We just returned yesterday from a 10 day trip of debrief, rest and encouragement in Denver (and Colorado Springs). Our first few days were spent catching up with friends (The Finley’s, Edmonds and Wolfes) and adjusting to the time change/increase in elevation.🙂
On Tuesday we started the day out with sharing our story to the staff at WorldVenture during chapel and celebrating Colette’s birthday with everyone.
Tuesday and Wednesday we spent with our counselors about 7 hours total debriefing the happenings of Colette’s story; sharing the facts, the emotions, the meaning and processing goals and steps to take in the future. We are not done processing all that has happened, but our time at headquarters helped us to see what we are experiencing is normal and it gave us tools to face the future realities (right now, the unknown).
Thursday, we headed down to Colorado Springs for a few days to spend time as a family. We got to play, enjoy time in the snow and rest.
That Saturday Devin and Becca Ferguson joined us and we spent the weekend catching up, eating yummy food, seeing some beautiful sights, celebrating my birthday and catching up with old friends! (The Cooks and the Davies)
Our time was such a blessing and we praise God for an organization, family and friends that are so supportive!
To top our 10 day trip off, upon returning to Ohio, we got to hang out with more family (Uncle Jim, Aunt Laurie, Uncle Pat, Aunt Cindy and our cousin Jenny). What a blessing!
Last week a friend and I were walking, not too far from home. We were searching the home of a lady that attends my church because I had been wanting to visit her but I did not yet know where her home was situated. We found the home, greeted some of her family, chatted for a bit and then made our way home, another way.
In the midst of a conversation we were interrupted by a few ladies, who had been in their courtyard chatting. One of them starts yelling something towards us and motioning us to come over to them. She was speaking in a local language, of which I know only a few words, so we asked her if she knew french. We then proceeded to have a conversation in french.
We introduced ourselves and asked what they wanted. In fact, this particular lady was interested in the color of our skin and wanted to chat. Not sure what about, but that doesn’t matter now. Right next to us was a well, so my friend Angelika asked to take a photo. They permitted her and after that a conversation broke out.
Here on campus, I join Angelika in her class on spiritual formation. The next week she was to be teaching in John 4, about Jesus and the women of Samaria and their interaction at the well. She gave them a brief overview and shared that we would return to share more of the person of Jesus (and to show them the photo of their well that she had taken).
That day was today. We had 4 of the students wives join us so they could share with these ladies the story in their maternal tongue, Senufo. It was beautiful. They recounted the story and then talked about the verses, 13 and 14:
Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I give him will become in him a spring welling up to eternal life."
These ladies have heard stories of Jesus and even attended the catholic church for a time. One (Elaine) is married to a muslim who doesn’t permit her to go to church anymore and the other (Fanta) is married to a man who sacrifices fetishes to his gods and ancestors.
I am amazed how God orchestrated our paths to cross. Would you join us in praying for them?
Pray for their souls (that they would see following Jesus as more than a religion… it’s a relationship!). Pray for their husbands, that they would allow their wives to attend church. Pray that Satan would not have a foothold on this family.
Monday evening we are to return to this courtyard to show a video of this same story to all the women there. Oh may the Holy Spirit show them that their longings can be filled with the person of Jesus Christ. They do not have to thirst any longer…
Around 1130 today, I heard many voices approaching the house. Aria was in the midst of the group and I thought to myself…”I wonder if she invited everyone from her class to come play again?” Beside her was the teacher, the teacher’s aide, two ladies (one, whom I have met once and the other whom I had never seen) and two of Aria’s classmates. “This is interesting,” I thought.
The teacher proceeded to explain to me that Aria had invited these two little girls over to have lunch and play until school started at 1400. “And did she invite everyone else?” I asked. “No. Just the girls.” The teacher proceeded to laugh, saying, “we asked her but she insisted that only the girls were invited.” The older sisters (of the students) agreed and said, “goodbye.” The teachers then left. I didn’t have a choice in the matter really…
I stood there thinking, what in the world just happened. I have not a clue who these ladies are, and they are entrusting me with their girls for the next 3 hours. What?! I’ll be honest, I found myself a little annoyed that each of these adult ladies would follow the invitation of a 4 year old (and the fact that if something happened, I didn’t have their numbers or even know where in the world they lived), but I proceeded to make lunch. All while being very happy that I had something ivoirian to give to them (rice and peanut sauce), something they were use to.
