Thanksgiving looks a little different this year.
Today I am exchanging turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin for ugali, chapatti, and mandazi. Instead of watching schoolchildren perform plays about pilgrims and Indians I am watching a host of nationalities and tribal groups as they role play stories of old. But one thing remains the same: I am deeply grateful.
This week Freedom to Lead is in Kenya. Next week we will go on to Zambia. In these weeks I am rubbing shoulders with men and women leaders from many nations who are deeply committed to the work of Christ and to leading well in their spaces. And I am deeply grateful.
My large extended family in Florida is gathering potluck-style on folded tables outside. And while I miss being with them this year, I have a different kind of family right across the table from me here.
My Family Across the Table This Year
My brother from Rwanda talks about how in a few short years his church community went from having 80 baptisms over an 8-year period to 8000 baptisms just within the past few years. His church network is experiencing a lot of changes and he’s asking a lot of questions throughout our module on Leading Change.
My Kenyan sister from the north talks about how she has a great desire to revert away from traditional models to disciple making movements that focus on mentoring. However, many within the community are very resistant to this. How does she lead people through this change?
At the other end of the table are two brothers from Uganda and Congo. They talk about house church movements in their countries that look a lot like the churches of the first century. They don’t get caught up in positional places such as lead pastor, elders, and deacons, nor do they spend a lot of time arguing over whether certain people should be in places of leadership. They are simply the church.
After diving deep into the story of Jesus’ call to Peter from his boat of fish in Luke 5, I learn that there are fishermen villages in Tanzania that are the home to many riff-raffs (namely, people hiding from the law). My Tanzanian brother wants to start a ministry there. These fishermen aren’t exactly your typical churchgoers (never mind the dangers of “turf wars” when coming upon their territory), so how will the congregation respond to this ministry?
My friend from the Maasai tribe in Kenya talks about wrestling with how to lead his young church community through deep issues, especially in a culture that honors men taking up to seven wives! You can’t just abandon your six other wives when you come to Christ. Talk about leading people through change! There’s nothing clear-cut about any of this.
And then there’s my friend from Ethiopia. Without getting into specifics, he came out of a “false” church when he dared proclaim that he followed the leading of the Holy Spirit rather than man. He talks about how within this “false” church there is a wave of persecution happening right now, but he and his people have a strong burden to reach the people within these structures.
This Thanksgiving I sit across the table from these men and women and I am deeply grateful.
I am deeply grateful to even be able to sit among these world changers and be invited into the conversation about leadership in the church.
As we gather around the Thanksgiving table – however form or fashion that table might be shaped – we, too, are brought together by a story. It’s a story of people coming to a New World and finding compassion among the local people who’ve resided there for generations. And it was in the middle of a war that divided the nation that a President commemorated this story as a national day to give thanks.
Today – with my East African brothers and sisters nearby and with my family afar – I am deeply grateful.