Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Missions' Moment

This is for a class assignment that I'm suppose to find a way to use and/or share the information I found in the BGC archieves with others. So I hope some of you find this information useful or encouraging or maybe as a reminder of the "good ole days."

This past week I spent some time in the Billy Graham Center Archives. I spent a few hours digging through a box of letters from a couple young missionaries in their early years to the Masai Tribe in Kenya. John W. Stauffacher lived from 1878-1944 and his wife Florence Minch Stauffacher from 1881-1859. They went with the African Inland Mission (AIM) agency serving in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. They compiled a dictionary of the Masai language and a Bible translation.

John worked under Charles Hurlburt whom he spoke well of as a father. Charles Hurlburt lived and worked at the missions station among the Kikuyu in Kijah. John spent the first part of his first term working in Kijah as well, learning from Hurlburt and learning the language and culture of the Masai whom he had come to minister among.

In his correspondence to Florence on 11 June 1903 he talked about his joy in God, the darkness in Africa, and his desire for Florence to join him there. In the following letter, 29 August 1903, John wrote about his surprise at the beauty and joy of Africa and the people at the station in the mountains (Kijah). John spent his time in the early days teaching English and learning their language in preparation to be the first missionary among the Masai.

On the 10 of October 1903 John wrote about slipping away to a serene place to pray and to study the language by the cliffs among the trees and a stream. At least that is what his superior Hurlburt thought. John secretly hid away to read the letters from his love Florence.

In these early letters I got the feeling that John polarized the world. He saw Africa as dark and God as the light that needed to be taken to them. This made him very sure in his task and without hesitation in going and giving up all so that some may be saved. The urgency he spoke of in the early letters convicted me on some letter. John was taking his call seriously. Then I read the letter from October which displays the youthful humanity of this man of God. The fact that he would slip away to dream of how it will be when his lover joins him on the field shows that maybe those of us in this room 100 years later studying to be missionaries are not that much different. Do we take the call that seriously? Do we understand the urgentcy? Do we see in black and white? And should we?

This letter from 30 of March 1904 stood out to me. I will quote from it directly for you to see how John really spoke and thought.
"Now about yourself. I almost wish you had not asked me for advice. Not that I do not come to advise you, but because there is only one advice that I can honestly give and that may seem to be for my own selfish interest. Before I say anything else I will say full well to do whatever you think best regardless of me. Try as far as possible to know what the will of your Master is and the rest will take care of itself. Let me give you a few facts however which may help you decide what to do. Your work here would no doubt be exclusively among the Masai. European settlers are coming in rapidly nearly all of them looking for their own selfish interest. The government giving land grants, is gradually crowding down the Masai to a narrow territory and if this continues and there is no reason why it should not they may finally be crowded out entirely. There are a people quite different from others, in that they will not cultivate, nor do the work of other natives. They simply watch their sheep and cattle. So they are of no use to the white man unless taught. Then if their feeding grounds are taken away from them what will become of them." paraphrase-Half have been reduced already. "So your life and mine worth while to be spent in rescuing some of this generation for our Master. It may seem like uselessly throwing our lives away." paraphrase-John will waste his life if some are rescued. He feels heaven would be a disappointment after the work he's done if some aren't there. She is faced with either continuing education or joining him. He says you don't need more training to compel the Mosai to Christ. All they need is love. They need pure love by someone willing to come live among them. "They are dirty, deceitful, wretched. Only a touch of love will brighten them. Your education will come to nothing except that it may enlarge your life. But unless you are certain that God wishes you to stay don't waste a minute longer than is really necessary. We don't know how much time he will give us and especially in this country one can never know which day will be his last."

John seems to have an understanding of the greatest command. As far as I know he also went through higher education but he is a couple years older than Florence so he finished before her. I have wondered about what John is saying many times myself. Do I really need this degree in order to do the work of God? Would I have been equally prepared for service if I had just gone out after college, or even high school? At the end of high school I didn't want to do missions and at the end of College I didn't know where God was calling me to serve. But Florence knows where God is calling her or at least where John is calling and she must decided if school is necessary for service and love.

In another letter from 29 April 1904 John writes that he has now moved to the Mosai tribe (described as a dangerous warring people). They have asked him to be their friend. He describes them as also being intelligent because they listened to the story he brought them about Christ and told them about the work (mission) he is doing. The Mosai boy, Mulungit, who taught him the Mosai language at the mission station in Kijah is now zealously preaching among the Mosai. John has discipled him since moving to Africa and Mulungit also studied with Hurlburt.

John writes many more letters to Florence trying to persuade her to join him. John tells her she would be teaching the women and children at home and cooking while he would travel to the ten nearby villages to preach. Florence finally arrived around the 8th of October 1905. They married sometime before the 8th of May 1906. Their first furlough was in 1909. Following that to led expeditions into Uganda and Tanania. They led the first group to Zaire in 1912. Then they served in Uganda until their second furlough in 1914. They returned to Africa in 1918 after WWI to Kenya until 1940.

As many terrible things we say about the missionaries that went before us and had some terrible practices, they also made some tremendous strides to spread the gospel. God has been working throughout the centuries. I wonder if the bible translation John made is still in use. I wonder if there are still Christians among the Mosai that he went to, generations later. I wonder if the Mosai still have land and cattle and sheep. Or maybe they have been moved to another land. If any readers know some follow up on the work the Stauffachers did I would love to know about it.

This information was gathered from letter from John W. Stauffacher to Florence Minch Stauffacher, between June 1903 and May 1906. Folders 1-4, Box 1, Collection 281, Papers: 1902-1973, n.d.. Archives of the Billy Graham Center, Wheaton, Illinois.

No comments: