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Jim's Journal - November 2003


Why So Complex?
The Purpose Driven Life - on trial in Africa
Meeting the Needs of the Poor
Monism and Monotheism
Be Holy
Fishing Philosophies Fundamental Failure!
Computer ministry opportunity …
YTC Report
Thanks for Prayers

Dear Friends,
This latest Journal comes with CHRISTMAS WISHES well in advance!

Why So Complex?

I am aware that my Journals must appear to be complex at times. Why is this?

I do not see an alternative. Simply taking the Gospel to Africa in a British way, leaves the church looking like a strange British thing in Africa. Indigenous churches must similarly look foreign to those who are British. So I could talk about the differences without explaining them, or I could do that which would be familiar to thc West and add to confusion in Africa. Instead I choose to try and do the African thing, and then have to explain to folks 'back home' why I am not doing what they might expect me to do!

It would be deceptive not to be complex.


I alluded to this in a recent 2-weekly-email. Here are a few more details to those who are interested. The below seems to apply to much of Southern and Eastern Africa

The banana cord is to be broken by a man who sleeps with her over a number of days. The word that means 'to break' in Dholuo (chot) also means 'to have sex with'. At this time the woman and the man who has inherited her shave one another and share in the eating of a chicken.

The man who thus inherits a woman should be her in-law, on the clan basis. That is, someone with a mutual grandparent or great grandparent to her husband. In some parts of Africa a large payment is required from the woman to her husband's family in order for her to be inherited and thus cleansed.

Unfortunately relationships often deteriorate quickly between a woman and her in-laws on the death of her husband. This is especially because she is technically the property of her husband's family, meaning that should he die they can rightfully take whatever wealth she has accumulated with him. Children also belong to the husband's family. The need for cleansing becomes particularly onerous when those who are expected to do the cleansing are seen by a woman as her 'oppressors'! Because of this a woman will sometimes prefer to search for a distant and unrelated man to cleanse her. That then brings problems if she continues to live at her original place (which is likely because this is 'home' for her children with her first husband) because the new husband will not feel at home in this foreign clan area, so that a child born subsequently will not have a residential father. It will be particularly difficult if the child should be a boy, who will not be liked because he will compete with his older brothers for a share in the (original) father's land and estate. (As in the Bible, children born through any sexual union after the death of a woman's first husband are technically considered to be the first husband's children).

This question of the cleansing of widows is a constant issue in church, and no doubt also other circles. Widows are usually not at ease until they have been cleansed. Men doing the cleansing typically already have other wives, who may not appreciate sharing their men with this newcomer. Tensions and jealousy thus arise. This ancient practice is identified by the scientific fraternity as spreading Aids. A woman who has been inherited is likely to get pregnant, often with limited care available from the new husband who has other interests and who is already sharing his time and money with other women.

At the same time this is something that does not go away easily. The care of widows has in the history of mankind frequently been a very sticky issue. Their being inherited in theory at least provides for their care. Such inheritance is advocated in the Bible. It satisfies bodily wants particularly of those widows who are still young. It attempts to ensure that the man who inherits a widow, as he will certainly be related to her children, will not commit incest by having sexual relationships with both mother and daughter. It provides a system of re-incorporating a widow into the flow of society. Unfortunately also for monogamy-oriented Christianity, it perpetuates polygamy.


What did the biscuit (Americans say cookie) say as it crossed the road? Crumbs.

Crumbs off the table. That's what we in Africa are getting. Crumbs is better than nothing. It keeps you alive, sometimes only just about, but is it right for a whole Continent to be living off crumbs from the West?

Some Westerners are upset by the crumb-process, and can bring us a whole cake. For people accustomed to crumbs; a fight can break out over a cake! Those habituated to crumbs can get sick on cake.

What's the answer? I wish I knew! Peoples' constant efforts at fighting for crumbs can have them forget about alternative ways of living. Crumbs often come for free, and seem to promise the cake that they emerge from. Everything gets oriented to crumbs! We have crumb science, crumb schools, crumb politics, crumb languages and even crumb theology! People go on to adorn their houses with crumbs. What a life. Where next?

The Purpose Driven Life - on trial in Africa

A book was pressed into my hands a few times while in the UK earlier this year. I like the sound of it, and would love to read it through, although unfortunately I have yet to find time to do so.

The book's popularity in the UK seems to have spilled over into Kenya. I found a copy on my desk sent to me by an American friend - indicating that it is also well known in the US. Most incredible though have been the messages that I have heard preached from it here in Kenya.

The preachers who I have heard base their message on this book have been forced to use English, because of the difficulty of translating the concepts therein into African languages. Their messages have then been subject to spontaneous translation. Anyone listening to the African languages will have heard things like:

Original English African (Dholuo) Version English back-translation of column 2
'the purpose driven life' Gimomiyo moriembo ng'imani The reason that chases your life
The power of purpose Teko mar gimomiyo The strength of the reason
Emotions Dwaro mar ringruok The wants of the body
Internal determination Dwaro maie The intention that is inside you
Need of a spiritual bearing Bed ng'ato mar roho Be a person of spirit
If you don't have a purpose in life, then you may as well die Kiwacho, aonge ma atiyo, inyalo anyala tho If you say I am not up to anything, then you'll just die
He saved us for a purpose Nowarowa kod gimomiyo He saved us with a reason
Will you fulfil the purpose of God? Ibiro chopo e dwaro mar Nyasaye? Will you fulfil what God wants?
We are here for a purpose Ok wayudore kuom bahati We do not come to be from blessing

One preacher after completing the above message concluded that we must be determined in order to acquire healing from God. This is appropriating the message of the book into familiar territory - faith needed for healing.

