Jim's Journal - April 2008
Food for Thought Journal
Thanks to all those who prayed while Kenya went through its worst crisis since independence. I hope you will find reading this journal challenging.
Language and Legs
Honest about Spiritual Ministry
In the Inter-math of the Kenya Crisis
Accreditation Step Achieved at KIST
Do Development Projects Promote Superstition?
The Charitable Promotion of English in Africa is Harmful
Charitable Giving in the Bible
So What is the Answer?
A warm welcome to the 2009 conferences. Details as they stand:
Tuesday 13th January 2009 Oklahoma. Grace Assembly of God church in Weatherford, OK (contact details pending)
Friday 16th January 2009 Colorado Springs, Colorado (we are looking for an administrator to manage this conference)
Tuesday 20th January 2009 Boise, Idaho. Church of God, 3755 S. Cloverdale Rd., Boise, Idaho 83709 (contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Friday 23rd January 2009 Seattle, Washington. Overlake Christian Church. 9900 Willows Rd NE, Redmond WA 98052 (contact details pending)
Tuesday 27th January 2009 Indianapolis, Indiana. Church at the Crossing Youth Center, 9111 Haverstick Road, Indianapolis, Indiana 46240 (contact: email@example.com)
Friday 30th January 2009 Lancaster, PA. World Mission Resource Center, 600C Eden Road, Lancaster, PA 17601 (contact firstname.lastname@example.org)
Friday 13th February 2009 Andover, Hampshire. Andover Baptist Church, Charlton Rd, Andover. (contact email@example.com)
19th to 21st February 2009. (details pending)
Tuesday 10th March 2009 Cliff College, Peak District. Cliff College, Calver, Hope Valley, S32 3XG UK (contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Write to email@example.com if you want to be added to the Vulnerable Mission mailing list.
Teaching at Kima, Siaya and Yala closes at the beginning of April. The Church of God missionaries retreat is to be from April 7th to 11th at Malindi on the Kenyan coast. I then plan to spend up to 3 weeks ministering in seminars with churches in Tanzania before returning to the opening of the new term here in Kenya.
I have occasionally noted when talking about the importance of the use of African languages in ministry here in Africa, that Western colleagues consider me to be speaking of some vestigial animal close to death and to wonder why I want to preserve it. Is it the task of the missionary to stack the shelves of the museum with obscure languages?
For all the value of museums, this is far from where I stand. I see someone's language being their legs. Not using one's own language is like being carried rather than walking. At times being carried is OK, but even he who has been driven to the supermarket still needs legs to carry the shopping into the house and into the cupboards. Denying someone their language creates dependence on the owners of the foreign language - especially if the latter is relatively unrelated.
One's language being ignored in formal activities in life is like not exercising one's legs except when sitting! One's legs become thin, weak, and useless. When this person wants to stand alone, they can't.
Imposing a foreign language is like putting someone in a jungle but forcing them to walk as if on a street in a town. Or someone in a house deceived that they are in a field. Such a person bangs against things, and cannot manoeuver around.
To have a spiritual ministry, I have discovered, is one of the most difficult parts of a missionary's programme. Even though this is what it is supposed to be all about!
It is difficult for many reasons. One, because people's spirituality is very deeply rooted in cultures that are hard for a foreign missionary to understand. You can think you are saying one thing, but be understood as saying another. Two, because as Westerners we very easily get caught up in 'providing' for people materially, especially because material 'poverty' is here way off the scale of what we are used to 'in the West'.
Third, it is easy to be so convinced by the above, that missionaries can seriously neglect spiritual ministry. (Especially if ministering in English and ministering to people who are being paid to be ministered to, does not qualify as spiritual ministry because it is either 'foreign' or 'forced'.) I am taking a step back and trying to promote 'true' spiritual ministry (through means of Vulnerable Mission) by writing in mission journals and academic literature.
Spiritual ministry is fraught with failures, traps and struggles. I do believe all of the activities I am engaged in, from looking after children, to teaching at KIST, Yala and Siaya, writing and studying, and so on to be important. They all contribute to 'spiritual ministry'. But I also long to be used more of the Lord in communicating the Gospel to folks around here, without blank looks that say: 'if you think we are going to listen to you if you don't give us any money, get serious!'.
African spirituality is very 'action' oriented. African people testify and give glory to God for things that in 'the West' we identify as arising through science, chance, planning and common sense. These things come to be called 'miracles'. Much of what European people do is classed as 'miracles'. Then people of European origin come to be gods.