Justin came home and I explained to him what had happened and while chatting we came to this conclusion: The family members of these two girls trusts the teacher and the teacher has acted as an intermediary to us….She trusts us, so the parents trust us? Wow. I’m gonna have to adjust to that kind of thinking.🙂 Three months is just not enough.
It all turned out well, even if one of the girls needed to see her mommy and began to cry and I had to take her home, with her as the guide. (I actually found the teacher’s aide, as she is one of the student’s wives, and we walked Hasmine back home).
Everyday I learn something new!
…not actually butchering the animal but prepping the meat afterwards. Who knows, maybe I am training to work in a grocery store after I retire. That sounds like fun eh?!
I am in the midst of adjusting to new ways of life here in Ivory Coast and this is just one. I love cooking, but prepping meat is just, well GROSS! This post gives a little glimpse of what it takes to get meat from the butcher and into the freezer. A timely endeavor it is….
First I go to the market and find the meat. **Sometimes this is a challenge for me, but eventually I find my way. Thanks to a friend, I haven’t had to go too many times by myself.
Secondly, I look for a meat that has flies on it. Yes, this means the meat is fresh. Sometimes, it’s easy to tell the selection that has been sitting there for a few too many hours/days (due to the smell). yuck! **To be honest, I have only bought meat a few times (because it’s easier to buy in bulk) and I have always gone to a vendor who is older, the man who my friend buys from. He is great and doesn’t try to sell me more than I need.
ThirdIy, I buy the meat. **It’s quite cheap when you figure each pound is 2-3 dollars!
- 5 kg (10 pounds) of filet= 30 dollars
- 5 kg of beef without bone= 22 dollars (to make into ground beef).
The next step is the not so fun part..the cleaning and prepping of the meat (which must be done soon after getting home from the market). Here is how it works…
- Put the meat in water and remove any visible pieces of wood (from the wood cutting boards) or little pieces of bone.
- Dump water out and rinse again.
- Cut away all unwanted fat and the white tendons that line the meat (this is harder than you think…at least for me!)
- Rinse again and place it in strainer to allow excess water to drain out.
- Lastly, cut up the meat (filet- strips, cubes, steak cuts) and/or grind the beef.
The final step, and the best, is placing the prepped meat in the freezer for later use!
After 100km drive on smooth pavement, we arrived in the next town, where we began our decent into the bush on a small back road weaving us through small villages and deep ruts and turning into just a small path made for motos, but not impossible for a 4×4. However, we arrived safe and sound after a 15km back woods ride in my truck full of the cooking ladies, a fellow missionary, and a student, (who was sent as a delegate from the Bible Institute) all dressed in everyday clothes for a funeral.
We were received into a large tent where our whole delegation was placed (roughly 20 people representing the Association of Churches from our Area, our Mission Agency, and the Bible School), in order to greet Les Vieux (the old people = the leaders of the village) of the village. They sat us down and continued talking as if we weren’t there until they sent over someone who kneeled before us and asked for “the News”, which is a typical way of greeting people. So our oldest member told all of us (even though we heard it well and clear) that they were asking for the news and everyone was whispering to each other what was said. Then, our leader gave the reason for our visit, and presented those who were among us. The intermediary then took the news to Les Vieux, and shared it with them. It was then that their senior elder was able to stand and welcome us. It is in going through mediators that one shows honor in this culture, and so we had received a wonderful reception, which is the height of Ivoiren hospitality.
However, the meeting was rushed to a halting conclusion as rain and wind barreled in lifting the roof of the large tent off and forcing us onto the front porches of multiple houses. When the rain came to a haut, our delegation was sent to another part of the village where we were received and given a place to sit and organize ourselves for the presentation of our gift to the family. We provided pagnes (cloth for making clothes), which had roughly the amount of $100 placed in it, along with some sacs of rice. Once we had declared that together as a group, the pastor of the village came to hear about our gift to the family and was going to present it to them for us.
After the pastor had left, our delegation sat talking about life, ministry, and some of the “drama” behind this particular funeral and how things had transpired. There was not going to be a “veille” (all-nighter) this time, due to extenuating circumstances, and this was unique but not uncommon. However, within the churches here, it has been a practice that has been added to the funerals, because the local animists believe that Christians don’t respect their dead, and have even said,
“Christians burry their family like their chickens.”
