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Jim's Journal - June 2004


Report on Children
Mission in the 21st Century
YTC News
Article - language and contextualisation

Report on Children

Melody left us to stay with a brother in Kisumu, where she is now learning how to sew, so that I am now left with 12 children.

Samson, aged 22, has a gifting in teaching God's word, and enjoys doing the same.
Esther, aged 20, continues to stay with me as she looks after her child Michael (below!)
Dorcas, aged 15, is repeating the second last year of her primary schooling.
Christine, aged 6, is very active in playing a whole variety of games.
Okoth, aged 15, is growing fast and active but struggling somewhat still in school.
Zachary, aged 8, has a stubborn nature, that we hope he will grow out of!
Pamela, aged 19, is due to finish her sewing course this year. Of 6 girls who began the course, it looks as if she will be the only one to complete.
Melody, aged 17, has left us (see above).
Diane, aged 16, is proving very helpful in the house, and especially likes looking after the smaller children.
Ochilo, aged 17, is also re-taking the second last year of his primary schooling, but is now coming out at the top of his class.
Okello, aged 15, is to complete his primary schooling this year, for which he is working hard.
Saul, aged 11, is proving to be both a helpful and a thoughtful boy.
Michael, aged 2, is fit and well and still entertaining everyone.

Mission in the 21st Century

Western money not always being helpful in the course of mission work in African, seems to be a message implicit in many of my past Journals. "What then should we use our money for" a colleague of mine asked me recently, perhaps slightly frustrated by the frequency and voracity of my attacks? I here undertake to give some thoughts in answer to that question.

Christ could have called on the powers of the heavens in his task at any time (Psalm 91:11-12, Matthew 4:6) He had the option of producing sufficient food to feed the masses (Matthew 4:3, John 6: 1-15). His refusing to turn stones into bread was not because he was unable but because this was the way of the devil (Matthew 4:3). Feeding thousands brought him difficult issues (John 6:15) that forced him to withdraw. There is a clear Biblical mandate for the refusal to utilise material power in the work of the Gospel that missions now need to latch on to.

Jesus' celibacy, I believe, was not an accident. It was a major enabling in his ministry. What did Jesus, who refused to be attached to a woman or to use a material means of power, invest himself into? The dearth of teachings on Christ's childhood emphasises the importance of the one account that we have. In an apparent contravention of submission to his parents authority the 12 year old Jesus preferred to sit in the Jerusalem Temple courts to following mum and dad home. He was found "sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions" (Luke 2:46). I don't suppose that this was the only time for him to do this, or how would he have been able to ask and answer questions with such intelligence (Luke 2:47)? Jesus evidently revelled in opportunities of listening to the wisdom of his elders, in relation to God's holy words.

The attack by liberals on the Christian Scriptures over the last 200 years have undermined the faith of some Christians in Biblical study. The attack has proved to be without foundation. It is time to sweep it away. Young people ready to engage in mission will be those who have spent time "listening to [teachers] and asking questions" regarding God's word. In other words - education in the things of God is essential for mission.

Education requires resources, that young people themselves often cannot muster without the help of the old. The growth and expansion of the church is dependent on this inter-generational transfer of resources. I could say a lot more here about the curricula and method of presentation of theological studies, but will leave that for another occasion.

It is taking the so-called 'globalised' world time to realise that a peoples' wisdom arises out of the foundation laid by their languages and cultures. The spreading vine of Western education is stifling and concealing this wisdom in many parts of the world but it is still there. It functions, albeit veneered by a layer of crude Western universalism. Christ spent up to aged 30 exploring the wisdom of his people, at that time threatened by hegemonic Hellenism (Greek culture) before he began to speak out. This is a model for the cross-cultural missionary to imitate, to pierce the globalised veneer amongst the people he intends to reach and to be able to draw from the rich tapestry below it.

Jesus was a carpenter. This was not an accident. Carpenters (as also tent makers in fact) work with their hands, making things for people. This means that they are available for people who want to talk to them, and have their ears, intellects and even mouths free to listen and interact while working. I have seen no evidence for Christ having revolutionised carpentry practice in his time in the workshop. He did not greatly expand his father's (Joseph's) business, acquire or invent new machines, or open a college for apprentices (although surely apprentices he would have had). Instead he pursued his trade in the traditional way. This gave him maximum acceptance in the community, and maximum opportunity for careful listening to passers by and customers. (In East Africa tradesmen like carpenters, tailors, dressmakers etc. almost invariably ply their trade alongside a road or path or outside a shop where anyone can go to talk to them at any time. Surely the same would have happened in Biblical times?)

In addition to theological education, a budding missionary needs a vocation like that of Christ (and also the Apostle Paul) which gives maximum listening power. A service trade in which someone uses their hands is an excellent example of this. The occupation of a trainee missionary must be gauged relative to this, if it is not itself possible. Something non-innovative, so as to be familiar to the people. Using hands, to keep ears and mind free for listening. Something not influential or politically significant, so as not to be a threat or a hazard to the community. Something that keeps you economically on a par with others.

