“Fort Jesus,” defensive faith

fort-jesus-mombasa

Yesterday, Paul Carline took the thirteenth session of the biannual Crandall University missions course, “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement,”

Paul and his wife Kelly and family served in mission to Garissa, Kenya, East Africa from 1995 to 2012.

Garissa is near Kenya’s border with Somalia, where many ethnic Somali Kenyan Muslims have made a home for generations. Two generations of Canadian Christian workers served in Garissa before the Carlines.

Christians are a minority in this part of Kenya, a point Paul made forcefully for us by comparing Garissa with Thika, a Kenyan city and outpost of Christendom not far from Nairobi, the capital. In Thika, one might hear Christian worship music in a supermarket. Not so in Garissa.

While the faiths coexist in Garissa mostly peacefully, the marginal status of Christians prompts distinct strategies. One Christian approach is to imagine your community as an embattled outpost in need of stern defense, walled against surrounding threats.

Don’t imagine the majority does not pick up on the fear.

Paul and Muslim friend were walking by a certain church which was building a proud new structure. “Fort Jesus,” said Paul’s Muslim friend.

Paul showed us the picture you see at the top.

What did Paul’s friend mean?

Fort Jesus is located in the port city of Mombasa, Kenya, on the Indian Ocean. It is “Forte Jesus de Mombaça” in the language of its builders, the Portuguese. It was finished in 1596, when European powers were gaining control of historic trading routes along the African coast. The 1600s map below makes clear the control. Fortified trading posts were integral to European control.

Map-of-the-Mombasa-Fortress-Kenya.-Bocarro-António.-Livro-das-Plantas-de-todas-as-fortalezas-cidades-e-povoaçoens-do-Estado-da-Índia-Oriental.-1635.-No-Copyright-290x195

As well as a money-making venture on behalf of the Crown and Portuguese merchantile interests, perhaps Europeans as Christians imagined forcible expansion as legitimate expansion of the true faith. The light was forced to dawn, as it were.

Business and mission went together in the Congo of King Leopold or the east Africa of David Livingstone’s famous adventures. Christians have bad episodes to live down.

Since we studied the World Christian Movement this semester, it’s worth remembering that with the end of colonialism, mission-minded Protestants and Catholics have been working out non-coercive, genuinely inculturated mission, propelled by faith. Post-colonial mission has not usually relied on secular power to advance the cause of Christ.

And, the grace of God reached over and past some misbegotten efforts. Think African Christianity late 20th century ‘til now. Think Chinese Christianity. It’s amazing.

Fort Jesus – now a UNESCO World Heritage Site — stands as a contradiction. “Fort Jesus” might even be an oxymoron, an impossible linking of terms.

For Jesus himself was not defensive. That is, he did not take steps to prevent aggression against himself. He did not wall himself off from his sometimes hostile countrymen. He trusted his Father to defend him as he did good and taught.

He knew when his time was not yet come, and absented himself, for sure. He had several close escapes.

But finally his vulnerability before the legal machinery was something he accepted as coming from the hand of God. He trusted his Father to bring good out of his death.

In an era in Western societies with deep challenges to followers of Christ, shall they look for legal walls to protect them? Should they accept possible deprivation of goods and persons?

“…(R)ecall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward.

Fort Jesus, a colonialist structure, stands for power to dominate. Colonialism made for an odd faith.

One can see now, as some should have seen before: mission is love is being open to the possibility of suffering. It is like love always must be – open to pain. Ask any husband, wife, father, or mother. Goes with the love territory.

The Cross shouldn’t be high up behind a wall. See again the picture. The Cross has to be naked on a hill so anyone can reach it. That makes for, yes, vulnerability.

Fort Jesus AND Cross? Or, Fort Jesus OR Cross?

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