Jim's Journal - May 2003
How I may report on religion in Britain to an African
Struggle with Dirt
Do you know Inglis?
4 months into a study programme
Bible teaching programmes
Pray with me
Please receive another Journal from me. I have now been back in Africa for just over a month. Please pray for my imminent America-trip. I am due to leave for the US on 11th June, to return to Kenya on 2nd July. In that time I will be attending the Church of God convention at Anderson, Indiana, and also spending about 10 days visiting relatives in the US.
Thanks again to all those who were a great help and support to me while I was in UK. Thanks especially to Derrick and Margaret Faux who gave me the run of their home so I was very well looked after for the three months while I was studying at Birmingham university.
I have found all well at home. The thieves who came on 4th February have not returned. We are also taking some steps to improve security.
I had hardly watched any TV since reaching the UK. This particular evening, I had had enough of study so I turned on the box. Scientific reasoning was being marshalled to present a case for the non-existence of God. Gullible young people may have believed this stuff and thus been deprived of the chance of putting their lives right with God!
It is incredible to see the extent to which such beliefs have taken a hold of British people. Centuries and generations of active debate and people who have given their lives to God's service have apparently been forgotten in this façade of objectivity that sets out to immunise Brits against considering the meaning of life. How long will this deceit go on? How long will European people continue to allow their children to be lead astray in this way?
Weapons inspectors not finding weapons does not mean that they are not there, we have been told. Yet when God inspectors say he is not there, some people believe them?!
Will God listen to 'but I never knew because nobody told me'? Or will he say 'you should have opened your eyes, it was pretty obvious?' Who doesn't share in the guilt of allowing our children to be brought up believing a lie?
Perhaps God will hold us accountable for denying those little ones the opportunity of ever coming to know and love him. They may eventually hold us accountable 'mummy (daddy), why didn't you tell me anything about my father in heaven, so that I went through the whole of my life as if he was not there'?
Surveys tell us that many Brits profess faith in God. Yet it seems that they prefer to know less rather than more about him. God has come to be distant. People doubt whether he is able to impact their day to day lives or is really concerned about their existence.
Peoples focus is on lesser spirits. These are of many types and varieties. Animal spirits are popular. The British people's relationship with animals is an intricate and often affectionate one. Open areas in British towns and cities are frequently populated with people keeping company with dogs. People will talk with animals as though they are people though they know that they will not be answered (Isaiah 44:18).
Rural areas are held in high esteem. These serve as sanctified territory to be admired and visited at weekends, especially during the warm times of the year. Hills are particularly favoured places to walk around, with or without dogs. Some people travel long distances in their cars, perhaps 10 miles or more, just to walk on some hallowed rural ground.
Older people are found in large numbers at other sites such as 'hospitals' (where various rituals are performed for them) and some slightly different ones called 'hospices'. The infirm aged are cared for until they die by numerous young women, who are paid for their services and may not be family members at all. There is little mention of God in such places. Individuals are left to struggle with their own thoughts, although male or female priests may be on hand for those who seek their attention.
Food is very important for the British people. Kitchens (in which you can find both men and women) may contain vast quantities of food, some of which may not be eaten for months or even years. All sorts of machines are used to help in cooking.
There are many places for worshipping God. Anglican churches are particularly common. Many people are more concerned to preserve church buildings as memorials attesting to a prior golden age, than actual testimony to the glory and power of God. There are nowadays also numerous other worship centres brought in by immigrants from all over the world who are given great freedom to express their beliefs as they choose.
In conclusion one could say that the British are a very industrious people who enjoy thinking profoundly (all be it often quite narrowly) about a whole variety of theological issues, but who are confused as to what to believe. There is great need to bring 'hope' through the eternal Gospel of Jesus Christ. He who comes with the Gospel however beware - there is a lot of money in the UK that threatens to trap and lead astray, all but the strongest servant of God into its service.
A visitor to Africa from Europe is likely to have to struggle to come to terms with an unfamiliar way of understanding 'clean' and 'dirty'.
Having just come from the UK a number of things to do with life here strike me as dirty. White-washed walls soon turn brown, and no one seems to notice. Nappy-less children have the run of the house. Cooking with solid fuels without a chimney creates smoke in the house. In Tanzania dust often blows in the air. Children's playgrounds being dusty, resulting in dusty children. Chickens run everywhere. Houses and compounds may have mud floors. Lawns tend not to thrive. Anti-deodorants are not affordable. Clothing being worn can be used as a substitute for handkerchiefs. And so it goes on.
On the other hand, there are ways in which people are very clean indeed. Most people wash themselves thoroughly on a daily basis. Clothes worn to public events are typically not only very clean but also carefully ironed. Toilets are outside and not inside houses.
