For Whom Will the Church Be Safe?

When we were in the States last year for Dad’s funeral, Ruth preached a sermon that was so good it was published in an academic journal, in the same issue with renowned biblical scholars Craig S. Keener and Havilah Dharamraj.

If you didn’t get to hear it the first time, now you can read it:
“For Whom Will the Church Be Safe?” Priscilla Papers 37, no. 2 (Spring 2023): 18–21.

Click here for a pdf of the sermon, or download the entire issue, or read the issue as a flipbook in your browser, or read the sermon in html format here.

March 2023 Update

Due to the vicissitudes of life (an app rebooting itself and loosing a completed update, a few bouts of family illness, etc.), we are overdue on sharing an update, for which we apologize.  But we are still here in Kenya and still following our calling as faithfully as we can.  Each month we receive new thanks from those with whom we are working — sometimes from the Maasai community with which we began our ministries here, last week from one of our Turkana colleagues, and with increasing frequency from around the continent as well.  Our lives remain full and we remain fully engaged in the work we are called to do.  To read specifics and to see some pictures, read our latest newsletter here

Also allow us to say publicly that the Penrod family (Christian & Jenny and children) are amazing.  Thank you for your ministry to us on your recent visit!



Hosanna !

The Hebrew phrase הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא <hoshi’ah na> (more technically <hôšî’â(-n)nā’>) means “save us, now!” The phrase occurs in the Psalms. In later usage, the phrase developed a celebratory sense, in effect thanking God in advance for rescuing the petitioners or thanking God now for rescuing the petitioners now. I think both senses were operable on Palm Sunday. In the New Testament this was transliterated as ὡσαννά <hōsanná>.

As the Church celebrates singing “hosanna in the highest!” let us do so in celebration and thanksgiving — but let us also make room for those who are still crying out “save us, now!” and who are still asking “how long, O Lord?”
(The palm leaves in the background are on a tree beside our house.)


Doubting Thomas?

We too often dismiss this Apostle as “Doubting Thomas.” But what else do we know about him? When Jesus said “let’s return to Jerusalem,” the other disciples said, “Jesus, that’s crazy talk! The last time we were there, they tried to kill you!” But Thomas? Thomas said, “Guys, be quiet . If Jesus says ‘let’s go,’ then let’s go with him — even if it means we die with him.” That there is faith. That’s allegiance.

One of the key New Testament words for doubt/doubting (διακρίνω / diakrínō) can convey the sense of sitting on a fence in a moment of deliberation or judgment, not yet deciding on which side of the fence you’re going to come down. As such, doubt is not the opposite of faith but can be a function of faith, the exercise of discernment. Eventually we need to come down off the fence, of course. But we should never disparage those who are still on the fence, who are still deciding. Let’s also remember (or learn, if we haven’t known this already), that the New Testament idea of “faith” (the term is πίστις / pístis) is not a matter of mere intellectual assent to a proposition (e.g., “2+2=4” or “God exists”) but includes trust and, perhaps especially, allegiance.

I think Thomas may have been on that fence because he had perhaps been more deeply hurt. If he were more deeply hurt, it would have been because he had been more deeply committed (even if he wasn’t in the inner-inner circle with Peter, James, & John). His heart had been broken as were his dreams and his hope. That’s why he said “I gotta see for myself before I can believe again.” He was sitting on the fence weighing the evidence — he had seen Jesus’s battered and broken and breathless body, and this was a powerful testimony which disagreed with the report which he had received that Jesus had returned to life. But what happened next? When Jesus appeared to Thomas and said “here, place your hand in my wounds,” Thomas didn’t need to do that. Hearing Jesus’s voice was enough. And then he fell at Jesus’s feet and declared, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas caught on to who Jesus is faster than the others did at that point — Thomas’s Confession is just as great, and is arguably more explicit, than Peter’s “Great Confession.”

Now of course, I’m not claiming that Thomas was always only faultless and perfect. He was a fallen human on the path of redemption. Consistently, the biblical texts give fair, rather than glorified, portrayals of their characters, warts and all. For example, to borrow the words of my friend David Valentine,

“Peter is far from a rock in the Gospels: he is the opposite, impetuous and rash. But by the time he gets to his letters and his later ministry, he has become what Christ saw in him, like Michelangelo’s David waiting inside the block of marble. John is also impetuous, ambitious and angry …:  he is frustrated, but he matures and becomes a ‘son of thunder’ at the deeper level of his Gospel.”

