Jim's Journal - March 2007
1. Progress so far.
2. Conference / consultation to come
3. Implications for Missions Strategy
4. 'What can I do?'
Those who are regular users of email will have been getting my regular updates. For others this may be a first- report on the outcome so far of my trip to the USA. The former folks please forgive me for making some repetitions on behalf of the latter!
1. Progress so far.
My trip began with a warm welcome (despite sub-zero temperatures) from OMSC (Overseas Ministries Study Centre) in New Haven, Connecticut. This is a small campus engaged in missionary training and conferences aimed at reaching the North East region of the USA, drawing participants from around the globe, particularly the far East. Their director Jonathon Bonk is renowned for his having brought problems caused by missionary finance to the attention of the Christian world in a book he wrote over a decade ago. (Mission and Money: affluence as a Western missionary problem, a new edition will be out shortly.)
I was privileged to be able to lead worship and then present a seminar to the resident community (and others) there at New Haven. Unfortunately this opportunity only arose at the end of my stay, giving minimal opportunities for receiving feedback. OMSC has extended an open door should I want to spend more time there nearer the end of my trip.
It was at my next point of call that I found people who are 'beating the same drum' as I have been for a number of years now. That is, the World Mission Associates based in Lancaster in Pennsylvania. Their well known director Glenn Schwartz has been producing materials to assist missionaries and national churches, particularly in Southern Africa, for many years.
I was again privileged to share both in a local church and then at the WMA centre to mixed audiences including some mission leaders and academics. This was a valuable way of informing people of prayer needs and getting some basic interaction and feedback on what I was saying. Plans are afoot for me to return to WMA from 29th March to 7th April, so as to talk more with them on 'where to go from here'.
My third point of call was the US Centre for World Missions in Los Angeles at the other end of the country. The warm weather was a pleasant change. My welcome has also been warm. My initial reaction to this centre, is that it is an amazing collection of serious mission-minded individuals and organisations, with an enormous capacity to take widely varying radical positions on board with a view to promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ worldwide. That is, they are able to continue to pump out challenging ideas in perhaps the most widely read missions journal (known as 'Mission Frontiers') while remaining a coherent and loving Christian community.
A publisher (William Carey Library), who are now looking at some of my material, is found on the same site. My primary role has been with the William Carey International University, also on the same site, where I have been writing articles, doing some work on their curriculum and presenting seminars as well as consulting with a variety of people on possible ongoing relationships. The curriculum is called the World Christian Foundation (also known as 'Perspectives'), and is already widely used from this centre in mission outreach to the USA and beyond. The most prominent figure in all this is Ralph Winter. He has great concern and understanding on issues of 'dependency' being created by Western churches with a lot of money but little understanding or long term vulnerable exposure to the missions scene.
As I write I am only 1/3 through my trip. I remain with the following programme:
8th to 20th March - based at Colorado, visiting church and missions organisations.
20th March to 26th March - visiting church and mission organisation around Chicago.
29th March to 7th April - back with the WMA (World Mission Associates) in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
9th April to 12th April - visiting the US headquarters and international headquarters of SIM.
14th April - meeting in London arranged by WMA UK. (Details not yet known).
20th April - Viva exam for my PhD in Birmingham.
23rd April - Global Connections Africa forum in Doncaster.
26th April - I head back to Kenya.
2. Conference / consultation to come.
I am making tentative plans to follow up this year's activities in the USA with a forum(s) / conference(s) during my next anticipated furlough in 2009. The success of this depends on my finding sufficient interest in the things that I am promoting amongst nationals. I am working particularly closely with WMA (World Missions Associates) on this. People here at the US Centre have also expressed interest in being involved. It's planning will certainly require someone with good administrative ability to act as conference organiser / coordinator, probably under the auspices of WMA. WMA is also registered in the UK, and it is they who have invited me to present a seminar in London on 14th April.
3. Implications for mission strategy.
It was fascinating while waiting to present a paper a few weeks ago to hear what a missions leader in the USA said. The man is someone who knows many mission sending organisations intricately. The picture he portrayed of the American missions scene, is that they are struggling to find clear direction. When my turn came, I said that I was seeking to provide the direction that they are looking for!