The strictures of today's 'Western oriented' world are a major handicap to a Westerner wanting to engage in mission. When it is not possible to acquire a carpenter's or tent-maker's vocation, the person should still have these ideals in mind. There should not and need not be a striving to excel in one's worldly pursuit, as this will only lead to separation, isolation and greater dependence on the West. Teachers, teach as nationals teach. Nurses, nurse as nationals nurse. Engineers, take the local craftsman as your model. And so on.

What of Bible-trainers, translators and theological educators? The same principle applies. Amongst non-Christianised peoples, the model to begin with is likely to be the diviner or witchdoctor. (This will happen whether you like it or not. These people have, in Africa, been making use of ancestral spirits to satisfy those needs of people for which you now want them to turn to God.) For Christianised societies - the local rural pastor or church teacher. Show people by your gentle words and your actions where the diviner has gone wrong. That is - introduce people to God and a knowledge of Him; His love, His grace, His forgiveness, His expectations and even His demands.

All the above need to occur in the local dialect, even if it be English. (The English spoken at your new location is certainly subtly but importantly different to the one you were brought up with. Missionaries sent to an 'English-speaking' environment may have the most difficult task in holding two languages within one separately within their heads). Language acquisition is a vital step for a new missionary, for many reasons, that go beyond the scope of this Journal. Try by all means to learn a language while interacting with people in their regular lives, and not in a classroom, where profound nuances of meaning are masked.

Where is all this preparation leading? God knows! Coming to Yala in Kenya I was totally unaware that there was a Bible college within cycling distance that was about to become international and would be recruiting a part-time lecturer / administrator! Many different opportunities could have opened up. In my case, I remain heavily involved in a community based Bible teaching programme, working especially with indigenous churches. Someone else could be more directly involved in the church, in tending and praying for the sick, in youth work (using the youth's language and from the perspective of their culture), evangelism, encouragement, counselling, prophesying or priesting. (When I say 'priesting', I mean marrying, blessing, burying etc. One reason I guess that this 'priestly role' has fallen somewhat into disrepute in the West is because there doesn't seem to be a nice English word to describe it!)

In all the above roles, the temptation to be involved financially must be constantly resisted. Money is a dangerous toy, and should be used carefully.

Being, through the means described above, aware of the complexities of the culture in which he finds him (or her) self, a missionary is unlikely to be very critical or damning of it. He will have understood why people do what they do, and although perhaps saddened by it, will not make frontal attacks on it. Even if your boat is filling with water, it is still better not to make more holes in it! (The dead wield great power in the community in which I live. This saddens me - but I do avoid wherever possible attacking the dead, as that makes me an enemy of the people. Instead, I promote Christ).

Once having understood language and culture, it is possible to begin to speak sense to people in their community. Being vulnerable amongst them, means that you are facing many of the things that they are facing. This makes it more difficult to make gaffs by saying and doing things that are evidently stupid in the local context. Now you can be used by God.


Much mission these days continues to be based on the ideal of finding an 'unreached people'. Mission advice can be given, as if one is to meet a 'savage' who has never met a white man. Most of us for most of the time are not dealing with such people. The 'mistakes' that we as missionaries are trying to avoid have already been made by our predecessors. We are likely to be going to a people who are used to 'handling' foreigners. So all the more need to be wise, in order not to be fooled by the Western veneer.

So what is the role of the Western church in mission? It is to help its people to do the above. There will be no need to support projects and indigenous missionaries around the world, as if such strategies are followed the world wide church will not be growing in a way that is financially dependent on distant mother churches. It will have been pointed to a way that works locally.

Such strategy is particularly opportune for this age. A globalised information services and economy, means that missionaries no long need to be at the cutting edge of wealth distribution. That is already happening. People do need to know how to live, as God's people, in the wake of such onslaughts of wealth. This is where missionaries have a key role to play.


There is a sense of disbelief. We in YTC use 'African transport' and African languages. Yet African people have been told so often that good things come from abroad - that they are dubious whether any good at all can come from this. Even when I speak Dholuo people often laugh. Why? I suspect partly in amazement that a white man might choose to learn so thoroughly a language so associated with poverty!

I suspect that we have stimulated some competition. The more 'powerful' churches around Yala sensing that 'poor indigenous' Christians were coming to be better educated than they - are now emphasising Bible training! I am still not convinced that co-operation wouldn't be better than competition. Sometimes one doesn't have a say in such matters. May God's will be done!

Meanwhile the enthusiasm of our main teacher this term is evident, as he travels hither and thither on his new bicycle recruiting for the classes that he teaches. Empty promises seem to be his main reward! I guess that empty promises didn't deter Jesus from his ministry, so needn't deter us from ours. When one knows that the news is good, one keeps on proclaiming it regardless - the rule of God is coming! Come and know the Lord! We do have more classes now that we have had in many years - but some of them are struggling!


