Jim's Journal - July 2007
Many thanks to all those people who contributed to making my recent 3 month trip to the USA and UK into a success. It was a great privilege to have been able to visit places up and down the USA many at which I knew nobody, then to come away having made many good friends.
Back here in Kenya, things continue much as before. On reaching home I found the children to be well. I am busy engaged in teaching at five different widely dispersed locations Mondays to Fridays, class sizes ranging from 1 to 37, and languages including English, Kiswahili and Dholuo.
PhD on Home Strait
Many of you will know that I have now been awarded my PhD. Below is a paragraph that was written by one of my examiners:
[Jim] argues strongly for at least some missions founded on poverty and vulnerability rather than on provision of aid: missions conducted, as his has been, in the local language by unattached workers who offer nothing other than the word of God. The argument is strong and often striking, and there can be no doubt that Harries' long experience invests his material with unusual credibility.
An amazing book was published a few years ago by a long term missionary to Africa. He wrote it to try and explain how economics works in Africa. I thank David Maranz for being bold enough to tell the truth. I am now going through the book for a second time with a class of Africans at Kima International School of Theology.
Why am I drawing attention to this? Why am I wanting to emphasise differences of African people with Westerners? Because these days the West is trying to exert more and more control over the African scene. But if they continue to do it while not recognising what is going on under their noses, their advice and what they are doing is often unhelpful. There is a desperate need for more informed approaches by foreigners.
Constantly asking the African people 'what do you want' is not enough. I hope we can find more informed questions. People designing 'development projects' for Africa, please listen in!
People tell me that I need to tell more stories of life in Africa, to help Westerners better understand what is going on. I am sorry, but that is getting more difficult, as information is globalising, and people may not appreciate having their secrets revealed. Things that are happening cannot always be said. That is the problem. That is why I try to communicate principles instead.
If someone had the power to do so, I sometimes think that they ought to ban Westerners from working in Africa using Western languages. And stop them from insulating themselves from all the problems of poverty by always spending money in their ministries or projects. The ignorance that arises from these practices is far too risky.
My travels in American missionary circles were in many ways successful. My time there also revealed that there is still much to be done. Many Americans encouraged me to leave the field and concentrate on reforming mission practices in the West. Who knows what the future holds, but how frustrating it would be to have to leave the coal face in order to tell people that they need to be on the coalface! The alternative is to work from Africa through the contacts that I have made. But, it has been all too difficult to sufficiently convince people in a short time that they are not understanding something!
Is no one listening? Is no-one realising that being pre-occupied with handing out money and using a foreign language grossly marks someone out, so that it becomes extremely difficult to interact intelligently with people from a different culture? Who will stand up for African people by standing with them? "I had to feel the pain to understand the problem" said Steve Saint in relation to the dependency westerners these days generate outside of the West. (See Schartz, Glenn, 2007. When Charity Destroys Dignity: overcoming unhealthy dependency in the Christian Movement. Bloomington, IN: Author House. xiii.)
While keeping other things ticking over, I am spending a lot of time these days on the writing and publishing of articles. I certainly value your prayer for this.
Getting my PhD was a major success. This especially because I mostly ignored the advice of people who told me to 'write for my examiners'. That is: I wrote the truth, even when at times I knew it would be hard to swallow. Then a year ago I was told to 'tone down' that truth. But, while I had to back-track in a few areas, so did my examiners, and their giving my thesis the green light back in April was a great encouragement to me.
At the same time, I am aware of the gap between what is there in the Western literature, and praxis. Much of what I have said in my thesis is known and is accepted by certain people, but is not applied. It is neither Africans nor academics but donors who these days direct what goes on in Africa. People are using loopholes to excuse themselves from acting sensibly on the African field. My current writing is in a sense trying to plug those loopholes.
One article I have just written counters 'compromise' in mission policy. Another looks at the serious impact of European secularism on theology in Africa. Now I want to write an article about 'dialogue', a much over-rated component of inter-cultural communication.
Once an article is written, a long search for and then back and fore discussion with publishers ensues. (See Articles - Index for those articles already in the public domain.) In addition to articles, William Carey publishers (in Los Angeles) have suggested that I write a short book on 'the indigenous church' from a missionary perspective. I have drawn up a provisional outline for this project.
