Recently I made a three-week trip to Kenya with a good friend of mine. We went to meet pastors that we have been partnering with, preach the word in their churches and to learn more about the culture. It was an exploratory trip. What we saw and learned blew us away.
We visited some fourteen churches throughout the Nyanza region and in Nairobi. Several days into the trip I was being introduced to a church before going forward to speak. We were at a church that went by the name “Canaan Church” and their pastor was a Kenyan man named Joshua. Interestingly, there was a visiting pastor there that day named Caleb. As introductions were proceeding, the pastor who was speaking at the time realized all the connections and began to share about the story of the spies entering the land of Canaan. He turned and looked at me and said (I’m paraphrasing): “And here with us today, we have Joshua, son of Nun, who has come to Kenya to spy out the land. Let us pray that he returns to America with a good report.” It stuck. From that point forward, wherever we went I was referred to as “Joshua son of Nun.”
Well, let me say, Kenya is a land of good fruit. Not only do they have incredible fruit trees—mango, banana, paw paw, and many others—there is great spiritual fruit as well. I came back to my church, the Red Door Church, with a very good report. Africa has left its indelible mark on me.
A Gospel Welcome
One thing that deeply touched me was the incredible hospitality we experienced everywhere we went. Not only did we sit and eat in almost every place we went, but we were serenaded, prayed over, given gifts, and invited to participate in Kenyan worship and culture. As I stood up to speak at church after church, I shared my thanks to them for their extravagant gospel hospitality, even though many of them were poor. Out of their poverty they had not ceased to give and to share with us. I was stunned. I had come to Africa to be a blessing, to impart some gift to them (see Romans 1:11) and yet, here I was over and over again receiving a blessing.
My experience in Kenya helped me to realize the importance of a generous greeting. It has not gone unnoticed to many that the New Testament letters begin and often end with greetings to believers. Sam Allberry shares the importance of these greetings:
‘In Romans, Paul didn’t write, “Welcome one another like people at the fitness club down the road do.” We’re not conveying our welcome but Christ’s welcome. It’s not about exchanging a cultural pleasantry but declaring a heavenly reality. We’re meant to invite brokenhearted sinners to collapse into Jesus’s open arms.’https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/open-church-gospel-welcome/
Kenya greeted us foreigners with incredible gospel love and hospitality, a reflection of the gospel itself (Ephesians 2:13, 19). We were not treated as aliens or strangers, but as brothers and sisters, welcomed and embraced at every turn. In their incredible, generous welcome, I heard the words of my Savior over and over, “grace and peace to you.”
Thank you, Kenya, for embodying this beautiful aspect of the Gospel to me.