Jim's Journal - July 2008
African Languages and African Theology
Missionaries go home, for a while . . .
Some Plain Truth
Report on Children in my Home
Relativism is Relative
Jim's Furlough 2008/9
Works through Foreign Donations
An Amazing Turn of Events
Vulnerable Mission Conference Details - 2009.
Theology constantly changes in response to people's cultures and ways of life, somewhat as the view of a mountain changes as one moves in relation to it. This means that what will be taught in theological colleges in the West in 20 years will be different from what is taught now. People living within Western culture will keep up with such changes as they are part of the ebbs and flows of the Western culture with which theology is interacting.
This is more difficult for people learning Western theology who are not Westerners. In so far as they are not steeped in Western culture, they will be unaware of the cultural features that Western theologians are responding to. Their unawareness forces them to take Western theology as if it is an entity that is valid in itself - that theology indeed is god as it were. That is how they will receive it as students, and that is how they will communicate it to students. Western theology will only tangentially reflect their own thoughts about God.
It should be clear that as long as Western theology remains dominant, non-Westerners such as Africans will "always be on the receiving end of the theological insights of others". They will quickly go "out-of-date" as their cultural context does not allow them to update in ways acceptable to the West. Then either they must be re-educated in the West, by Westerners or through Western teaching that has moved to the non-West. Unless or until theological teaching becomes rooted in African culture, the African church will not be able to develop its own theology. That means it will not be able to respond to its own context. This means both that non-Christian contexts will remain unchallenged, and that the theology taught will be of marginal relevance to African issues.
The solution to this dilemma is clearly that African theology needs to develop in response to African contexts. The problem here is that African contexts are neither known or understood by Westerners who act as gatekeepers to theological journals and publishers. Because that to which it is responding is not perceived, African theology is rejected. The only contributions usually accepted from African theologians, are those that are responding to Western cultural contexts. Typically, explaining African cultural features to those familiar with Western contexts. Published works on African theology are usually attempts at justifying positions that are different from Western ones. They are not theology as such: as true African theology cannot be done in European languages.
If the African church is to develop indigenous roots, then there is no choice but for it to be allowed to develop outside of the scrutiny of Western scholarship. This is almost impossible should theology be written in English. Instead - African theology in order to make progress and to remain relevant to the African context must be rooted other than in English (or other European languages). Written theology in African languages needs to be encouraged to reflect the oral theologising already going on.
What can be said of theology also applies to other academic disciplines. The situation is serious. Unless or until African thinkers are enabled, encouraged or allowed to do scholarship in non-Western languages, African scholarship cannot advance. This means that African people's and ways of life will have no scholarly roots or expression. In other words, they will remain in effect in a pre-literate state. In a globalising age, this bodes badly for massive populous communities.
The use of African languages in African scholarship is not an optional extra. It is a must for the sake of the health of the African church. Westerners who encourage and subsidise the use of their language in Africa are doing African people no favours. They may be suffocating the African church.
"If I was in charge of the church then I would talk to the leader of the (Western) missionaries, and have them all leave" said a church leader colleague of mine in Kenya. "They should all be gone for about two years so that people get used to paying for things themselves and not expect missionaries to pay for everything. Then they could come back, once it has been made clear that local people will have to pay for things themselves. Missionaries should clearly understand that they are not here to pay for things that local people should be paying for themselves", he added.
My colleague had observed that whenever the church had financial needs, African church members would do nothing, expecting Westerners to cough up and pay. Such behaviour was preventing the church from maturing and keeping it in "slavery" to the West.
(Seconded to the youth department of the Church of God in Tanzania for 2 weeks in April 2008.)
Mererani, a mining town, was our first port of call in Tanzania. Over 70 men had died weeks before when a mine had flooded. People were still looking for comfort. Many were trying to understand why they had become subject to that calamity. I had already heard, and it was soon confirmed to me - that this was a town run-through with ushirikina (could loosely be translated into English as superstition or witchcraft). People are looking for protection against witches, and means of getting good-fortune in the mines. There is much talk of sacrifice, including human sacrifice, to enable the finding of the highly valued tanzanite.
Over a week spent around the Church of God Tanzanian headquarters of Babati provided a great opportunity to catch up with many KIST alumni. There were opportunities to minister in various churches in the area. My time there enabled me to acquire valuable insights into "Africa Christianity" that will be a help to my teaching at Yala, Siaya and KIST.
Our final destination was near Kondoa, with the Burunge people. We spent some days at an abandoned mission station, now taken over by Compassion International. Before that we were at village churches. The Burunge see themselves as an oppressed tribe, hemmed in and surrounded by their more powerful and prosperous Islamic neighbours. They are determined to maintain their poverty, and that of their land, to prevent further invasion by jealous neighbours and their powerful genie. Youths crowded into the churches, received teachings, and sung brilliantly in their choirs wherever we went.