One of the great pluses of writing while here is that, unlike much writing that is done by people once they have retreated into Western academia, I am writing of things that hit me in the face in the course of my day to day activities.
In an intensive meeting I was put under great pressure to use my money to set up and run a theological school in a certain place. I refused, as I did not want to lay a foundation that was foreign, or to pay students to listen to me. I believe students need, if anything, to pay to receive instruction, that way one can be somewhat sure that they value what they receive. The agreement is now that I am free to use people's church buildings to teach, but local leaders might not go out of their way to send me students.
It may seem strange to some, but coming from a 'wealthy' country like the UK, it takes considerable fortitude to remain vulnerable!
Report on Children in my Home
Samson, aged 25 is now teaching at our local primary school.
Dorcas, aged 18, has just got married.*
Christine, aged 9, is glad to have a playmate in the form of Michelle (below).
Okoth, aged 18, is re-taking his final year of primary school.
Zachary, aged 11, is maturing in many ways, and a dedicated child.
Pamela, aged 22, was married last July, and now has a daughter.*
Diane, aged 18, has left us to live with her sister.*
Ochilo, aged 20, left us almost a year ago, and now sells water in Kisumu.*
Okello, aged 18, is progressing well in secondary school with 18 months to go to finish.
Saul, aged 14, is going through teenage rebellion.
Michael, aged 5, will soon be ready to begin primary schooling.
Doreen, aged 17, is now getting on well in her first year of secondary school.
Ouso, aged 8, joined us in January having had a rough early childhood, and is enjoying the stability of his new-found living circumstances.
Michelle, aged 10 or so, is well behind in school through having nursed her dying mother when she could have been in school, before joining us last November.
* no longer living with me permanently. (Fictitous names used throughout.)
Kenya is currently being terrorised by members of an organisation called Mungiki. This is an extremist sect modelled to some extent on Islam and on traditional African thinking that has new members swear an oath of allegiance, to be broken on pain of death. The government has declared this group illegal and is currently trying to weed it out. But, as the government oppresses it, so they engage in more and more atrocities. They have become known particularly for their practice of beheading their victims. Bus drivers and conductors have been their particular targets, mainly because some of them have recently refused to pay escalating rates of 'protection money' charged on certain routes.
Pray for the Christian church's response to this terrorism. It strikes me that Mungiki's activities confirm the importance of the church: an organisation based on forgiveness and not, as they are, on revenge.
Many of my colleagues recently joined a large Christian gathering of up to one million people, in the nearby town of Nakuru. Lead by Prophet Doctor Owuor, a Luo man, this was a weekend gathering for prayer, worship and fasting of repentance for Kenya. Almost all who attended wore sackcloth and many smeared themselves with ashes to express their repentance for their sins and those of Kenya. The repentance was modelled on that of the city of Nineveh of Biblical fame, whose people repented after being told by Jonah that God was going to destroy their sin filled city. The gathered crowd more than filled a football stadium. Pray for the ongoing effects of this repentance, and that those who confessed the sins of their country not be looking for financial reward.
Siaya Theological Centre
We now have two classes at two locations under this centre. I am the teacher for both. Attendance ranges between two and five. Pray that we find local teachers.
One class in Siaya and one in Yala is with a church that claims to have 500,000 members that is known to be very anti-Western in its orientation. The church is strongly oriented to prayer to saints and ancestors for removal of untoward ancestral spirits. Pray for me to use this rare opportunity for outreach with wisdom and sensitivity.
Yala Theological Centre
The teacher we had standing in for me last year seems to have done an excellent job. Nevertheless, morale right now seems to be quite low. Pray for our new director as he attempts to convince local pastors that we are there as a service to them and not to compete with them for church members. Pray for our main Yala teacher. He is very dedicated, but really needs some local churches to stand with him to support him as he has a young family to keep.
Home church, Zion Harvest Mission
The new bishop who was elected to lead my home church in January seems to be proceeding wisely and keeping a low profile so as to leave local branches of the church to operate largely independently. Give thanks for this.
KIST (Kima International School of Theology)
Ever increasing information about profligate Western ways of living troubles our KIST students. This is aggravated by the fact that they are taking American syllabi, under an American managed school, but under economic standards that they perceive as being way below the truly American level. Pray that they focus on learning God's word, that is neither American nor materially oriented, but universal and spiritually based. Recent resignations by missionary staff means that KIST is under constant pressure, especially on the side of administration.
