Jim's Journal - September 2004
* A Conversation on ‘language’ between two cyclists on the road in Western Kenya …
* Folly and Love aren’t far apart
* Do you ‘Believe in Yourself’?
* KIST and YTC – explained
A Conversation on ‘language’ between two cyclists on the road in Western Kenya …
1st Cyclist: “When the colonialists came they despised our way of life, considering it dirty and evil. They told us to throw it away, and do what they say. This is why our people continue to despise what is their own, both language and way of life, preferring what is foreign. Hence so many young people are today running to English and to do things in the English way. It sometimes makes me wonder why we continue to try and support our language and traditions? It is like fighting a loosing battle!”
2nd Cyclist: “The reason the young people want the things associated with English is because these are things backed by money from foreigners. Foreigners only like to fund things that they understand. Hence local languages and ways of life are seriously threatened in donor dependent societies in Africa. But using English as the main language in a country like Kenya is very dangerous, because the people doing so are not fully understanding what they are saying or hearing.”
1st Cyclist: “What do you mean?”
2nd Cyclist: “The culture here being so different means that people here cannot understand complex English that is used in the UK or America. Instead the contextual impact of the same English words used here is different to that in America. Learning English and learning things in English is like learning codes that have no foundation. It is like building a roof on a house that has no walls.”
1st Cyclist: “So you mean that in the long run learning and using English is not going to be helpful to people here in Africa?”
2nd Cyclist: “That is correct. It will make people dependent on what they do not understand, and in the world climate that we have currently, will perpetuate corruption.”
1st Cyclist: “Why corruption?”
2nd Cyclist: “There are many reasons for this. I cannot explain them all now. Let me just give an example of how knowledge of English can perpetuate corruption. Let me say that the people receiving donor money are usually those with a good enough grasp of English to communicate with the Western world. They can explain things in such a way as to make foreign donors think that they understand, when actually they don’t (or at least they cannot implement what the donor thinks that they say they can implement), so they are entrusted with large amounts of resources that they end up using in ways that donors disapprove of. Foreign donors then call this ‘corruption’."
1st Cyclist: “Some people say that English has become a language that is indigenous to Africa. Is that not good?”
2nd Cyclist: “This illustrates the problem. There are two major English’s in use in African countries, the foreign one and the indigenous one. Yet they seem to be the same. This means that foreigners hearing African English think they understand when they don’t, and the reverse. Just imagine the confusion that brings!”
1st Cyclist: “So what should we do?”
2nd Cyclist: “To prevent the ‘two Englishes’ confusion it is best for a country not in the English-cultural-way (i.e. countries like UK, USA, Australia etc. that were colonised from England) to make primary use of a language other than English. It is especially important for missionaries and church workers from the 'English world' to avoid such confusion as they deal with important heart issues. They should always learn and function in a non-English language when in a non-English culture! (That is, where English is not the native language.)"
1st Cyclist: “So what if English is widely used in non-English countries?”
2nd Cyclist: “Because of the impossibility of holding two languages in one head and because there may be a mixed audience (for example African English and American English speakers) it may be better for missionaries to leave church work in such places to local people, and to go somewhere where they have to learn a language. Failing this, it will be very important (although perhaps impossible?) for the missionary to learn to understand and use the foreign-English."
1st Cyclist: “Then what is best to do for purposes of ‘development’?"
2nd Cyclist: “Although some consider development to be as simple as having oxen instead of hand-hoes, and building proper toilets, it is actually very complicated and involves every part of life. Telling people how to ‘develop’ using English quickly creates a lot of confusion. People need to be helped to ‘develop’ by those who understand their language and culture, using their language. Giving money to be used in ways that makes sense in English is often very counterproductive, as it can support what is pointless while undermining what is helpful.”
1st Cyclist: “So why shouldn’t people be told to do away with all those traditions and become like Westerners?”
2nd Cyclist: “If for no other reason, because they can’t. Peoples’ traditions and way of life are part of who they are. As I cannot suddenly ‘decide’ to become a ‘typical Chinaman’, neither can people just ‘leave their culture and traditions’.”
Folly and Love Aren’t Far Apart
Perhaps Christ was a fool for wasting his life walking about in sandals teaching people, instead of having a whale of a time at parties. Hard to know just what constitutes a wasted life though – last laughs are loudest, yet corpses remain inaudible. ('Last laughs are loudest' is different from 'loud laughs are last'.)
What makes a Christian into a fool? Biblically, that is a complex question, as we are told to be ‘fools for Christ’ (see below), and indeed we are told that to behave like a fool is a sign of great wisdom! If folly is indeed wisdom, then presumably wisdom is folly and well – things keep getting more and more complicated.