The question is "how"?
Millennium Development Project protagonists say they are to reduce poverty by half before 2015. They sit pretty on their lofty perches considering their position to be impeccable. Who can argue with such a laudable aim? They hope people will not ask too many questions about how this is to be achieved.
Telling the world they are solving the poverty problem has got many Christians on board. "Damned is he who criticises this laudable effort at absolving the world of this stain on its economic record" seems to be the approach. Faith is no longer in God, but in Columbia University (the think-tank behind this project).
The solution advocated for world poverty - is peculiarly convenient for the West. What a co-incidence! A pat on the back for capitalism, a clarion call for a mustering of the West's forces and its imposition around the world. The Western model is to be forced onto poor countries, like it or not.
Hang on. This is dictatorship!
Blessed, Damned Poverty
While constantly faced with the challenge, as everyone else in the globe, of fending for himself and his family, the African man faces an additional difficulty - nothing for him is as safe as abstract poverty. Nothing is as consoling as gross dependency. Fleeing life's turmoil, pressures, threats and contradictions, the African man can finally breath a sigh of relief - when he has nothing. O blessed poverty!
The reason for this, while also complex, is in another sense simple: witches, evil spirits, curses and genie follow the wealthy, materially content and successful. In other words, evil spiritual forces go where envy and jealousy has led. There are numerous strategies available for defending oneself against these evil forces, but none of them is 100% reliable. The only truly safe place at which a man would be a fool to bewitch you, is right at the bottom of the heap. It is only when a man has nothing that he can finally feel secure from the jealous and from witches. Now, at last, he can smile with contentment.
The desirability of poverty in Africa is closely linked to the advisability of incompetence. This need not be in word. Men can concoct great plans, and the evil spirits will barely take notice. So talk of great things and great plans is permissible. But damned is he who implements the great plan he has verbalised!
All this changes when the West comes in force to Africa. The African man's struggles are bypassed in a stroke through financial provision from outside. Note that the African man not being the source of this wealth feels safe! Witches, demons and spirits run round in circles desperately seeking their targets, in response to which the African man say: "There is no point in being jealous of me. I did not work for all this. They gave it to me!" The person who gets rich through being given wealth by foreigners is less likely to be bewitched than he who does so by his own efforts.
His safety in this position is of course dependent on his not being responsible for ongoing provision. He is allowed to beg, of course. Witches don't get jealous of beggars. He can manage projects - as long as mechanisms are in place to protect him from witches. That is - when it is clear that he follows the rules because he has to. That is, under close supervision. Forinstance, a house-boy working for a wealthy foreigner is unlikely to be attacked by witches. But were that his house, he would quickly abandon that high standard.
When the supervision is relaxed, this person has no choice but to protect himself again. Most witches are extended family members, so he is forced to share available resources with them. Left to his own devices, or when supplied other than by "donors", terror of death and calamity can return this man to his original state of "blessed poverty".
The Way Forward
Donors clearly can impact African communities. They can save lives. They can transform statistics. They can improve agricultural production. They can put up buildings and set up numerous wonderful projects. African people are some of the most intelligent in the world. They are perfectly capable of carrying out complex procedures - as long as - they are not responsible for them. That is, as long as they are closely watched by and following the directions of others.
Current thinking seems to be that African people should be totally over-whelmed. Their communities should be flooded by Western languages, money, technology, gifts, management - you name it. The raised living standard resulting is taken as proof that this method is "working". But, the fear of witches is not removed. When push comes to shove, once freed from foreign control the African man's deep fear of being bewitched can take him through what the West calls "corruption", right back to where he started; blessed poverty!
The "donor system" works if the foreigner in control is more powerful than the African gods (witches and spirits). But this has not solved the problem! It has merely bypassed it.
The way forward must be to help the African person help themselves. This requires an escape from fear of witches. This does not mean that foreigners have nothing to contribute. Foreigners can tell of and show a God who is greater than witchcraft. A real God. Not a (white) man who appears to be a god. For a white man to cease to be confused with the "real" God, he must stop behaving like god to the African. He must, that is, de-power himself of those features of the artificial god of Western capitalism. In his approach to Africa he needs to use the African (and not the powerful Western) language, and avoid the donor role like the plague. Then to share Christ, to encourage faith in God as against fear of witches. To remove the fear of witchcraft instead of covering it with a veneer. To enable African people to develop themselves instead of imposing development from the outside. To make Christ known.
On joining KIST in 1997, I found that leaders of the COG in Tanzania had already begun a programme of sending three Tanzanian pastors annually to KIST. All had already spent three years studying at a theological institute in Tanzania. Their biggest issue at KIST was language - as Tanzania uses Kiswahili and not English.
