The point of Biblical Geek is to connect the geeky things we love, with the God who loves us. Given that mission statement, this book is technically a little outside of our purview. However, it is worth writing about because it is a story worth knowing. When it comes to the geeky things we love, the reasons why we love them are because of the characters and the stories they tell. We love stories that have a sense of exploration, a sense of importance, and a sense of adventure. This is a book about an adventure. Rev. Joseph Mulongo, one of the pastors featured in it, even declares the journey this book documents as his “first adventure.” This may not be a book about a geeky subject nature, but it is a book about an adventure. It is a book about a mostly untold story that Christians of all stripes need to hear. As it turns out, this book did have an unexpected and practical application to one of my geeky pursuits. For those most interested in that it is after the more formal review.
The Last Missionary is the autobiographical account of Bob Walters and his 2010 trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He went to bring some supplies, hope, and pastoral care to churches devastated in a war zone that had been isolated for years. Given the condition of this region, the only way to effectively transverse the area was by bicycle. The Last Missionary is the story of a 1,000 km ride through an area of the world that is a mystery to most people.
This book is a travelogue that documents the trip but it is more than that. Walters states up front that is he is borrowing the format of the book from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. This format at first has a stream of consciousness feel to it, as the narrative flows from daily happenings, to memories of previous events, to philosophical ponderings of the larger picture. However, it becomes very obvious that there is a greater structure at work here. Everything builds together throughout the book to tell a fuller, more developed, and more thought out story. This does make the book somewhat hard to categorize. It is a story about a mission trip, but it is also so much more than that. In thinking about this book, I am drawn back to the word adventure. This book is the story of an adventure in the DRC, but it is also the “why” behind the story.
There are several good aspects of this book. The first and most important is that it tells a story that is worth telling. The story of Democratic Republic of the Congo and the work of the Katanga Conference of the United Methodist Church are virtually unknown. The Last Missionary captures a slice of life from a part of God’s kingdom that American Christians have a lot of assumptions about and very little real knowledge about. Walters masterfully does this in such a way that it gives a sense of being there with him as well as delivering an appreciation for the larger context. The book provides a snapshot of Congolese Christianity, which is a different expression of the faith than what is found in American culture. However, this snapshot is provided by an American so Walters is able to frame the snapshot in a way that American readers can relate.
Another good aspect of this book is the thoughtful critique it delivers on the western Christianity approach to missions. This critique is well thought out, well argued, and the experiences of the journey provide the perfect anecdotes to back up his arguments. I appreciate that this critique is grounded in scripture, but it also relies on sound scholarship such as the pedagogy of Paulo Friere.
The Last Missionary tries to weave a personal travel narrative, with greater cultural context, with theological reflection. This is a tall order and for the most part Walters does a good job at managing this mix. However, I do think that the book is a little short on the theological reflection piece. A good example of this is how Walters treats the question “did Jesus address the issue of patronage in his time and place?”
Through several pages Walters explained the patronage system, how it was present in the first century, how it was present in the Congo, and how it has hampered missional efforts. There was a lot of build up to this question, and Walters dealt with it in only a single page. He effectively answered the question with two paragraphs and I felt like each paragraph could have been a full chapter in its own right. Perhaps one of the goals of the book was to have a broader appeal, but I personally wish the more academic and theological points the book addresses were a bit more developed.
This is a story that needs to be told and this is a story that needs to be heard. The Last Missionary is an easy and engaging read. Even though I wanted more details about the theological reflections, Walters does a commendable job at relaying these deep thoughts in a way that anyone can digest. I highly recommend this book to any believers because it provides a heart opening view of the wider Christian world. The Last Missionary by Bob Walters is published by Dog Ear Publishing and is available through Amazon.
The Geeky Connection
As I stated in the introduction, this book did have an unexpected geeky connection. That connection for me was with dungeons and dragons. I am the game master for D&D quite a bit, and I struggle with how to portray medieval fantasy worlds. More often than not we tend to portray them as American small towns with a lower technology level. However, the descriptions of the village life, geography, and culture of rural Africa is probably a lot more authentic. I was not expecting this as a side effect, but I think reading this book will cause me to be better at world building in role playing games. For those who play RPGs this is icing on the cake for reading an already excellent book.