After a decade in the field, an American missionary has the ‘scales removed from his mind’

Philip Renfroe compares the years after his “second conversion” to waking up early in the morning and walking through a very thick fog. As the day progresses, the fog lifts, but early on, you can’t see where you are or where you’re going.

“Even though I had been a missionary for over 10 years,” he says, “in my heart, I cried out and said, ‘Lord, I had no idea I was blind from these things. But I’m asking you to remove the scales from my mind and to help me see the truth from a biblical-worldview perspective.’”

After working for years as a medical doctor in a rural Kenyan hospital–a 300-bed facility serving half a million people–Philip learned new things about Kenyans that changed his whole perspective.

All of this resulted unexpectedly from a great trial facing Philip’s Christian colleagues. But isn’t that just how our God loves to work–to take a hopeless, difficult situation and turn it into something profound and life-changing?

While working through a difficult conflict in the ministry, one of Philip’s colleagues suggested seeking outside counsel. Dennis Tongoi was brought into the picture–he is DNA’s representative in East Africa and the leader of DNA’s partner Samaritan Strategy Africa.

Instead of discussing strategy, budgets and business, Dennis talked about what it means to have a biblical worldview. He explained the impact of animism on African churches and the impact of humanistic secularism on Western churches, giving specific examples that resonated with Philip and his group.

“He was answering questions that I had as a North American missionary well over 10 years,” says Philip. “As he was talking, I can still picture in my mind sitting in the chapel of this Bible college where we were meeting … and the Holy Spirit came to me and said, “Philip Renfroe, you are a secularist.’ I knew in my heart that the Holy Spirit was right.”

Dennis encouraged the ministry leaders to change their whole approach to this certain problem, but his involvement didn’t stop there.

“Dennis Tongoi is a dear friend; I love him as a brother,” Philip says. “God has used him as a mentor to me.”

A few months after meeting, Philip attended a DNA Vision Conference led by Dennis. He soaked up more DNA teachings on biblical worldview and seed projects, deciding his missions organization, World Gospel Mission (WGM), needed to hear these things.

Infiltrating the organization

Philip and Dennis organized another Vision Conference, this time for 70 Africa Gospel Church leaders and 30 WGM missionaries. Out of that grew a vibrant ministry at the local Bomet Prison (learn more about that).

Philip’s next plan was to have Hubert Harriman, president of WGM, meet Dennis. This came to fruition in the lobby of a Nairobi hotel.

“As I sat and listened to him,” recalls Hubert, “the illustrations he used and his thoughts, it reminded me a lot of [famed theologian] John Wesley.”

Dennis (top right) conducts “Trainer of Trainers” workshops as a strategic way to multiply DNA teachings.

Hubert, a former pastor, began to see what Dennis meant by “humanistic secularism”–how he and the Western church had set a division into something that meant to be whole.

There are two rails, Hubert says: the rail of the spiritual (holiness) and that of the social (people’s needs). The tendency is to separate the two.

“I had the same tendency and realized these rails run together; they make a track. If we don’t run these two rails together–parallel–we will get off track,” Hubert says.

WGM is an organization more than 100 years old; an establishment like that doesn’t change quickly. But when its top leadership experiences a head-and-heart change, as Hubert did, movement can be swift.

Hubert and other top leadership dove deeper into DNA teachings, assembling a conference with 20 WGM country directors from around the world to talk about integrating physical and spiritual ministry. The board of directors then agreed to adopt a more intentional focus on wholistic community transformation, with Philip in charge.

This plan enables WGM field workers to go back to established churches and help them discover how to minister wholistically to their communities. New missionaries not yet deployed will be trained as well, and even the 30-plus employees in WGM’s administrative office in Indiana will have a two-day training this coming January.

Hubert wants to show churches: “Let’s not just deal with these four walls; there’s a community around you.”

Contact Philip Renfroe or Hubert Harriman at wgm@wgm.org.

2 comments on “After a decade in the field, an American missionary has the ‘scales removed from his mind’

  1. Thank you for posting these ideas about how easy it is for us to diverge from a biblical world view. The culture around us so permeates our thinking that we need people challenging us to think, reflect, and recalibrate our views to those of Christ. I wonder if this is part of what Paul meant when he used the phrase, “the mind of Christ.” (2 Cor 2:6-16) In 2011, I was fortunate to take a sabbatical structured around discovering what the Kingdom of God is, and what it looks like in a few different cultures. I was able to spend about a month with wonderful missionaries in DR Congo. To share with my church, I made 4 short videos about the concept of the Kingdom of God. The 3rd video deals with the animism and witchcraft in the Congo and how it might relate to culture here in the USA. I called the series, The Mystic Kingdom – and it can be seen here – https://vimeo.com/channels/256551 -if you’re interested. Thanks!

    • Thanks very much for engaging with this story and adding your own perspective, Pastor Curtis! You raise some great and important questions in your video series. God bless you as you continue to build the Kingdom by loving God and loving others.

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