Jim's Journal - December 2002
Welcome to this Jim's Journal, that marks the end of 2002. As I write, I have 2 weeks remaining of my time here in Tanzania. We are about to embark on the 11th of 12 seminars. Thank-you for your prayers for the work here, and the many doors of sharing that have been opened. The seminars have been going well. Every place we go to is different and brings its particular challenges. It is a privilege to be invited into so many homes, and to have so many opportunities to share from God's word.
Give thanks also for the privilege I have had of working so closely with Tanzanian believers. My colleagues, with whom I have been travelling and sharing the teaching with, have been a great inspiration and support to me. Many Christian people have welcomed us warmly into their homes to eat, rest and sleep.
I hope to return to my home in Kenya on 5th December. Then in early January I will come back to the UK to begin my studies at Birmingham that will go through to the end of March. I will then again be based at KIST except for a 3 week trip to the USA to attend a Church of God conference (and to visit relatives) in June 2003.
This Journal comes with good wishes for Christmas to all.
My joy at finding weekly newspapers in Tanzania devoted to Christian news was quickly coupled with amazement at the kinds of issues being addressed. Is this a sample of genuine African expression of Christianity?
Two newspapers called Msema Kweli (the speaker of truth) and Nyakati (chronicles) are both in the Kiswahili language. I imagine that being able to use a non-western language gives the writers and editors freedom to express themselves openly with minimal response and redress from a critical Western Christian readership!
The Msema kweli especially makes for an amazing read. Stories in the last few weeks include the man who, before he became a Christian, had married a dog. The new religion that uses both the Bible and Koran, and can transport its people over hundreds of miles in a few minutes. A man who manages to preach even though he has no tongue. A woman who submits a variety of remains from the bodies of people she has killed by witchcraft (25 people in all) for burning by the church when she becomes a Christian.
In addition to such startling headlines the newspapers carry reports on Christian meetings, preaching, conversions, repenting, healing, singing and teaching. While some of the content is somewhat amazing, all in all it is a great joy to find Tanzanian Christians expressing themselves so vibrantly in their own language (Kiswahili) in their own newspaper!
Putting Girls In
On travelling widely one realises that the critical issues people are facing around the world vary from place to place. The most unlikely behaviour may be that which is causing much dispute and division in a community. Such is the practice of putting girls in (kuwaweka wasichana ndani) for the Burunge of Tanzania with whom we spent 5 days holding a seminar in October 2002.
The Burunge people have practiced this since ancient times. On the onset of the first signs of puberty Burunge girls have traditionally been shut into an inner room of their parent's house where they were to remain out of sight to the wider world for two calendar years before being released to be married. While in isolation the girls wore only one item of clothing to cover their genitals. During this time they received instruction and were circumcised. I was told that it was intended in this way for girls to grow fat. A girl who had not gone through this was not respected.
This seemed to be issue number one for Burunge Christians! Many Christians are taught that putting their daughters through this routine is not right, and it is to follow the teaching of the devil. Not to do so on the other hand, is to be despised by the community and to make it extremely difficult for your daughter to be respectably married. Hence at the same time as being widely condemned by Christians, even the pastors daughters are likely to be put through such a rite - although these days for considerably less than two years.
Kitchen - the best place to be! (August 2002)
4½ year old Christina was upset, sobbing and crying. I picked her up and consoled her. In time, I took her into my office and had her sitting on my lap as I went on with my studies. Then in due course "I want to go to the kitchen" she said.
I came to realise that our kitchen is quite a fascinating place! Men and boys over 12 on principle are excluded. There are many good reasons for this. Women roll up their skirts revealing rather too much as they sit on the floor feet straight out with the object of their efforts (e.g. cooking pot) between their legs. On a good day the kitchen is full of various legs pointing in numerous directions sometimes overlapping and seemingly confused.
"There was a chicken sitting next to the pot in which a chicken was being cooked" had been the apt observation of a recent female visitor from England brave enough to spend time in the kitchen. Chickens, cats, babies, various insects and bugs, girls and women all get mixed up with knives, pots, pans, spoons, stoves and low stools scattered around the available floor space. Lighting being by one paraffin lamp strategically (or otherwise) located makes the kitchen into a lively and colourful performance of various grades of shadow dancing hither and hither.
Added to the occasional clunk of stirring spoons, rasping of knives cutting vegetables, sizzle of fat and frother of boiling water is the crackling of charcoal and the gushing sound of the paraffin stove. To this can be added the occasional gentle rhythmic clucking of chickens and cheeping of chicks, crying and warbling of babies, singing of toddlers to teenagers, laughter and twitter.