Implying, they throw them in the ground without respecting their heritage or after life. Therefore, the believers started a practice where they have a service in the evening and then stay up all night long singing and praying and celebrating the life of the believer who died, and then burry them the next morning so as to show respect to the person, support the family, and testify to the community of the reality of Jesus for the after life they have with God. But this night did not include that, and it was the gossip of the evening.
We were then invited back to the courtyard where we came in at, and the service began with a pastor praying and his wife singing during which the people of the village came forward and placed money on the casket for the family.
The casket was then raised up and carried by the family out into the woods. We followed a narrow path into the woods, and after 15 minutes we arrived at the burial site, where the Pastor gave a sermon, several people prayed, and then the man was placed in his tomb. The absence of tears and mourning was surprising for this Westerner, and the levity in which all things happened had caught me off guard.
But when you live in a culture where death becomes so normal, it is easy to become numbed to its reality. However, when talking to a student, he said that it is never good for anyone to mourn or cry more than the family or they are unable to help the family, as they should. So I don’t know the circumstances around this death, and whether or not that shaped the reason for the lack of emotion in this given funeral, but the seeming lack of emotion, which was expressed, it would seem that there still is a certain familiarity with death that is uncommon to many who come from where I do.
But we finished the day in the falling of the sun and the rising of the darkness, under neon lights eating our final meal with a family over a bowl of rice, peanut sauce and fish. The conversation was dull, and the mumbles of many continued on, before we asked for the road (the typical way of saying goodbye) and started our journey back through the bush into the town, and back to home. It was my first funeral, and most definitely not my last. But a memory I will guard forever as I continue to explore the vastness of this culture in which I long to see Jesus break into with ever increasing brightness.
…so I wanted to take a few minutes to get out a few words and put up some pictures of our last few weeks.
The travel to CI was exhausting! With all our stops, it took about 36 hours. The girls did amazing well on the second flight and slept for about a 3 hour stretch. Colette, as some of you know, fell at the Paris airport and pushed right front tooth up into her gums (about half way). In the picture below you can see her puffy lip. We praise God for his provision: on the plane we asked the flight attendant if he could ask to see if there was a doctor/dentist on board. There were 3! Since then, Colette’s teeth have healed and have even come back down almost the whole way!
We eventually made it to our new home with all of our luggage! (here a few photos of our place. We are currently staying in the “guest house” and we have one room to spare for those who would like to visit!)
Here are some random photos of our time here. We are getting settled and finding our way around Korhogo. This time of transition has been hard as we miss family and freinds terribly, yet our God gives us glimpses of hope each day.
More posts to come!
I want to bring this threefold task of developing leaders and theology for Africa to a conclusion by fixing our eyes on the last vital task in seeking to equip the Church in Africa to flourish in her God-ordained yet deeply african ways. We have already looked at 1) Establishing their Identity as Africans in Christ and 2) Developing Servant-Hearted Leaders, but for the church to live into all the God has for her, she must also begin…
3) ORGANIZING THE INTENTIONAL SENDING NATURE OF THE CHURCH
Already existing within the African church is a natural form of “going” that God is using to disperse his people around the world, and it’s called, “Immigration”. Immigration is a huge tool that God has been using to begin to move his people out among the nations. For if you go anywhere in my Parisian context, for example, it will be hard for one to find too many churches where there are not a substantial amount of Africans who have set up roots or even find generations of family. Therefore, in God’s grace this has permitted a platform for mission, naturally speaking, but there is now a need for the African church to organize and send it’s own people purposefully, so that the church can fulfill it’s God-ordained purpose. So while we are all used to seeing arrows going to Africa for the sending of missionaries (of which I am guilty), it’s time for Africa to start shaping it’s own arrows that start pointing elsewhere.
