Jim's Journal - November 2008
I don't believe there is 'success' and 'failure' in God's service. Only 'faithful' and 'unfaithful'. But if there were success, then I can say that the VM conferences have already been a success, because the interest that they have stirred has already been sufficient (in my view) to justify running the conferences! Even if the conferences themselves do not become roaring triumphs, much has been achieved.
The future could have an ongoing major role for the AVM. Or it may be that the message we have will have been sufficiently suffused by the conferences, articles and other attention it has gained, that once the conferences are over no more attention need be given to organisational matters pertaining to AVM. That I guess will be revealed by the conferences themselves.
To find out more, please DO ATTEND A CONFERENCE. Full details on the back of this Jim's Journal.
I believe the AVM to be only a small part, perhaps with a catalytic role to play, in a much larger move 'back to God' in society today. Some would say it falls squarely within 'post-modernism', undercutting 'modern' paradigms that have led millions of people astray, and that continue to be followed by millions today despite the fact that their underlying foundations have been discredited.
For all its appearance of small beginnings, AVM challenges mega structures that have for decades been used to 'oppress' the majority world. That is, putting technology up front, and pretending that lack of capital has been the primary problem of the poor world, has dictated an agenda of aid and technocracy. AVM turns this on its head, and suggests that people can 'develop themselves' if enabled to free themselves from oppressive spiritual structures.
A challenge that remains is bringing people to faith in Christ. The church is in many places in Africa currently being 'bought' into service using Western money. That has led to it being weak and shallow. The West thought it had a short-cut to building the church, using its money and technology. Now we are back to using vulnerable people ready to commit themselves to God's service in order to advance His kingdom.
The world is a very different place to what it was in the 1950s, when much of the current thinking on development began to take shape. Technology has advanced. The world has shrunk. The global economy has grown by enormous proportions. Global communication has brought unique difficulties to this generation of missionaries. Geographical movement used to result in a meeting of cultures by default. These days a missionary can move geographically, and find his own 'culture' in place as well as his own people's reputation already established in the mind of locals. It can be extremely easy to follow the trend, simply fit into the mould, and live in the 'global' Western section of a community without quality contact with indigenous peoples even when overseas.
The world as it is also contains advantages for missionaries that years ago were only dreamt of. Health services have improved vastly around the world. Communication has today enabled by the internet and other means combined with technology, much reduced the kinds of hazards of isolation and unknown-disease once faced by frontier missionaries.
Ironically, as the hazards have declined, so has missionary vigour! One hears more and more excuses for not engaging in front-line church work from 'Western' Christians. More people seem to prefer 'support ministries' of all kinds rather than direct church work with all its inherent challenges of language and culture learning, away from home shores.
Going 'to Africa' was once in itself putting oneself in the front-line of intercultural missionary service. Nowadays one can be 'in Africa', and live much like at home. Further conscious steps, sometimes winning the derision of the more materially oriented, must be made in the field in order to meet people where they are, and not only at the front that they present to the West.
Linguistically the challenge has also grown. For decades, English has been used in many countries of Africa, for mission as well as other tasks. Realising the problems this is generating, is forcing the serious missionary to operate in local languages, which requires a learning task that generations of his predecessors have evaded. The wide-spread of English, enormous economic dependence around the globe on the West, and the habituation of generations must be broken if the message of Western superiority is to be replaced by one of humility, human equality and glory to God.
(Monday 29th September 2008) I had £25 in my hands to pay as rent for the next two months for the two houses that I live in with the 11 children and housemother under my care. Finding a local 'healer' with my landlady, I decided to postpone handing over. The healer would demand more from her (she walks with crutches) if he saw her just having been given that kind of amount.
Two miles down the road the craftsman who has delayed for two months doing some work on my house, tells me some already leaking iron sheets on the roof are so rusty that they need replacing. He said he would come to talk more about that on Thursday afternoon - the same afternoon I expect to discuss the prospect of taking in a new child, aged twelve or so.
Seven miles on, I found a cafe for a drink and a roll. As I was supping my tea, a chicken that had been confined to the counter area freed itself and ran helter skelter across my table. I suggested to the owners that having chickens running around on the table as one drinks one's tea may put off customers. They did not seem unduly perturbed, but did eventually take the chicken away. As I walked off I heard people saying (in the Luo language) "that White man has been here for many years and he speaks Luo just like a Luo" as regularly happens these days. (A common comment on finding that I know Dholuo is 'Dholuo must be easy', implying that White men are not usually very intelligent . . .).
Four miles further riding along a dusty road, I reach the home of a bishop. Large, clean, expansive, immaculate. "Stay for breakfast" I am told, which I do. Another cup of tea. I take the opportunity to encourage the Bishop to have his people support our Bible classes.