What I am trying to point out here is that while such a book may make excellent reading in the UK or America, it makes for a confusing interpretation here in East Africa! This could be because either 1. It needs scholarly re-writing in Kenyan English or Kiswahili and / or 2. The concepts dealt with in the book are simply too foreign to make sense here.

Bringing books written by Christians in the West can result in confusion here in Africa. These books may be a hindrance to the growth of the church, as they baffle the minds of young preachers. Books need to be written in the context in which they are to be applied. Books written in the West are often not helpful in Africa.

Meeting the Needs of the Poor

Footwear left outside the door was my first clue that by the time of my arrival this small mud house with its thoroughly rusty tin roof was already packed full with people. I sat and listened outside as the pastor exhorted his people to faithfulness. His exhortations were punctuated by frequent declarations that satani ashindwe (the devil be defeated). I was welcomed in to join them.

Women were sitting packed together wall to wall on the floor. Some men and an older woman sat on chairs along one edge of the house. There were about 20 people in all. The heat of the sun radiated onto our heads from the iron roof as we sat and began to discuss God's Word.

We are only a small part of the total day's itinerary. Those wanting prophesy come before 10.00am. From 10.00am up to when we begin, it is time for interpretation of dreams. We teach from 1.30 up to 3.30 p.m. As we scurry off in an attempt to get home (1 hour's cycling distant) before being drenched by the impending thunderstorm, the sick are prayed for. There is no sign of a cup of tea or refreshments for these folks. They spend the day fasting.

While the wealthy of the world are distracted by its passing material pleasures, the poor maintain a more spiritual focus. The focus on spiritual power can be so great, that such groups can come to be healing movements that are Christian in name only.

Give thanks that the pastor to this fellowship was once a student of Yala Theological Centre at a nearby class. That class closed 2 years ago through lack of interest, but the same pastor has now opened his door for us to teach his people week by week. Pray for us as we utilise this and similar opportunities of sharing God's word.

Problem Solving

"What he is saying is correct, but he seems to be pushing us back into our traditions" was an African student's comment last month regarding a book that was written about the situation in Africa.. All the students acknowledged that it was accurate, but troubling.

The book had explained that for African people, the whole of life revolves around the spirits of the dead. This is true. But it is an uncomfortable truth. It means that while we (the African people) have benefitted in various ways from outside inputs into this Continent, the way that we know to solve problems has not changed!

This difficulty is often illustrated in practice. A school boy failing an exam is likely to suspect that he has been bewitched (the dead are the ones who control bewitching-power). Some-one else will consult a medium to find out why his business is failing, and acquire herbal medicine to effect a cure. Christians will pray and fast when their business fails to bring in a profit. People will lie about the quality of manufacturing materials in order to sell them, without considering the outcome of this on the larger process (as it is ancestors who bring success to business, and not necessarily choice of materials). Many problems are blamed on poor burial practices. When we see someone who has died in a dream we assume that they are troubled and wanting something, usually for us to arrange a feast on their behalf.

This is all very disturbing. How come we spend years in school learning things that white children learn ... yet our way of understanding and solving problems doesn't change! This means that the more 'modern' things we have, the more constantly dependent we become on white and Indian people, and the less effective are our solutions! It means that to appear to keep up with the times we cannot be honest any more!

People here face a crisis - as deeply held and valued wisdom and problem solving techniques don't tally with 'modern' life.

Monism and Monotheism

Our emphasis as Christians is usually to promote monotheism (belief in one God) as against polytheism (belief in many gods). But what about Monism?

Monism sounds OK, because it is about 'one'. So what is the difference between 'monism' and 'monotheism'? In short, monotheism believes that there is one God who while he is creator, is distinct from his creation. That is, the world is not God, but the world was made by God. The same applies to you and l. I am not God and you are not God, but we have both been made by God. God is omnipresent (everywhere in the world) and he can live in you and me, but that is different from him being the world, or being you and me!

On the other hand, in monistic belief, the world is god and god is the world. Everything in the world is a part of god. According to some scholars at least, this is what people believe in Africa.

This explains a great deal of what happens in Africa. It means that in Africa there is no distinction between subjective and objective. There is, in other word, nothing that is just an object. Rather everything has some kind of life in it, or has some spiritual impact on the life that is there. Stones, trees, bushes, clothes, homes, wild animals, rivers etc. - all are a significant part of what god is, so all have a role to play in the spiritual life of man. In this way of thinking all these things have their own power.

