Jim's Journal - July 2005
21st Century Missionary Ramblings!
Don't Blame Us!
Report on Children in my Home
Plea 4 language
Do what say and say what do
What to Do?
UK Diary, September to December 2005
The above seems a fitting title for this reflective Journal. The contents are subjective and not objective. This is because I am a subject, and not an object!
The contents of this Journal reflect the nature if the issues, as I understand them, that I come up against in seeking to further the ministry of the church. The environment of ministry here is not the same as in the UK. To relate what is happening without trying to explain such differences could be deceptive.
A great irony in Africa, is that the donor community that is causing corruption, then turns around and blames locals. It is probably a good rule of thumb to say that the more donor money comes, the more corruption increases.
The self righteous donating West has the cheek to blame the very leadership that it places, recognises and perpetuates in African countries, for the same countries' economic ills! Imagine my approaching a British family, displacing the father and appointing one of the children to run the household. This child is paid a salary by me to run things the way that I want. I then tell the remaining household members that the very son who I am paying so handsomely, is a corrupt and evil dictator, the reason for the lack of progress on the part of the family. Is that justice? It seems to be meted out constantly here in Africa!
The donor mentality, it seems to me, is threatening to destroy African society. Let me give just two examples of this in relation to orphan projects:
1. Orphan projects springing up around my home locality, propogate the idea that living by constantly telling lies is normal and acceptable. This is because those projects are set up with the aim of helping orphans yet many of the children taken into sponsorship have two parents, both of whom are alive and well. Once such a foundation of lies is laid, corruption and lies become the order of the day.
2. Visiting a home one day I was shown a letter from an orphan-child donor. (The address had been ripped from the letter.) " I had no plans to take my daughter into an orphan project," said the mother of this girl, who told me that she had struggled but failed to discern the address of the donor, which had been scrawled out on the envelope. "One day my daughter was playing outside, and a man sent her to call her mother. When I went he told me that if I would give him KSh200.00 (1.50 pounds) then he would find a donor for my daughter. My husband agreed so we gave him the money." This lady has eight children but it was easy to tell which one was being sponsored. She was the only one with a nice new red dress.
Such undermining of Africa communities is constant and enormous. I have mentioned only the tip of the iceberg. What to do about it?
But there is more to it than this. Christians need to be at the forefront of the action. The donor world is clearly not working on Christian principles. Jesus himself rejected the devil's temptation to turn stones into bread. His message is clear - he did not come to win the bodies of men, but their hearts. Time and time again he refused to use his divine power (for today do we read 'technological power'?) to further his work. Rather, he walked humbly as men walked.
It is vulnerable people ready to depend on and to serve God in Africa who are needed today, and tomorrow! Where are they?
Samson, aged 23, is soon to complete a year of teacher training near the Kenyan
Esther, aged 21, has been married by a fisherman on Lake Victoria.*
Dorcas, aged 16, is studying hard for the final year of her primary schooling.
Christine, aged 7, is struggling to learn to read and write.
Okoth, aged 16, now has only just over a year left in primary school, and is getting very tall!
Zachary, aged 9, is proving very capable academically.
Pamela, aged 20, left to be married a few weeks ago, and we gather now lives in Nairobi!*
Melody, aged 18, is now married with a daughter. *
Diane, aged 16, continues to be helpful and friendly but struggles in school.
Ochilo, aged 18, is retaking his primary school final year.
Okello, aged 16, is now proudly enrolled in secondary school, and maturing fast.
Saul, aged 12, is going through some growing-up pains, but is generally cheerful and helpful.
Michael, aged 3, is very active playing from dawn to dusk.
Doreen, aged 16, has come to join us, and is quiet but settling in well.
* no longer living with me permanently. (false names used)
One of our YTC teachers likes to laugh at me. Why? Because of the problems brought by my colour.
My colour gives my fellow teachers a hard time. "People coming to our classes are constantly asking me how we get some funding from the Mzungu (white man)" our teacher tells me. "It is hard to know whether anyone comes to our classes to learn God's word, as so many of them are drawn by the hope that they will get money from you" he explains.
The tendency of many (most? all?) my fellow whites to spill out money freely,
a tendency certainly not found even amongst wealthy African people, proves a
major liability if a European wants to be serious in doing anything apart from
funding projects amongst the African people. People are quick to speak nicely
and agree with everything you say even if they then never put it into practice,
because they are waiting for the money. Instead of teaching God's word to those
hungry for spiritual teaching, my African colleagues have to begin by convincing
1) They are not growing fat off me.
2) There is no particular strategy for getting money out of me.
3) They are not the only ones knowing me but remaining poor (i.e. they are no so stupid as not to know how to milk the system).