Last but far from least the animated story telling and exaggerated gossip of the women present make this the 'night-school' for the African children where they come to learn what really matters about life! Kitchen-women have the gift of talking and laughing for hours upon end without their conversation topics ever running dry. Another bonus to add to all the above of course is the likelihood of bits of food being available to be quickly popped away by little children at almost any time.
How do I know all this? Largely conjecture of course, although I have been known to eavesdrop on kitchen-conversations, and am rather impressed by Christina's eagerness to be where the action is! She obviously finds it a more interesting place than my office.
'Symbiosis' - is this a model for understanding the World Church of Today?
Examples of inter-specific symbiotic relationships abound in the animal and plant kingdoms. With symbiosis comes dependency. Nitrifying bacteria are dependent on the legumes, and the legumes on the bacteria. Maize, domestic cattle and chickens all cannot thrive without the help of human beings. Ruminants can only digest grass with the help of enzymes produced by bacteria.
A comparable relationship has arisen between the churches in Africa and those in the West. It seems that none can survive without the other! The West needs African Christian to be 'the poor' so as to have an object for their charity. The African church needs the resources of the Western church in order to continue to function in the way it has been set up to by its parent in the West.
Once established such a relationship is difficult to break apart. If its end ever comes it will bring great pain to one or both parties. Children grown together do not easily forget one another.
There is much talk of breaking the dependence of the African church on the West. Often the talk is empty. When one hand withdraws funds (such as support for pastors) very often another provides it (such as support for a pastor's child, that turns out to be enough to keep the whole family.)
Unfortunately the current volatility in world relationships shows the vulnerability that results from such 'symbioses'. Trying to wean the child makes him cry and the parent sad. Which way forward?
The Best Educated Nation in Africa?
Tanzania's language policy has perhaps been the most successful across the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. The late-President Nyerere's decision to make an African language the language of all official affairs was monumental. Its implementation seems to have been largely effective.
European languages used by (almost?) all other African governments for official business, have the great drawback of being inaccessible to much of the population. The spread of these languages is hindered by many factors including their foreignness (and therefore indecipherability) and at least in much of East Africa their association with colonialism, foreign domination, pride and snobbery that deter the man on the street from using them.
Unlike in much of Africa, many Tanzanian children use the same language (Kiswahili) in playing with their friends, in listening to the radio, in travelling to the city, and often even at home - that they then go on to use in school! This means that they are taught in a language that they already understand and are hence much more able to apply what they learn in subsequent day to day life. (There is nothing strange about this for Americans, Brits or even other Europeans - but in Africa this is very rare indeed).
Being literate does not mean being wealthy. That is a more complicated story. It has however perhaps helped the church be more truly indigenous by helping Christians from far and wide to understand one another, and by keeping foreign intervention at a bit of a distance.
(The above conclusions are intuitive and subjective and not based on any statistical or objective research).
It is 14 ½ years since I first came to Africa. In that time I have learned 3 Africa languages. I have left what I thought would be my career for life (agriculture) and gone into Bible teaching and church work full-time. I have lived in an African village for almost a decade. In all this time I have been ministering to the African people as much as I have been able, and I trust this has been effective by the power of God.
Now I am about to embark on another step, that of beginning a research degree. (Part time for 6 years beginning in January 2003). I have not been quick to do this, as I have valued the practical experience that I have been accumulating.
I am proposing that I take this opportunity of doing research to further advance and promote mission in Africa that will result in the building of a strong church of Christ. Of what nature is this to be?
It has been very difficult to communicate the on-the-ground reality that I have found in Africa to Christians in the West. As the years go by some of my convictions are further and further strengthened. It seemed good to share a few of them.
They are convictions that appear self-contradictory. Many people have shared with me, that they do not ring sweetly to the ear of modern man! Sometimes I guess they appear to be harsh, but that does not mean they are not true and important and in the long term vital.
Mission from the West to Africa these days easily goes astray. It is very deeply rooted in Western ways of thinking and functioning. The question 'what would Jesus have done in this situation' an important one. Would Jesus have had time to walk the dusty roads and talk with the people, or would he have been too busy raising money and organising his projects? The Jesus who walked, shared, talked and suffered with the people has been transformed into a Jesus who uses computers and air-conditioned 4WD vehicles and who lives in smart houses with on tap water and electricity separated from the people so that he can arrange heavily financially dependent projects on their behalf.
African Christians see the example of one Jesus in their Bibles, and then have the example of the other one given to them by their role-models from the West. The African church has little choice but to try to follow the model set by the original white occupants of the chairs they are now occupying. The result is vastly expensive and way out of touch with the people's day to day reality.