Similar issues arise at KIST; albeit in a different way. A residential college receiving a lot of American funding and with over 100 students working in graduate diplomas and degrees is quite different from Yala. But I have been struck again - at the apparent reluctance to learn and do things 'African'! Our students sometimes seem to be running away. More high-brow content so foreign that I am often sure most of our students don't understand - can be welcomed willingly with open arms. Studies of own language, own people, own churches - are often looked upon as second class!

This situation is accentuated by the current information revolution, and the ease with which foreign initiatives pour into the Continent - often with generous funding or promises of material reward. Even Bible and Theological colleges can easily be led astray, tempted to put aside studies in ministry, Bible, knowing God and discipleship - going rather to computers, business and all sorts of 'g's' (psychology, anthropology, sociology and name it!)

New courses at KIST are designed to encourage students to value their heritage and people, and take the Gospel to them. Hence a course in 'literature' has become a course in 'African literature'. Hence we have 'elders counsel' - final BA students listening to local church leaders telling of what they do and why in their own language. We have a rising emphasis on African languages, including a course on linguistics that emphasises the value of local dialects! The importance of all this was recently driven home to me. A friend told me that if you give an African a black dolly it can cry and refuse to accept it, whereas if given a white one it will laugh and play with it.

Pray for us as we seek to value the African people for who they are - God's children whom God loves

The following article has gone to theological colleges all over the African Continent:

Language and Local Church Leaders
as Key to Contextualisation in Theological Institutions

By Jim Harries, Interim Academic Dean, Kima International School of Theology, PO Box 75, Maseno, Kenya.


That academic degrees and diplomas are not a necessity to serve God, is something often vocally expressed in locally originated and run churches in Kenya. Bible colleges and theological seminaries frequently come under attack for producing graduates who, while very knowledgeable, can be ineffective 'on the ground' in the African church context. Even one's fellow missionaries who see graduates in action can be critical of their lack of practical usefulness.

"Yes, we are now greatly appreciating your graduates" has of late come to my ears - from missionaries and from national church leaders. What has brought about this improved valuation of our students?

I strongly suspect that a re-orientation of our curriculum, since the late 90s but especially since 2001, must be at least in part responsible. This has been a small step towards valuing and appropriating local wisdom, people and language into the heart of our programme.

It is very tempting for theological educators to orient all their teaching to foreign contexts, despite the church in this area being almost 100 years old. Most of the books in our library are written by Brits or Americans. But - this is failing to tap the source of contextualised theology that is the community around us.

One curriculum innovation has been a course for our senior students that we call 'elders' counsel'. This course gives those students approaching graduation opportunity to engage in qualitative research on key topical issues. In the West, such may be done through reading. In Western Kenya, where writing is still somewhat foreign as a means of communication, our primary resource has been church leaders from our surrounding community.

These church leaders become our experts whom we invite to answer questions that our students have carefully prepared in advance on predetermined key topics. Topics have included 'customary law and the church', 'healing and holiness', 'how to run a funeral', and more. A key to this process is that our visitors are asked and expected to answer questions in their own mother tongue. This gives them the freedom to express themselves clearly and relieves them of the embarrassment of making errors in English in front of students. It also enables us to investigate the nuances of local language usage. Students of the same ethnicity translate while their colleagues take notes. This primary material forms the basis of long and valuable discussion and then writing up by the students. Our visitors invariably feel encouraged at having made a contribution to the education of rising leaders of today.

Another final year course that is helping students to value their own people and the churches in their communities is that in linguistics of African languages in relation to church and theology. This is taught in Kiswahili, language widely used in churches almost throughout the East African region, but with much reference also to mother-tongue languages and their interaction with English and Biblical languages.

Such implicit valuing of what is deeply African by a degree-offering institution such as ours has had an incredible effect on our students. Explanations into linguistics and especially pragmatics prove to be a great eye-opener, making students aware of their own heritage, and encouraging them to engage their newly acquired theological competence in African languages and within the African context.

Success in this area has encouraged us to take further steps to enable learning from the local churches around us. While all students are expected to interact with local churches and ministries in this area on a weekly basis, some have not had a sufficient grasp of Kiswahili to do this effectively. Particularly those students from outside of Kenya and Tanzania have been limited to the use of English which has severely hampered their integration into the community.

Hence we have most recently decided to make the learning of a working knowledge of Kiswahili a part of our curriculum. We anticipate that this will result in better relationships with local churches, students who are better able to communicate God's truth who are better equipped in translation skills and more confident of the pertinence of what they are taught to their own people, community, and culture. The reverse should also happen - that increased exposure of both our official and our hidden curriculum to local conditions will result in us being more and more in tune with the stresses and joys of our African Christian colleagues and churches.

We strongly recommend using local church leaders asked to come into share in their own language, plus the inclusion into the curriculum of theological institutions on this continent of studies that demonstrate a high valuation of African languages and hence thought processes.