Monday, January 22, 2018

The Story of Genesis

A couple months ago I was asked to give a devotion for a New Missionary Orientation, which was a bit ironic since I'm relatively new myself, but I was humbled and honored to do it.  The only question was, What on earth do I say to a group of new missionaries that speaks into their newness on the field while also offering some encouragement through biblical truth?

Well, I had slowly been reading through Genesis at the time, and one day I realized that all I needed to do for the devotion was tell everyone what the Lord was teaching me through it.  It was something that I, as someone who was still (and is still) trying to understand how to live and minister in this culture, needed to hear.

It was the first time I had read Genesis since being in Kenya, and many things stood out anew this time - things that I couldn't have noticed before I had any cross-cultural lenses to read the Bible with.  Basically, I was reminded of how discouraging and ugly Genesis is.  For the sake of review, here is just a sampling of what this book includes:

Adam and Eve sin against God, then Adam blames Eve who in turn blames the serpent (3:1-13)

Cain attacks and kills his brother Abel out of jealousy and anger (4:8)
     → murder

Lamech marries two women (4:19)
     polygamy enters Israel's history

Noah plants a vineyard and becomes drunk with wine (9:20-21)

Abram lies about his wife Sarai, saying that she is his sister, "so that I will be treated well...and my life will be spared" (12:10-13)
     subjugation of women

Hagar becomes pregnant and Sarai despises her and mistreats her (16:1-6)
     mistreatment of a servant

Lot offers his two virgin daughters to satisfy the sexual appetites of the men of Sodom (19:1-8)
     sexual exploitation

Isaac lies about his wife Rebekah, saying she is his sister, because he was afraid "the men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful" (26:7)
     subjugation of women

Jacob deceives Isaac to obtain Esau's blessing (27:1-29)
     lying and deception

Rebekah complains that she is "disgusted with living because of these Hittite women" [i.e. her daughters-in-law] (27:46)
     strife between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law

Jacob loves Rachel more than Leah (29:30-30:1)

     favoritism and familial strife/division

Leah and Rachel argue over mandrakes because of stress regarding fertility (30:15)
     superstition about fertility

Rachel steals her father's household gods (31:19,30-35)

Joseph's brothers sell him into slavery and lie about it (37:12-35)
     human trafficking

Judah sleeps with a prostitute, not realizing it was his daughter-in-law Tamar (38:15)
     →  prostitution

Joseph says, "Don't you know a man like me can find things out by divination?" (44:15)

The list could go on.  It's startling to acknowledge that THIS - all of the seriously ugly and disturbing stories in Genesis - is the beginning of Israel's history, the beginning of God's chosen people.  If I'm being honest, it's not exactly something I want to be associated with.  

What truly disturbed me as I read through Genesis this time was how much I recognized aspects of Kenyan culture in the narrative.  

Polygamy?  You betcha.  

Subjugation of women?  Don't get me started.

Prostitution?  You'd be shocked.

Superstition?  Alive and well, especially when it comes to sickness and disease.

Lying and deception?  How else is anyone supposed to get ahead in the world?

Conflict between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law?  You tell me if you'd see any conflict when a bride is forced to essentially renounce her own family once she's married and move onto the same compound as her husband's family and be forever under the thumb of a mother-in-law who was treated with contempt herself and now sees it as her turn to do the same.

I read through Genesis, and I felt defeated.  I was disappointed as I remembered what the narrative contains, and completely crestfallen as I realized that so much of the culture around me is all too similar to the horrid accounts in Genesis.  The disappointment was acute because Kenya has been evangelized.  Kenya has more churches on corners than the Bible Belt has.  Kenya is proud of its Christian heritage.  And yet so much of Kenya is still living like Israel did in the beginning.  Why is this?

