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Archive for the ‘East Africa’ Category

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As a landscape can look quite different at different times of day or in different weather as the varying angles and hues of light on a terrain make different parts of that landscape stand out in sharp relief, so reading the Bible in a different cultural setting can highlight and bring out things you’d never seen before. I mentioned a few examples of this in an earlier post and here are a few more features of the Bible landscape that the preaching of Kenyan brothers has helped me see and appreciate in a new way.

Shame

It is sometimes said that African and Asian cultures are shame cultures (concerned about issues of public face and community rejection) whereas Western culture is a guilt culture (concerned about individual objective transgression of the law). Perhaps there is some truth in that but actually I think Western culture is a shame culture too just in a different way. Some things that would not be shameful in Kenya are shameful in the UK and vice versa. I’ll try to explore that more in another post. But what is certainly true is that when you are away from your home culture you notice the shame issue more.

When Ken Irungu was giving us an overview of 2 Timothy and preaching through the first chapter, one of the things that really struck me was how he brought out the theme of shame and being unashamed. In his time of trial Paul has been deserted (2 Tim. 4:16) and he calls Timothy ‘not to be ashamed of the gospel or of me his prisoner’ (1:8) but rather to be like Onesiphorus who was ‘not ashamed of my chains’ (1:16).

Challenging convention, being different, being outspoken can often be taken as shameful in a communal culture. To undergo arrest or punishment by the authorities, even when undeserved, will be seen as shameful. Even to suffer through illness, bereavement or some calamity can suggest that you under some sort of cloud of curse of misfortune. So for Paul to be suffering, and particularly suffering institutional persecution for the sake of his preaching, is a shameful thing and people will naturally respond by dissociating themselves and distancing themselves from him so as not to share the shame or pick the contagion. He will be rejected by the community, in itself a shameful thing, making him even more a figure of shame.

Being shown this theme has made the letter of 2 Timothy stand out in sharper relief for me. And I have also started to notice it all over the New Testament – the words ‘shame’ or ‘ashamed’ coming about 40 times. The death of Christ was a shameful thing (Heb. 12:2). The call of Jesus is to take up our cross (i.e. be willing to be shamed) and not be ashamed of me or my words else the Son of Man will be ashamed of him (Mk. 8:34-38). “Let us then go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore” (Heb. 13:13).

Elder brother

In African cultures the role of the firstborn is well understood. I remember being in a Bible study in the Gambia looking at Colossians 1:15 and the African brothers there had no problem understanding the significance of Jesus being the ‘firstborn’. They didn’t get distracted by the JW misunderstanding that this means that Jesus is a created being, they understood that just as the firstborn in a house is next to the father and has all the rights and authority and status of the father (particularly when the father is away), so Jesus is next to the Father and has delegated to him all the functions and power of the Father.

Then Stanley Wandeto was preaching on Luke 15 – the parable of the two sons – and he showed me something that I had never seen about the elder brother there. It’s a parable full of shocking (shameful) behaviour (e.g. the younger son asking for his inheritance, the old man running, the father begging his son) but the one I hadn’t seen was that the elder brother is shocking in that he doesn’t go looking for the younger son. Traditionally a responsibility of the firstborn is to look after his younger siblings, to keep watch over them, to care for them and keep them in line. When the younger son insults his father and goes off into a life of recklessness, it is the job of the firstborn (not the father) to run after his brother and plead with him to come back.

Now I think of it, I realise that this is the godly concern that many of my Kenyan friends and colleagues have within their own families, particularly those who are firstborns, to pursue and win back straying siblings.

This gives another level and depth to the characterisation of the elder brother in the parable. His hatred towards his younger brother does not start when he comes home and a party is thrown for him, it starts much earlier in his failure to search for him. The self-righteous Pharisees (who are the target of the parable) are at fault not only for their failure to welcome sinners but their failure to go out looking for sinners (cf. Jesus who welcomes and seeks the lost).

Dead dog

Before I came to Kenya I’m not sure I’d seen a dead dog before. Now I see one almost every time I go to the office, lying in the road. Africa is full of stray dogs. Mostly a yellow-brown colour, small to medium size, thin, feral, searching for scraps. They have a hard pathetic life and then they get hit by a truck or starve.

