Jim's Journal - December 2007.'
Missionary meets Local meets Missionary
Sharing a Bed
Integration of Immigrant Communities
Choice in Resource Use
Preachers and Donors
Alliance for Vulnerable Mission conferences
The African meeting a Western missionary on African soil, is fully assured of his own superiority. He has a vastly better knowledge of local people than the foreigner. He is fully acquainted with their customs. He probably knows a number of local languages. Quite likely he has a close knowledge of the language of the missionary (English). The missionary on the other hand, probably knows only one language, and may be almost totally ignorant of the culture of the people being reached. It is the African person who has, in his own eyes, everything to offer – now needs only the money that is in the White man's pocket to ensure his success. Why are Whites so reluctant to part with their money, African people ask themselves?
The Westerner meanwhile is as confident of his own superiority. He considers his civilisation to be the most advanced the world has ever known, and the African as in dire need to benefit from it. The evidence for this constantly surrounds him – African people desperately imitating his language, culture, food – and you name it. The low life-expectancy, economic chaos and superstition prevailing in the church in Africa confirms the White man's notions as to his own superiority. So he will not part with his money except on his own terms
If by not sharing a bed with your wife one night you could save 1000 lives, would you sleep alone?
- what if you could save only 100 lives?
- what if in order to save 100 lives you had to sleep alone for a year?
- what if in order to save 1000 lives you had to sleep alone for 20 years?
- what if by always sleeping alone you could save 10,000 lives?
There, to me, is a case for singleness. Single people can go places and can do things and learn things and serve in ways that married ones cannot. They can be enabled to serve the Lord in ways that would totally defeat their married brethren. Thus they can 'save lives', both for eternity and in this world. (No guarantees though of course.) They also need considerable strength of character, conviction, self discipline and of course faith that they are in God's will. Volunteers?
Efforts by Western nations at settling refugees and countering racism, consist in attempts to orient foreigners to resemble native British, Americans, Germans etc. The culture of the Western nation concerned is promoted as being normal, achievable and desirable.
But the reverse is rare. Especially English speaking people living outside of the Western world usually make few efforts at adjusting to their host cultures. At least in Africa, the effect has been the opposite - and instead of European people's becoming 'Africanised', we have scores (?) of African countries trying to be European - in terms of language etc. There seems to be a degree of hypocrisy in efforts of Western nations at settling refugees?
The stronger the efforts at countering racism in Europe, it can almost be said, the worse 'racism' becomes outside of Western shores. In the globalized world European communication spills over to places like Africa, so the ideals set for people in the UK are transferred to Anglophone Africa. The ideal citizen in Africa behaves like a Brit. In my experience 'revering of whites', if I can use such a term, is a growing problem here in Africa. Social ideals of what it is to be a 'good person' aggravate this difficulty. If they are imported from the West through the global economic communication network, they are implicitly critical of the African native.
The countering of racism and active efforts at integrating refugees in the West can, I suggest, can aggravate international tensions and debilitate non-Western nations. This is because these activities actively devalue what is not Western, and the same is broadcast worldwide. This leaves no space between the sharing of the Gospel and sharing one's culture in mission to the non-Western world. That is not good missiology.
Bad news makes better news than good news! That is a well known fact. But here is some 'good news' of people benefiting from 'Vulnerable Mission' principles.
I met Dorothy (false names used throughout this piece) while waiting to see an African colleague outside an office in Udolo. She had already spent 2 periods of 3 months in Africa. She showed signs of the kinds of frustration that often troubles Europeans on this side of the world. She was living very closely to the African people in her second term, although perhaps not through choice.
We talked of AIDs. When I told her that what we have in Udolo is not AIDs but chira, she was not as dismissive as are many Westerners. I explained that chira is a Luo disease that symptomatically is almost identical to AIDs, but is caused by breaking customary laws. I encouraged her to concentrate on learning Dholuo (the language of the Luo people) instead of Kiswahili that she had begun with. Luo is by far the dominant language in Udolo. I encouraged her to continue to live her life of relative poverty, and to consider it an advantage in her relationship with locals. From this point on Dorothy was happier, as she was able to value what she had been kicking against.
Three months later Dorothy left. But, she arranged to return. From living in an African house in a slum area in town, she graduated to a thatched house in a rural homestead. Interacting almost entirely with Luo people in her day to day life has vastly improved her language and cultural knowledge. She has become proficient at cooking over a wood fire and carrying water from the river, while also training local people in prevention and treatment of AIDs (no, I didn't totally convince her)! Her frustrations were eased when she realised that it was not wrong to interact with people in their language. Her living a life of relative poverty has opened her eyes to what goes on in the local African community. Her lifestyle is such that local people can learn from her example.
