The Jim Harries Mission Page



Jim's Work



Contact Us



Jim's Journal. March 2010

Byte Sized Observations on Mission in Africa

glossary Glossary


Talking about God cross-culturally
The Shock of Disagreement (Jeremiah 15.10)
Most Incredible, but True!
Assistance Needed
Programme of anticipated visits to missionary training colleges September to December 2010
Football and Cricket: a Parable
Yala and Siaya Theological Centres

Talking about God cross-culturally

The missionary met the tribal African. He heard him say "nyasaye" in reference to the spiritual power that determines people's fate.

"Oh. That is their word for God", thought the missionary. "The English for that word is God", he told the African.

"Ahaa", came the reply, "so now we know what God is – the spiritual force that determines people's fate!"

"No, hang on a minute", said the missionary. "I never said that "God" can be referred to as "it" or that it is "the spiritual force that determines people's fate"!"

"Oh yes you did", said the tribal African.

Both were now on route to considerable inter-cultural confusion!


"And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life." Those are the words of Jesus (translated into English) found in Matthew 19:29. They seem to offer hope to singles. There is value; it seems, in what one gives up for the Gospel! That is, a negative value in Christian service; value in what one does not do or does not have.

What is my experience as a single missionary? The "single" on the mission field phenomenon seems to be mostly for females. I have been single as a male working in mission in Africa for 22 years.

"Pray that my wife will want to go into mission" shared a friend recently, adding that "I think she needs a burning bush"! As someone who has yet to marry, this raises the implicit question: is my calling such that I am prepared to put it "at risk" by marrying someone, given that the latter could easily take me from the field?

Without having taken any oath to celibacy, my conviction has long been that to marry without "great care" would for me be a selfish act. Singleness and chastity open doors to a closeness in relationship to a foreign people that seems to be without equal. For example, language learning is greatly enabled if the language is used not only occasionally during office hours, but constantly with the people one lives with.

A friend once asked me whether I ever think about women and getting married. "Most of the time" was my response. I do seem to fall into Paul's category of "burning with passion" (1 Corinthians 7:9). The discoveries in mission that I have made and am making are, to me, so phenomenal as to say that a missionary must be an exception to Paul's advice. "Burning with passion" is presumably better than throwing in the towel if God wants to use one's life for his greater mission purpose. Can one give up on serving a whole community for the sake of just one woman?

This is an appeal to men to consider single service. Being single on the mission field does not mean that one doesn't have those "normal drives". It means that one refuses to be controlled by them, for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Return to Top of Page


Why do you have schools of churches, but not churches of schools, a teenage lad asked me? "Good question", I responded. He goes to a government funded secondary school with a large budget, extensive buildings and highly educated personnel. He discovered that the school is "under" a local church led by (to him) a few uneducated bumbling old men.

Why are schools under churches, and not vice-versa? My response to him was, that no-one else can have the breadth of vision of a church. Everyone else is dealing with a particular section of life – be it children's education, or business or even (governments) running a particular country. The church, however, has (should have) a God's-eye-view seeking the overall "good" of all people everywhere as communicated by a loving God. Of course, the church should be the head. (Alternative answers on a postcard please, or by email

Return to Top of Page

The Shock of Disagreement (Jeremiah 15.10)

I spend years and years researching some issue. In the course of doing so, I make great sacrifices; I have not married; I live in a mud house without electricity or water; I learn languages; I turn down ways of making money; I spend my time with the African poor; I spend hours and hours in African churches listening to what is going on; I read numerous books; I do one degree after another; I rear African children; I ride my bicycle and swallow my malaria medicine. I suffer the traumas of mal-nutrition, I get rained on and plastered in mud. I go to great lengths to maintain my integrity. Then when I tell people in the West what I have found out some choose not to believe me. Others do not only "not believe", but they make it their business to tell me I am wrong!

This was a real shock to me when I started sharing seriously what I have found in 1992, then later by calling people to a consultation in 2005. In 2007 I got bigger shocks. My efforts at turning people's ears had some success, and I gained some audiences in the USA and the UK. But some of those audiences made it clear that they did not like what they were hearing.