However, there are barriers in getting to this point, as the word “organizing” above may be a little unhelpful if we reduce this task to mere logistics in the sending of missionaries (i.e. creating organizations and structures, developing missionary recruitment and sending strategies, and seeking financial support, etc.). Rather, the barriers are numerous in terms of just getting the church to move towards it’s own next door neighboring tribe. For example, there are places where the African church is strong and flourishing among a certain ethnic people group, but getting that ethnic group to reach out to an ethnic unreached people group who are of a neighboring different tribe, and where there may be no “formal peace agreements” between them, it makes it incredibly difficult to overcome the gap. And so in some places, it is easier for a Westerner, South American or Asian to come reach out than their own neighboring ethnic group due to years of history, warring, and tribal conflict. Therefore, in the training of leaders there needs to be major discussions about the nature of the church and the newly comprised multi-faceted beauty of his people. For if the church can not reconcile herself to her neighbor, she will find it hard to move within or even outside of the continent to do so. But it will be in the destroying of such boundaries that the Gospel message will be let loose in these communities in order to see the life altering transformation that it actually brings on the ground.
As stated before, the necessity of establishing their African Identity in Christ is absolutely crucial. Africans need to be liberated from the identity question to be able to share the message of Jesus freely, or they will live under and/or dependent on the ones who brought the Gospel to them. As a result, we have to make disciples and not adherents for this to happen, hence the need to speak to local realities, and to not speak of the Gospel as a Western Missionary endeavor, but that of the Spirit. They have to get inside of the Trinitarian movement of God, and how this God longed to know them, and therefore he sent his emissaries to them. Therefore, Africans can’t define themselves in relationship to foreigners, but in relation to the triune God who loves them deeply and longs to send them as they are. So in the making of disciples in Africa, we need more than social convergence to a communal way of life with Jesus as Chief, but we need spiritual conversion whereby the Holy Spirit of God engrains in them the reality that they are sons of God and not mere second hand helpers in the mission of God.
In addition, for this to take place, it will require logistical realities to take place. It will demand re-thinking financial realities and considering the resourcing of African missionaries, as it will likely cost less, and they will most likely be more numerous with the decrease in the Western sending of missionaries that is already taking place. However, for that to happen, the West will need to play her proper role, and take a seat at the table instead of always standing at the head.
- She will have to be willing to put her money where her mouth is without dictating where it will go and how it will be used.
- She will have to be willing to be led and to learn and lead within the context of teams comprised of multiple ethnicities and nationalities.
- She will have to seek transformational relationships with African brothers and sisters based on trust, and not remain disengaged through the mere sending of wire transfers from remote bank accounts.
It will be a total re-haul in how things work, that won’t demand she stop sending her own missionaries, but of adding new nations to the payroll and reconsidering how we can work together for God’s global project.
However, I don’t want to lead you to believe that this is completely new and some brain child of mine. It exists already! And certain organization and agencies are already actively engaged in this endeavor. It’s just a matter of time in catching up to the reality that is currently taking place among God’s Global Church. But for those who want to develop leaders and theology FOR Africa, they will have to have a change in posture if they want to see the African church play it’s role in the divine drama that God is directing in the world. And I understand that different places in Africa are at different steps in the process, but it’s a matter of establishing the African Identity in Christ very early on, and in developing the Servant Heart in leader’s that will contribute the long term goal of seeing the African church actively and purposefully living into her sending nature as she reflect’s the very One who have her life.
In my last blog post, I attempted to lay out the first task for the formation of Leaders and Theology for Africa by focusing first and foremost on the importance of ESTABLISHING THEIR IDENTITY AS AFRICANS IN CHRIST. And in continuing to build off of that, we now need to consider another vital task that is unique to forming leaders for Africa, and that is:
2) DEVELOPING SERVANT-HEARTED LEADERS
At a first glance, you might look at me and say, “Really…!?!? How is that unique to the African context?” Well, it’s not unique in the sense that we would think of it in the West, because the contexts in which these kinds of leaders are developed are radically different. For example, in the West you have a very democratized context where everyone is on equal playing ground and each person at the table has an equal voice with designated terms of power before having to step down. And so being and preparing servant leaders in this context is something that is more valued and praised, even if it is not always practiced. As the effects are much less disastrous for those who are not being lead by servant-hearted leaders, because the structures of society prevent wide scale crisis’ from happening. However, in much of the African context, this is not the case.