My "fear" for a long time was that KIST was primarily exporting English, and raised economic aspirations. This visit to Tanzania has largely confirmed that "fear". Almost all our ex-students are now located in town and have salaried employment. They are working in areas directly subsidised by the foreign mission (where the money is) rather than fully under the national church. Almost all are taking advantage of the English that they learned at KIST to advance themselves by doing secondary schooling through evening classes. Very few are pastors - even though before coming to KIST they were all pastors and the aim of KIST is to train pastors.
The day is not yet over. Time will tell - the contribution that these educated Tanzanians will make to the church in the future. God's ways are higher than man's ways. But - this has given me cause to contemplate the relationship between theological education, English, and the formal education sector. Unlike in the UK (or USA) formal education here represents what is foreign. It can therefore easily pull students away from their families, people, or churches, into foreign dependence. Theological education needs to be - it seems to me - deeply rooted in people's languages and cultures. Otherwise Western theological education can be training people to serve the West!
Samson, aged 26 teaches locally, and is looking for government employment.
Dorcas, aged 19, has got married (on 14th June) and now has a baby daughter.*
Christine, aged 10, is glad to have a playmate in the form of Michelle (below).
Okoth, aged 19, now very tall, has begun secondary schooling.
Zachary, aged 12, is proving to be very helpful in many ways in the house.
Okello, aged 19, has 5 months to go to finish secondary school.
Saul, aged 15, has gone to secondary, and is settling down.
Michael, aged 6, jumped a year of schooling, by moving himself to another class!
Doreen, aged 18, is struggling a bit with academics at the moment.
Ouso, aged 9, is still weak in school, but otherwise doing fine.
Michelle, aged 12 has settled well, and is a happy smiling girl.
Laura, aged 5, is very bright and talkative and has started kindergarten.
Sadie, aged 12, stayed with us for some months, then was collected by her grandparents.*
* no longer living with me permanently.
(False names used throughout.)
Evangelicals tend to be wary of "relativism". That is - the understanding that doctrines and ethics are relative to the culture of a people. Could it be that "Jesus is Lord" is not true in Africa, for example? Is God's command to have one wife applicable to all, or is polygamy acceptable in some circles? Is lying and stealing OK in some contexts, but not in others?
Unfortunately people's insisting that the same standards be applied everywhere may not help them. It can prevent contextualisation of the Gospel. And it can keep them ignorant of the contexts that they meet. Condemning some behaviour, like polygamy, forces its practitioners to go into hiding. Saying that lying and stealing is "always wrong" prevents us drawing near to the people who "lie" and "steal". Saying that "Jesus is Lord" alone is right, can mean that Yesu ni Bwana or Jesus ist der Herr or Yesu en Ruoth (translations of "Jesus is Lord", but none of these words mean exactly the same thing as "Lord") may somehow be wrong. To ensure that they get doctrine right, people may have to use English!
If we accept relativity in ethics and doctrine - obviously we have a problem when Christians from different parts of the world meet. One comes with his three wives - a practice considered abhorrent by another. But denying relativity means that someone has to set the standard, then enforce it, obliging compliance whether heartfelt or not. Who does that? Of course everyone wants to!
Those on the periphery are likely to argue in favour of relativism. They are the ones feeling oppressed when told what to do by others who do not understand them. Those at the centre - at the mother church - would rather apply their version of things. Those at the centre, usually dictate the terms. Those who agree with them, are those hoping to benefit from them, financially or otherwise. Those at the centre therefore build-up their own power base.
This is not as bad as it sounds! Remember that translation is always approximate. Remember that Christians even in the West have not always believed what they believe now - were they always wrong? Remember also that accommodations can be made to the "weak" (I Corinthians 8:9). Also that in some issues, such as that of polygamy, people's lives and well-being are at stake. Especially in societies that have no role for single women. Notions of lying and stealing are in the West linked to particular (often enlightenment) understandings of truth and rightful possession - that are far from universally held.
This is not an attack on the Gospel. Absolutely to the contrary - it is a clarion call to devoted believers to be ready to share Christ despite and into contexts troubled by such issues. It is a call not always to link the church with Westernisation. The church is greater than that. Christians need to be at the forefront of dealing with sensitive issues such as those mentioned above.
Visits planned to my main supporting churches are as follows:
Andover Baptist Church. Parts of December 2008 and April 2009 and in-between times.
Worpswede Bibel Gemeinde und Bruder Gemeinde, Osterholz-Scharmbeck, (Germany) 20th to 23rd February and 28th February to 5th March.
Wantage Baptist Church, Wantage, Oxon: 14th to 20th March.