It is easy to feel a fool in missionary work. My English background gives me great potential for wealth and power in this (very Western dependent) society, but I choose not to utilise this advantage. I live surrounded by beautiful local girls who (I guess!) would jump at the chance of being married by this rich foreigner, but I choose not to follow that route. I could be learning skills in business, marketing or even warfare or politics, but instead I spend my life learning the language of some of the poorest people in the world. What a fool!
I Corinthians 3:18 “Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a ‘fool’ so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of the world is foolishness in God’s sight.”
(Jim’s version: ‘love is a fool, but wins in the end’.)
Do you ‘Believe in Yourself’?
It appears that people here do not ‘believe in themselves’, I am concluding after 11 years of promoting our Bible teaching programme here in Yala. Listening ‘between the lines’ reveals that people don’t believe that something can be good unless it is backed by big foreign money and foreign thinking.
The continual onslaught of foreign-sponsored projects perpetuates this notion. Nothing is worth anything unless closely linked with or actually from America or Europe – places thousands of miles away. I am not convinced that just bringing in more and more foreign things is the way forward. Pray for us in the YTC programme – designed (sometimes like an up-cliff battle) to convince local people that they are capable, valuable and accepted by God, as indeed they are.
KIST and YTC - EXPLAINED
On a recent visit with the Thompson family they explained that it was very difficult for people in the UK, reading my Journals, to understand the difference(s) between KIST (Kima International School of Theology) and YTC (Yala Theological Centre). Allow me to try and explain.
— Geographically —
Our YTC office is in a valley near a river and 12 miles from KIST which is on the top of a hill. (See map)
— Culturally / Historically —
A major tribal boundary divides YTC from KIST. KIST is in Luiya territory, whereas YTC is in Luo territory. The Luiya are a Bantu tribe of 3 million people, whereas the Luo are a nilotic tribe, of a similar size. Although through being neighbours for a long time many of their traditions have overlapped, they are very different in origin. The Luo came from Sudan and the Luiya originally from the Congo (so historians tell us). Their languages are totally different.
— My history —
I have lived with the Luo people, but just two miles or so from the border with Luiya land, since coming to Kenya. I have learned the Luo language in addition to Kiswahili, and YTC which started when I came is in Luo land. The language that we use at my home is Luo.
Since 1997 I have also been closely involved at KIST, which is in Luiya land – but I have not learned the Luiya language.
— Yala Theological Centre —
YTC works on the basis that local people are capable of doing things for themselves, and that it is best to teach in local languages. At YTC we work closely with a lot of African Initiated (or independent) Churches. Because YTC is not run from outside but by local people, they do not have a lot of facilities. We have about 40 books that we keep in a rented office as big as a stair-cupboard. Excepting myself, none of our teachers are actually ‘qualified’, but all but one are in the course of studying for a diploma in Bible / Theology while also working as teachers. We have no assets except for the 40 books. We teach people within a radius of 10 miles by meeting with them in their homes and churches travelling by bicycle and on foot. One of our seven classes is with the Luiya, but the rest are in Luoland. (See map)
— Kima International School of Theology —
The first Bible school on the site of what is now KIST was started by Church of God missionaries from America in the 1940s. It was handed over to the local church, but since 1995 has again been under international leadership especially from America. KIST is (to African standards) a very modern campus of about 8 acres with a capacity for 120 residential students. It has a library of 20,000 volumes, uses mostly English in instruction, and has currently 15 teachers of whom 5 have or are working on PhDs, and all have at least a BA. KIST attracts students from as far away as about 500 miles.
— My Position —
The tribal boundary lying between them, and the differences in my identity on the two sides of the boundary, means that I live in two worlds. At KIST I am a university-level lecturer administrating a large international concern in a very Western way. At YTC and Yala I am the white man who rides a bicycle, knows the peoples language, looks after their children, attends their funerals and visits their homes. Although there is clearly some mixing, the strength of the tribal boundary keeps these identities relatively distinct.
Post-script – Siaya
A team of us from Yala is due to visit Siaya town on 9th October 2004, with a view to beginning to teach God’s word there. Siaya is 25 miles from Yala (30 miles from KIST) and deep in Luoland.
Pray for our 3 new Bible teachers at YTC, and 2 new teachers at KIST, all starting teaching this month.
Pray for the end of the scourge of malaria, that troubles many people in this area.
Pray for a workshop to be held at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies on 20th to 21st September 2004 entitled The Integration of Christian Mission and Transformational Development: practical implications for which I have submitted a paper: Heart-Led Development: an East African Study. John Butt from Andover will actually attend this workshop in my place.