In the Inter-math of the Kenya Crisis (written while protest marches were going on)
Having been put into office by an inter-tribal coalition in 2002 on the understanding that he would serve only a 5 year term then retire, many were upset that president Kibaki stood for re-election. But, they were assured, he could be ousted democratically by voting as Moi had been 5 years earlier. Many made great efforts to attend the polls, and initially when the media announced that the opposition was in the lead, were confident of having ousted the man they did not want.
Suddenly things changed. The incumbent president made an amazing recovery, accompanied by the announcement of (apparently) bogus election figures. His narrow victory was announced and he was sworn into office within half an hour. Angry Kenyans all over the country responded spontaneously to this act by making a noise. Some took advantage of the ensuing chaos to steal and destroy property. Others focused their anger on the tribe of the incumbent president, of which there has long been much jealousy through their having a disproportionate amount of the country's wealth.
A faith in the democratic process acquired over a number of apparently successful elections and a referendum has been seriously undermined. People are reluctant to allow the incumbent president another 5 years of peaceful rule. The international community has taken note, and is not recognising the man in office. Unfortunately, to drawn the attention of the international media, one has to do dramatic things like have large protest marches, burn fires, close roads and destroy property.
What lessons are already to be learned following these experiences:
1. It has become clear that Kenya's economy is totally dependent on foreign-aid for its 'normal' operation. The international community constantly threatens to withdraw aid to discipline the country. This act would presumably create enormous chaos and hunger. Is it just for donors to have such a control over a supposedly sovereign state?
2. Amongst the control by the above, is a dictation of many of Kenya's domestic policies. Time and time again, Kenya is required to follow advice from Washington or London regardless of what is advisable in the light of local circumstances, in order to obtain and maintain funding. This situation, creating official policies that are impossible to implement, is adding to the enormous corruption already created by the 'donor' system.
3. How can the international media be made responsive to other than willful self-destruction on the part of African people? Having a foreign system of governance imposed on it, Kenya of course runs to those who have brought it if it fails to work. But to have to do so through violent destruction of one's own property seems wrong .
4. I want to make a new suggestion - that African countries like Kenya be helped towards self-rule. That foreign initiatives focus on empowering African people instead of increasing their dependence. Today's emphasis all too often is NOT this way. For this to be achieved, clearly aid should not be linked to foreign control (or a foreign language).
5. Kenyan, as many other African people are, because of their dependence, habituated and obligated to praising Westerners. For Westerners to advocate that policy in Africa follow the expressed (in English) desire of African nationals is short-sighted. This is Western wisdom indoctrinated into Africa, being fed back in order to please! The West has authority, born from its aid programme, and needs to act responsibly in the light of that authority.
6. The world church has a role to play. The church need not use aid to force it's policies. It can assist people towards self-rule by concentrating on spreading God's Word which does not have numerous strings. This means communicating into the context of people using the language of the people, by vulnerable missionaries who focus on relationship rather than donor missionaries who focus on projects and programmes.
7. Foreign domination and following an agenda dictated from outside has meant that home issues are neglected. The church in Africa, in so far as it is indigenous, has been addressing such issues, and should continue to do so.
A recent (November 2007) visit by government officials to KIST bore fruit this month (February 2008) when we were told that the KIST diploma is now recognised by the CHE (Commission for Higher Education) in Kenya. This means that our Diploma is accredited, and it has happened more quickly than we had hoped.
That African people's lives are traditional deeply rooted in magical beliefs is no secret, and attested for by numerous anthropologists. Giving a boost to African economies without providing an alternative to such practices, can be denying people opportunity for liberation from them. The magical worldview is an encompassing one - it covers the whole of life (much as does one of the alternatives, the scientific worldview). New things, even if supposedly scientific, are incorporated into that worldview and considered magical.
There is a second reason why the inputs of 'development projects' such as the Millennium one is 'magical'. That is because it is designed in the West, and by Westerners who are familiar with a Western context. It's precepts are written in English. The process of translation into African contexts and languages leaves gaps, and introduces additional information. Such 'gaps' and extra's result in magic (or extensive control and intervention by Westerners creating great dependence) being needed for development initiatives to work.
In other words, Western initiators of development projects designed for Africa invariably make wrong assumptions about African people's understanding. They set up projects that pre-suppose what is not there, and do not presuppose what is there. Knowing neither what 'gaps' are there in knowledge, or what additional knowledge / understanding is there in Africa, project activities are giving a product to a customer without components that are vital to its successful use. I bring this to your attention because: 1. narrow minded advocacy such as that of the many projects is, by precluding alternative options for action from view, having an extremely debilitating impact on Africa. 2. Because Christians should avoid practices what condone and encourage the occult, which the Bible strongly condemns.