Let me give you a prime example. Mo Ibrahim is an African multi-millionaire who hit it big when he decided to make some smart financial moves by investing in the Cell Phone industry in Africa before anyone else did. As a result, he struck gold by capitalizing on this massive technological advancement that took place on the continent (they skipped land lines and went straight to cell phones…Wild in itself!). However, instead of just being a guy who “made it”, he decided to give back, and call up other African leaders to seek to give back to their people by motivating them with what has become the “Ibrahim Prize”. This award, which began in 2007, is an annual prize given to an African leader who has: 1) Left his position of power at the end of the designated period of time without having filed his own pockets; 2) Contributed to the long term development of his Country; and 3) Increased the economic and health care situation of the country, while preserving Human Rights. And if one has done this, they will receive a one time prize of $5 Million and $200,000 every year after that!
HOLY COW, RIGHT!?!?
Well, the sad reality is that in the 8 years of its existence, only 4 people have ever received it. As the other 4 years, the continent was void of any leader who had lived up to the stipulations of the award. But why? Because in Africa there is a certain kind of corruption that has played a role there for so long, and has been perpetuated by the West to permit it to remain that way. After all, corruption is just like adultery… it takes two! And so a notion of Servant Leadership is absolutely contrary to many cultural conceptions of leadership on the continent, even if it might be something the people long for.
So while some studies have established the existence of shared leadership and power as ideals that exist within certain parts of the vast continent (i.e. The idea of “Ubuntu”, of which Mandela is the face of, by casting a vision for a shared humanity and the desire for community and solidarity, and which was used by Desmond Tutu in fighting the Apartheid in South Africa.) However, even with such cultural conceptions in place, it is still not something that has by and large been exercised and put into place, as it continues to go against the grain of possible gains that a leader can get by participating in corruptive activities.
So as good-hearted as Mr. Ibrahim’s endeavor is, no matter how much money he lays out before these African leaders, it will never be as much as they can make from their corruptive deals with the rest of the world. As a result, something much deeper and transformative has to take place if people are going to be led to flourish in every area of life. And since the problem lays deeper than one’s check book, so also does the solution have to go deeper… to the heart.
Hence why we can’t just talk about servant leaders, but servant-hearted leaders. Right now in the business models of the world, this idea of Servant Leadership is bursting at the seams in popularity! However, it will never truly work unless it is the identity of the leader, because “Servanthood is an identity not just a strategy” (not my quote). We can’t just DO certain kinds of gestures and ask leaders to ACT like a servant. They have to BE this reality! And only someone who is shook to the core by Jesus is going to be able to take up this identity! So we need to be developing men and women who are “led BY Jesus, lead LIKE Jesus, and lead others TO Jesus” (again, not my quote).
But many will say it is impossible with the power distance relationships that exist within much of Africa. For the importance of position is central to their conception of a leader, which comes from much of the tribal and clan-like systems they have come from, where the Chief is put in place and everyone follows suit. However, to be a servant does not necessitate that one be in a position of equality. For we know about the Sovereign King of the universe who took up his towel and cleaned up some messed up peoples hearts. So while the idea of functioning like that may be foreign, it does not mean we have to overhaul the African understanding and importance of position, we just have to see the Spirit of God re-calibrate their hearts to elevate the people’s needs above their own, to expend themselves for the sake of God’s people, and to see their positions as platforms for the mission of God to take off from.
We have all heard stories or experienced them first hand of how some kind person was giving money to some rural pastor in the non-west, and how years later they found out he was just using it for himself (more likely his whole wider family, given their understanding of money and relationships, but I digress). And these stories will continue because of how messed up people are. However, in order to curb this, the professor (wether he be western or African) must give himself up as not just a teacher of servanthood, but a model of it, and who needs to create environments where this can be seen in personal, family, communal and ministry settings. We need to escape the walls of the classroom together, and find ourselves mixing it up, putting on display, calling up, and holding each other accountable to this very notion of servanthood that we long to see in those we form. But this cannot happen behind a lectern, or even tables in a circle in a classroom. We have to leave behind normals ways of doing things by re-distributing our work schedules, re-writing our syllabi and expectations, and by returning to a model of education that reflects that of Jesus’ in order that they can begin to taste and see that the identity of a servant is possible in a context where it has rarely, if ever, been modeled. So may we as teachers not just take up our lecture notes, but take up our towels, and get messy with those whom we want to see Christ formed in, as well. This is something that is infinitely more valuable than writing checks one time a year.
