by Erin Bird
For the past few days, I've been very contemplative about my time in Kenya. I am looking forward to dialoging with our awesome Elder Team and sharing more with you about my experiences there.
Today, I want to talk about an experience I had while in Kenya, but this experience was more tied to events in Waverly than my time in East Africa. As I woke on Friday morning, I picked up my phone to check the time. But as the phone screen brightened to life to inform me of the hour, I found a text message notification on the lock screen. The text had come in the middle of the night. You see, Kenya is eight hours ahead of Central Daylight Savings Time, so when my friend sent his text at 4:00 pm in the afternoon, it was midnight in Nakuru, where I had been asleep for an hour or two, and I wasn't seeing it until 6 hours later.
And all the text said was "Dude."
Intrigued, I unlocked the phone and headed to the Messages app to determine why my friend, a fellow pastor, was sending me a one word text in the middle of the night. And then I saw it. Immediately after his one word text was a photo of a newspaper article written by a fellow Waverly pastor who had taken issue with my position on the doctrine of baptism that had (apparently) been published a week or two prior in the paper. His differing opinion led him to take it upon himself to tear apart my words, sharing that I am not only doctrinally wrong, but even promoting a "dangerous" viewpoint.
My first reaction to this photo of the article was confusion. It took me a moment to realize what this local pastor was responding to. About two weeks before I left for Kenya, I was contacted by one of the reporters for the newspaper asking if they could mention the July 14 baptism we were holding in partnership with Grace Baptist and Denver Baptist on their church page. It is common for the Waverly Newspapers to include short church announcements in their Thursday edition of the paper, so I simply responded with "Sure!"
What I didn't realize was that they wanted to share the June 20 blog post(that was a reposting of the June 20 News & Notes email sent to the Riverwood family) as an article on their church page. If I had known that, I would have re-worked the article for a different audience. I am one of 9 individuals who are in a rotation to write something for the church page in the Thursday paper. When my turn comes around each 9 weeks, I write something knowing my audience is very different than just my church family. But my most recent article had just been in the paper a couple weeks prior, and my next article isn't due for a few more weeks, so it never dawned on me they wanted to post an article on the topic of baptism in their paper. Needless to say, I was surprised that my brief church-family-focused email intended to encourage you to be baptized got published to a public audience and someone responded to it as though it was a thorough treatise on the doctrine of baptism.
Once I realized what was happening, my second reaction was to want to retaliate or at least defend myself. By personality, I want everyone to like me. So to read these words didn't just feel like an attack on my beliefs, but a personal attack. Plus, the attack was made publicly, so for just a moment, I began to write a response article in my head, explaining and defending myself.
But as my mind raced with what to say, I suddenly realized - it didn't matter. I did not need to spend time trying to defend myself or my doctrinal position. I was in Kenya to help people find Jesus and follow Him as well as investigate if this is a place God wants Riverwood to expand His Kingdom. And I knew I wasn't going to be effective if I let this newspaper article emotionally and spiritually distract me from why I was in Nakuru.
The Old Testament leader, Nehemiah, faced something similar.(Ok, let's be honest; he faced something far more important than what I was going through!) Nehemiah felt burdened to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem in the 5th Century B.C. But the enemies of Jerusalem, particularly two men named Sanballat and Geshem, did not want to see the walls re-erected. So they did what they could to distract Nehemiah and the workers. They tried to get Nehemiah trapped in a meeting. (Isn't that what all bad bosses do to their employees?) They threatened violence. They spread false rumors. They tried everything they could to discourage Nehemiah and the builders so the work wouldn't be accomplished.
So do you know what Nehemiah did? When Sanballat and Geshem sent messengers to try to get Nehemiah to come to a meeting to discuss these happenings, Nehemiah responded, "I am doing a great work and can not come down." (Nehemiah 6:3a) He refused to get pulled away from what really mattered.
As I contemplated the newspaper article attacking my beliefs on the importance of baptism, I chose to respond like Nehemiah. Rather than spend my hours typing out a response to run in the next week's paper, I decided to keep my focus on Kenya. And I'm so glad I did! For later that same day, I had a chance to teach on Colossians 3:1-2 in the clothing market to small business owners who are struggling to make ends meet. The following day (Saturday), I got to teach a group of teens about the baptism of Jesus from Mark 1and Matthew 3 (see the photo to the left). Seventeen of those teenagers were baptized on Sunday morning (see the photo up above). Then I got to teach those same teens from James 1 on how to persevere in following Jesus, especially after being baptized. In other words, God was doing a great work through me and I could not "come down."
Had I allowed myself to get distracted and emotionally bothered by this one article, I don't know I would have enjoyed my time in Kenya as much as I did. But because God's Spirit enabled me to stay focused on what really mattered and why I was in Kenya, I was able to watch God work through me and help me learn what He is doing in Kenya and has yet to do.
So let me encourage you – in all circumstances, keep your eyes on Jesus! (Hebrews 12:2) Set your hearts on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:1-2). Keep the main thing the main thing, and don't let anything detract you from following Jesus wholeheartedly (Acts 20:24). Run your race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1). Keep reminding yourself that what really matters is the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), and the mission God has for us to help others find Jesus through the gospel and follow Him through the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20). For you are doing a great work and cannot come down!
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