'Cleanliness being next to holiness' is understood differently here than in Europe. This does take some getting used to. Pray that such surface matters never be a wedge to separate peoples, all of whom God loves.
Christian mission, despised by many for many decades, has been vindicated by recent world events. It is quite something when failure to engage in mission necessitates billions of pounds in heavy arms to squash an Islamic country into the ground. The world is faced with two choices - the way of love or the way of force. Surely the latter is not the preferred choice!
Christian mission operates in a segment of life that is being pressed into invisibility in Europe and America. Even mission itself has today become confused with 'Westernisation' and current day missionaries are inclined to offer fruits of Western life as the 'mission' product in substitute for the Gospel of Jesus.
Has the tourist-industry realised its dependence on mission - without which 'free' countries like Kenya would now be Islamic states? Have aid agencies realised the degree to which openness to their work arises because fellow - Christians around the world are trusting that they know what they are doing? Have even Muslims realised their debt to Christian missions - whose product these days allows them to thrive in productive economies not of their own making? Has the West sufficiently acknowledged its debt to missions of a distant bygone era, that set the foundations for those things that continue to be valued in Western life up to today?
It is to some I guess ironical, while to others powerful evidence in support of what they believe that - "the stone you builders rejected has become the capstone" (Acts 4:11). The work of God through the Gospel of Christ that Western academia has despised has centre stage in world affairs. The naivety of the blindness of the position taken by Western academia (to who's influence we all subject our children in the prime years of their life) is not short of incredible. Isn't it time academics crawled out of their ivory towered cocoons and tried to see the world from a Godly perspective?
A mystery that has intrigued mankind for centuries, is that God has chosen to work through normal people, with all their vulnerabilities and idiosyncrasies in order to bring the fulfillment of his great plans. Plain people like you and I, are those whom God continues to call to work for him in mission worldwide.
It is rarely realised what a loaded question this (do you know Inglis?) actually is here in Africa.
Life was 'primitive' in the days before Inglis speaking White men came to East Africa, according to many people here. People were naked and had not come to know the Gospel. Hence those days were the 'bad old days'.
Nowadays East Africa is by many people conceptually divided into two. The healthy and wealthy ones who know Inglis and the non-healthy or wealthy ones who aspire to know Inglis! (Plus a number who know Inglis and are hoping to be healthy or wealthy!)
Given a wholistic worldview, the latter group is somewhat cursed, and the former group blessed. This means that to say 'I don't know Inglis' can be like admitting that one is cursed. Given the power of words, admitting that one is cursed is adding to the curse. To admit to not knowing Inglis can be to concede that one is not a Christian.
Yet the Inglis that people know rarely reaches any depths. It is a surface-structure-international-Inglis. It is not a language that connects with the heart or important life events. Attempting to connect it often does more harm than good. That is, categories to not fit and efforts to make them fit given that they are foreign and come through poorly understood Inglis easily bring conflict and dislocation to homes and families, with widely different competing values struggling to find their place in life.
Inglis cannot be used in most day-to-day situations. Its association with what is foreign in general and the desire for wealth and material power in particular, mean that in many circles it is the language of 'snobs' and traitors to the African cause. Its use is often only acceptable in certain professional circles, or when there is a white man present who would be left in the dark if another language were to be used for communication.
A knowledge of Inglis terms and grammar does not of course equate to a knowledge of Inglis usage in Europe or a knowledge of the white man's culture. A misleading surface level of mutual understanding hence easily results in the greatest strain in relationship being not with the relatively uneducated, but between the educated African person and the Westerner. Hence ironically (and much to the chagrin of many educated people) while Inglis knowledge enables some 'meeting of minds' between Africa and the West, it is often its absence that results in 'meeting of hearts'.
Difficulties in translation and the absence of the content found in African languages means that Inglis is often the language of escape from rather than constructive engagement with day-to-day existence. This escape is enabled for many by resources that come onto the Continent through aid and other means that can make someone independent of their family or local community - at least in their earlier years. Unfortunately when they do 'go back' to their people in later life, such are then relatively ignorant of their people's ways.
The demand for learning Inglis is high, as are the potential material rewards for doing so. Hence some people will go to extraordinary lengths in order to get a grasp on this European language. Children and young people spend years and years in school, at the end of which sometimes almost the only significant benefit they may have acquired is a rather Africanised knowledge of Inglis.
The implicit orientation to the West in all this activity is of dubious long-term help. What is created is not healthy interdependence with Western nations, but simply one way dependence on what comes from 'outside'.