Enlightening the uninitiated about one's language and culture cam be extremely gratifying - especially when one's students are desperate to learn. The economic power of English means that this is often the case in Africa. Language teaching gives vast opportunities for native English speakers.
But is time to consider the opportunity cost of African people's pre-occupation with European languages. Many spend 10 plus years of the prime of their (relatively short due to short life-expectancy) lives learning them. Foreign aid, on which Africa is becoming increasingly dependent, is (almost?) invariably tied to a knowledge of English.
Unfortunately the dominance of European languages in Africa can work against people's capacity at running their own communities. It is extremely difficult to govern ones own people in a foreign language - especially if that language continues to be owned by someone else. Yet, conceding this if it is a European language, can result in the cutting of funds.
For Gospel-missionaries to teach English runs contrary to much good missions wisdom. The Gospel, if there at all, is presented heavily draped in foreign cultural garb - whereas it should be super-cultural. English-teaching is taking advantage of one's foreignness, and not adjusting to 'the local' context.
There is something wrong when government and other aid money is used to subsidise a language. Yet this is what is happening in Africa today. Non-Western languages that make great sense to people and are in regular use cannot advance due to the stiff competition of European languages that is enabled by foreign subsidy. Thus a state of effective illiteracy (illiteracy in languages that could be used to explain what is happening in someone's community) is combined with enormous dependence on distant foreign powers for the functioning of almost all aspects of African formal economies. I question whether Christian mission efforts should be contributing to this.
James 2:14-17 and 1 John 3:17 are often interpreted as being a Biblical mandate for making donations to the materially less well-off:
James 2:14-17: What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes or daily food. If one of you says to him "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is that? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
I John 3:17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?
In Western societies such as that of the UK and USA all kinds of institutions take care of disadvantaged people. When Westerners travel, they go to tourist spots that are protected from grating poverty. 'Real' Third World poverty is faced at a distance and cushioned by mediating organisations. (Aid organisations who make their living from being intermediaries.)
But then, what do you do if you live in the midst of a people for whom poverty is a constant issue, hunger is endemic, and where you can meet 20 genuinely hungry beggars in the course of a normal day's movements? Giving to everyone every time will clearly encourage them to beg. Massive handouts are clearly not working in Africa. The realistic options are either to live with the situation as it is, to isolate oneself from it socially, geographically etc., or to leave. Which would Jesus do?
James emphasises the importance of faith being accompanied by works by countering the traditional view that words of themselves have power to 'bless'. The implied answer to the question in James 2:16 is 'no' - as merely telling someone to be warm and well filled does not produce food in their stomachs. So neither is faith alone without works sufficient for a Christian, says James. This is not a command to always give to everyone one meets who is hungry, but it illustrates the importance of faith being accompanied by works. How to respond to those who are hungry, is a more complex question.
In John's letter, where the NIV says "has no pity on him" the original Greek translated word for word says "shuts the bowels of him from him". 'Bowels' in the New Testament can be translated as 'heart' or 'tender affection' in English. So the translation could be "is not moved to his guts by him" or "shuts his heart against". Christians should not be unmoved by the poverty in the world. Being moved to one's guts should result in action (v18). But John falls far short of specifying that the appropriate action is always material donations, and I think with very good reason.
To say that Christians should be 'deeply troubled' by the suffering around them is different from saying that Christians must give handouts! Or that Christian mission must be accompanied by donations to the poor. Perhaps Christians should suffer with the poor (1 Peter 2:21)?
Perhaps my reader is asking "what then should be done"? I can provide some suggestions:
I write as a Christian, so take my cue from the Bible. I believe the Bible to be talking of God, and that the most important thing for a person in this world is to know God, and what Jesus did on the cross. The prerogative that Western Christians have, I believe, is to share the Christian message. It is not to share either Western language or culture, even if this were possible. (In actual fact it is not possible. Because the incumbent culture cannot simply be eradicated sharing one's culture always results in the formation of a hybrid language or culture.)
An error made in recent decades has been accepting the 'holistic' Gospel as the Gospel. This term holistic Gospel assumes that rationally grounded worldly prosperity, or a means to achieve such, should go hand in hand with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is not a position supported by either the Bible, or the historic church.
A true knowledge of God as well as being an open door to eternal life liberates people from fear of aggressive forces and powers that would keep them in depravity. That is why the aim of the Christian should be at all costs to communicate this true knowledge. This requires a missionary to die to himself in order to embrace the other so as to comprehend how God appears in that 'other' culture. Then to communicate the message of the Scriptures. This simply cannot be done by someone intent on spreading either foreign money or a foreign language.
The task of sharing a knowledge of the living God is far from easy.