A Fellow Cyclist
"We know nothing" said a fellow cyclist who I happened to ride alongside on my way to Siaya a few days ago. The 'we' he referred to, he explained, were the African people. "Just look around" he said "and you will find that everything that we have comes from you [the Whites]" he elaborated.
I have to admit, it does look very much that way. People's clothes, even their names, the way they build houses, the pots they cook with, their schools, even language, the pens they write with, the shoes they wear, the money they use in trading, the bicycle my colleague was riding, the buses periodically passing us, so much has only been introduced all so recently to Kenya by the White man.
As a result people do not understand how these things come about. Their own way of life does not produce them. They only use them as they come available. The presence of these things result in their becoming 'corrupt'.
Pray for this despairing spirit of dependency that so easily troubles Kenyan people. Pray that they be given wisdom to build a foundation of their own, and not just depend on the outside for everything.
Very difficult when the foreign language is the language of power, and things are always so easily and relatively cheaply available from foreigners and from outside of the country.
An American colleague suggested that westerners will not take notice of what I detail about missions until I have a 'success story' to show. It seems that some westerners want impressive statistics in order to consider a ministry to be credible. Mass conversions, many buildings and budgets in six figures, etc. This type of evaluative approach is obviously not Christian, as Christ himself was on this score a failure.
Almost 20 years ago I realised that the western mission and development enterprises were not very well informed of the African scene. I interpreted God's calling on my life as being that I should make myself vulnerable over the long term to African people so as to try to discern what is going on. Almost immediately I seemed to meet opposition.
Now nearly two decades on I am able to report having made some key discoveries. But, because what I say does not always line up with today's academia, there are some who reject what I state. Pray for a discerning spirit for all who are involved in mission to Africa, for the truth to be known, and ministry to be effective.
The Alliance for Vulnerable Mission (AVM)
My trip to America allowed the coming together and bringing to fruition of an idea that has been around for some time, of forming a kind of coalition or alliance of missionaries to Africa and the non-western world who set out to be vulnerable to the people they are reaching. The same alliance is seeking the support of people in favour of this. This includes people doing vulnerable mission, and those who are not 'doing it' but who are in favour or interested in it. To register your interest or support go to Vulnerable Mission: Encouraging Western people to engage in Global mission in a Vulnerable Way, or send an email to lindsey @ vulnerablemission.com
Stan Nussbaum, a professional missiologists who I have known for many years and who has long been encouraging me to do something like this, is one of our board members. Another is Robert Reese, a long time missionary to Africa who is now working with World Mission Associates, an organisation based in the USA which has parallel aims to those of AVM. Our other board member in addition to myself is Tim Lewis, who is vice-chancellor to the William Carey International University. We have at the moment three 'advisors' to the board: Jay Gary, a Christian 'futurist' who was instrumental in organising the 'jubilee 2000' appeal a few years ago. Steve Knight, who is the International Communication Coordinator for SIM (Serving In Mission). Finally Hans Schultheis, who is currently lecturing in missiology in Germany following long-term experience in Zambia. Lindsey Newton is the Communications Coordinator for the alliance.
The immediate objective of the alliance is to gather information from interested parties with a view to arranging conferences in the USA, UK and Germany in early 2009. The conferences will discuss the principles of 'vulnerable mission' with a view to seeing how they can be promoted, especially amongst young people. Alternatively, the Alliance for Vulnerable Mission may seek to contribute to other conferences that are also being arranged at the time.
To me, this is a VITAL issue in great need of widespread attention. I would prefer us to go the route of impacting existing mission bodies, rather than forming too strong of an independent identity. Although, the real world of missions is very complex and diverse there is a need for maintaining a certain distinction and clarity in direction lest radical aims be lost in the sea of pragmatic compromises! I hope that the ideals of the alliance can be kept in clear view.
The AVM represents a conscious attempt at countering some inadvertent and inappropriate domination of Christianity worldwide by the Western church, by stipulating two rules of thumb to be implemented as a matter of urgency by a section of the Western missionary force. The two rules are that, while a missionary may be dependent on outside help for their own livelihood, missionaries make every effort to use exclusively the local language and only local resources in their key ministry.
If adhered to, these will ensure that a Western missionary operating in Africa or elsewhere will be genuinely building local capacity in church and development, instead of increasing Western orientation and dependence.