Nyankunde, (Zaire) DR Congo mid-1990s

While Cary continues work as a career missionary in the Christian tradition, our family is reexamining the presuppositions of that tradition. The Center for Study of the Life and Work of William Carey, D.D. (1761-1834) has given us pause for thought–particularly the published lecture by Myron C. Noonkester titled Who was the real William Carey? Some noteworthy excerpts:

“The son of a college president, I grew up on a college campus named for William Carey. For years I took it for granted that Carey’s reputation was merely a form of Baptist self-assurance. I visited in the home of the millionaire shoemaker in Northamptonshire whose interest kept Carey’s memory alive. But I assumed that Carey was a sub-cultural figure, a source of identification for Baptists, but no more. Then on two occasions, eminent historians, Patrick Collinson of Cambridge and Carolyn Edie of the University of Illinois Chicago, reminded me that Carey was more important than I had thought.” (p.20)

“Study of Carey occasions challenges and opportunities, as my colleague and MC graduate Bennie Crockett, Jr. and I have noted since we took on the project of developing a web-site and scholarly center devoted to Carey last year. …Historians of Britain and British India have credited Carey with contributing to the Bengali Renaissance of the early nineteenth century, but they have generally slighted him with a brief mention or footnote. Evangelicals, meanwhile, have treated Carey as an icon, Bible translator (a veritable Tyndale of India), forefather, saint, and even a possession of sorts. The history of Carey’s reputation is compartmentalized, placing parrot-like versions of Carey in a series of gilded cages.” (p. 2)

“Eustace Carey’s single volume [ChC: biography] appeared in 1836, one year before Queen Victoria gave her name to an epoch. He came to praise his uncle in order to bury with him the taint of the controversies that had created a Baptist saint. Eustace’s oversights, often attributed to mere negligence, were purposeful. Determined to exhibit ‘the Christian and the missionary, rather than the philosopher and the scholar,’ he becomes reticent about the years of controversy.” (p. 9)

“To what extent was Carey’s Calvinism the theology of choice for those who resisted the forceful blandishments of France and the Papacy, a real geo-political fear even on the margins of Empire? To emphasize Carey’s Calvinism treats what Carey took for granted as a revelation and takes the novel features of his practical theology as read. What mattered for Carey was the developing nature of theological understanding. The question of how his theology developed in India, a land of Hindus, Muslims, Deists, Arminian Anglicans, and Unitarians, all capable of controverting Calvinist Christianity has not been probed. Nor has the way in which Carey applied his moderate Calvinism to diverse circumstances. Carey the diarist who avowed an intense sense of sin and substitutionary atonement of Christ has yet to be reconciled with Carey the missionary who practiced open communion and cooperated in India quite pragmatically with Anglicans whom he had fought and General Baptists whom he had ignored back home.” (pp. 16-17. [ChC: Compare with the Wikipedia version of Carey’s theology.])

“Who was William Carey? Future students of his legacy will do well to consider his role as a radical agent of Christianity and civilization. …Carey the evangelical Calvinist became Carey the communitarian social reformer. The English midlander became bi-cultural as portrayed in Carey’s rather Indian features in the 1993 stamp issued by the Indian government. …Carey, more than most, exemplifies the possibilities inherent in the kaleidoscopic tendencies of civilization and Christianity. But he also identifies the sequential qualities of each. One built upon the other’s foundation. Carey synthesized two historical projects commonly treated as thesis and antithesis, Enlightenment and Evangelicalism. Carey was a world-historical figure, but not necessarily of the sort touted in myriad works that present him.” (p. 22)

Disciple Nations Alliance is another pause-giving work. A 2011 post to their website made us aware of a commemorative issue of Forward Press— the first English-Hindi magazine offering news and opinion. There are three articles (see pp. 4, 11ff, 52ff) that celebrate the 250th anniversary of Carey’s birth. These provide an invaluable cross-cultural perspective on ‘modern’ missions. A noteworthy excerpt:

“…on the occasion of the 250th birth anniversary of this great man, this ‘friend of India’, FP is probably one of the few magazines in the world and possibly the only one in India that is focusing on William Carey. Our tribute to him includes my Editorial Essay raising the serious question of who is truly the ‘father of modern India’ and making the case for a rewriting of the history of modern India. FP plans to soon launch this  project on its pages. Meanwhile, in this issue, Vishal Mangalwadi has contributed a tongue-in-cheek review of brahmanical criticism of Carey as ‘the nastiest Englishman that ever came to India’.”

Vishal & Ruth Mangalwadi‘s book The Legacy of William Carey: A Model for the Transformation of a Culture has been particularly stimulating. Chapter one asks the same question as Noonkester.

Why are you digging this up Cary? you might ask. The answer may best be expressed artistically. Shall we start with the picture above.

Scan120Nyankunde, Zaire Africa in the early 1990s was an idyllic first assignment. We arrived as newbies to a well-established ‘traditional bush’ mission station with a 250 bed nationalized hospital. Mission Aviation Fellowship aircraft expanded the medical reach to a service area the size of Texas while supporting humanitarian and Christian missions. Coup attempts in Africa are always possible, but the country’s capital was 900 miles to the west across impenetrable double-canopy rain forest. After 30 years of relative peace, we had little concern.