In those 'bad old' days of Colonialism 'experts' on Africa used to be those who lived and worked on this Continent, close to the people. These days the 'experts' are those who sit in Western universities and make occasional forays onto the Continent, where they live like tourists are welcomed like kings and understand as outsiders.
The British policy of indirect rule over its colonies intended to help people to rule themselves with minimal external interference. Hence native courts in colonial areas were run in local languages, largely according to customary law.
Central power structures unfortunately having been set up by Brits to operate in English, meant that at independence English became the language of real power and wealth. Efforts at bringing gradual change to ancient cultures were ditched in the scramble for powerful positions vacated by colonial masters.
Power ever since being in the international sector and in foreign languages, continues to twist the whole Kenyan system into looking for help from outside. Even education being almost universally in a foreign tongue, means that indigenous cultures are not given opportunity to adapt and change.
The colonialists realised that it was better to allow people to rule themselves using as far as possible their customary laws in their own languages. Their being toppled put central power into the hands of people with a very different outlook.
The failing economies of Africa are resulting in an ever-increasing return to control from the outside. Unfortunately the powerful foreign decision-makers of today do not share in the lives of the people as did the colonialists. Contrary to the Colonial era, Africa is today increasingly being ruled by the ignorant.
I don't think that blaming the people of Africa for having overthrown their colonial masters is going to help much. Careful thought is however needed to prevent the current mushrooming of rule by the ignorant; that is whoever has money. The stagnation currently being brought to peoples' ways of life through the structures of foreign rule that allow no room for indigenous growth or development is inexcusable.
One vital step that can be taken to redress the balance, is on the side of language. While English supposedly rules Kenya, (ignorant) foreigners will always seem to be a step ahead of the game. Ceasing to underwrite and subsidise that which depends on English, is redressing the balance in favour of local people. I suggest that an important and helpful step towards assisting independent Africa to develop and grow is to cease supporting English and to invest in African languages!
It is often said that Africans are extremely religious. This is not far off the mark. This is hard for Brits to understand. It means that the very foundation of the life of many African people is very different from that of Europeans. It is why missionaries are closer to the heart of Africa than are foreign aid workers. The latter easily miss the plot completely. Missionaries needed however are those with a long-term vision, willing to learn the language, and use other than money to propagate their endeavours.
Loss of ability to communicate with a fellow human being may be the stuff of nightmares in novels and films, but bread and butter of daily life on the African mission field!
I do not refer to a lack of common language in terms of English, French or Kiswahili, but rather the impossibility of breaking free of pre-conceptualisations. As a husband can no longer believe his wife's saying 'I love you' once he has found her to be unfaithful. As no one will believe a habitual liar even when he really has seen a thief!
Years of living in Africa has not changed my skin colour. I can forget that I am like the proverbial 'black sheep' of the English idiom and stick out like a sore thumb in a crowd of Blacks. But they don't forget so easily! I get a shock every time I see myself in a mirror somewhere (fortunately there aren't many mirrors around so this does not happen too often.)
Whenever I move into even slightly unfamiliar circles, somewhere other than my regular stamping grounds at Yala and Kima, there is a constant shock factor all around me. Cycling or walking down the road I often greet everybody whether I know them or not. This is because all eyes turn to me, seeming to ask "who is this white man and what is he doing here?" It is best to greet someone who is already staring at you!
Kenyan communities (away from wealthy urban spots) are usually very monotone. That is, everyone is black. Except for me! This applies even to largish towns. Usually pale-skinned people are totally absent. Sometimes they are there but hidden in wealthy estates, the plushest of offices, and the newest and largest 4WDs. The street is black.
Efforts at racial mixing so carefully legislated for in the UK, are absent. Racial segregation in other words is rampant - even without any apartheid laws to uphold it. This adds to the 'shock factor' whenever I am seen riding a local bicycle on a dusty road or entering a 'dingy' local cafe!
What do you do if everyone who appears to want to hold a serious conversation ends up asking for money? Such asking for many is a reflex action (or at least so it seems). "Hi, give me a pound" is a greeting that I regularly meet. How to respond to this 10 x a day? Whenever anyone engages me in English - that is invariably (well - very nearly invariably) what they are looking for. Wealthy and poor alike cannot miss the chance of asking, just in case!
Engagement in Christian ministry does not suddenly lift this pre-suppositional cloud. I guess I still look the same when I am in church as when outside. This means that, with the possible exception of those people with whom I am very close, whenever I open my mouth people start to think about money.
This is not much help in Christian ministry. "You need to be saved" say I. "Yes, if you give me money" seems to be the response. "The book of Acts was written by Luke." "If that response will get me into a position where I can make money then I will accept it." seems to be the response. "God loves you" say I. "That is obviously what one has to say to make money like the white man" seems to be the reaction. "We have a project..." gets the response of "definitely I am with you entirely" as the person hopes to get some money.
