Jim's Journal - August 2003
It has been a great privilege to again be involved in the teaching at KIST (Kima International School of Theology). Following a transition in Principal, it has been great to find things continuing to go very well. The campus has been peaceful, students have been studious, and I for one have enjoyed the challenge of teaching as well as the privilege of being a part of this community.
I value your prayers for the days ahead as I have again been asked to be acting Dean (vice-principal) from August to December 2003. Pray for 20 to 30 new students expected this September.
The impact of having a motivated teacher continues to be a great encouragement to us in Yala. He has been at KIST studying this term, which means that the teaching load has been shared by our Director and myself, he taking two classes and myself three. We also still have a long way to go. The reputation of 'theology' as being connected to liberalism, secularism and those hungry for prestige rather than those filled with love for God and for people, continues to be there. Pray for this to be overcome.
Our annual YTC (Yala Theological Centre) celebration is to be on 9th August 2003. We have some visitors here from Tanzania who are helping us to close the term and are our guest speakers.
I had a trip to the USA from 11th June to 2nd July. This was an extraordinary experience, including 13 separate flights and seeing relatives as well as spending a week at the annual camp meeting of Church of God in Indiana. Thanks to those in the Church of God who made me so welcome, and thanks also to those many people whose financial contributions made that trip possible.
I am now still trying to live down the after-effects of having been known to have visited the richest country in the world, and then coming home to continue riding the same bicycle and wearing the same worn-out sandals!
Amongst the highlights, it was great to be a part of the induction service of my friend and colleague Steve Rennick, now pastor of Church at the Crossing in Indianapolis. I was able to meet four cousins for the first time ever in my life, as they have lived in Greece, Korea and America. It was also good to get to know their father, my uncle, a bit better. Then my aunt and other uncle had a varied 4-day programme of activities arranged in Florida, including swimming a couple of miles down a river through ancient untouched primary forestland!
Here are the children I have at home and some brief details about them:
Samson (21) is staying here
and finding various means of making small amounts of income.
Esther (19) now stays with us with her one year old baby boy.
Dorcas (14) is soon to begin her final year of primary school.
Christina (5.5) is progressing - now the smallest in the first year class of her primary school.
Okoth (14) nowadays has good health and continues to gain confidence.
Zachary (7) has now begun primary school.
Pamela (18) is now on the first of 2 years of a sewing course.
Melody (16) is also about to enter the final year of primary school.
Diane (15) is proving to be a quiet and contented child.
Ochilo (16) has been growing fast and these days runs many errands.
Okello (14) joined us in December having lost both his parents. He does very well in school.
Saul (11) also joined us in December having lost both his parents. He is cheerful and always ready to help.
Plus some who have left us:
Raymond (23) is now looking
to do teacher training if he can find a place on a course.
Jonas (22) we have pretty much lost touch with.
(False names used)
What is the role of a 'missionary'? It is to take the Gospel to people. What is the Gospel? It is a Greek word that means 'good news'. So what then is the 'good news' that we take to people in Africa?
In many parts of Africa, the dead are not believed to be absolutely dead. Hence some scholars call them the 'living-dead'1. They are considered to be still around. Because they have 'died', these people in fact have powers and abilities that their living brethren who remain do not have.
These living-dead are considered very important in many parts of Africa. In fact, the whole of life can revolve around seeking to please them. Failure to please them results in problems such as illness, death, drought or infertility.
Many strategies are used to please the living-dead so as to bring good health, long life and prosperity. 'Witchdoctors' can be consulted, who have a closer knowledge of the activities of the dead than normal people, and can therefore advise people what they need to do to either please them or deal with the more troublesome ones. Some herbs can counteract the activities of the dead. The living-dead can be consulted for advice on how to do things in life. The living-dead are generally pleased by the more conservative, who do things the way that they 'used to be done'. Hence people follow many taboos laid down by previous generations so to please them. Special care must be taken at someone's death to ensure that they are correctly buried and do not get angry and turn around and trouble people. Other things can be done subsequently to someone's death to please them and send them on their way to the spirit world. If a dead person is angry feasts can be arranged and animals slaughtered to appease them.