Before I answer that, let me return to the Genesis account once more.  Everything mentioned above were man's actions.  Let me review what Genesis has to say about God's actions:

After Adam and Eve sin and realize their nakedness, the Lord makes clothes for them (3:21)
     God literally clothes them

God declares a curse over Cain after he murders Abel, which Cain thinks is too harsh, so He "put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him" (4:15)
     God shows mercy to the first murderer and offers protection

The Lord establishes a covenant with Noah, promising to never again flood the earth (9:8-11)
     God makes a promise and keeps that promise

The Lord calls Abram and says, "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing" (12:1-5)

     God initiates a relationship that precludes any of Abram's actions

The Lord protects Sarai from Pharaoh, after Abram lies about her (12:17-20)
     God protects her after what her husband had done

The Lord says to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid.  I am your shield, your very great reward" (15:1)
     God reassures Abram of Who He is

Lot and his two daughters are led safely out of the city of Sodom "for the Lord was merciful to them" (19:16)
       God extends mercy to them

Hagar's son Ishmael is crying in the desert after they are cast out, and God hears the boy and opens the eyes of Hagar to see a well of water, and "God was with the boy as he grew up" (21:17-20)
     God watches over Hagar and Ishmael and provided for their needs

Rachel, who was barren, finally has a child because God remembers her and listens to her (30:22-23)
     God listens and opens her womb

While Jacob and his family are in Shechem, the Lord protects them from all the towns around them (35:2-5)
     God protects them while they're traveling

When Joseph was in prison, "the Lord was with him; He showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden" (39:20-23)
     God shows kindness and protects

As Jacob considers going to Egypt to join Joseph there, the Lord speaks to him in a vision, saying, "I am God....Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there.  I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again." (46:2-4)
     God reassures Jacob not to fear

The list could go on.  God is faithful and good and patient with the people of Israel as they begin to figure out the whole "we have a covenant relationship with the God of the universe" thing.  And that's just it: this was the beginning.  As Genesis shows (and as history has continued to show), it takes a lot of time for God's ways to sink in.  It often takes generation upon generation upon generation.  But God is patient with the process of letting the Gospel take root.

And that's exactly what's happening in Kenya.  Yes, Kenya has been exposed to the Gospel, but it really wasn't that long ago that missionaries first came and preached the Good News here.  In the grand scheme of things, it was basically yesterday.  The Church in Kenya is in its beginning and is still figuring out this whole "we are loved and pursued and offered salvation by the God of the universe" thing.  It can take awhile for God's ways to sink in and for a culture to be transformed by the Gospel.

But the good news is that this culture IS being transformed by the Gospel!  We know many, many Kenyans who love the Lord and who are striving to build up His Kingdom here.  We know Kenyans who are the first generation in their family to not abide by polygamy.  We know Kenyans who are teaching against superstitious beliefs in the name of Jesus.  We know Kenyans who love their wives as partners, not as property.  We know Kenyans who are helping women get out of the ring of prostitution.  Kenya is being transformed by the Gospel.

The Story of Genesis is the Story of Kenya.  It is the story of broken humanity learning that there's freedom from chains and hope for the future.  It is the story of a God who is relentless in His love at the same time that He is patient with the process of people becoming true followers of Him.

We, as missionaries on the ground, have the incredible privilege of being here during this time in the history of the Church in Kenya.  We have a front-row seat to see what God is doing here and how He's transforming this culture to understand Him better and become more like Him.  It is a blessing and a privilege to be a part of the work God is doing at this point in Kenya's story!

Furthermore, the Story of Genesis is happening all over the world right now, not just in Kenya.  Nations and cultures are being exposed to the Gospel for the first time and are beginning the long process of transformation.  We're living in just one place where this is happening, and it's exciting to think of all the places around the world where Christ is being preached, where people are being healed, and where hearts are turning from darkness to Light. 

And we already know the rest of the Story.  We already know that His Word does not go forth and come back empty.  We already know that a light has been made known to the nations.  We already know that people from every nation, tribe, and language will stand before the throne of God and praise Him.  We know the rest of the Story.  Therefore, we know there is hope for Kenya, for Africa, and for the world.