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Jim's Journal - September 2002

When a woman of 60 Hops around the Church

In this church, in which the pastors are women, everyone gets the chance to share a word of testimony every week.

One woman had stood at the front ready to do this when a lady of 60 (or so) sprang from her chair and began crashing around the church. The children got up and deserted their seats as she approached them arms stretched forward. A little while later she began hopping aggressively into the air with both feet together. "Hop … hop …. hop … " and thus she continued perhaps for a full minute before standing and beginning to prophesy. She repeated this a few times. I watched closely. She was not out of breath at all!

This is one of the powerful spectacles that continues to draw people to worship here week by week. Women and men in trance-states, that they claim are brought on in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, enable them to accomplish great physical feats. Often they spin around with arms stretched upwards, then stop and stand steady without being out of breath in the slightest. Throngs of people are easily impressed and join such groups, with little regard for Christian doctrinal correctness.

"I love AICs"

AICs (African Indigenous Churches) are one of three broad categories of churches found in Kenya. Foreigners easily consider them 'strange' in what they do. They are perhaps the most distant in their practices from what goes on in the West.

The faith and practice of many African church groups is such that the white man comes to be almost divine. Not so for AICs. They have a degree of genuineness in what they do that is impressive. They do not always think in modern ways. Pray for us as we work with them in YTC. Pray for us to know when we are there to learn, and what we have to teach.

Bike to Wheelbarrow

Standing poised on my bike ready to take off again, suddenly a hand belonging to the pusher of the wheelbarrow passing me entered my field of vision, stretched out in a greeting! A fraction of a second was all I had to decide whether to ignore the hand at risk of causing offence, or to return the well meaning offer of greeting despite the fact that my body was poised to continue my journey. I reached and responded to this warm companionable signal being extended to me, then proceeded to loose my balance and fall into the wheel barrow! I am not sure who was the more embarrassed at this sequence of events - myself or the friendly wheelbarrow pusher. Fortunately I emerged largely unscathed to continue my journey to our Malanga Bible class on the Monday morning!

Moral of the story - don't fall into wheelbarrows!

Why More Study?

Hearing of my plans to spend January to March 2003 back in the UK some people may be asking themselves "why does Jim want to go back to university again?" And then they may ask "why at Birmingham?"

My overwhelming reason is that I want to be able to communicate what I have learned here in the past 14 years to a wider audience. I long to be able to explain the ways that God has lead me here in Africa back to 'my own people' and to the wider missionary world. I would like to work through and set out clearly those things that God has taught me in my years living closely to the African people, so that others can benefit and God's work in Africa can go forward more effectivelly.

Also to help me to communicate the Gospel more effectively here in Africa. I am facing many obstacles and difficulties in the work. I am not the first to do so! Better men than I have laboured under the missionary task for many years. Many have recorded their efforts and the results of their exploits in writing. I hope that drawing on this wider experience will greatly improve my effectiveness in the work here.

I have had links with the Centre for Missiology and World Christianity of Birmingham University for many years, during which time I have been having occasional correspondence with Dr. Allan Anderson who is to be my main supervisor. I presume this is partly why Birmingham university has agreed that I can be allowed to write my thesis from overseas, spending only the initial 3 months actually at Birmingham. My topic is proposed as Christian Mission in Africa that follows Indigenous Meaning Systems and should take a minimum of 6 years of part-time study to complete.

My priority here in Africa is the mission work that I am engaged in. Although on the whole I perceive that these studies will be very complementary to this work, should there be a clash of priorities then I would rather drop the studies than compromise on my missionary role.

Wife Finding Crisis!

Being a stand-in-father for 13 children, and observing the lives also of other young people in Africa has made me realise that we are currently facing a crisis in courting procedures on this Continent.

Pressure from the West has resulted in a lack of respect for arranged marriages. At the same time the notion of 'getting to know one another' by young people without this centering on sexual intercourse seems to be practically unknown. The latter is deeply damaging, spreads diseases and results in unwanted pregnancies.

Young people find themselves in a trap. Strong natural desires orient them to the opposite sex. Some hold it as important to get to know their partner-to-be personally before they get married. Yet having a girlfriend or boyfriend is strongly frowned upon at least in Christian circles (due to the likelihood that fornication is involved). In the past relatives would arrange for partners to be found by sending intermediaries to check up on likely candidates. Some have lost faith in this system because they don't trust the intermediaries.

The advice to young people in the Christian church is confused due to the mix of Western and Christian values. Arranged marriages have had a large place in traditional Africa. Nothing in the Bible suggests that one needs to known one's partner before one gets married (if someone disagrees, please let me know!). Yet published materials on this question almost invariably promote this position due to the strong Western dependency of African Christianity. Young Christians are left hanging not knowing which way to turn. Extra-marital pregnancies continue to abound.

My own view? Arranged marriages are very Biblical (instances of marriages that are described such as those of Isaac, Moses, Hosea are 'arranged' marriages). Marriages in which the partners get to know one another first are not clearly indicated. This latter is a part of Western culture that does not need to be spread around the world with the Gospel.

The Vexed Question of the Inheritance of Widows.

In a society without an effective government-based social security system, the question of the status of widows is invariably a vexed one. In this part of Africa there is a traditional provision for widows to be inherited by a brother-in-law.

'Marriage' of a woman is in this part of Africa into a clan, and not only to an individual. This is supported by the fact that family wealth is traditionally used to acquire a wife. Children born to the couple also come to belong to the family into which the woman has married. They get their inheritance from this family.

Because the marriage agreement is not between individuals but between families, the death of a woman's husband does not nullify her marriage. She remains 'married' to her late husband's family. For such a widow then to find a live-in partner outside of that family is difficult and contentious. Should a widow 'remarry' outside of her late-husband's family, her new-born children will nevertheless continue to belong by law to the original husband's family (and in fact to be children of the original husband).