I could go on to explain the less-than-desirable features resulting from such a way of doing mission. I already have in many of my writings over the years. The major question that then arises is 'so what'? What can one do about it?
I have learned in life that it is usually easy to criticise, but often hard to build. It is not hard to criticise one's fellow missionary, I have discovered, which means that it is probably not hard for him to criticise me either! There are very many good and valid reasons why mission is the way it is today. Allow me to make a few additional suggestions.
Missionaries from the West who are 'poor' are desperately needed. The pre-occupation with money that marks out 'mission' today results in a very poor role model for African people to try to imitate. There is a need for missionaries whose constant agenda, second only to the prescriptions of the Christian faith itself, is to maintain a (materially) low standard of living. They will thus be enabled to perceive 'problems' much more as a local person sees them, to set an example that he can follow, and be much more free in mixing with the people than someone who spends a lot of money can ever be.
I do not by this mean that, say, a German missionary must empty his bank accounts and burn his car before he gets onto the plane for distant African lands. Rather, that he should leave his wealth in Germany and not use it more than absolutely necessary to keep himself in Africa. Success for missionaries must not only be defined by 'projects successfully accomplished'. It is not only the person who has brought the most development to an area, but also the one who managed to live with the people without having to bring a lot of changes who has 'succeeded'! Not only the one who can go from place to place funding projects that warn people about the aids virus, but also the one who talks of the holiness of God, and lives his life accordingly.
Changing ones lifestyle from a Western modern one, to a tropical African one, is not easy. But there are times when wealth is to be apologised for, and not to be proud of. To be kept hidden, and not to be shown off. To be seen as a passing necessity and certainly not as the right and proper way that those we are reaching out to 'should' be living.
I suggest that what is needed for mission in Africa are some missionaries who are ready to provide a base from which others can be supported in a work that takes them close to the people. The primary role for these 'base' people will be looking after other Western missionaries who could not survive without a haven to retreat to, whose role will be to minimise Western trappings in their reaching out to the people. Lets call these the 'contact people'.
The service provided to the 'contact people' will be various. These days email may be one essential. An occasional 'Western' meal. An occasional comfortable bed. A listening ear and comforting voice. Encouragement to them to 'get out there and get on with it' despite the hardships.
The contact people do not need to be thrown out into the soup without an aid. Yet they need to know that their job is not emailing, certainly not fundraising, not project building, not bringing Western enlightenment to the rest of the world, but communicating the Gospel in indigenous ways. Their purpose from the beginning is to be vulnerable and (as far as possible), as poor as the locals.
The ways that they could work in are diverse. They could be nursing people, but without the use of outside medicines or funds. They could be carrying out agriculture, using only a hoe and seeds and plants that someone (local) is ready to lend them. They could be teaching, that must be only in the indigenous tongue and without books from the West. Most of all they could be preaching, Bible teaching (using only the local language Bible without a wealth of commentaries and helps), telling about Jesus and setting an example of living a holy life in the way local people will understand and will be able to follow.
In this way, in time these contact people will begin to understand the problems that local people are facing. Standing in the same place as the local people, indeed their different cultural background may be able to provide answers that local people had not thought of. Then they will be provided in such a way that local people will be able to follow the example set! The church will begin to have an indigenous foundation. God's Kingdom will grow, by the power of his Spirit.
I believe we may soon be seeing a great rise in interest in and commitment to mission from Western nations. This may be the most helpful way in which to engage this new interest.
1. In my view they are vital to the development of a healthy and
The current raised level of awareness of Islam the world over further emphasises the importance of a new approach to missions. It is Christianity historically that has kept Islam at bay. In its essence, if applied in truth, Christianity is I believe the answer to the problems that a Muslim remains with. He does not know the Grace and forgiveness of God. The great weakness of 'world-Christianity' today is its idolatrous addiction to Western culture. Some Muslims are appalled by the immorality (sexual, material etc.) that is associated with Western living. The materialist lifestyle of the West can result in a distorted Gospel going out to the world. Not allowing a faith in Christ to develop that is outside of the West is like denying Muslims their option to salvation in Christ.
2. For example, see the 'articles' section on my web page, www.jim-mission.org.uk.
3. See John 6: 26,27 and 60 "Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the son of man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval." On hearing it many of his disciples said "This is a hard teaching? Who can accept it?"
4. It has been my experience that the running of projects and the developing of close relationships with people are largely incompatible objectives! Rather close involvement with money-dependent projects precludes the possibility of close relationship with the people.
5. Racism is often talked of as a problem in the West. It is often not realised that it is frequently much more exaggerated in the non-West. This will be a healthy step towards its correction.