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Jim's Journal - December 2004


Dishing out Fish
Saddened and Confused
Grass Roots Theology On The Move
Siaya - why low budget?
KIST update
YTC update
Tanzania trip
UK Diary, September to December 2005

Dishing out Fish

Handing out fish without teaching someone to fish, can be cruel, as it results in an acquired taste or even dependency on something that someone will never be able to produce for him/her self. The question is, how does one teach someone to fish?

Many consider this in terms of techniques, technology, expertise, even experience or know how. How to build a boat, make a net, and then use the two in combination to fool the fish!

Few consider that such mechanistic thinking presupposes a particular worldview. In a so-called 'magical worldview', a man is more likely to pray for a fish than to think about building a boat to venture out with onto the water. He will concentrate on fulfilling those ritual requirements associated with successful living while only slightly considering the mechanics of the technology of apprehending fish.

This fundamental blunder is constantly re-enacted in the West's approach to Africa. Like showing someone how to build a fire but not leaving him any matches, or acquiring a bicycle that does not have a chain - this is cruel!

Meanwhile the influence of the West on Africa easily raises the level of peoples' belief in magic. The very impressiveness of Western capabilities has people searching for the magical key(s) to success. The option of careful technological thought and progress is more and more despised in favour of magical shortcuts.

This is the situation in parts of Africa today. The history of the West shows clearly (to those ready to view it) the profound impact that faith in Christ has had on the development of Western culture. Taking the Gospel with anything but the simplest of technology is confusing it with magic. There is a desperate need for missionaries in Africa who can echo Paul's words “that your faith might not rest on human wisdom but on God's power” (1 Cor. 2:5). Imagine the confusion when we say ‘ . . . we speak of God's secret wisdom . . . ” (1 Cor. 2:7) and then begin to talk of antibiotics, internal combustion engines, donor funds or neo-classical economics!

The apostasy of the West is denying the people of Africa their opportunity to know God. That is serious.

Saddened and Confused

I am often saddened by so much of what goes on in the interaction between African and European peoples. I can be saddened even when I teach students at KIST. These are mature men who have used English throughout their schooling, but their grasp of things that 'ought' to be simple remains extremely poor.

Perhaps even sadder, is that because this kind of education gets jobs for these people, and it is all that they have ever known, they are not searching for anything better. It is as if they know that it is 'normal' to constantly be taught things, very few of which you actually ever understand. It pays to say nothing and do your best, and somehow to 'get through' the system.

I do seem to be alone. I know of no-one else to has taken anything like the kind of trouble that I have to try and understand the African people, who have almost adopted their language and lifestyle as their own as I have. I do not say this to show off. Yet I do wish more people would do this, so as to be able to speak sense into this situation and not just to apply one foreign wisdom after another. It may be becoming more difficult for my 'own people' to understand me, that is people of European stock. How can they, my having travelled so far down this road? Is that why my appeals for 'mission by the vulnerable' sometimes fall on deaf ears?

Neither of course do the people here grasp this situation. They see it from the other side. They are much in need of those finances from the West, so will say 'yes' to the man with the money, whether or not what he says actually makes much sense to them. How do you argue with that?

The scale of the folly is horrendous. The West pretty much runs Africa through economic leverage, yet I know no other Westerner who shares in a traditional African community even as remotely as closely as I do.

Grass Roots Theology On The Move

(Article to be published in the World Evangelical Association (WEA) Theological News)

Evangelical theology being firmly rooted in the post-reformation and modern world meets one of its most difficult challenges when crossing language and cultural barriers. What happens to theology when 'Holy Spirit' is translated into the language of a people who regularly interact with many 'spirits' and whose lives are oriented to benefiting from the manipulation of powers of the universe? What happens to the interpretation of Paul's teaching's on law when shared with a people who are daily struggling to know how to respond to ancestral laws that threaten to engulf their whole lives? How are Jesus' activities interpreted by those who do not pass quietly over the fact that he was frequently involved in exorcisms, but take that as the core of his mission?

These questions are faced head-on by theological teaching programmes working in the non-western world at grass-roots level in local languages. One such programme is Yala Theological Centre in Western Kenya which is now 11 years old and has reached an estimated 1000+ students through extension teaching to villages in the vicinity of Yala. Theological challenge is constantly heightened through the efforts of the above centre to reach indigenous churches (AIC's). Members of indigenous churches are strongly attracted to evangelical teaching due to its live and radical character but struggle with its close engagement with modernity.

Of necessity low-budget so as to mingle and merge with a poor community at grass roots level, Yala extends its teaching into the surrounding community using teachers who are themselves students of theology part-time at residential colleges. Lack of academic credentials are more than made up for by a high degree of cultural relevance and the penetration that such enables to teachers travelling by bicycle and on foot to meet church leaders on a weekly basis in their home areas. Classes are discussion based culminating in a small test and last for two hours.

