NEWS MID JULY 2011
The bus shot past - even though I'd been assured it would always have room for me! The driver had given a signal 'We're full'! I stood on the roadside. I was tempted; "Just go and work on the computer for an extra day!" . . . The temptation continues to be great, maybe growing as the years go by, to retreat to spending more and more time in the office and less time in the African milieu.
I was tempted to forget the frustrating day ahead of me! Yes, it is a common pattern, for it to be very frustrating to do gospel work in the African context here if I am not in charge, or where Westerners are not in charge.
I gathered my loins, to use the Bible expression (1 Kings 18:46) and set my face to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51); I mean Siaya. It was over 2 hours of cycling including a big hill. I arrived for the class 5 minutes late. My lone student came 5 minutes later. We had our class. More frustrations and delays followed . . .
What was once a reasonably keen set of students, seem to have lost heart. Again the temptation is great - give them the money they want; organise a 'proper' school; bring in foreign donors; teach in English and get the courses accredited! But, why do we Westerners always have to pay or give incentives from the West for African people to study God's word, I asked myself? Surely something must be wrong? "The only reason people in my church study the theology of the church is because when they do so they are paid," said my student. There must be more to African Christianity than this, I thought to myself.
An ex-student and her colleagues were walking past me as I sat waiting for students. I asked them where they were going (although I had already guessed). "To a funeral" they told me. I had 45 minutes before class time, so I tagged along. There was a massive crowd (at least a few hundred) 'celebrating' the death of a young mother (early 20s). There was hearty singing, sadness and tears, joy and laughing, testimony, revealing snippets of peoples lives, beating of drums, people swaying to the rhythm, people speaking and sharing, good food followed. A lively preacher, brightly adorned in an orange robe and red/yellow gown jumped, span, gesticulated using Dholuo with cut and thrust precision expounding Scripture in a Luo way with everyone (it seemed) spell bound following his every word and movement.
I sat. Both enthralled and perplexed. So much was 'wrong' according to the West. There was too much focus on the dead. The preacher (despite using the Bible) certainly knew peoples pressing concern was bewitchment, curses and unfriendly spirits. He seemed close to being a professional diviner. I knew people had left young children at home without 'proper' care to attend the funeral. Children may have gone hungry that night as a result. Money had most likely been diverted from other projects to the funeral by 'corrupt' means. There was no mention of any effort to try to prevent such deaths as that of this girl from happening again by medical or 'rational' means. Hundreds of people attended the funeral for hours and hours at their own expense, and they loved it. Yet we have to pay through the nose to get a few young folk to gather to study God's Word. Hmm.
Where would Jesus have felt more at home, in my class, or at that funeral? Should I be helping people to chase away spirits, beat the drums, 'waste' hours, laugh and dance, be oriented to the dead and further support the practices that the World Bank says are bringing poverty? That's where, it seems, the hearts of the people are. So many questions. Wow!
PS Please do see: 2012 Mission Conferences