When people ask me what I will be doing in Africa, and I explain that I will be forming leaders for Africa. I imagine that people begin to think of an American seminary, which teaches the same content but merely translated into the local language and transported to an African setting, (which for some might mean under a mango tree or in a mud hut, or for others in a cement walled classroom with abnormally bright colors). Either way, this is a large misunderstanding of what is being taught no matter what setting one imagines.
However, in thinking about Developing Leaders and Theology for Africa, there is a different project that is needing to be undertaken than that which takes place in the Western academic halls of theology, and the development of pastors for those churches. So in an attempt to help you understand the task before us, I just wanted to lay out three ways in which training pastors and developing theology is different in Africa from what you might have experienced or think about in terms of leader development in the West. And I will present these 3 in a series of posts.
1) ESTABLISHING THEIR IDENTITY AS AFRICANS IN CHRIST
With the arrival of the Gospel by the Holy Spirit of God through the People of God in the West, it has created a crippling effect on the ability of the African Church to establish her own identity. She sees herself in a state of reception, and has viewed herself as part of this missionary heritage for a good chunk of her existence, until recently with the explosion of the church. And while it is true that they are part of this heritage, there has been a challenge for the African church to get out from under this heritage and live and be in her own ways without seeking approval and affirmation by the “Mother Church”.
In addition to this, there has been a major assumption that while the gospel has flourished in Africa, that there is a theological emptiness, or as some have even stated a “theological famine” on the continent. And while that may be true to a certain extent, it is not again, because of the church herself, but because of imported expectations and teachings from the West that have stunted the growth of this seeming theological absence, and also because the West has chosen to measure it by a different standard.
So what makes developing leaders and theology for Africa unique is that we need to affirm the church’s African Identity, while continuing to engrain their identity in Christ. For they do not function as some mere 2nd class citizens of the Kingdom of God, who need to seek the approval from “The Missionary Pope of the Evangelical West” (whatever that might be), but they need to grow in their appreciation of their “African-ness”, and come to realize that they have now been integrated into the Clan of God, and that their Christian Identity goes much deeper than the arrival of the Gospel in the 18th Century.
For example, very often you will hear a good-hearted Caucasian say, “I’m color blind. When I look at an African-American, I just think they are another person just like me…” or something to that extent. While I understand the underlying sentiment, it totally denies the fact that that person comes from a distinct and unique cultural heritage and view point, and so to say that is to ignore who they are as a person. And for too long the Western Church has said, “We’re color blind”, but has failed to see and appreciate what it means to be African, and to understand that they will approach Christ from different lenses than yourself. So we can still accept that we are equals, but we would be better off doing that by recognizing real differences, rather than acting as though they don’t exist.
“Okay, okay!!!”, you say, “So what does that all mean on the ground?” Well, as any good African would do, I want to respond with an African proverb:
“The Cato (cows) are born with ears, their horns grow later.”
This is a very impactful response because as John Mbiti unpacks the meaning of this proverb for the African church, he means to say that long before there has been any WRITTEN theology in Africa, there has been a rich ORAL theology that has been transmitted to the people (just like the gospels before they were written down for us). And it is this exact oral theology (that makes no sense to the western church who has eyes to read, but not ears to hear like her african brothers and sisters) that has enabled the church in Africa to explode and reproduce like never before. It is not missionaries that have done this, it is the Africans themselves who have BY the Holy Spirit of God seen the multiplication of the church in Acts-like fashion.
So this isn’t a church with no theological acuity or inability to reproduce and reflect biblically and theologically, it’s just that the form (oral instead of written) and process of transmission that has distinguished it from how we in the West have done it for years. Therefore, there is an urgent need to change HOW we go about developing leaders and theology for the African church.
Yet, developing African Christian Theology does NOT mean re-writing Doctrine or even creating new doctrines, but simply responding to the questions they are asking, and not simply the questions that 4th Century Christians asked or 21st Century Americans are asking. For example, if you look at the table of contents for a book on ethics in the West you will see things like: Abortion, Euthanasia, Homosexuality, and more recently Immigration. But in an African Book on ethics you will see: AIDS, poverty, Civil War realities, Polygamy, Female Circumcision, and Witchcraft. So while we will use the same Text of Scripture to tackle these realities, we must use that Book to respond to the different questions that arise. As a result, we reaffirm African Identity, when we let Scripture speak to realities they actually face, and not imported doctrines/issues from the outside. That means that the mere translation of books, syllabi, and teaching notes will not suffice.