Note that I do not write the above glibly or rashly, but from frequently repeated exposure. I am a marked man!
The above can make a mockery of 'normal' Christian ministry. Someone says and does all the right things while they benefit materially. At the point at which they cease to benefit, they stop. Issues that constantly arise must be seen in this perspective to be correctly understood. Failing to comprehend this 'economic dimension' of any pastoral or other problem, is missing the point. Whether it be an invitation to a wedding, funeral, church service. Whether a question on doctrine, theology or culture - you name it: there is an intention behind it to get money.
'Denying' is of little (if any) help. Some of us try "I am not like those other whites/missionaries..." 'Oh yeah! Fat chance!' Or you can try "I do not have any money" and the person laughs. Or you can say "please listen carefully" - oh yes, they're listening, and will interpret through the normal filter! These days local people are put 'up front', but everyone knows that there is a white person pulling the strings (this applies to almost any charitable investment) or carefully controlling the budget.
There are a few fundamentals that we can helpfully remember. One that the African
person generally looks at the world in the way that we call 'holistic'. Brits
have a department of their life called 'religion' and they are happy for this
department not to be financially lucrative (providing other departments are
sufficiently lucrative, of course). In Africa people depend on their 'religion'
for their daily bread, and have done so for thousands of years.
Secondly, the current trend in international relations adds to my constant predicament! All whites that come to Africa seem to come relishing the chance to 'help', by way of finance. It may be to feed orphans, build a church, donate drugs, or even just be a tourist. Always money, and always (on a local scale) a lot of it! (I say 'always', because I have yet to meet an exception.)
Thirdly, this approach I suggest is at root of much of the ongoing poverty and ignorance in this Continent. It drags people into a way of life that is dependent on a lot of money. It makes alternatives look primitive, backward and even stupid. Sadly these apparently primitive, backward and stupid alternatives are the one's that people can do, and do well, with their own resources. So Whites are denying people what they can do and advocating what they can't.
Sometimes one feels like saying "White man, get lost!" (Except that he has already made most of us here dependent on his destructive charity.)
How then to work? That is a good question ...Yet for a Christian I believe it is to help people to value God even more than money.
"The difference between the Whites and us" shared a student of YTC, "is that, unlike us, the Whites say what they will do and do what they have said." He added: "Not like us, as we can say all sorts of things but not do any of them."
This profound difference in how language is used trips up many a missionary or other visitor to Africa. Those who do not know this expect an African (Luo) person to follow Western/Anglo-Saxon pragmatic rules (language use conventions) and to follow through - that is to do what they say they will do and to say that they did what they actually did, and so forth.
The origin of this difference between the world of words and the 'real' world can be explained in various ways. 'Wach en gi teko' is a favourite Luo phrase. It can be translated as 'a word has power'. To the Luo people, saying something is in itself expected to make it happen.
Secondly is the question of what is the 'real world'. Luo philosophy is in some ways more Eastern than Western - in which the physical world is an illusion. If the world is an illusion, and life consists of pitching spiritual powers against one another, then a failure to follow up what one has said in a physical sense is hardly an issue.
Such beliefs are (it seems) these days very much on the increase, especially due to the interaction of the Luo people with the West. Western education consists of learning many foreign words (English) that are said to be very powerful. And indeed they are. The right English words said at the right time and place to the right person (especially a European) can bring incredible influxes of wealth and prosperity. This happens regardless of the connection of these words with the 'real' world.
Some of the feedback I get from the UK as a result of my Journals is the question 'then what should we do' if it is not giving money?
This question does surprise me. You can build relationships, pray for people, learn their language. Someone prepared to make a long term commitment can share God's word with people, visit and pray for the sick, fellowship with them in a mutual learning environment, teach and learn, visit. There are no end of things that 'can be done' which are other than 'giving money'. (For more details on how to do Christian ministry, see Bible.)
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. (I now have official approval to hand in my thesis anytime from 1.12.05).
Worpswede / Osterholz Scharmbeck
31st Aug. - 12th Sep. 2005
Andover Baptist Church
28th Aug. 2005 then 13th - 18th Sep. 2005 then 30th Oct. -1st Nov. 2005 then 10th - 13th Dec. 2005 then 18th Dec. 2005
Wantage Baptist Church
21st -27th Sep. 2005 then 26th - 27th November 2005
New Farm Chapel., Alresford
27th - 29th Sep. 2005 then 2nd - 3rd Oct. 2005 then 4th Dec. 2005
Acomb Baptist Church, York
7th - 10th Oct. 2005 then 12th - 13th Nov. 2005.
Central Baptist Church, Norwich
13th - 18th Oct. 2005 then 5th Nov. - 6th Nov. 2005.