In most African cultures, for a person to be compared to a dog is an extremely insulting and shameful thing. For one thing the distinction between animals and humans is much sharper than in the West (where pets are part of the family and people get very upset over a gorilla being shot) and for another thing dogs are a particularly dirty and ignoble animal (in contrast to something more noble like a lion or a rhino).

So when Fidel Nyikuri preached Mark 7:27 to us and also reminded us of Mephibosheth in 2 Kings 9, it came home very powerfully what it means for us to be a dead dog – pathetic, despised, dirty, base, in the lowest place. And yet – the wonder of the gospel – we who are not entitled to anything are invited to eat at the king’s table and share the children’s bread (Mk. 8:1-9).

Water and milk

In parts of the world where water comes clean, clear, pure and cold straight from the tap and is basically never cut off, it is difficult to appreciate the preciousness of water. In parts of the world where milk is delivered to the door and is always there when you open the fridge, alongside three or four other beverages and fifteen food items, it is difficult to appreciate the importance of milk.

However in places where the climate is hot and dry and water is scarce, where it has to be searched for or brought up from the ground with effort, then there is much more impact when we read in Isaiah of drawing ‘water from the wells of salvation’ (Isa. 12:3), a ruler and renewal which is ‘like streams of water in the desert’ (Isa. 32:2; 35:6; 41:18; 43:20; 44:3), a shepherd God who leads his people ‘beside springs of water’ (Isa. 49:10). Similarly, in a community where milk (drawn by hand from your own animals) is a key part of the diet (in some pastoralist communities people survive purely on milk for days a time and even down-country in many villages the one animal you will own is a cow), then the land flowing with milk and honey is very meaningful picture.

Preaching from Isaiah 55 Gerald Mwangi helped us imagine working all morning on the farm, digging in the sun, drinking nothing, and then finishing your work in the early afternoon desperate for… water. Then to think of what we take from childhood onwards to make us strong, to give us energy, to build us up… milk.

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.”

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biblical-christianity-in-african-perspective

Reviewed by iServe Africa apprentice Daphne Kabeberi:

This book contains a lot more than I’d expected to find in it. I’d thought it would specifically be about African Christianity as a phenomenon, but I ended up receiving an excellent summary of the main Christian doctrines.

Unlike many theological writings, its simple language and style make it easy to read. It is divided into 18 chapters which first lay a foundation for believing the Jesus of the Bible, and then go on to explain the implications of this for sinful mankind and for the church that exists in a sinful world.

On any given topic, the book borrows from the whole counsel of Scripture and is therefore faithful to the overarching Biblical story of redemption in Christ. The author avoids taking any divisive denominational stand on the doctrines outlined. Instead, he tends to lay out various view points as long as they can be scripturally backed, which I found helpful.

At the same time there is a distinctive African perspective which means that this book fulfils the very real need of helping Christians understand the spiritual peculiarities evidenced in African contexts. It’s quite interesting that the author isn’t African, although he seems to have worked extensively and intensively in Africa.

The author does an excellent job of convincing the reader that every single African practice must be weighed up against God’s will for man as revealed in his Word. He teaches that Christians shouldn’t blindly follow tradition in matters like initiation, but rather realize that our highest loyalty is to God and our primary community and acceptance is to be found amongst fellow believers. Readers are reminded that only God can deliver us from evil, so it is sinful and counterproductive to attempt to seek protection through magic, necromancy, etc.

In conclusion, much as it’s primarily written to help those serving in African contexts to apply the Bible to their situations, it has very useful information for all contexts – even for unbelievers who would like to better understand Christianity. It is the sort of book any Bible scholar or pastor would want to have on their bookshelf as simple, handy reference material.

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EABEF 2015

Bernie preaching from the Word

Thanking God for the East Africa Bible Expositors’ Fellowship last week in Kisumu. Great joy and encouragement to meet with brothers from 6 nations, learning from Titus together, talking honestly, finding out about what God is doing through some great ministries across this region.

