Recently, I have had the privilege of becoming acquainted with a young man named James Hargrave. James is an OCMC (Orthodox Christian Mission Center) missionary who is currently raising support to go to Tanzania. James grew up as an MK (Missionary Kid); his parents were evangelical Protestant missionaries to Kenya. I have asked James to contribute a series of posts on his journey to Orthodoxy , which I know will be fascinating. The first post alone is wonderful. Here it is. Enjoy!
My life in Christ and my pilgrimage beyond Protestantism through desperate faithlessness into the fullness of Orthodox Christianity is very much wrapped up in my childhood. Plus I’m still young, and was received into Orthodoxy early in my adulthood. So this story is going to spend a bit of time at the beginning.
I was born in Gainesville, FL but moved to Kenya in East Africa before my fourth birthday, when in 1985 my parents became agricultural missionaries with Africa Inland Mission (AIM). My folks are from mixed denominational backgrounds, and AIM is “non-denominational.” Locally, we were under the auspices of Africa Inland Church (AIC), which is the largest Protestant body in East Africa.
After six months in language school, we moved to a village called Logologo where we lived for seven years. Logologo is in Kenya’s Northern Frontier. It’s the sort of place that is called “savage” and “primitive” by your typical Kenyan. Most Africans don’t actually live in grass huts, hunt lions with spears, or wear animal skins. And they HATE that stereotype. But in Logologo, the myth is actually true.
So my two little sisters and I grew up being acutely different from the people around us. We had different skin and hair, wore different clothes, ate different food, lived in a different kind of house. By American standards we were deep below the poverty line. But by local reckoning, our reliable access to clean water (we had a beat-up rustbucket of a Land Rover and so could drive to the nearest city for water during shortages) made us immensely wealthy. I recently learned that in Florida if you raise your children in a house without electricity or running water, that constitutes child abuse and the state will take your kids away from you. So I guess Florida law would have that we were all abused children in Logologo but that didn’t stop us from having lots of fun. I can’t imagine a better place to grow up.
Our village was fairly evenly split between Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and practitioners of traditional beliefs. We lived on the Africa Inland Church compound north of town. The Catholic compound was south of town. The Muslims had a mosque in the middle of town, and everybody else was just everywhere. The Rendille nomads, who would graze their flocks near the water pump in town during dry spells, mostly practiced a traditional Abrahamic religion that is similar in many respects to Judaism.
Growing up, I knew very little about the other faiths in the village. And I “knew” a good number of things that weren’t actually true. For example, I learned that traditional practices were demonic and that because Catholics used syncretism they also worshiped demons and false gods. I knew that David Livingstone had brought Christianity to Africa in the middle of the nineteenth century, and that it was Africa Inland Mission who had first brought the Gospel to the Northern Frontier, back in the 1960s.
Actually, we only about a hundred miles from Ethiopia. And Ethiopian Orthodox monks had established remote hermitages in our deserts long, long before the arrival of American missionaries. Caves in the hills are etched with ancient African Christian iconography. I didn’t know any of this yet. But soon I would learn...
[Fr. James' Note]: I'm already hooked and can't wait until the next episode. How about you?