Actions that displease the living-dead are known in African languages as 'sin'. People who have done things that are known to be displeasing to the living-dead live in fear of the anticipated revenge. Should something go wrong then the action that caused the displeasure of the living-dead is sought out and must be cleansed by some means. This cleansing can involve many things, including the fulfilling of certain rituals, the sacrifice of animals, arranging feasts, confession and repentance.
Missionaries are those who take good news into such a situation. African people have long believed in God, but the missionary advocates faith in God. The Christian missionary is aware that God is more powerful than the living-dead. This is not always easy for people to believe, as they constantly see the actions of the living-dead in taking revenge and causing difficulties. Hence it takes considerable strength of conviction for people to believe that God, who is held by many people to be distant and unconcerned, is sufficiently bothered about them to be ready to listen to their problems and intervene in their daily affairs. Also sufficiently powerful to counter the actions of the living-dead!
It is not easy for the great, mighty and holy God to get involved in the affairs of men. The Christian Scriptures show us that God can get very frustrated with men's wiley ways. It has not been easy for a great and holy God to draw near to men who deceive him and are selfish and greedy. God's love however was so great that he was ready himself to die so as to overcome those living-dead that so trouble mankind! Jesus is God, who died on the Cross and rose again from the dead!
This is the good news that missionaries take to Africa, and missionaries from Africa to elsewhere in the world, and that has been borne by Christians for many generations. For many African people the good news is that God is concerned and able to save them from the oppressive power of those living-dead who intend evil for them. This is a tremendous relief for them. When people realise this, they move their allegiance from the living-dead to God. This is no quick and easy task. People often repent long and often for those things in their lives that continue to show their adherence to the dictates of their ancestors. When they repent with their hearts, God hears, God forgives, and God gives new life everlasting.
This task of taking the good news to people is incredibly important. It is the only way in which people can be set free from the hold of the living-dead. Once set free, there is an enormous task that follows of living a new way of life according to God's commands. It is hard for people to believe that God is really so forgiving. When things go wrong it looks as if the living-dead have come back in force and again brought their negative influence into the situation. Hence the work of a missionary is not a temporary thing. The work never ends, as long as people are alive who need an example of a life of faith, and to listen to words from God (especially from the Bible, God's word).
Once set free in this way from the bonds of evil powers, people are enabled to live fulfilled Godly lives. In practice this requires an ongoing, continuous or daily rededication to the God of the universe, and much time in talking with him in our hearts. Those new believers are challenged to share their new faith and to live closely with others who have also believed in the power of God. This is again no easy task, and requires much dedication.
The Gospel is just as relevant to the (so called) Western world. Some people in the West are deceived into thinking that just because they have all sorts of technology, medicine and money they will not have problems. When they do have problems they think that the technology will save them. In practice technology gives at best a temporary relief. The good news is that God longs for people to turn to him, enter into relationship with him, and gain a peace in their heart that is not only dependent on money and things.
These days there is much talk of Islam. It would seem that the author of the Koran did not like the idea of people being forgiven for what they do wrong. Hence the Koran tells us that Jesus never made it to the cross, but that someone else took his place and was killed instead of him (Koran, sura 4, aya 157-158). According to Muslims Jesus is still alive and walking around somewhere.
It is not only for Muslims, but also for many other people hard to accept that people can be forgiven. Some people prefer a life of being frightened or of shutting their eyes to the truth, to that of trusting that God really can forgive them. The good news that is taken to Africa, to the West, to Muslims and elsewhere is that God can forgive people if they would only accept the truth of the death and coming back to life of his son Jesus.
1. See the writings of John Mbiti.
Most people in the history of mankind have taken life as a mystery. We don't even choose to be born, we hang around for a while, then sooner or later we are daisy pushing. Humankind has thus been seriously pre-occupied attempting to identify the relationship between frail conscious existence and the reality of temporality with some greater order or plan!
Now wouldn't it be incredible if instead of this some people would consider that the very purpose of life, is none other than life itself! All attempts at reconciliation with eternal mysteries would be sidelined in favour of maximising physical advantage in this brief stopover on earth. Now imagine not one, two or a dozen people who are this way oriented, but millions of people who are driving the Western world!
Just imagine the effects of this life's focus, not on spiritual reality, but on passing physical pleasures and the material world! Just imagine those people co-operating in an enormous vision of changing the world around them from being their master to being their slave. (Temporarily of course, for those few years they have been given). Just imagine that this focused effort at ignoring their hearts and souls for the sake of such a vision worked, and great strides were made in bringing the world into a subject position!