I am not saying that I am infallible. (Am I?) I am merely saying: to me, I had researched something sufficiently to have proved my point. Then I wanted to share my conclusions with others. These conclusions are and were important. They have implications for how mission and development should be done in Africa. Previously some people had said "we agree with you but we do not know what to do about it." Now some people went into a huff, others counter-attacked and others disappeared into disgruntled silence.

"But, but, but look", I wanted to say. "I have gone to great lengths to look into this. Don't you see? Can't you believe me?" "No we cannot", is sometimes the response.

The people who disagree who I am talking about, are Westerners. I was also brought up in the West. So I know where they are coming from. I used to think like they think. Since then, in 22 years in Africa I have perceived the weaknesses in that way of thinking. So I want to point it out to them. But some do not want to listen.

Some do their own research. They take 2 weeks, or a few months, or a few years. They spend nearly all their time at a mission station. They only know how to communicate in English. Some even write papers and theses on "Africa" on the basis of their few weeks of exposure, and are awarded degrees.

In my minds-eye, I know that I have not been (and am not) working "for myself". Rather, I do what I can in the wider interest. So I knew that one day I would get to explain my water-proof case, and people (in the West) would say "ah ha! You are right", then they would change their ways to adjust.

I have discovered that it doesn't generally work like that. Someone wanting a voice has to join others in a cacophony trying to get attention. A lot of the people out there are very bright. They have been to Oxford and Cambridge and Yale and Harvard. They have illustrious positions in universities, governments and powerful non-government organisations. They have access to money and influential contacts. They are careful to put the butter on the right side of the bread and not to upset the status quo in a way that threatens stakeholders. Their organisations have enormous budgets and they cannot afford to say any truth that will jeopardise their income or make them seem less than competent. To them, I become a gad-fly that doesn't go away. Only a fly; one day to be splatted!

I do give thanks for the academic publishing industry. It is based on quality of work submitted, and not on your prior reputation (at least, to a reasonable degree). Even though this also presupposes the status quo without defending it and puts the prerogative on those who want to challenge it to provide the evidence.

So here I am struggling on! The end that I hoped would be in sight, a turning around of the Third World development industry and a revolution to Christian Mission practice, while it has crept closer, still seems far away at times. I used to think that when I got to 40 perhaps I could get married, settle down and leave the battleground for others. Now almost 46 – the status quo is proving obstinate. The battle continues. The race is not over (1 Corinthians 9:26).

Return to Top of Page

Most Incredible, but True!

The most incredible things can be the truest.

African people's beliefs in the veracity of spirit powers are no less true for their appearing incredible to Westerners!

Many African people believe that anything bad is caused by untoward spiritual forces that are connected to discontented human hearts. They do not go to church to find out about God who is "up there", to learn about him. No. They go to church to bring themselves release from these spirits, as demonstrated by their acquiring health and wealth.

This includes Afro-Americans, and Blacks in Britain (according to my reading). Parallels between what happens here and Black Pentecostal churches "in the West" are incredible.

The need for people to get alongside Africans is desperate. That requires putting aside superior wealth and using African languages. Please help us to make this case by going to Vulnerable Mission and promoting the materials there to churches and mission agencies.

Return to Top of Page

Assistance Needed

Jim is looking for administrative assistance for either the promotion of Alliance for Vulnerable Mission, or for his ministry in writing and publishing. Please contact him at

Programme of anticipated visits to missionary training colleges September to November 2010

Name of institution Location Dates
Trinity College Bristol, UK 27 September to 2 October
Redcliffe College Gloucester, UK 2 October to 9 October
Toronto School of Theology Toronto, Canada 9 October to 16 October
Eastern University St. Davids, PA USA 16 October to 23 October
Trinity School for Ministry Ambridge, PA USA 23 October to 30 October
Anderson University Anderson, IN USA 30 October to 6 November
Wheaton College Wheaton (near Chicago) IL USA 6 November to 13 November
Abilene Christian University Abilene TX USA 13 November to 20 November
William Carey International University Pasadena CA USA 22 November on
Mid-Atlantic Christian University Elizabeth City, NC USA 27 November to 1 December

(I am still discussing with other people whether two more visits can be added.)