New Farm Chapel, Alresford, Hants: 20th to 25th March.
Norwich Central Baptist Church, Norwich, Norfolk: 28th March to 6th April.
Acomb Baptist Church, Acomb, York: 10th April to 14th April.
"Don't you realise, Jim, that everything here only works if there are foreign donors behind it", said my colleague. "Policemen are paid through donor funds, teachers the same, even doctors, plus those who teach the Bible at Kima, also the Kenyan army, everyone! So if you want Yala Theological centre to progress; then you must pay people to learn God's word!"
My colleague was not absolutely accurate. Some things happen without direct donors (although the list is admittedly getting shorter). Such as funerals, some churches (getting less I guess), cooking in the kitchen, drinking beer, giving money to prostitutes, farm work, playing football, chatting with someone on the path, producing babies . . .
That is to say, that there are areas of people's lives that donors are expected to cover. And that there are areas that people expect to take care of themselves. The former are the "foreign things", and the dispensable things. The latter are the indigenous and essential or most loved things.
My question was, in which category should theological teaching fall? It seems many put it into the "foreign and dispensable" and therefore "dependent on donor money" category. I think it ought to be in the indigenous and essential category. How to move it over?
One reason theological education in Africa remains in the "foreign donor" category, is because it's being Western is of little local relevance, unless as a source of income from abroad. While it remains under foreign subsidy - there is little or no incentive to make it "relevant". The test is - which theology is considered sufficiently relevant to keep people's interest if the learning is not subsidised? That is - for which theology are people ready to make sacrifices? This is rarely asked or tested - except in Yala Theological Centre. The application of this test requires the removal of foreign subsidy from theological education.
15 years after its founding - Yala Theological Centre looks set to get a very dedicated, committed, qualified, voluntary Director! This does not follow any special search committees or recruitment strategies. Noah is due to come as soon as he graduates from KIST in July 2008 with a BA in Bible and Theology. This despite the tendency for some KIST students to despise our programme for its lack of symbols of Western wealth and prosperity!
This God-send comes at an opportune time. Although one has either resigned or absconded from duties, we remain with many teachers. But teaching has been slack and motivation low. Students are also few - in many of our classes zero. We are now hoping that our new director will be able to bring with God's help, the renewed invigoration that we are looking for. I could hardly think of a better man for the job.
We have a volunteer assisting in teaching at Siaya Theological Centre. This has enabled us to open a new class at a place called Ndere. Operations have been slowed by the recent death of the 26 year old son of our Siaya Director. It appears that competition for donors amongst the Siaya (town) churches is so hot, that they are not interested in theological education that does not win them foreign funds.
Tightening belts due to financial squeeze is the order of the day at Kima International School of Theology. We need a large intake of new students in September to raise income for school operations. My personal teaching load has been heavy this term, including an extra class of Greek. I hope that it will be reduced next term.
Tuesday 13th January
Oklahoma. Grace Assembly of God, 1041 So. Highway 54, P.O. Box 1629, Weatherford, OK 73096 (contact: Woodrow Walton at: firstname.lastname@example.org) tel.(580) 938-2694
Friday 16th January
Colorado Springs, Colorado (Rich Lotterhos, director of Global Service Associates is to arrange this conference. Details pending.)
Tuesday 20th January
Boise, Idaho. Church of God, 3755 S. Cloverdale Rd., Boise, Idaho 83709 (contact: Don Armstrong at: email@example.com) tel. 208-362-1700
Friday 23rd January
Seattle, Washington. Overlake Christian Church. 9900 Willows Rd NE, Redmond WA 98052 (contact details pending)
Tuesday 27th January
Indianapolis, Indiana. Church at the Crossing Youth Center, 9111 Haverstick Road, Indianapolis, Indiana 46240 (contact: Tim Broyles at: firstname.lastname@example.org) tel. 317 844-9355 ext 23
Friday 30th January
Lancaster, PA. World Mission Resource Center, 600C Eden Road, Lancaster, PA 17601 (contact Carol Stigelman at: email@example.com) tel. 717-299-1427
Friday 13th February
Andover, Hampshire. Andover Baptist Church, Charlton Rd, Andover. (contact John Butt at: firstname.lastname@example.org) 01264 351645
18th February 2009
Freizeitheim Aichenbach, Christian-Friedrich-Werner-Strasse 57, 73614 Schorndorf, (contact Hans Schultheiss at: email@example.com) Tel. 0049 7725 93840. Contact the above address for details of accommodation before or after the conference day.
Tuesday 10th March
Cliff College, Peak District. Cliff College, Calver, Hope Valley, S32 3XG UK (contact: firstname.lastname@example.org) tel. +44(0)1246 584215. Accommodation is available in the college to those who want to book in both before and after the conference.