happened at a time when I had not had a break and was weary of doing good.

So on Easter Sunday I boarded the matatu without the joy of Jesus. While I was physically and mentally prepared to preach a Resurrection Sunday message, my heart was not in a celebratory mood. Most around me were fooled and I was even fooled.

But it was like I was so busy nourishing the souls and caring for others, that I had run low myself.

Looking back I realize how dangerous that can be, but at the time I just thought I needed to persevere.

On Easter morning I boarded a matatu that was blasting rap music. I had a 50 shilling note to pay for the 20-shilling ride. I needed to be at the church early, so Kelli and the kids would drive and meet me later.

As I alighted in Githurai the conductor had still not given me the change, which amounted to about the equivalent of 35-cents. As I stood in the street amidst the thousands of people that are always in the Githurai roundabout, the conductor was standing in the sliding door of the converted Toyota van laughing as they pulled away with my 30-shillings.

Getting ripped off is normal; getting harassed by matatu conductors is normal; but the grace of Jesus and the power of His resurrection is not normal.

I’m filled with the Spirit of God and have the ability to submit my emotions to that authority. I wanted to show grace.

I wanted to see the power of the resurrection of Christ played out in my life, but I was empty and I lost control. At the time, I probably thought it was righteous indignation–now I see I was shaming the name of Christ over 35-cents.

Before I knew it I had stepped forward and grabbed the conductor, pulling him out of the door of the matatu. I then held him against my chest with his shirt collar so tight that he was choking.

Yes, I’m an idiot. And like an idiot I yelled, “Give me the 30 shillings”!

We stand out.  We always draw attention in Githruai.  People are curious about us.

Now the mzungu, (white man) and the matatu conductor were getting physical on the edge of the Githurai roundabout and the several hundred people that were nearby instantly formed a crowd around us. The conductor was denying he had my change, though he had a wad of bills in his hand.

I realized my whole witness was blown and what could I say, “Uh, hope you have a good Easter celebration, and remember, Jesus resurrected for you!” Plus if I let go he was in perfect range to strike me. I couldn’t hit him and I could not let him go.

I was failing both as a man and as a man of God.

All this was probably less than 15-seconds, but the crowd was already huge. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a police officer flipping his baton towards us.

Thinking things had just gotten much worse, I flinched my face away as the baton hit the conductor on the head and the officer started yelling, “Give the mzungu his money, give the mzungu his money.”

Everyone was in shock and I took advantage of their shock, slipped through the crowd, and went on to the church, trying to catch my breath as if it had never happened.

Githurai is nearly 500,000 people, but we are known and what we do there is often known. So when the point for the offering came around in the midst of our Resurrection Sunday service somebody whispered, “Give the mzungu his money.”

Today, this incident is funny and has become a part of the missionary folklore here in Nairobi. Even people in Githurai laugh about it, but at the time it was anything but funny.

I’m glad it has ended this way, but it could have been much worse.


God’s Wisdom

Mark’s first chapter records a phenomenal day of ministry for Jesus. Beginning at verse 21, Jesus comes into Capernaum, preaches in the Synagogue, seems to have an interaction with the people, delivers a man of an unclean spirit, does a home visit and then heals the mother-in-law of Peter.

As if he was not what I call, “peopled out,” Jesus then spends the evening healing and casting out demons from all the city that had gathered.

Surely, Jesus was exhausted and deserved to sleep in.

Surely, He would not set an alarm for the next morning.

Surely, ministry could wait.

But Mark 1:31 tells us, “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.”

There was much ministry in the next towns throughout Galilee for Jesus, but He took the time to be alone with the Father. Instead of the intuitive sleep Jesus probably desired, He took time to refresh, refill and prepare to reengage the people by getting up early to be with God.

We could speak of denying the flesh to feed the spirit, but I learned I need more time with God alone for my own soul.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with some days off and other practical ways of refreshing, but primarily, Jesus stopped burnout by going to the only true source of life.

Then, we can say of Lord what David wrote of Him in Psalm 23, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.” 

It is then that we have restored communion, with the God we love that gives us the ability to love people in the midst of exhaustion and hardship.

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