Stephen has recently been a great encouragement to me. He is a gentle man with a deep love and devotion for God. I was pleasantly surprised when he indicated his intention to assist us in the theological teaching programme in Yala. Not all Africans respect a Bible teaching programme that shows little sign of outside funding in this age when money rules so much of life. Stephen served diligently and faithfully, despite all the difficulties that we face – such as rain, mud, hot sun, students who come late, classes that are cancelled due to funerals, and having students who academically are weak.
One of Stephen's early comments on our work in Yala, was that we are changa, that is backward, small, unprofessional, country bumpkin and so forth. He was comparing us with Bible colleges funded and run from the West with classrooms, English, dormitories, complex curricula, and dining halls. 'We are not a child waiting to grow up' I told him, 'this is the way we want to be so as to be able to reach the people.' Gradually he picked this up. He found the use of the local language was something to be valued and not despised. He discovered that moving around by bicycle and on foot enabled him to meet classes of people who, while they would never darken the doors of a Bible college, still have great need to know God's word. He discovered that walking in vulnerable humility was a means to avoid kicking up storms of interdenominational rivalry.
Last of all, in this brief report, Stephen discovered that minimising the dependence of a Bible teaching programme on foreign donors means that the Bible can be taught without first writing a project proposal and opening an overseas account. Instead, a dedicated teacher can begin just to teach those who are willing, and through his/her own consistency, Spirit filled life, inspired teaching and Christian walk convince others that God's words are worth hearing. Having found a small group of interested believers gathered from various denominations, Stephen has opened an informal Bible school – without first seeking foreign donors. This means he can teach contextualised theology. Give thanks.
Everybody on this earth has resources, and is obliged to make decisions on how to use them. Under 'resources' I include; friends, money, food, time, soils, water, livestock, strength, knowledge, intelligence, wit and even smiles!
Nobody is free to do just what they want, when they want, as they want. People live within constraints. Some are natural, like some limitations to our abilities and the circumstances of our birth and upbringing. Some are 'imaginary', some self imposed, some imposed by others. People have expectations of us, with various degrees of pressure. Some speak of 'obligations'.
But I cannot agree that people have no freedom. Someone who has no freedom to shift from their existing life, has made a (free!) decision to have no freedom! Even a slave has independent thinking-time. A prisoner can choose who to talk to, or whether to talk, and what to talk about. A high earning business executive can choose to resign his job, sell his mansion and live in a cottage. We all make decisions on how to use the 'resources' that we have!
African people are no different from others in this respect. They make decisions on how to use their resources, within constraints and boundaries imposed by their history and society. Their decisions affect their economic and social circumstances. They contribute to someone's being 'successful' or a 'failure', rich or poor, Christian or pagan, loving or resentful, healthy or sick, well fed or hungry. Decisions made by African people have in the past resulted in ways of life that the West considers to have been 'poor' and 'primitive'.
Interventions into Africa from the outside these days, it seems, ignore people's freedoms. Instead of it being assumed that one's way of life arises from one's choices about resource use, people are taken as victims of unavoidable circumstance. Hence Western intervention concentrates on altering circumstances, thinking that altered circumstances will result in better lives for the people. But what if in fact people are making decisions on resource use other than those expected or known by the West?
I believe in 'vulnerable mission'. (Ministering with people using their language, and with locally available resources.) This is because I believe in people. I believe African people to be competent. It is because I believe helpful long-lasting change comes when people change on the inside. I believe it comes when the Gospel of Jesus Christ sets people free from fears of revenge by evil spirits. I believe in God, in friendship, and love, and partnership, and sacrifice. I believe that Jesus encourages us to live lives that are an encouragement to others by showing to them how they can live as Godly people. Not from positions of superiority, but vulnerability. Not merely 'teaching', but living out. I believe that how people decide to use the resources they have at hand is important, and decisions on resource use determine lifestyles. It follows that assisting people to improve their lives from the inside is encouraging (but not forcing) changes in priority in resource use. This has long been the role of the Christian pastor and preacher.
There may be a shortage of 'resources' in Africa. I guess resources will always be 'short'. There may be a place for boosting material resources availability from the outside. Even more important though in my view, is the work of demonstrating and giving an example of the Godly use of available resources, difficult as this work may be. Encouraging a change in the use of existing resources is likely to be more helpful than introducing foreign resources in the form of aid.