This is why many African people who come to be desirous of the white-man's wealth, seek to acquire it by surrounding themselves with the white man's things. It is assumed that those things have power inherent in them, and that it is this power that has brought the white man to prosper. Similarly on this context many things are thought not to happen by physical cause and effect, but by inherent powers. Hence my hating or being jealous of someone can harm them without my doing anything to them or their even being aware of my hatred or jealousy. (This is what is called witchcraft).

When faced with polytheism, Christians must emphasize God is One. When faced with monism, they must emphasize that God and the world are not one and the same thing, and that rocks, trees, mountains etc do not each have their own power. This is perhaps more difficult to do.

Be Holy

What does this means to a typical Brit.? What is a holy person? Perhaps someone who is a bit stuck-up. Someone behind the times. A holy Joe. Someone who thinks they are better than others, or someone who joins in a holy-huddle.

Amazingly, the West seems to have had a crusade against holiness. We like to think that all are equal and can be familiar with one another. A child says 'hi Bob' to his grandfather. Differences between male and female are not to be hallowed or respected, but minimized. We are discouraged from thinking that any one person is more holy than any other, or one place more sacred from any other.

Then we think we are free, to relate to anyone as we want to, providing that they are also willing. We can't tell anyone else what to do. There is no community notion of right. If someone does 'dirty things' they are not thought to affect the rest of us.

Here in Africa holiness is a big thing. The leading of a pure life is considered vital. Dirty acts like incest, adultery and homosexuality are seen to affect the community and not only the individual. It is no wonder that it is hard to come to agreement on sharp issues like homosexuality, as the way it is being looked at is world's apart!

Fishing Philosophies Fundamental Failure!

"Better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish" Says the famous adage. While constantly upheld in theory. This philosophy has hit disaster around here.

This adage presupposes that people don't fish because they don't know how to. Could it not be that they know how to fish, but still don't? People may be happy to be presumed ignorant, if this state attracts freebies with spin-offs, like fishing training handouts etc. in the process. It is very common for people to know something and not do it- like bachelors and cooking, harlots and clean-living or drunkards and being sober. Fishing becomes an attractive proposition if it is the only way to get fish. Mr. A. won't go and fish, if he sees Mr. B. being handed a fish for free! Relief and development activities in Africa are not co-ordinated, and how can they be given the many interests, groups and individuals involved? Hence some people specialise in handing-out fish. These people are the most popular.

The so-called 'orphans crisis' has prompted widespread fish handouts. One child being registered in an orphan programme, can bring in enough money to feed a family. It is much easier to bend the rule a bit and have your child registered as an orphan, than it is to go fishing.

There is a lot more to succeeding in business, than a bit of fishing know-how. Planning, accounting, mathematics, budgeting, diligence, forecasting, and wisdom are needed in order to make a business (like fishing) keep a family. The ability to plan rationally is essential for success. (People have lived on subsistence level long before rationality came along but the imposing of international standards on much of Africa has made this an undesirable option for many today.) If rationality is a product of the enlightenment, how to do we expect people who haven't gone through the enlightenment to be able to plan rationally?

The Luo people who I live with are renowned for their love of fishing. Lakeside fishing villages are known as kar kethruok (places where things fall apart). This is because young men who work at night and get a lot of money but don't have their families around tend to drink and sexual immorality. This should teach us something?

Computer ministry opportunity …

We are urgently looking for a volunteer to take on the management of the site. Anyone with internet access and a bit of time to spare to perform this ministry, preferably on a weekly basis, please contact me on


Staff We have 12 teachers in all working this term. Only two of these are full-time, one is a student teacher, another retired, three share their teaching responsibilities with administrative duties, one is a nurse, one a librarian, two are part-time students and one is a part-time church administrator. This is to me a very healthy situation, that ensures that our faculty remain fresh, aware of broader issues and involved in the church as well as doing their teaching. We currently have faculty from Kenya, Tanzania, USA, Uganda and the UK.

Students We now have 108 students on record, of whom 100 are registered and studying this term. 78 of these students are men, and 22 are women. We have 71 students from Church of God, 6 Anglicans, 13 Friends (Quakers), 10 Mennonites, 1 Methodist, 1 Free Methodist and 1 Christco. In terms of country we have 78 Kenyans, 11 Tanzanians, 9 Ugandans and 2 Rwandans currently studying here. By far the majority of our students are residential.

YTC Report

The best Bible teaching comes from indigenous churches. That was my impression last week, and at other times. Unhampered by grandiose expectations of prosperity and not needing to immitate the West, teaching in these churches procla ims the risen Christ and directly confronts societies ills.

The difficult point for many is these churches insistence on visions, dreams and the apparent manipulation of spiritual forces to their own advantage. While in its extreme this is unscriptural, references in the Scripture to angels, appearance of dead people, dreams and visions (at times foretelling death) etc. make it hard to be convinced of this.

A functional model of indigenous Christanity is desperately needed on this Continent. Pray for us in YTC as we engage in frontier teaching work in this area.

At YTC we currently have 6 classes at 6 different locations in and around Yala.

Thanks for Prayers

My thanks to those in Andover and elsewhere in UK (and Germany?) who are meeting monthly just to pray for the work here in Kenya.