We also have to rethink how we communicate and evaluate in the process of developing leaders and theology for the African context. Historically speaking, many West African communities transmit their histories and stories through trained and elected people called, “Griots”, who are charged with the responsibility of developing stories, songs, and proverbs for perpetuating the story of the people. Therefore, there is no writing of books, articles, or blogs to help pass on their legacy, but the use of oral methods is the principal means of reproducing the life of the people for future generations.
Therefore, as we consider how to entrust the gospel to new generations of Christians, oral methods must become apart of how we think about forming leaders for the African church. The use of non-traditional Western methods will have to become apart of our teaching processes, because the mere translation of online courses will not suffice even if Africa is able to appropriate such technological tools. However, this isn’t to say that we should forego all western methods, and that we should throw reading and writing out the window in our formation of leaders. Rather, it is to say, that we cannot evaluate a persons knowledge based upon a research paper or answering a few essay and multiple choice questions. So in trying to redraw our educational processes, we will see that these cows have always had ears to hear, but that too often, those who teach are using pen and paper, which renders the African unengaged, and the professor unable to see the theological depth that is actually there.
So as we move forward into an Africa that is changing as fast as ever, we need to consider that there are multiple levels of entry and even desires for those who want to be formed and who desire to develop theology for their context. There is no one size fits all method, but a need to have culturally close and contextually sensitive methods of teaching, but also access to the larger reality of the global church and it’s ways of transmitting the gospel and developing theology. But this is the task that is before the African church. If we want to see the theological horns, then we must begin to adapt OUR methods, re-affirm THEIR identity by answering THEIR questions, and in so doing, engrain in them their position AS AFRICANS in Christ’s Clan.
In coming to the close of a 2 year stint of language learning, I have been spending time trying to figure out what my take aways are from this period of life that God has graciously given our family. And I also wanted to make it something that can be useful for others who are in the journey with us or about to take off onto it. So below are some reflections that I have come away with in this Language Learning (LL) process.
1) LL is long-term.
This whole deal cannot be fast-forwarded to the end like your favorite movie or instantly microwaved to perfection like a can of ravioli, because it is a process. No matter what Rosetta Stone or any other publicity might sell you on, you can not master a language in 6 weeks, 3 months, or even 2 years. It is a life long process that you set out on just like your walk with Jesus. Discipleship cannot be sped up, it just takes time, and the same goes with language learning, because you are learning to breathe and view life through a whole new set of lenses that demands you to live with it. It will become easier and more natural, but even the best linguists suggest it takes up to 7 years to really use a language with complete ease and without thinking twice. But even then, you never really stop learning, because of #2…
2) LL is doing life.
I don’t say it’s “doing life” because it’s just as simple as living with people, and poof! You speak the language! But it is doing life in the sense that it’s more than understanding how to translate words and ideas into phrases. Rather, it’s getting inside the cultural fabric of a people and starting to envision life as they do given their unique perspective on life. For example, I was at the Sorbonne, and the prof gave us an example of a question that would be on the oral exam, and it was incredibly detailed in demanding a solid understanding of French History and the Environmental movement that is taking place in the country and even the European Union at large (both of which I was ignorant of). So I said, that seems a little much for a language exam doesn’t it? I mean I’m just trying to learn how express my thoughts and ideas, not defend a thesis on European Environmentalism. However, as she reminded me quite quickly, knowledge of a language is deeper than grammatical constructions and definitions, but it’s an active engagement with its ideas, its people, and its history that make the language on the street what it is today. And that my friends is why LL is a long term project! But this is also why you can’t just sit in the corner with your grammar book or newest “trick” to learn a language in X amount of days, because it is a living, breathing, ever changing entity that you experience.
3) LL is purposefully humbling.