1 Corinthians 7:39 tells us that a widow is "free to marry anyone she wishes." For the Luo this 'freedom' of choice of men is assumed to be confined to her husband's family. In the Luo sense of the term 'marry', a widow cannot 'remarry' because she remains married. (Her remarrying would imply dowry having to be re-paid, and dowry is on principle only paid once. The dowry being paid in exchange for the woman). Would Paul have put things differently in 1 Corinthians 7:39 if he had been writing to the Luo?

Polygamy is a natural and inherent part of this system of provision for widows. This continues to raise many questions for Christians trying to advocate the monogamous way of life.

No no in Africa

No (ooyo in Dholuo) is a rarely used word.

Words are considered valuable in building and encouraging others. People are very aware of the inherent power in words. Hence the answer to questions is usually 'yes' so as not to dishearten. If 'no' was actually intended, this only comes to be known with time as events unravel.

This becomes apparent in many ways. Many people quickly promise to attend a certain meeting that has been arranged for them. Few or none turn up. Things that people promise to do don't happen, and they are neither apologetic nor offended.

I have come to see this as a different way of using language. I have had to make this adjustment so as to be able to function in Luo society. It is not 'wrong' once one understands what is meant.

This is a hard issue for people who are trying to understand Africa without living with the people or learning their language. The dictionaries say that ee means 'yes' and ooyo means 'no'. Frankly, that is a gross oversimplification. Not realising this can lead to a lot of frustration in working together with the African people.

It is hard for people who assume that direct translation from one language to another is possible. (Unfortunately even people saying 'yes' to Christianity sometimes means very little. Usually time tells. This is a difficult issue for a faith that is said to depend on 'stated belief'.)

Why Women Lead - one theory

Why are there so many women taking leadership in churches these days? A local pastor told me that it is easier to appoint women to lead in churches. This is because men very soon begin to see how the upper hierarchy of the church is enriching itself and either get frustrated or also orient themselves to acquiring wealth. This can result in their leaving the church.

Killer Python Dealt With

Sitting at my local shops a few weeks ago, a good friend who is an assistant pastor surprised me. "The pastor has gone to kill a python" he said. "We saw [in a vision] that this python has been killing people in Bondo" he went on to share "and there is someone who is keeping it and sending it to the well where people get water. It has already killed many people. It can go in broad daylight, grab someone and take them away killing them. The pastor has gone to Bondo to find the person responsible and stop him doing this" I was told.

Race Problems in Africa

People of European origin usually have at least two strongly held values. One is in the equality of all people. Second is that there are things in the West, especially those arising from money and technology, that African people should be benefitting from. These two values are often incompatible.

'Racism' abounds and is not condemned in day-to-day life in Western Kenya. Hence Whites easily get pushed to the front of queues. Children continually make comments on seeing white men, saying 'mzungu, mzungu' (this can mean he who walks around or he who is very clever and wise, but is the general term for 'white man'). People ask Whites for money even without thinking, almost as a reflex action. Whereas the English accept that people want to join their community, many African people are shocked to find that a white man should want to join theirs.

There are good reasons for African people not being quick to accept distant foreigners into their tribes. Ironically, it appears that Brits and Americans are so deeply inculcated with the need to integrate foreigners into their societies (the American melting pot or the British so-called multicultural society) that they continue to do the same thing when abroad! They often do not realise that now they are the foreigners, and need to be incorporated into that society!

European peoples with a wide variety of interests and pursuits while 'at home', easily find all these submerged by a pre-occupation with money and fund-raising when on this Continent. Almost every professional European working around here seems to be majorly pre-occupied in raising and distributing money and foreign things. Local people are receivers, whether in good ways or bad. This high valuation of money and technology adds to the racial-gap. The association between skin colour and role grows stronger and stronger. White and Black grow further and further apart.

Relationship on the basis of equality arises when that which brings relationship is equally accessible to both parties. Such is clearly not the case between Westerners and Africans when it comes to money and technology. Hence racial identity comes to be exaggerated. Equality begins to arise, when the basis of relationship is faith in Christ.

Regular News Updates

I am producing bi-weekly news updates that are being sent out to people by email and then put on display on my web page. Please contact Angela Merridale at if you would like to receive these by email and are not already doing so. A sheet containing this information will be included with this Journal for those who are not receiving the emails. Please contact Angela if either you are receiving this and do not want to, or are not receiving it but want to.

Tanzanian Prospects

From 10th September 2002 up to 9th December 2002 I hope to be working with the Church of God in Tanzania (Kanisa la Mungu Tanzania). The following seminar programme has been planned at the church-centres listed for that time:


13-14/Sept Babati Dakaumo Gorowa
18-22/Sept Babati Babati Babati
24-29/Sept Babati Wagbay Wagbay
2-6/Oct Hanang Kidangu
9-13/Oct Hanang Katesh
15-20/Oct Kondoa
22-27/Oct Babati Endabeg Gorowa
29/Oct - 3/Nov Singida
6-10/Nov Singida Iramba
13-17/Nov Dodoma
20-24/Nov Mbugwe Magugu
26/Nov - 4/Dec Kiru

I greatly value your prayer for this time. The main topic I am taking is Vita na Satani (war against the devil), plus additional seminar times for church leaders in small groups. It is a great privilege to be given such a round of seminars to undertake. Many Tanzanians, some of them KIST graduates, will be joining me in the teaching. (Satani is the overall name given by Tanzanian Christians to include ushirikina (belief in spiritual forces), uchawi (witchcraft), uganga (witchdoctory) etc.)