A challenging recent development is the so-far encouraging welcome given to the Yala leadership in its seeking to open a similar centre in the nearby (25 miles distant) town of Siaya. Although capital to an administrative district Siaya is also in the heart of a very poor region of Kenya relatively untouched by missions due to its low-lying unpleasantly hot and hostile climatic conditions. The people of this region are renowned for their continuing strong adherence to ancient traditional legal systems rooted in the fear of ghost-revenge and taboo avoidance. It is hoped that teaching at this newly initiated centre will begin in January 2005. The new Centre will continue to relate closely with Yala for advice, guidance and at least initially teachers.

Siaya - why low budget?

An expectation that a white man coming to set something up would be expected to have funds set aside for the purpose requires that the starting up of a project be widely known, so that no-one later accuses the initiator of it of keeping the white man to himself and thus denying others access to his budget. Our contact man in Siaya was confused, because in our first meeting I did not hand over 1 penny, or mention having any funds set aside for this initiative. He wanted to know more of what exactly we were planning to do before publicising our meeting.

Our Director eventually went to see him, the Tuesday after the day of our originally intended meeting. He was able to explain to him that we had no budget for the Siaya programme. This now resulted in another dilemma. Calling people for a meeting with a white man means calling them to money. Inviting them to a meeting with a white man who had no money, is confusing! Any committee appointed as a result of such a meeting could easily be short-lived, as committee members would not persist without payment.

On the other hand, not publicising our programme could reduce participation in its opening. The decision made was not to call another meeting, but rather simply to publicise the beginning of teaching, set to be on 11th January 2005. It is planned initially to have one three hour class from 10.00am to 1.00pm every Tuesday in Siaya. Students will pay an annual fee of £5.50 to participate in these classes. This seems to be a good solution.

There is a lot of 'poverty' in Siaya. I am hearing that already now hunger is biting deeply, just months after this year's main harvest. This 'poverty' must be understood in context. African religion is strongly oriented to the dead. Elaborate funerals and memorial services on behalf of the dead continue in the midst of 'poverty'. Our message is: knowing God is more important than pleasing the dead. We can only really know that this message has been accepted if or when people are happy to divert funds set aside for looking after the dead, into the studying of God's Word. In other words, the current hunger does not only mean that there is no money available, but that other things take priority over business and food production. Freedom from allegiance to the dead does hold promise in this world as well as the next!

Such a level of 'poverty' means that people will participate in anything that promises funds, even should that amount of funds be very small in British terms. In the African culture it is appropriate to please a visitor, and to avoid confrontation at all costs. This makes it extremely difficult to get realistic feedback from students. Hence one can have a class full of students saying that what they are learning is wonderful, even when it is irrelevant, as long as material reward is in view. This leaves the teacher in ignorance, and this ignorance in turn prevents him from addressing biting issues, such as the rule of the dead mentioned above. Not offering material award, and requiring a fee, leaves students free to be honest about what they are to be taught, and to vote with their feet.

Operating in this way, does not give the foreigner an unfair competitive edge. Paying my students to listen to me, means that no local person could do what I am doing, and of course should I leave everything quickly collapses. This is already a big problem here in Kenya - indiscernible foreign teaching of no relevance and help is worthwhile because it comes cheap, free, or even with food thrown in. Meanwhile any accumulation of local and meaningful Christian knowledge is despised.

This also means that we do not expect an easy ride. As also in Yala, after 11 years we still struggle. Many people express great interest in our programme, but then never put that interest into practice. This has become normal for us. So in Siaya we are likely to face much opposition, but by the grace of God and in the course of time a love for God's word can be planted deeply in peoples' hearts.

KIST Update

We have now closed KIST for the Sep. to Nov. term. The term has gone well. As I write the pilot of the 'short courses' is up and running, with about 15 students from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. This course is to last for two weeks. Our new term begins on 3rd January 2005, although our staff meeting in preparation for this will be on 30th December.

YTC Update

Our term in Yala has also gone very well. We now have 8 centres running - which is more than we have had for 10 years. One or two are very shaky, but others are reasonably strong. Give thanks for our three new teachers. Two of them are doing well, although one has been off sick for almost the whole time. We are due to visit students (I will be in Tanzania at the time) from 27th to 31st December. Classes are to re-open on 10th January.

Tanzania Trip

I am planning to leave for Tanzania for a time of seminars with churches around Arusha and Manyara on 12th December up to 29th December 2004. I will be without email contact for the whole of that period.

UK Diary, September to December 2005

I plan to be in the UK and making visits on the dates below. Note that some of these visits are shorter than they have been in past years. This is so as to enable me to take time to progress with my PhD studies while in the UK.

Worpswede / Osterholz Scharmbeck:

Andover Baptist Church:
28.8.5 then 13.9.5-18.9.5 then 30.10.5-1.11.5 then 10.12.5-13.12.5 then 18.12.5

Wantage Baptist Church:
21.9.5-27.9.5 then 26.11.5-27.11.5

New Farm Chapel, Alresford:
27.9.5-29.9.5 then 2.10.5-3.10.5, 4.12.5

Acomb Baptist Church, York:
7.10.5-10.10.5 then 12.11.5-13.11.5

Central Baptist Church, Norwich:
13.10.5-18.10.5 then 5.11.5-6.11.5