Some stuff I learnt personally from other participants, preachers and facilitators:

  • It is good to stare in the face the ‘brutal facts’ in our E African context that challenge faithful Bible teaching and the practice of hard lengthy labour on the text: 1) The attitude “I know the passage already”; 2) Congregations that are easily impressed, so I can get away with cutting corners; 3) Wanting to be popular / wanting to hold onto people who are deserting to the prosperity / hyper-pentecostal churches so I am tempted to copy what they are doing; 4) Wanting quick easy fixes; 5) Hobby-horses and the temptation of sermon recycling; 6) Taking too many preaching invitations; 7) Lack of deep, honest relationships where feedback can be given and received; 8) Poverty, especially in the rural areas, where the pastor has virtually no pay, where the congregation wants him to support them (rather than vice versa) and the pastor is overwhelmed by his own needs and those of others. In the face of these big challenges ways forward proposed included: a) Continual reminders of the great Saviour God whom we serve, his charge to ‘preach the Word’, and the absolute necessity and power of faithful preaching of Christ crucified; b) Continual reminders of servant leadership – serving others and not ourselves; c) Fellowships like the EABEF where we can be encouraging one another, spurring one another on, supporting one another spiritually, emotionally and materially; d) The need to think of many rural pastoral placements as mission placements where the pastors are sent, supported and resourced as mission partners by urban churches; e) The need to keep the focus on the local church – fellowships and para-church organisations simply as encouragers of the local church.
  • There is a great value in a multiplicity of teaching voices – where there is a great deal of theological consensus and unity in the gospel but at the same time some range of style, emphasis and perspective: a) because we don’t want to create clones of our own imperfect theology but rather provoke people to search the Scriptures for themselves; b) the plurality of elders (Titus 1:5); c) many counsellors (Prov. 11:14); d) avoiding guru status (Matt. 23:8).
  • From Determine Dusabumuremyi: Before we come to the mechanics of sermon preparation and delivery there is a need for a deep heart work in the preacher. He needs to be awed by the ‘theatre’ in which he preaches – presence of God and coming of Christ (2 Tim 4:1) – and humbled by the greatness of the words and task with which he has been entrusted – words of eternal life to raise the dead. He needs to soak in the passage until he is personally convicted and formed by it; seeing himself as first and foremost aThe 6 Cs of preaching terrible sinner receiving glorious grace (Isaiah 6). And then he needs to feel the divine indignation at what is crippling the church (cf. Gal. 1:6; 3:1; 4:19-20; 2 Cor. 11:2). So perhaps there is another ‘C’ – Captured by the Word – that produces the 5 C’s.
  • One of the big problems with the ‘hyper-grace’ movement (“Sin boldly”) is that there is no process of conviction and humbling. The exposition of Psalm 32 showed us not only the great, great joy of having our sins forgiven but also the way forgiveness is connected with a deep humbling in which I see the awfulness of my sin and feel the crushing weight and admit “I am a sinner” not in a bold, flippant way but in seriousness and sorrow, having been brought to the very end of myself, finding myself face down in a muck of my own creation, and then how the humbled, forgiven, beloved sinner is, as a result, a teachable, guidable disciple.
  • The area of specific application to attitudes and behaviour (the imperatives of the message) is just as weighty as the area of gospel truths (the indicatives of the message) and requires just as much serious thought and preparation as the latter. Because the gospel is so weighty the application is weighty. Though there is danger in being too specific, often giving examples, telling stories and painting pictures of what this might look like in practice can be very helpful here.
  • The focus of faith is the forward-looking confident hope and longing for the appearing of the crucified saving God-man (Titus 2:11-14; 1 Thess. 1:10).
  • Our unity is around the gospel not around a particular method of text to sermon.