I am not surprised at finding such 'loss of direction'. The reasons why I am not surprised, are discussed at depth in many of the papers in the Articles section of my website, and I have also written about them in many of my previous Journals.
In short, mission work from the West has increasingly become a means of spreading Western ways of life and money, and not of meeting people at the point of their spiritual needs, or communicating the truth about God.
I was struck by a conversation with a young couple while still in Pennsylvania. They were both very keen on serving God overseas. They attended one of my seminars, and then came to speak to me afterwards. In no time at all, the issue of children whom they hope to have, came up. The lady told me there is no way that she would want to live in a place or a way that could put the life and health of her children into danger, that is away from a Western infrastructure. My response was to say that then she must be ready to allow her husband to leave her and their children behind as he goes to minister with African people in 'appropriate' ways. (Ministering in the context of American family life would be 'concealing' the Gospel in a show of wealth and technology.) She told me that no way would she allow that to happen, as she wanted to be with her husband in all his ministry.
So there is the problem. The West has lots of Christians, apparently very keen to serve the Lord, but so in love with the Western lifestyle, technology and money orientation that parting from them seems like death itself. The only option such people remain with is to be donors to ministries that they may be leading but in which they will never be able to closely participate. Hence they remain ignorant, and having powerful people (controlling things using their money) who are ignorant is the dangerous situation that is causing disarray in so-called 'mission' from the West to the rest of the globe today.
People in the West are looking for a shortcut. They are desperate to find a way to make the rest of the people in the globe 'like them', without getting their hands dirty. They think so highly of the wonderful civilisation that they have built (and I am not denying that others also think highly of it) so as not to want to leave it for more than a moment on fear of death and disability. My explorations into linguistics have revealed to me that: no way can this work in Africa the way it is being tried today!
At the very least, a visitor must operate in local languages and not in European languages. Then they must be vulnerable to the people. That is - not engaged in ministries that are focused on handing out money. (See http://appealforlocallanguages.blogspot.com/.) My conversations with people here have confirmed to me, often in stark ways, that all other Westerners working outside of the West relate to locals through a financial / technological screen. I challenge my readers to find someone who is not.
The worst thing about Western technology and money is not having it, but telling everybody else that they must have it. That is, bragging about it, if you like, or showing off about it all the time. This means that when a Westerner goes to a typical African scene, they will implicitly be telling the local people that they are inferior. In order to correct this offence, local people will attempt to imitate and follow the powerful Westerners advice, but then they become unstuck because this process is either impossible, or makes them enormously dependent on the donor's umbilical-cord. I believe the Scriptures command God's people to spread God's word, but this does not automatically extend to all their science, technology and finance, i.e. culture. That is not to say that Western culture is 'bad' in itself. It's goodness or badness is another issue. But should it be rammed down people's throats if they can't swallow it?
4. 'What can I do'?
I suggest that even Western technology does not bring 'short-cuts'. To witness to people effectively about Jesus Christ requires knowing their language and sharing in their culture. Full stop. (Period.) Of course, not everyone can do this. But those that do (from the West) cannot do so without the support (moral, empathetic, challenging, prayer, financial) of other Westerners. This is where, I believe, resources for mission to Africa (and elsewhere?) need to be concentrated - on encouraging young people to give their lives in service in a vulnerable way with a gritted determination to share about Christ without putting up barriers of Western superiority. In many cases these people need to be single. Wives who want to be engaged in such must be strong enough to be left alone for periods of time, if need be with their children, to allow their husbands to minister on the above criterion.
Incredibly, opportunities abound for doing this. The West has become so wealthy, as demonstrated by the numerous short-term mission trips happening these days (I heard that two million short-term missioners go on trips from the USA annually) that cost should be no issue at all. But - are there willing young Christians available?
This is not to say that traditional mission should stop. I am proposing the need for additional mission activity!
Yala / Siaya and Kima
I left home a month ago now, and have received very little news since. I am very glad that a young man volunteered to carry my teaching load at Yala Theological Centre in my absence. Another volunteer has committed himself to continuing the teaching in Siaya town. News that I am getting from Kima is good. I trust that all are well at my home.
For: Africa Forum