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News for End of January 2006

Dear Friends,

It is ironic that while in Kenya I am primarily a teacher of Bible and Theology, my identity in the UK seems to be more as 'Africa expert'!

The two do overlap. It is fascinating how knowledge of what goes on here in Africa enlightens one's Bible teaching. Knowledge of African language and culture constantly challenges Western Scriptural reading approaches:

Word meanings and uses are here subtly different here than in the UK. 'Sin' is a good example. This can in African languages be translated as 'demon' (Is that a demon in Genesis 4:7?) That is, sins can be chased away like demons. (Is it wrong to chase away one's sins in the name of Jesus before entering a church?) Sins also, are what precede suffering. If there is no resultant suffering then in the African conception there has been no sin. (Abraham saying that his wife was his sister was not a sin, because it did not result in his suffering.) When talking of 'God' then, I am forced to remember that he can resemble a 'force' that lives in mountains and rivers, as well as a majestic being sitting in the clouds. (The Luo word for God is in some ways very similar to the one for 'magic powers'.) The other day I was teaching on history in the Bible. I had to change my tune, and tell students that there is no such thing as 'history' in the Bible. Saying that books like Joshua are 'historical' only works in the West. (So the historical books of the Old Testament are indeed books of prophecy.) 'History' is rooted in enlightenment rational thinking that have no roots here. In the West we talk of things being 'supernatural'. Here we don't have 'super-natural', as we do not have 'nature'. The latter again is an invention of the West. (The British English word 'nature' suggests a kind of clock-work world running without God's constant intervention. Here things are full of competing spiritual forces.)

These are the fascinating contextual landscapes that I traverse over with our students here at KIST and even more at Yala and Siaya theological centres where we use indigenous languages. (The above does not mean that I am teaching untruth, but that I am having to compensate for differences between African languages and Western languages so as to be saying the same thing in a different context!)

Give thanks for encouragements this week in my teaching at Siaya, Wagai and Kima!

Best wishes,