Return to Top of Page

Football and Cricket: a Parable

There were two friends. One called Football was a soccer player, but the other called Cricket loved cricket. One would rant about his soccer, and the other ranted about cricket. Everyone was happy, and nobody understood what the other was saying.

One day Globalisation came along. He said we should understand each other. He told us how to do "translation". "What you do", he said, "is that you find a word in the other person's language that has the same meaning as a word in your language".

That seemed like a good idea, so they did it.

Cricket said, "we have something we throw"

and Football said "we have something we kick", and they called it ball. They rejoiced to find that the one word worked in both languages.

Football had something called offside, and explained that it meant players shouldn't be there when the ball came.

"Aha", said Cricket, "that must be boundary, as no fielder will go beyond the boundary when the ball is in play".

"We have something called goal" said Football "and the ball should go into the goal."

"Aha", said Cricket, "we have something called the stumps, and the ball is aimed at the stumps."

Then "we have something called handball", said Football, "which is when you touch the ball with your hands."
"Aha, that must be catch", said Cricket.

"We have something called half-time", added Football, "when players take a break".

"That must be the end of an over", said Cricket.

"We have something called run with the ball", said Football.

"That must be getting a run", said Cricket, recognising that sound.

So the conversation continued, and by careful discussion the two sports enthusiasts were able to write up a dictionary called the Cricket to Football and Football to Cricket Dictionary. Here are some excerpts from that dictionary:

Cricket Word Football Word Cricket Word Football Word
ball ball over half-time
boundary offside a run run with the ball
stumps goal spin corner
catch handball throw throw in
fielder forward bowl pass
wicket keeper goal keeper fall over sliding tackle
umpire referee (point of non-comprehension) header
runs goals illegal bowl volley

The two were very pleased with themselves for this achievement and had their dictionary published. Some things were hard to understand; for example Cricket could not believe it when he was told of a header, so he decided just to ignore that word. Some words were easy to understand; like the umpire and the referee. Cricket was a bit puzzled because in football running with the ball was the same as scoring a goal. Evidently the stumps were the same as a run.

Soon the two friends were able to try out their new found skill called "translation". The cricket player had observed a match. A fast bowl nicked the stumps then was caught by the wicket keeper, sending that batsman out after just four overs. The new batsman hit the ball for six but the ball was caught by a fielder before it reached the boundary so he did not get his six runs. When the cricket player met his friend he said "A fast pass nicked the goal then was caught by the goal keeper, sending that player out after just four half-times. The new player kicked the ball but it was handball by a forward so he did not get six goals."

Cricket's pleasure at succeeding in football-speak was however cut short by the angry strained expression on Football's face. "That is terrible and you don't know what you are talking about", said Football. He would have none of that. Instead he called his friend Globalisation, who agreed with him that because football was a more powerful sport than cricket, he would teach Cricket to speak properly. "There are right ways and wrong ways of speaking", said Football. "You can't say fast pass; you only have one half-time. Only rarely are there six goals in a match and certainly not from one kick!" Feeling reproved, Cricket from then on learned football ways of talking and whenever he would describe a cricket match to the footballer he would describe it in a football-way, regardless of what was actually happening. (This is an excerpt from a class on how not to do inter-cultural communication that I am preparing for when I visit the colleges at the end of 2010.)

Return to Top of Page


Pray for us still in financial squeeze at Kima International School of Theology. Give thanks for the hard work being put in by the interim Principal Ron Jacks and his wife. Pray for the new missionaries from America that should be arriving this year, including our new Principal who should be here by January 2011.

Yala and Siaya Theological Centres

I teach at Yala and Siaya three days weekly. We are currently short of teachers, and looking for volunteers who see theological teaching, learning and ministerial training to be their calling. Our programme of visiting indigenous churches continues. We were privileged to have a Rwandan theological student come to help us in the teaching for 1 month this term.


Give thanks that I managed to find the time to write a book (30,000 words) over the December vacation. The same is now being looked at by publishers, along with three other books and numerous articles that I have also submitted for publication. Give thanks for the privilege of being able to find time to write. Pray for success in publishing. Pray especially that such writing will have an impact that will encourage more Western Christians to engage in vulnerable mission.


Please pray for provisional plans I am putting together to spend a few weeks in Tanzania in April 2010.

Return to Top of Page