What an embarrassment! The rest of the world is now constantly interrupted in the great ancient task by those who seek ceaselessly to convince them that carnal passing pleasures are not temptations to diverge from the course, or a passing phase, but are themselves the be-all and end-all in life! It is hard for some people to believe that such an inherently immoral and short-sighted position could even be considered, never mind advocated.
"We must help the African people to understand science" said my fellow traveller on a recent internal flight in the USA. This to her was clearly the contribution required from the West to enable the way forward for Africa!
"I have yet to meet an African in Africa who, to my way of thinking, understands science" I shared in response. Is it really helpful to concentrate so hard on teaching something that people don't get to understand?
I could add, that it could be exactly Western intervention that anyway prevents people from getting a grasp on science. 1st, due to the imposition of Western education through which the African people are constantly asked to accept the truth of things that don't make sense in languages that they barely fathom. 2nd, rules of science (and also especially of economics) often come to be contradicted by Western technology. Hence men who shouldn't be able to fly, do fly. Darkness that should conceal, is penetrated by night-viewing goggles. Petrol put into a car doesn't seem to burn, but still makes the car go forward. Hence so-called 'rules of nature' no longer apply. 3rd, the inventive scientist, as also the hard-working entrepreneur, often get know-where in life, whereas the slick-talker for whom being pleasing to powerful people is more important than being honest, strides 'ahead'. 4th, science comes to be identified with what is foreign. Hence revivalist folk movements usually go against it.
It is striking in listening to the immigrant debate in the UK how strongly people want to insist that incoming citizens entering the UK take up 'British values' and the 'British way of life'.
This seems a bit contradictory given how British people spread themselves around the Globe by either moving natives out of the way (e.g. America or Australia) or imposing their own language and way of life onto them (e.g. many countries in Africa)! Is the pot not calling the kettle black?
It is possible for a European to come to Africa, with a pretty clear idea in mind of what project to pursue as his / her ministry to the people. As a Christian this person then expresses his voracity for Christian love in the energy that he or she puts into the project.
This project may be church planting, medical work, educational, agricultural etc. In every case the effect of the presence of the project is to focus all resources and energy in that particular direction.
What happens if one's project' is to love the people, and one's primary resource is, well, oneself and God's Word alone?
Someone coming to African knowing the major project they are to be involved in, had already made the major decision about ends before they come. They are left now with devising and implementing the means to that end. This is something that Westerners seem to be particularly good at.
As an end justifies the means, so a project provides the ethical justification for all kinds of things. Efficiency in the running of the project being tantamount, requires an efficient communication system, which these days implies a lot of electronic equipment connected to international networks, using international languages etc. This is particularly important for fund-raising, a vital activity for those seeking to fulfil pre-established ends. A comfortable life is essential for efficient working and so as to be able to entertain foreign visitors to feel at home.
What happens if love is the aim, and the other ends and means are initially left open? When there is no pressing project that is desperately dependent on overseas inputs, the ethics of the situation change. Maintaining distance with the people is no longer justified as a necessity to run the project, so the challenge comes to be one of living with them. The question 'how do I live' as a loving example in this community' looms large.
The importance of complying with a people's norms becomes especially evident in terms of replicability. My giving an amazing example of sacrificial love is hardly very helpful to people in the long term if the means for that come from a foreign culture that they do not share or foreign resources that they do not have access to.
The pressure is then on from the community for compliance. This is not unusual. A French person living in Britain would be under just the same pressure to conform unless they were to live in an isolated ghetto. When the culture is very different, that which one is under pressure to conform to comes to be very foreign to one's previous way of life. Failing to conform maintains one's marginal status. Coming to conform, so as to be able to show love from the inside, involves radical shifts in behaviour and values.
A project enables one to stand aloof as a privileged foreigner. It can avoid the question of 'what would Jesus do in this situation' or 'what is the way of love given these circumstances'? (It would appear that the greatest thing one can do to show love in this community is to attend funerals!)
If there are a lot of people stuck in a hole who can't get out, how do you show love to them? You can throw them bits of food. Or you can get into the hole with them to comfort and assure them. After all, the only person who really knows how to get out of a hole, is he who has been in a hole.