Rwandan refugee camp in East Zaire
credit: Wikipedia and US CDC

In fact, our arrival in East Africa for a pre-field visit in 1994 coincided with the Rwandan genocide. Upon arrival on station in mid-1995 we were assigned to three months of language training 250 miles south in Bukavu, Zaire where the blue plastic tarps of United Nation refugee camps were already overwhelming the city’s periphery. Deforestation was well underway. We tried to mind our studies while struggling to find comfort in the UN-HCR’s January 1995 aide-mémoire with the Zairian Ministers of Defence and Justice outlining specific measures aimed at “improving the security situation.”


Nyankunde’s ‘Liberators’

A year later, the idyllic ‘atmosphere’ of our new home was singed just as tangibly as one can smell a thunderstorm approaching in the ionized air. The singeing began with a wild rumor that rebels were approaching our village and would soon arrive. Hair on the back of Cary’s neck stood at attention as tribal retributions began to reverberate throughout the mission station and across the region.

In hindsight, the First Congo War was already well underway. In the absence of that foresight, Cary completely remodeled our Nyankunde living quarters, unloaded all our earthly goods from a shipping container, completed his first airframe overhaul (i.e. 1,000 hour inspection) of a Cessna 206 aircraft, and sent Faith back to the States for the birth of our son.

Stefan was six weeks old when he arrived on station. He was just in time for the ‘liberation’ of Nyankunde and the evacuation of all expatriates from the region.

While Stefan’s parents settled into a refugee lifestyle in Nairobi, Kenya, the impenetrable Zairian jungle between Bunia (in the east) and Kinshasa (in the west) was being penetrated as quickly and insidiously as Cary’s modern missionary zeal. In retrospect, the outgoing tide of Cary’s schismatic weltanschauung was the harbinger of a more persuasive Christian weltbild heralded by our infant son’s absolute refusal to live like a refugee.

(This artistic rendition of our experience- enabled by a decade of critical self-reflection– is inspired by T. F. Torrance’s The Ground and Grammar of Theology p. 45:

“The deeper that scientific inquiry probes, the more it is clear that in science we are concerned to penetrate into the intrinsic structures of the universe in such a way that its basic design becomes disclosed. Hence we are forced to grapple with cosmological questions and to adopt a fundamental attitude to the universe as a whole: a Weltbild — not a Weltanschauung, which is a naturalistic attitude, but a Weltbild. Now natural science cannot be pursued without being committed to a fundamental attitude to the world, which affects all theory and all theory-laden experiment. In theological science, on the other hand, we are concerned, as I shall show later in more detail, not just with God/man relations, but with God/man/world or God/world/man relations, so that an understanding of the world enters into the coefficients of theological concepts and statements. Theological science cannot be pursued scientifically without being committed to a fundamental attitude to the world, for theological concepts without empirical correlates in our world of space and time would be empty and irrelevant for us. Hence the more rigorously we pursue science today, and the more rigorously we pursue our theology, the more we find there breaking out an inevitable and proper dialogue between theological science and natural science, if only because both have to develop fundamental attitudes to the world.”

As our world was collapsing into an aborted future, our grief was persistently frustrated by our delight in Stefan’s brilliant resiliency. By our western culture’s accounting he should have failed to thrive. Yet all he seemed to require from us was a nightly washing of his six cloth diapers and a steady flow of mother’s milk. He had been born with a “fundamental attitude to the universe as a whole” that his parents had apparently outgrown.”)


Our pre-departure holiday near the sea in Mombasa, Kenya.

After four years of repatriation, training and re-outfitting, we headed back to Kenya in 2002 with our daughter Cherilyn in gestation. A productive tour of service at Wilson Airport with AIM Air was shattered two days after Cherilyn’s birth by a bullet through Cary’s right thigh. (The exit wound is visible in the picture.)

The penetration was complete, and another tour of service Stateside with Mission Safety International made the affect fully manifest. Safety is fundamentally about living and dying– preferably more of the former and less of the latter. While we take pride in our statistical precision, aviation safety is still buttressed by the belief that it won’t likely happen to ‘me.’ Have you noticed the really sick way we distance ourselves from the few ‘unlucky’ ones by blaming some part without questioning our participation in the whole. We need a nobler Weltbild. Borrowing the metaphor from Noonkester above, the “gilded cage” of safety is hardly sufficient to contain that raging fiend called death. This controverted Baptist missionary was becoming a philosopher and scholar of creation, fall, and redemption by Jesus Christ in the communion of the Holy Ghost.

Post Script: A few days after writing this account I began reading Thaddeus Barnum’s book Never Silent. I am deeply affected by his recounting of the genocide. The only thing that even slightly soothes my American conscience in the face of John Rucyahana’s witness is the memory that in 1995 we participated in the distribution of a pamphlet on reconciliation in one of the UNHCR’s Bukavu camps isolating combatant refugees. I recall these were hard men and my surprise at how hard I had to become just to approach their bit of blue shelter and put a piece of paper in their hand. While this small work wasn’t anything in the scope of these events, God knows it was not nothing. It may be something of comfort to the consciences of our supporters as well.