Posted by: Botolff | June 11, 2009

Kenyans Shouldn’t Dance

I was just hanging out with a new friend…heard a story…and handed out an apology for people I have never met.  I very rarely hand out apologies for other people; but since I don’t think these people are going to do it themselves, and I represent the same color of skin and have had some of my own international ministry failures, I thought they deserved to hear some kind of repentance. 

Here’s the nutshell version of the story…

A little while back, a national Kenyan pastor was leaving his church for a weekend and asked an American missionary to come in and preach to his congregation while he was gone.  When Sunday morning came, and the missionary and his family arrived, the Kenyan believers were in their church singing in Swahili and dancing (which has been limited by American missionaries to a little swaying and clapping) to American produced Christian choruses.  The missionary, without asking a single question, or concerning himself with a single person he was about to address, promptly walked up to the pulpit, slammed his bible down, motioned to stop the music right in the middle of one of their songs, and then proceeded to tell the whole congregation, “Now I have seen it all.  I came to a church to preach, and found myself in a night-club!”  At which point he followed his first statement up with a a few words for the music director when he said, “You are in the wrong place.  Go back to the club where you belong!”  The missionary took his bible from the pulpit, grabbed his family from the pews, and walked out the door.  In a matter of about 2 minutes, he was able to shame an entire group of Kenyan Christians for singing the very songs that the missionary’s culture created.

If you will, take just a second and picture this.  A group of Africans (who have been singing and dancing since the beginning of human existence), in their own country, are in a church that may look very similar to the one down the street from where you live.  They are dressed like you, and are singing your songs.  Why?  Because that’s what they were told by people who look just like you that they were supposed to do in order to be the christian that God would love and be pleased with.  Then someone who looks just like you, and now them, comes in and tells them that what they are doing is sinful and they should be ashamed of themselves.  As if stripping them of their culture in the name of God the first time around wasn’t enough.

Oh the mess we create when, basking in our own arrogance, we are more committed to protecting our ideologies and positions than we are the people they impact.



  1. I tried to figure out a way to say something gracious, but that story just sucks. That missionary needs a good talking to. Also, he needs to get recalled ASAP and not let back on the field until he gets re-acquainted with Jesus.

    Gracious – fail.

  2. This breaks my heart…The things we do to each other in the name of Christianity…It makes me sad and angry and I wonder what it does to the heart of the One who created these beautiful people. We are so missing the beauty of each person living as the authentic creation God made them to be. How arrogant we are.

  3. Hey Shelly. So good to hear from you. Your heart has always been so soft towards people. I have told the Kenyan people that we are all going to make mistakes, but some of us are asking for their forgiveness, and would like a new chance to be a student instead of the teacher. They have graciously given me that opportunity this time around…and it has been glorious.

  4. Corey,

    And if you think that’s bad, wait till I get home and tell you the story about the American missionary who raised the money to build a church for the Kenyan people, and after it was built, paid crooked Kenyan cops to come and chase the women and children out of “his church” with whips on a Sunday morning.

    As these stories continue to surface in our own back yard and around the world, I find myself drawn more and more to asking the question…”What else are we going to do about all this abuse being acted out in the church?”

    By the way, we have a national Kenyan pastor/missionary who would like to podcast with us sometime late in the summer. I told him we would be honored. I’m sure you would agree.

  5. I’m so glad you’ve made it safely to Kenya, although I wish instances such as those two were not taking place.
    I’m honestly not sure how to phrase this with out sounding offensive so please bear with me. Some people (far too many, actually) get so caught up in what they think the Bible is telling them not to do, that they miss the bigger picture. It almost seems like they enjoy having all of these super specific rules and they especially enjoy enforcing them. I’ve never been able to relate to this and I find it to be toxic.
    I also think it could be that the people behind the two cited instances are too far removed from the input of people who will call them out on their bad behavior for their own good. Also, to be honest, it sounds a bit racist. I’m very sorry to have thrown that word out there because I know it’s a very heavy word, but I don’t think those missionaries would be behaving that way towards members of their fellowship back home.

    Anyway, it’s late and I’ve been awake a very long time, but I look forward to hearing more about your trip. I will be keep you in my thoughts.

    Oh, I am curious, though. Are you able to post pictures? And if so, where might they be?

  6. I shutter at the thought of how many times over this is happening that we don’t know about…more then we think I suspect. Thank you for making that apology, Botolff . I often have thought , if only I could live in a place like Africa where dancing and singing with joy was the norm in church….I wouldn’t feel so out of place. To hear that “we” are condeming that culture in the name of Christ makes me angry. When will we learn…..

  7. Jamie, I glad you are there safely too. I have thinking of you daily and of the beautiful people are honored to be with. Love to you from Seattle so that you may pass it on.

    The gross inner reality reality and the atrocious violence we perpetrate in the name of God can only be answered with compassion, softness and humility and I appreciate you offering that, beautiful.

    It is the learner position, more than the teacher – like you said well,
    may we offer enough kindness and grace to ourselves to that we can be learners.

    It is only in being a learner that we can hold to what was true in the beginning, before what we call the Fall, we were/are made in God’s image. It is the something of God in each person that can pull us to a curious joining, a standing a long side and clapping, an openness to delight in unique beauty God has lavished on us in the eyes of another. I wonder if we can only see that when we know our eyes hold their own piece of that same sacred beauty.

    Blessings and Blessings to you, friend!

  8. Jamie, you’re probably back to the states by now–I didn’t even know about your trip. My uncle told me a similar story about when he was in Tanzania on a mission’s trip. One of the guys he was with was an incredibly rude bully to their waitress. The guy was actually one of the organizers/financial backers of the entire trip. My uncle had to go home to Texas and get the guy barred by his church from participating in any more trips.

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