Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Missionary Kid Returns Home (part two: Getting Saved)

When you’re a kid on a mission station, your entire life is wrapped up in the local church. This is mostly a good thing. On Sunday mornings we’d hear the tolling of the bell and know it was time to make the 100-meter trek over to morning service. And then Mom taught Sunday School in our living room right afterwards. Being in the center of a Christian community in a mostly non-Christian village meant that we had lots of very good friends who took very good care of each other.

It also meant that I learned a lot about my religion very early on, but with some interesting gaps. In church we used the two local languages—Samburu and Rendille—as well as some Swahili and English. English is the only of these four that I’ve ever learned well. So I was very accustomed, from my earliest years, to worshiping and listening to sermons in languages I didn’t understand. This meant that my understanding of “church” was based more on community than on intellect, and it also meant that most of my Christian education came not from church but from my parents.

The Africa Inland Church practices adult baptism and believes that you are not a Christian until you consciously decide to become one. So, in local parlance I “became a Christian” at age four after saying a prayer asking Jesus to come into my heart. I no longer have any idea what my motivation was for doing this, beyond the knowledge that it was something I was supposed to do. Of course I was an Evangelical Christian, because that was the only culture I’d ever known, but I guess I also recognized that in order to be treated as such I had to say the words myself and announce it to the family.

My understanding of “getting saved” was that in order to be a Christian you had to 1) ask Jesus into your heart and 2) really mean it. Well, I’d done the first step, but had I really meant it? In second grade we spent a year in the States and I recall a speaker at my grandparents’ Southern Baptist congregation challenging all the seven-year-olds to think about whether they had really and truly asked Jesus into their hearts. If we weren’t absolutely sure, he said, we should raise our hands. So I raised my hand, because I didn’t remember if I had really really meant it when I said those words at age four.

This question was to torment the next dozen years of my life. At least once a year on average I’d worry that my previous salvation experiences had been for impure motives like getting into heaven or getting God to like me rather than absolute genuine untainted love. And so, unsure of whether I was really a Christian, I’d ask Jesus into my heart again. And then worry that it didn’t count because I’d done it for the wrong reason yet again.

This uncertainty about the true state of my soul only got worse as I grew older...


Clint said...

Having never been a missionary kid (MK), I appreciate reading your posts from that perspective. It helps me understand how my own children look at some things.

Also, the Church of Christ (my old group) looks at salvation differently than you guys did, so I am enjoying reading about that, too.

Of course, we did struggle with the "did I do it for the right reasons" as well.

Anonymous said...

James (and Clint):

I have a similar background to both of you - raised in an independent Baptist preacher's home - a PK. Anyway, I know from firsthand experience how intense and awful this situation can be - to pray over and over to receive Christ and be convinced that you didn't do it right the last time. I suspect that many Baptist kids have the same problem and that is why they are rebaptized at a later age. Like Clint, I am a recent Orthodox convert and happy to be home!