I almost said it’s humiliating, but that just depends on what culture you’re in (here in France… it sometimes feels like they want you to feel stupid, but only to motivate you. Again… cultural…). However, I think one can say across the board that it is designed to humble us. Returning to the stage of life called, “Infancy” while having a Master’s degree and being a person who places a high importance on words and communication, I would say that it is the most leveling force in the world. You go from being a respected adult in your own world to not being able to carry on a conversation with a 3 year old, let alone the 30 year old next to you, and not to mention going from preaching sermons in your language, to passing 3 months without grasping even a big idea from the sermon each Sunday. But it’s purposed! Because it is in coming to the end of yourself that you are coming to the beginning of LL: becoming a helpless dependent child on the Father. So LL is really a call to live into the divinely designed brokenness of LL that enables the brilliance of gospel weakness to shine out through you! There is nothing more beautiful than hearing someone share about their struggle to learn a language to a bunch of native speakers of that language, and how God meets them in it and draws them to himself. That is gospel ministry… living out of your brokenness and not out of your giftedness. Hence, why God needed to humble a group of people who united themselves in one language to glorify themselves in erecting the tower of Babel, so that they might see their need for Him.
4) LL is all out war.
If uniting a group of people in one voice against the Creator of the universe was the tactic of the Evil One in Genesis 11, then you can expect that learning another language in order to spread the transforming message of Jesus to the world to be an all out declaration of war. Because LL for mission is the overthrowing of the Kingdom of Satan! It is in the picture of Pentecost that we hear where the war cry was sounded out from. Where people began to speak in other languages, and we see the reversal of Babel. Where multiple languages now are uniting themselves to proclaim the glory of God, rather than their own. So it’s expected that this will be tough, that you will want to compare yourself to your spouse or other people in the same boat. It’s normal that gossip, competitiveness and jealousy will crop up amongst fellow missionaries. It’s not surprising that kids will be sick (weekly), family members will die and crazy life altering events will take place in order to abort and prevent the birth of a missionary in an unreached people group! It’s normal because it’s war. But we don’t expect it to hit us in the process of LL, because we think that’s only what hits us when we get “on the field”.
5) LL is hard work.
It’s popular to talk about the importance of immersion for language learning, and I think it’s true. However, mere presence in the language of the people will not automatically transmit the language into your brain, as though it were through some process of osmosis. Rather, it is painstaking work that takes effort and diligence to pull the language in. As we were told in one training, you need to imagine that this is your own Language Learning Business, and that you are responsable for what kind of product and turn around you get, based upon what kind of investment you put in. So in whatever way you decide to run your business, it doesn’t matter, because each person has their ways, but one thing is for sure: you will have to sacrifice time, shed tears, and beg yourself to want to keep going, because it just is not easy. And I even think that as someone who has taken in the language rather fluidly without many plateaus.
6) LL is deep discovery.
However, it’s not all blood, sweat and tears, as there is a lot of fun in this business! Because you are becoming more fully human! You are discovering new ways of seeing the world, describing what is out there, and expressing how you feel. When you learn a language you take on more of the beauty of God’s image bearers in the world. As one author put it, only one person is 200% person, Jesus himself, who is fully God and man. So in adapting to a culture and language, you will lose some of your own culture, but you will add to it with another. And while we will never be 100% American and 100% French or Ivoirian, we will be 150% more PERSON. We will add on, and take in more of the inherent beauty that God has instilled in every culture of the world. So let yourself embark on the journey! Laugh at your mistakes! Embrace the awkwardness! And Discover what can be retained from the host culture you are living in, and you will find yourself feeling more fully alive.
7) LL is meaningfully communal.
There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together”. And if you want to embark on the long haul project of LL then you need others to get in on it with you. You, a book, and your recently purchased language genie will not create fluency. As one my friends here calls it, “French and Friends”. The more friends you have the more french you will learn, and the more french you have the more friends you will make. Because language is not learned in a vacuum, and so language partners are key for the journey. I even found homeless people to take out to lunch or coffee just so I could get a few minutes to exchange with them in the language. But deep and various kinds of relationships will enable deep understanding that is necessary for successful LL. And it takes more than people helping you up on this end, but it takes people pushing you from behind as well. So it is important to call people into this journey with you from back home, and to relay the stories and hardships to them, so they can pray you through it, send you surprise packages or notes that land at just the right time, and provide the next push to get you to keep plugging away. But all in all it is a communal project, that is worth tackling, and one that I am still slogging away at.