NEWS MID OF OCTOBER 2017
Here is the recording of the short-lecture I presented at the Evangelical Missiological Society’s annual meeting in Dallas, Texas, 16th September 2017.
Here is the cover of a book to which I have contributed a chapter, that should be out soon.
See here for an inspiring worship song in the Luo language of Kenya.
My engagement with seven or so Doctor of Ministry students at a seminary was interesting. Most of the students were from the Far East. Most interesting was perhaps talking with the professor afterwards! You don’t have much chance influencing Americans said the Chinese professor. What you are saying contradicts who they are, he explained. They will carry on marginalising you; they do not want to hear you, they cannot engage with what you are saying, they do not want to be ‘vulnerable’ in mission ... he added. My response: But vulnerability in mission is vital! ... I know it is hard for them to understand when people from Africa and Asia try to explain this to them. That is why I am here. I was born in the West. Maybe I understand Americans more than do Chinese or other Asian people? (Most of the students in our class were from Asia.) I am not here to get money. They need to hear this! We need vulnerable mission!
One question that arose, regards having indigenous people engage in mission amongst their own people. A student said: "Surely, it makes more sense to pay nationals of countries like the Phillipines to do mission to their own people, than it is to use a much more expensive American." Well, yes, that made sense. There may be nothing wrong with doing that. But then how are Americans themselves going to learn about mission I asked? I had already explained, that for effective learning, we need Westerners and not Asians or Africans to talk to Americans about other cultures. If Westerners like Americans and Brits just use other people to do their work while they stay isolated in their mono-cultural enclaves: how are they going to become enlightened about the rest of the world? How can they be training others to do mission, when they themselves are not doing it or knowledgeable about it?
Randy Woodley has spent his life struggling for the cause amongst native American Indians. We drove over an hour out of town to find him at his small farm. Randy is a prolific author, as well as a much-in-demand speaker. Hearing him share, made me think ‘yes, that’s how African people might have spoken, had Africa been colonised in the 17th rather than the 20th Century.’ Ironically, while African people desperately want what is ‘modern’ in order to get money, and in order to survive, Randy told us stories of native Americans who are resisting what is modern. Many African people are desperate to get their children, at high cost, into boarding schools that should be as Western as possible. Native Americans complained when their children were put into boarding schools.
I have been adjunct faculty of William Carey International University for 10 years. But, I rarely meet the people involved. Now, being at their office for the first time in about 7 years, I didn’t expect them to know me. Instead ... I received a raptuous welcome from all of the staff of the university! Americans can be very positive people. We were able to touch base on different issues. Earlier the same morning I spoke to a group of 30 or so senior missions’ leaders, another opportunity to share about vulnerable mission. We are totally on board with you, but how do we implement what you are proposing ... was the dominant temperament at the meeting. For almost two hours I answered questions that arose, as best I could.
On 3rd October, I spoke to the faculty of the missions’ school at Fuller Seminary. The latter seminary, in Los Angeles, seems to be the place that other missions’ professors get their training. I shared for about an hour. The conversations were lively, stimulating, and challenging. Leaving the conversation, a senior professor at the seminary had 20 minutes to spare. "Jim, I realise that the things we are teaching here are not helpful. We need to change. You are giving us a direction indicator pointing us to how we might do this" he told me. That was much valued encouragement. All these people of course are busy, so let’s see where all this will lead ...
At BIOLA University in Los Angeles I was asked why are you saying that anti-racism is against the Gospel of Jesus?" "For at least two reasons", I said. "One. Because in the West one must never treat black people differently from white people, when a new missionary comes to Africa, he is usually determined NOT to perceive cultural differences in Africa even when they stare him in the face. This makes it VERY DIFFICULT to do things in the light of African reality. Instead, whatever one does in Africa has to be a pure-as-possible Western import. Then it doesn’t work. Two. Anti-racism tries to occlude value differences. If someone says, ‘Black people are more likely to get kidney disease than white people’, or ‘white people are more likely to get skin cancer’, that is OK. But, if somone says ‘white people are more loving than are black people’, that is condemned as racist. This makes it impossible to show ways in which many White Western people’s long history in Christianity over many generations has been enabling them to have better ways of life. This conceals the light of Christ."
Some professors looked at me puzzled when I talked about international conferences held in Africa. "If you have an international conference in Africa operating in English", I said "don’t expect me to attend." They looked at each other. Why on earth not? I guess they were thinking amongst themselves. They looked at me again. "Well, come on," I said, "imagine what will happen. There are a lot of poor people in Africa. African people do not like saying no. They are very dependent on American largesse. Americans go to the conference. They talk to Africans, and agree (in English) on what they are going to do that Americans will fund. Now I am the problem. I live in Africa, but also understand Americans (somewhat). If I tell the truth, for example that all those dependency-creating projects aren’t helpful ... what will happen?" (That was a rhetorial question. I answered it.) "You (Americans) will condemn me because I am being ‘racist’, and stopping poor African people from getting money. African people will condemn me, because I am putting their income at risk! Such conferences are designed for Americans who are relatively ignorant about Africa. A long term missionary going there is like walking into a lion’s mouth."
"So, what should we do?" one of the professors asked me. "International conferences held in the majority world should not be held in English," I said, "that is probably the only effective way of keeping out naive (albeit well intended) people. If a conference is held in an African language, then only people who have learned that language (in the course of which they will have become familiar with African ways of life) will be able to attend. Then we could talk about issues that actually concern us in Africa, instead of things that make foreigners happy." "By the way," I added, "What is said and even written in that conference must NOT be translated into English. If people know that what they say will be translated into English, they will be forced to say things that will be translateable! There must be no translation." The professors looked at me ... I think they understood.
Your prayers are valued for my commitments over the next couple of weeks. I am to speak to students at Oklahoma Christian University, then have meetings at Abilene Christian University (Texas). I am to attend a large Bible translation conference in Dallas. My next visit is to speak to people at the Global Institute of Applied Linguistics (that comes under Wycliffe Bible Translators), after which I am to head to Chicago to share with professors at De Paul University, before taking some classes at the Moody Bible Institute.