Damaged relationships are some of the greatest destroyers of resources. These range from full blooded war, to marriage break-ups, to fall-outs between political and business leaders, fights between siblings, diseases spread through sexual-immorality, depression caused when people are 'rejected' and so on. The close guarding of relationships between the living and the dead consume many resources in Africa. All these are legitimate concerns of the church. They are effectively addressed by devoted Godly men and women using languages that are understood in circumstances that are familiar. There is a great need for such people. A greater need, I suggest, than that for outside resources.
Preachers will exhort, implore, challenge and inspire people to change. Donors, especially amongst the poor, will force them to follow their whim. A preacher or Bible teacher clearly accepts to be working for a higher authority. A donor and his 'project plan' can come to be the final authority. That is, while a preacher will turn people to another authority, that is God, a donor to the people can be god to them. A preacher is under pressure to give his whole life in service to stand behind his words. A donor can live as he likes, because it is his money and not his example that is making the difference. A preacher produces people who willingly change their ways of life through heartfelt conviction. A donor changes people's lives by altering the contours of self interest. A preacher or Bible teacher produces willing devoted volunteer. (If he does not manage to produce such volunteers, then he keeps trying.) A donor produces, if he is not very careful, something akin to slaves.
Even if, given the dependency created in the Third World, we might say donors must be there. I suggest that preachers who are not trapped into the donor system, also ought to be there. For me personally – I prefer Godly exhorting, reasoning, imploring challenging and inspiring, rather than forcing others to bend to my will.
It has been encouraging since May to have had two classes under Siaya Theological Centre. One of these is located at an indigenous church and currently remains strong. The other in town has diminished almost to death. We are running on the enthusiasm and efforts of the final remaining member of the class, who has recently accepted the position of Director of the school. We are planning to relocate in January, back to the site at which we began 3 years ago. This proposed site being 'neutral', we hope will mean that people will be free to come from various denominations.
Yala Theological Centre seems to have survived the cut in funds implemented in July this year. The monthly grant of about £30.00 that we had been receiving for 10 years has been reduced to zero. This has resulted in interesting, even if testing times. One key teacher is looking for part-time employment as RE teacher in a government school to boost his income. We look to have up to 8 teaching staff (mostly part-time) in the January to March term. Pray for motivational levels, means of income to be found particularly for those with families, and for the means to overcome the interdenominational rivalry that is amongst the factors that limits student attendance.
For the first time since it's inception, KIST is to be left in the hands of an Africa acting-Principal as from mid January 2008. The incumbent Principal plans to take time to focus on fundraising in the USA. The need for funds is rising, especially as the decision to go for government accreditation has been made, resulting in inspections and demands for rising standards both academically and in terms of facilities. Amongst the changes, is a rising academic entry level requirement which is forcing us to turn away students who would in previous years have been easily accepted. In reducing student population and hence income, this has various knock-on effects.
I drew the short-straw and taught science this term. Next term my major role will be to introduce bachelor's level students to the discipline of theology. I plan to do this through visiting indigenous churches and looking at Biblical study in indigenous languages as well as considering theological debates that have set the contours of Western Christian theology. I will also continue with Greek.
From 10th to 16th December I will be one of a group of four teaching at an interdenominational conference just beyond the Kenyan border in Tanzania. Teaching will be in Dholuo. In addition to Gospel preaching, the main topics we have to tackle are 'Christian marriage and family' and 'living as a Christian in a pagan community'.
I am continuing to have articles published. Recently some have been accepted by the Evangelical Review of Theology, the Association of Christian Economists, and the Journal for Intercultural Communication.
Plans continue for the Alliance for Vulnerable Mission conferences for 2009. Provisional dates and locations are as follows:
13th January 2009 - Oklahoma
16th January 2009 - Colorado Springs, Colorado
20th January 2009 - Boise, Idaho
23rd January 2009 - Seattle, Washington
27th January 2009 - Indianapolis, Indiana
30th January 2009 - Lancaster, Pennsylvania
10th February 2009 – Cliff College
13th February 2009 – Andover
19th to 21st February 2009– Germany.
(Please note that these dates are for 2009 and not 2008.)
A staggering apparent acceleration in the rate of passing of months has brought us around, once again, to the end of the year. This journal comes with warm wishes for a joyous Christmas reflecting on Christ's coming to earth and in due course dying for the sins of mankind. Blessings for a God-filled new year.