Friday, June 06, 2008

Letter from Nairobi

One of my mentors, Rev Dr Jennifer Turner has for many years served as a pastor in two Baptist churches and as senior pastor of a Churches of Christ congregation in Perth, Western Australia. Jennifer continues to teach as part of the adjunct faculty of Vose Seminary: the Baptist Theological College of West Australia.
Recently, she has resigned from her pastoral post and seeks to serve overseas. She is now in Nairobi. This is a letter she wrote to Geoff Pound on the blog, Theologians without Borders.

Hi Geoff,

Greetings from Nairobi!
You asked me before I left Perth about writing up something for the TWB website about our experiences. So here is some answer to your questions and an update after one month in Nairobi:

After nearly 20 years as a pastor, most recently as Senior Minister of Dianella Church of Christ, and a similar time lecturing in theological colleges on a sessional basis, I retired in 2007 with a view to spending the next few years between being in Western Australia for family and mentoring commitments, and serving overseas in short term assignments in training pastors and conference speaking.

My husband has been a research scientist with a particular interest in agriculture in developing countries for over 40 years and we have lived at different times in several countries. He still has research interests in India and China but we have always had a heart interest in Africa, including a Sudanese congregation as part of Dianella church. So it seemed good to use our expertise, availability and financial security to put this to use under God in places where we could jointly make a contribution. And that could be just about anywhere!

We are currently in Nairobi for 3 months while Neil prepares a report for two international organisations on the effects of climate change on food crops and their research programs. This has given me time here to make contacts and offer my teaching to a number of theological centres. The next 6 weeks will be busy with visits to Zimbabwe and Malawi (for him) and western Kenya, Sudan and Uganda (for me). Later in the year we will spend time in Cambodia and China. Next year looks quite open at this stage but we will access our experience of this year and build on that.

What have I learned so far? The transition out of pastoral ministry was more difficult than we expected. In one sense we lost our community of support with leaving our congregation, though being free of the day to day demands of a church is freeing! And because we are coming and going, we are still sitting on the sidelines of the congregation we are attending when we are in Perth. I have developed an email support team which I contact each week with news and requests for prayer support. Here in Nairobi, we are again only loosely involved with a church, again because we are travelling frequently.

We have also been making plans for this kind of ministry for some time, and built a new house which we could lock up and leave more easily by having someone live in a self contained flat attached to it. But it has taken longer than expected both in Perth and here to make the contacts and build the relationships needed to be effective even in short term ministries. Being a woman pastor and theological lecturer has probably contributed to this too. In 2004 and 2006 I was the Bible teacher at a conference for pastors in Pakistan and thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity. But the link with that group of churches stayed with my previous congregation and I have had to start afresh in making contacts. Theologians Without Borders has assisted in some future arrangements but it would obviously help if the links to overseas ministry grew out of a person’s previous links (either personal, through their denomination or local church or theological institution). There is no doubt however, that colleges in Africa and elsewhere are appreciating the contribution of experienced western Christians alongside their own people. Two weeks seems the usual expectation for an intensive, though later this month I will spend just one week, but take the program with third and fourth year Bible students in a College in western Kenya.

The biggest challenge has been to find places where both my husband and I can contribute at the same time. Fortunately both of us also have writing commitments which we pursue from our apartment or hotel if the other has greater time demands in any one place. Wireless internet has been a great boon in this and I have been mentoring, marking student papers and supervising doctoral students from three continents from Nairobi!

In all the possibilities for service overseas, we have taken the approach of throwing out a lot of feelers, and trusting God to direct by the responses (or non-responses!) we receive. We expect several of these links we are making to continue with shorter visits on an annual basis. Most of all, the challenge has been to have that mix of humility about what we can contribute and a confidence that if God opens doors he will equip for the task. We are both pretty flexible people, who love travelling and learning, and we are greatly enjoying this experience (most of the time). And we are even learning that it’s OK to enjoy serving in sometimes difficult circumstances. As Buechner says, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Rev Dr Jennifer Turner

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