By twelve noon I am at another church. I wait. The leader comes. I talk with him about our plans to hold a class there. He sounds positive. He is a friend-of-a-friend, who I have known for many years. We'll see what happens (plans are not yet firmed up). I arrange to meet other church leaders next week at the same place. I call by at a colleague's home, who is recently released from prison - I think for assault (probably while drunk). He tells me he is now attending church. I encourage him and a depressed looking wife who was forcing her baby to drink porridge at the time (holding the porridge over the mouth while keeping the baby's nose shut - when the baby gasps for breath, the porridge goes down). I pray for them and move on.
Lunch is flat-bread and beans in a cooking-hot little cafe being roasted in the sun as all walls and roof are rusty black iron sheets! By two o'clock I had reached another pastor's home, having pre-arranged this visit. Unfortunately the teacher of the class to which I wanted to encourage him to send his people had already become so discouraged by zero attendance three weeks running, that we no longer had an operational class in that area to invite him to.
Playing with a bunch of kids at my next stop provided a not-very-African entertainment for me. (Local African adults very rarely play with children.) I had by now cycled over 20 miles, much in the hot sun. The rain started at 3.30pm, meaning that only two students came for the class that ran from 4 to 6pm, looking at 'how to preach'.
That evening again, comments abounded regarding my knowledge of Dholuo as I had yet another cup of tea. (One cup sells at five pence.) Now I am writing this by paraffin lamp at this branch of an indigenous African church where I am staying the night. This is one of the most stable indigenous churches that I know. The main reason I am aware of, is that it's 'wrong doctrine' keeps disruptive foreign donors away. Tomorrow I am to go another eight miles down the road to look for students for tomorrow's class. Hopefully also to visit a lad who once lived with me, now married with three children, but of late very sick. Goodnight.
Various circumstances have knocked us at YTC well below our anticipated 'success rate'. Not that any are really very unexpected. Despite having known us very well and knowing that we had nothing to offer him, our anticipated new Director told us a week before he was due to begin that he couldn't work without pay. Another teacher has disappeared, another got stuck in Nakuru (one of the towns hardest hit by the post-election violence), and so on. I give thanks for the dedication we are seeing in a few with whom we continue to work!
In Siaya one class has continued to prove relatively strong. The other has not yet taken off. I give thanks for the dedication being shown by our voluntary director to the Siaya school.
Being particularly busy in planning the VM conferences, and anyway not formally involved in KIST administration, I do not have very much to report here. Financially certainly we remain in a crunch. I guess our head is only just above water - not helped by the global situation, although I gather the $ has strengthened a bit against the Kenya Shilling, which will help us a bit. Our Principal was recently forced to abandon his car in Tanzania through serious engine problems, which is proving another expensive debacle. Student numbers are down - our intake this year is just 13, when a few years ago we were receiving around 30 students. I am teaching Acts - which is fascinating, and Greek - which is challenging!
At home we have recently had a spate of malaria attacks, and one child also diagnosed with typhoid which was a bit worrying. As I write, all have recovered, however. I am looking to add one more child to bring the number up to 12. One boy is due to complete his secondary schooling this year. 'Where from there' for him, we do not yet know. I will miss the children in the time I am in the UK.
There has been a lot of stock theft and house robbery in my home area of late. Despite vast amounts of foreign aid that pour into this area nowadays, people continue to live from hand-to-mouth and the rate of robberies and funerals doesn't seem to abate. (A local bishop who is a YTC student was violently attacked and robbed with his wife and children in his house at 10.00pm a few days ago.)
Jim is due to be in the UK (and USA and Germany) from December 2008 to April 2009.
December - mostly in Andover, fellowshipping with Andover Baptist Church.
January - participating in Vulnerable Missions conferences in the USA.
February - first 2 weeks in UK, at Andover Vulnerable Missions conference (13th), then to Germany for the conference there (18th) and visiting churches in Germany.
March - back to UK and at the Cliff College conference on the 10th. Visiting Wantage Baptist Church and New Farm Chapel (Alresford).
April - visiting Norwich Central Baptist Church and Acomb Baptist church (York) then spending time in Andover before heading back to Kenya at the end of the month.
Registration is open for the Alliance for Vulnerable Mission conferences that are to be held at the following dates and locations:
Tuesday 13th January, Oklahoma, USA.
Friday 16th January, Colorado Spr, USA.
Tuesday 20th January, Boise, Idaho, USA.
Friday 23rd January, Seattle, Washington, USA.
Tuesday 27th January, Indianapolis, USA.
Friday 30th January, Lancaster, PA, USA.
Friday 13th February, Andover, UK.
Wednesday 18th February, Schorndorf, Stuttgart, Germany.
Tuesday 10th March, Peak District, UK.
The objective of the conferences is to explore mission options that use local resources and languages (as against donor money and European languages) in Christian mission by westerners. This is cutting edge stuff, trying to get mission to the poor world off the dependency treadmill.