Vincent Donovan on the rejection of Christianity

In this excerpt from page 82 of Donovan’s Christianity Rediscovered, he reflects on the gospel being rejected by a Masai village. Donovan spent an entire year making difficult weekly treks out to this particular village to bring the Christian message. He shared with them everything he had to share, they understood it all, and he felt they were very ready for baptism. When decision time came, though, they rejected the gospel. I admire Donovan a lot for his response at that point. He did not try to talk to them more, share in a different way, or make the gospel more palatable. Masai villages make decisions as an entire community, and he did not then try and single out individuals who he thought might be willing to be baptized. He simply thanked them for their time and attention and, recognizing his work there was done, walked away.

Here are his reflections on the episode (remembering that he speaks from a Catholic perspective):

But there was an end to my work with these people. There were no moves left to make. The only reason I came these thousands of miles was to bring them this Christian message. They rejected it. There was nothing else I could do. My missionary obligation to them was finished.Perhaps the most important lesson I was ever to learn in my missionary life, I learned that day: that Christianity, by its very essence, is a message that can be accepted–or rejected; that somewhere close to the heart of Christianity lies that terrible and mysterious possibility of rejection; that no Christianity has any meaning or value, if there is not freedom to accept it or reject it. It is not an automatic thing, coming like a diploma after four or eight years of schooling and examinations, or after one year of instruction. It must be presented in such a way that rejection of it remains a distinct possibility. The acceptance of it would be meaningless if rejection were not possible. It is a call, an invitation, a challenge even, that can always be refused. The Christianity of a born Catholic or of a produced Catholic (the result of an automatic baptism following a set period of instructions) which is never once left open to the freedom of rejection, to the understanding that it is a thing freely accepted or rejected–is a dead and useless thing.Since that day, I have never seen those people of that village again, but I remember them as I remember no other people that I have come across in all my missionary years. For me, at least, they are distinct. They are unique. I feel a tremendous respect for them. They taught me something that no other people in Africa have ever taught me.

But it took a long time for that lesson to sink in. Day after day I found myself returning in thought to that moment at high noon in the hot equatorial sun when I heard no! for the first time. And I never remember any other time when the silence and the solitude of the African nights seemed so complete.

(Above photo courtesy of TangoPango)