What has all this got to do with mission and the work of the church? It raises one big question - on which side is the mission input to fall? Is it an escape from real life with wealthy and healthy 'snobs' teaching things that are barely understood and rarely applicable to day to day life? Or is it to be building an indigenous church oriented to God and not to the West, that makes deep and powerful sense to peoples normal existence? For it to be the latter, has major implications for mission strategy.
Note I am not trying to imply by all of the above that Inglis is 'THE problem' without which East Africa would be thriving and prospering. Rather that a reduced emphasis on Inglis would result in more challenges being in people's own hands rather than those of foreigners and would open up the potential, given the growth of the church, for changes and growth on the basis of peoples' own initiatives instead of those of foreigners.
The programme of study that I have embarked on with Birmingham University, and which I am still considering as to whether I should continue with, is throwing up some important challenges.
I have learned many things in the course of my work with people and interaction with churches in Africa over the last 15 years. My learning process has evolved through listening to and interacting with people. What I find and have found is not always in line with current trends in the academic field. Yet the academics are unlikely to be satisfied should I say that 'these are things that I have picked up over the years.' They are going to want some kinds of hard-evidence!
How can I provide hard-evidence of the contents of the undercurrents that I perceive in African life? Surveys and questionnaires are all too likely to pick up the chopping of the water by the winds of change, and not deep under-flowing movements. I do not want to be known as 'researcher', as I am here as a Christian to proclaim the grace of God and not the wonders of academics.
I have not yet found solutions to these dilemmas. At the same time I am motivated to continue to follow this formal research programme if at all possible. This in the hope that I may be able to make a contribution through these studies to the growth of the Kingdom of God here on the African continent, and to a betterment of relations between the church here in Africa and that in the West.
We are ready to open KIST (Kima International School of Theology) on 6th May 2003. I am to teach on 'elders' counsel', in the course of which we invite some local church leaders to KIST so that our students can fire them with questions related to 'holiness and healing'. I will then discuss the answers we receive with the students, requiring them eventually to write a research report. The other course is on languages and looking especially at the use of African languages in expressing theology.
At YTC (Yala Theological Centre) I am due to teach a course on 'Money and Wealth for Christians' at three centres, being Malanga, Lihanda and Marenyo - respectively 12 miles, 5 miles and 2 miles from my home. I would value your prayer for this teaching in an environment where much problem-solving is understood more through chasing away devil(s) than through gaining understanding.
We continue to work closely with locally based church groups. These tend to be the most extreme in their lack of Christian orthodoxy, but have a certain stability in being oriented more to God and less to the West by comparison with other churches. Groups like the Roho churches are deeply committed to understanding the Gospel in the context of local culture. This link with such groups is especially helped with our Director being a Roho man.
More and more apparently, a key to our success in working in the local environment is carefully selected but frequent attendance at funerals. This point was driven home to me yesterday on visiting some students, whose main issue was that they had not seen anyone from YTC at a recent family funeral. Fortunately our last term's teacher and director had attended this funeral but were not seen due to the size of the crowd. They were able to demonstrate having been there by recalling some key things that had happened. The need to attend so many funerals is ironical, considering that our aim is to turn people from fear of the dead and witches to fear of God! It seems that one cannot ignore the existent culture, even if one aims to tell people of an alternative pathway!
Non www.dala-maler.com mondo iyud wach Nyasaye moket manyien pile e Dholuo. (See www.dala-maler.com for a sharing of God's word in Dholuo that is posted new every week).
I sometimes get very concerned that I am being dishonest. Please let me explain.
1. I have a lot more money
than most people here and my skin colour identifies me with the wealthy
of the world.
2. People see me as someone who they can learn from, so as also to acquire such wealth.
3. That means that when I speak, be it in a church or anywhere else, people easily come to be trying to interpret what I say in terms of how to become wealthy.
4. I am a Christian. To me material wealth is not the most important thing in life. Most important is my relationship with God.
5. Even if I explain number 4, people find this hard to believe, and may suspect that I am trying to deny them access to the white peoples' source of riches.
6. Even if I say exactly the same words as an African colleague might, and in the same situation - I am still going to be understood differently because of who I am.
7. Whatever I say, if wealth doesn't materialise subsequently, then it is as if I have been telling lies or being deceptive. This is hardly a good testimony to give!
What options then do I have?
A. Say nothing.
B. Say nothing of God's love, grace, or healing power. These are the areas that are easily misunderstood. Yet it is exactly these things that people are interested in hearing.
C. Accept that whatever I say will always be promoting the Prosperity Gospel, and trust that God will have his way of helping people gain an understanding beyond this.
D. The above situation can be helped if I keep to as low as possible a standard of living, in an attempt to show people that I genuinely am not interested in acquiring money or power.