At the end of February, I attended the Kenya Mission Network meeting, a gathering of U.S. Presbyterians representing churches and presbyteries that are doing mission work in Kenya, with a focus on doing mission in partnership with the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA). We were also graced with the presence of many of our Kenyan partners including three pastors from Kenya, the moderator of the PCEA and two Kenyans who are serving as pastors here in the United States. (If you are involved in mission work in Kenya and are not already connected with this network, I encourage you to do so.)
One of the Kenyan pastors attending the conference, G.G. Gitahi, shared an African parable of hope with us that I believe is particularly relevant at this time in the life of the church:
A man was walking down a trail in a very thick jungle in Africa. Ahead of him on the trail he saw a large snake. He could only see the body of the snake lying across the trail; the head of the snake was on the other side of a rock just off the trail. The man recognized it as a very venomous snake. The vegetation on the sides of the trail was too thick for the man to go around, so he realized he was stuck. He picked up pebble and gingerly tossed it at the body of the snake, hoping it would move. It didn’t. Then he picked up a long stick and poked the body of the snake and then jumped back, hoping it would move out of the trail. It didn’t. He became bolder and used the stick to try to push the snake out of the trail. But, it still wouldn’t move. Finally he worked up his nerve and approached the head of the snake and realized that the snake’s head had been crushed by the rock. The snake was dead. The man pushed the snake out of the trail and continued on his way, full of hope. His hope didn’t come so much from dead snake on the trail behind him; there could be more snakes ahead. His hope came from knowing that there was someone going ahead of him on the trail – clearing the way, removing obstacles and making it safe.
As people of faith, we must always remember that there are those who go ahead of us clearing the way. First is Jesus Christ! And behind Christ are the generations of faithful saints who have removed the obstacles in front of us. We must proceed with hope, resting in the knowledge that people have cleared the way ahead of us and remembering that we are responsible for clearing the way for those who will come behind us.
I think this is particularly relevant as we think about the future of the church in the United States. Rather than being scared by the potential obstacles we encounter, the snakes lying across our paths – like declining membership, instability and insecurity, skepticism from the larger culture and so many other obstacles – let us live into hope that Christ and the cloud of witnesses have cleared the way. While the path may not always be exactly what we anticipate, we don’t go alone. And let us remember our own role in clearing the way for those who will come behind us, approaching all of our ministry with bold hope!
I give thanks to God for the witness of the global church and the opportunities we have to learn from our sisters and brothers in Christ around the world. I am grateful for spaces like the Kenya Mission Network and for pastor G.G. sharing this parable of hope.
GREG ALLEN-PICKETT serves as the director of global mission at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta. Prior to coming to FPC, Greg was the general manager for Presbyterian World Mission of the PC(USA). Greg has an amazing partner in ministry in his wife, Jessica, and a gregarious and compassionate daughter in elementary school, along with a ridiculous lab-beagle mix dog named Luna.