NEWS middle of June 2004
Being multilingual is indeed often fascinating.
A KIST student, who had no doubt been taught about "development" in English, asked a Luo church leader in Kiswahili what steps his church had taken to promote "maendeleo" (a frequently used Kiswahili translation of development) in his church. Although he responded in Kiswahili, I could see the Luo man registering the term "maendeleo" by translating into his mother tongue in his head, and getting the word "dongruok".
Our KIST student was thrown into mental confusion by the answer, in Kiswahili, that this church usually provides a coffin for those of its church members and their families who die. He went to great lengths to go on to explain how they will arrange for a radio announcement of the death to ensure that the whole family can attend the burial, and make many other provisions to ensure that the late is "buried well".
The KIST student repeated his question by explaining that what he meant was, whether the church had started any schools or hospitals - his idea of what constitutes "development". No, not yet, was the guarded answer, as he perhaps wondered why anyone should expect an indigenous church such as his to be involved in such "Westernising" projects. This church leader knew that "dongruok" (development) of his people could only occur if the dead were well looked after.
More money ...
I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry listening to my African colleagues discussing wealth.
"We must get as rich as possible as quickly as possible" said one "all that stuff about contentment and putting your treasure in heaven is just a load of old barny ..." "But Jesus taught that it is as hard for the rich to get into the Rule of God as it is for a camel to get through the eye of a needle" I shared. That day, my words seemed to fall on deaf ears!
This may not be an attitude to wealth that is overtly taught to budding pastors and ministers. It is however one that very many pick up. How? I suspect implicitly, as they see wealth that is in the West, and are told that the West is their role model and example to follow. It is sad to me, that people who come to study God's word end up with such an attitude to 'success' in this world!
It is little short of fascinating following funeral dramas in this part of the world. A lady from my home village learned of the death of a grandchild, so went to attend the burial. She left her husband there and returned home ahead of him, only to find news of another funeral to which she went forthwith. So, her poor (and soon to be hungry) husband returned to an empty house. Arriving late but with the crowd dutifully awaiting her as the grandmother (again), this child was buried. Now some-distance from home, a man who was to have been buried a week later suddently arrived and the burial was set for two days later, so the lady decided to stay on to attend that burial also. No sooner was this person buried, when another 3 year old relative passed away, to be buried two days later, but the lady concerned thought she had better go home as her family were unaware of what was happening to her for so long.
It is a good job that she came, as that morning I found a rather distressed (and hungry) husband not quite sure what to do as his bicycle was broken down and he had no money to reach the funeral site. Mother-in-law was also full of lamentations on various of her grandchildren, children and missing daughter-in-law. Fortunately, the 'prodigal daughter' arrived that evening, and all was well.
This may seem a mundane way of handling the tragedy of a series of deaths. Indeed - and when funerals are coming as thick and fast as they are here, this seems to be the way to stay sane.
Death here is frankly not the same as in the UK. Events leading up to the death of the 3 year old were described to me in some detail. He drunk a full cup of tea, when he usually only drinks a half cup. He told his mother to wash him, which she did. He told her to put him to bed, which she did. He told her to cover him in bed, which he did. A little while later he was breathing heavily, his head was floppy and he couldn't stand, and then he died. This description was to me a clear reflection of the widely noted African belief in "partial re-incarnation", in which children are believed to inherit spirits of older departed relatives. This "older relative" was clearly preparing for a dignified exit from this 3 year sojourn in the world, using the mouth of a three year old child. So also a preacher at a recent burial of a 6 year old child said "but we know that he will be back" . . .
I have myself reached a bit of a landmark. I am no longer under-40. While it is always a shock (in the West) for someone to die as young as their 30s. Once your 40, I guess you are counted as having had a "good innings". So, I've had a fair innings already, and give thanks, as I await to see how many more runs I can make for our Lord before its "see you upstairs folks".