Naturally we can assume a similar trajectory for Thomas. We know from Paul’s letter to the Galatians that even well after Pentecost, Peter slipped up and needed to be corrected. Likewise, according to extrabiblical accounts, Thomas really wasn’t interested in going further afield from Jerusalem than Judea and Galilee and initially refused to go as an apostle/missionary/evangelist to other people groups. Though fallen, Thomas, like Peter and John, ultimately will come to vindicate his calling in Christ. It is important to remember that even the Apostles were ordinary humans like us.  But so frequently the memory of Thomas has been subjected to a consistently unfair treatment — “Don’t be a doubter like Thomas!” has been the theme of far too many sermons.

Thomas Didymus — Disciple, Follower, Apostle, Missionary, Evangelist, and Martyr — needs a better moniker than “doubting” or “doubter.” He was off that fence and his allegiance to Jesus was greater than the fear and doubt of the other disciples when Jesus chose to return to Jerusalem. He was on that fence, briefly, when most of us would have jumped down on to the side of unbelief. And he got off that fence fast as soon as he saw Jesus. Peter and Paul travelled from Jerusalem to Rome for the sake of the Gospel, 1434 miles (2308 km) as the crow flies. Thomas? He travelled from Jerusalem to Chennai (Madras) in South India for the sake of the Gospel, 3124 miles (5028 km). Like Peter and Paul, he was executed for his faith in Christ. I’m not going to call Thomas “the Doubter.” I’m going to call him Thomas the Faithful.

ACTEA e-news

Regular readers will remember that I (Joshua) have joined the staff of Association for Christian Theological Education in Africa (ACTEA). (Reminder:  this is still in a missionary capacity and doesn’t come with a salary.)  Even though we’re still Stateside following Dad’s funeral, a lot is going on.  This week alone I’ve virtually spent a few hours in Kigali, Rwanda 🇷🇼 (providing training for ACTEA-accredited school Africa College of Theology staff) and several hours in the ACTEA office in Nairobi, Kenya 🇰🇪.  

I’ve also been working on the latest edition of ACTEA e-news (along with my colleague and ACTEA office administrator Flo Kagwamba), which I’ve just published.  Check it out the pdf here.  This is sent out to all ACTEA-accredited and affiliated institutions.

Message from ACTEA Director
Greetings to you all in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Thank you for your continued support and prayers to the ministry of ACTEA.  We are because you are.  We exist for each other.  I hope and pray that you have continued to flourish as you serve the Lord through theological education and other ministries.  The health of the church depends on what you do.  … (read more) 


Νυνὶ δὲ Χριστὸς ἐγήγερται ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀπαρχὴ τῶν κεκοιμημένων.
Kake esipa tukul nchere eitopiwuoki Kristo too lootuata. Olng’anayioi le dukuya te lelo ootuata.
Lakini ukweli ni kwamba Kristo amefufuliwa kutoka kwa wafu, wa kwanza wa wale waliolala katika kifo.
Mais, en réalité, le Christ est ressuscité d’entre les morts, en donnant ainsi la garantie que ceux qui sont morts ressusciteront également.
But now Christ has risen from the dead, the first fruit of those who have fallen asleep.
Greek is for NT study; Maa is for communication with the Maasai community; Swahili is an important lingua franca in East Africa; French is for correspondence with church leaders and theological educators in francophone Africa; English is our mother-tongue.

March (and April) Madness

March is the month of the unexpected:  basketball upsets destroy your bracket, the weather can be crazy, or your schedule can be thrown into upheaval.  I’ve gotten a visa for Ethiopia (for a scheduled ministry trip in April) that I won’t be able to use.  And this time last week we had no immediate plans to visit the States but now in less than 48 hours we’ll be boarding a plane to do just that.  To learn the details, read our March Madness newsletter.


