Baba's Love (Bill and Cristy Millington) - A Review
BABA’S LOVE. By Bill and Cristy Millington. Meadville, PA: Christian Faith Publishing, 2017. 165 pages.
Christianity is a global faith, with missionaries going out across the world, sometimes evangelizing and sometimes providing caring missions. Different traditions have different perspectives on these matters. My tradition focuses on partnering with indigenous churches and ministries, rather than engaging in missionary driven church planting. Other traditions go about this differently. There are legitimate questions to be raised about missionary efforts, some of which have, especially in the past, shown little respect for the people or the cultures to which missions are being sent. We can have a conversation about the appropriate way such efforts are undertaken, while also hearing the stories of people feeling called to cross cultures and share the gospel in deed and in word. Most undertake such work at great cost to themselves but engage in it because of a love of God and of the people to whom they are sent. Christians need to remember that ours is a missionary religion (read Acts).
With that introduction, I turn to Baba's Love, a book written by a childhood friend and his wife. One of the benefits of Facebook is it allows old friends to reconnect, even if we've not seen each other for decades. Many years ago, I lived in Mount Shasta, California. I left Mount Shasta when I was 9, so that was a long time ago. But, Bill was one of my friends. We were in the classes and the same Cub Scout den. Several years ago, we reconnected on Facebook. I knew he and his wife were missionaries in Africa, teaching in a Bible College in the central part of the country. Knowing that I write reviews on my blog Bill asked if I might review this book written with his wife, telling the story of their time spent in Nigeria as missionaries, and the child they adopted. I agreed to do so.
This book is the story of the Millingtons call in mid-life to leave the comforts of their American homes and move to Central Nigeria, where they served with a mission organization, teaching in their college and assisting with ministry in any way possible, including finding ways of providing much needed medical supplies to the people. Standing at the center of the book is their assignment to care for a young child born prematurely to a mother who died in child-birth. They take on the role of caregiver, fall in love with this child, a boy named Haruna, and ultimately decided to adopt him (even though they already have grown children). Adoption requires the adoptive parents to go through numerous bureaucratic efforts on both the Nigerian and American sides. They need to get permission to adopt from the extended family and from Haruna’s Nigerian father. Ultimately all works out and they bring Haruna home with them.
The title comes from the Igala word for father, and in this book the word refers to several fathers. First it refers to God, whom they are called to serve. It is also the word that Haruna uses to address Bill, his adoptive father. It also refers to Haruna’s natural father, whom he comes to love and respect as well. Thus, all that happens is an expression of Baba’s love.
There are many ups and downs to this story, but it all works out in the end. That is part of the story, but the other part of the story is the growing and deepening love and respect that the Millingtons have for the people of Nigeria, whether Christian or Muslim. It’s important to remember that the Millingtons are white middle-class Americans, who hail from the Pacific Northwest. Thus, they are white evangelical American Christians, who go as missionaries to a foreign land. As they do so, they are transformed by their encounter with the people of Nigeria. Numerous times in the book they record that their hosts are amazed that they are willing to eat the food and share life in ways that apparently most American missionaries had not. What I appreciate here is that the Millingtons show respect for people whose religion is not the same as theirs. Yes, they evangelize, but they also speak of their encounters with their Muslim neighbors with respect. They take note of the Muslim calls to prayer, which come early in the morning, but do so without any sense of annoyance. It's just part of their experience.
Bill and Cristy admit they’re not professional authors, and it shows. This isn’t a perfectly written or edited book (the publisher is one often seen in TV commercials, offering support for Christian authors to essentially self-publish. So, if you are annoyed by grammar issues, you may stumble as you read along. I could have copy-edited the book as I read, but I would have missed the spirit of the book. I will confess to having some theological differences with Bill and Cristy, but I enjoyed the story. This is a human story about two Christians who love God and follow a calling to leave behind their lives in America to go far away, and in the course of the journey are transformed. They have returned home, to Alaska, where they have made their home. In a note Bill shared that Haruna has been diagnosed with Sickle-Cell Anemia, so there is concern on that front. Nonetheless, this is a good story to tell. Besides, for me, it was good to get better reacquainted with an old friend!