I (Ruth) haven’t played Wordle, but I do play strict-mode four-suited spider solitaire. Out of the 4561 games I’ve played, I have won 4542, replaying each game until I solve it. (The longest took me over 8 hrs to win.) Out of the 19 games I did not beat, 18 of them I accidentally hit new game instead of replay. Thankfully, the game has been updated so that it now asks if you want to ruin your current streak when you make that mistake. I have only ever quit one game deliberately. That was the first day of August 2018. In July of that year our supervisor asked Joshua and I to resign from our org because they deemed me too “unhealthy” to be in ministry. They later changed it to an offer for us to request an unpaid leave-of-absence (LOA). This would allow our accounts to remain open for continued contributions to our ministry. However, we would not be able to access those funds until we were approved to return to full-time ministry.
Joshua and I had met with our director in November about serious issues I had observed within the ministry. He was very pastoral and caring and admitted he himself had observed all of those problems. But in January, I was ordered to counseling for imagining my past abuse onto the org, for imagining problems that weren’t there. The request violated policy, but when I reminded them of the specific policies, they informed me that they didn’t need to follow their own policies, so I refused.
Joshua and I decided we would neither resign nor request an LOA because it was unjust. At the end of July I wrote and appealed to the boss who had told me he had seen all the problems I had been diagnosed as imagining. I appealed to him to intervene, but on the first of August, I received a reply from him. He told me that he was upholding the decision. He informed me, “my assessment is that you are not being fired, but that you truly don’t want to work within the [***] system of accountability and structure.” In other words, because we had asked them to follow their own system of accountability and structure, they decided to sever our employment, but it wasn’t really they who severed us, but we who had somehow severed ourselves. It was 13 years to the day after we had resigned our previous job to join the ministry full-time. That day, I was working on a difficult game, and I felt utterly powerless and hopeless. I quit the game, telling myself that some battles, it is simply impossible to win.
On March 24, 2020, I wrote to our former director once more. I had planned to write to him at Christmas, but a friend asked me to wait because he had just lost two close family members. The request hurt because when the org had first made their demand which I eventually refused, I had asked them to wait two months because I was dealing with a serious family crisis. They had refused that request and insisted I must leave my family for a week in the midst of the crisis to immediately meet their demand. Yet I honored my friend’s request, waiting three months to send my draft.
I wrote, “The question I struggled with this Christmas was how you could sign off on something you had acknowledged to me was untrue. I came to you and explained the problems I had seen within [***]. You told me that you had seen those problems yourself. You knew that I was speaking truth. Then [my supervisor] told me that those very same words were a lie. This is a direct quote from [him]: ‘There is no problem. You need to stop saying there is a problem.’ He then proceeded to diagnose me or label me or whatever word you want to call it, with imagining my past abuse onto [***]. All of the problems I had seen and you had acknowledged were, in [his] assessment, projections from my past onto my present within [***]. [He and his assistant] then assigned me to a counselor they had spoken to about my situation and who said he could get my Dad out of my head so I could see the present accurately.
“Is it any wonder I refused? … .”  I asked him whether he had known when he upheld the decision to sever our employment that at the heart of our severance was that I had been diagnosed with imagining the very problems he had admitted to my husband and I that he had seen.
He replied the following day,
“I did and continue to agree with [your former supervisor’s] and the Field Team’s decision” — (it is worh noting that a number of the field team had told us privately that they disagreed with the decision) —
“I did and continue to agree with [his] diagnosis”.
He also wrote,
“At that time, I would have only cleared you to continue on with [***] in a Leave of Absence to take the extended time needed to be healthy (which was a concession), but there is no way I would have cleared your family as healthy for return to the field.”
In other words, at the time they offered us the LOA, they had already decided we would never be permitted to return to the field. Once that decision was officially announced, any funds which our supporters had donated to our ministry during the LOA would then be divided between our former field team and the ministry as a whole. The false offer of an LOA with a potential return to ministry within the org would not have benefited us in any way. It would not have helped us have “the extended time needed to be healthy.” We wouldn’t be paid. None of the funds sent to [***] by our support partners for our support would be accessible to us. We wouldn’t have insurance. We would have a false hope which would then fail us. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” However, the offer would have benefited the organization if even a single person donated to our accounts during that time, which was very likely. Who would have donated? The family, friends, and supporters who were closest to us. They would have donated specifically to benefit our ministry because of their connection to us, but the org had already decided that money would never be used for that purpose.
Multiple people condemned us for not seeking the LOA, but I am so glad I recognized that some battles should be left unfought. Some battles are traps. I did decide not to follow the counsel of multiple people who advised us to request the LOA. I trusted the counsel of others who told me that something was not right, and I trusted my own discernment that the offer was not in good faith. I urged Joshua to refuse the offer. I discerned correctly. Many people assume that the discernment of abuse victims is twisted by abuse, but I would assert that it is the discernment of those who ignore abuse which is twisted by their refusal to see what is actually happening.
I am proud of myself. I am proud of my ability to solve hard games and to overcome abuse. I like that I am persistent in untangling hard puzzles and in fighting for truth and justice. I am glad I have learned to trust my discernment, to seek and to listen to counsel, and then to make a decision.