Some resources and links:

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Doctrine of Scripture 2014

Highlights from the first full day of ministry training course for the new apprentices @ the new and upgraded Halfway House, Sigona. With particular thanks to Harrison, Fidel, Mercy and Christine. If I knew how to use Twitter these would be tweets…

The battle for the mind is not to set your hope fully on your dreams but on real events – Cross & Coming (1 Pet 1:13-21) #GospelReality

You can believe the Bible is authoritative and not be evangelical… if you put other sources of authority on the same level. #SolaScriptura

We don’t worship the Bible. The Bible is a witness. To Jesus. (John 5)

It was written *for* you not *to* you. (Rom 15:4; 1 Pet 1:12)

Fear is part and parcel of ministry. It’s v natural when ur dealing with the Word & people. <– maybe Timothy was not so unusual (2Tim 1:7)

All the power of God, his glorious might, is there to strengthen us… for endurance, patience and suffering (Col. 1:11; 2 Tim 1:8)

What went wrong btwn the East Africa Revival and panda mbegu. A failure to guard the gospel.

The saving gospel is what happened 2000 years ago (1 Cor 151-11; John 20:10-31) not what happened 2 years ago

so a story of God’s work in my life *even when it is Christ-exalting* is not the right foundation 4 anyone’s faith. #SubtleDanger

Hire Character. Train Skill. (Peter Schutz)

Servant: faithful, reliable, teachable, available, motivated

colouring, collections, snacks, singing… The ever-present need for Acts 6:1-7 in children’s ministry

Teaching children takes more preparation than teaching adults. Without it you’ll either communicate nothing or lies #LetThemCome

The most important, most foundational thing children need to know is that they are children of Adam #LetThemCome

 

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I’ve been struck by a number of things in Luke’s gospel that I would never have noticed or would never have got the full force of without reading them in this context with East African brothers.

  1. Food. In the West, often food is a matter of fuelling – like putting petrol in a car. You can grab a sandwich or packet of crisps on the go or eat at your desk. Only very special meals like Christmas or a first date have really serious relational significances. But here you don’t eat just because you’re hungry. You don’t ask, “Have you eaten?” when a guest arrives at 2pm (as I once did). You give them food. And you don’t really start talking until there’s food (or at least tea) on the table. Food says, “We are together, we are relating”. So now I start to see the huge shock of Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners (Luke 5:30) and the beauty of the many eating scenes throughout Luke.
  2. Naming and tradition. In Western cultures you can call your child pretty much anything you like. Some names might raise an eyebrow slightly (e.g. Green, Leviathan or Cheese) but only for a moment. The surname tends to be pretty constant but even this is increasingly flexible as women maintain maiden names as business names etc. But in Africa, many communities have a very strong tradition of naming – taking names from relatives in a precise order, rotating names or naming according to day of the week or weather conditions. I remember as we read through Luke 1:157-66 (the naming of John the Baptist) and a Kenyan sister related to the shock that the relatives felt that Elizabeth and Zechariah were breaking tradition and going against the naming of their culture, it came home to me what a big thing this was.
  3. Honouring parents. Many western cultures (I realise parts of the US are quite different) have moved towards pretty casual relationships between parents and their children. Respect, honour, authority are not valued. Fear and reverence would be widely seen as laughable or pathological. Furthermore, there is little sense of ongoing obligations of children to parents. In traditional African cultures though there is something much closer to traditional middle eastern culture. So when I was reading through the story of Jesus failing to go to the door when his mother and brothers arrive (Luke 8:19-21) the guy I was reading with was completely stunned by the offensiveness of it and genuinely troubled that Jesus could do such a thing. And then you get to Luke 9:59-62 where Jesus calls a man away from burying his father (and there you get the added weight of responsibility to the dead) and another from even saying goodbye. And then you get Jesus talking about dividing families (Luke 12:53) and most extreme of all, that anyone who does not hate father and mother, wife, children and brothers cannot be his disciple (Luke 14:26). Shocking anywhere but in an African context this is dynamite (but then for Muslim background believers the truth of these things might well be more evident). Against this backdrop you can appreciate all the more the shocks and joys of Luke 15:11-32 too.

Collected resources on Luke:

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First day of the Ministry Training Course with the 2013/2014 apprentices. Great to hear stories from their different placements and see how God has really been growing them over the last seven months. A highlight for me was the first of a series of expositions of Job from Fidel:

Job

Job 1:1-2:10:

  • Big question is, ‘Does God have real worshippers?’ (1:9). I’d never thought of it like this before but when Satan says, “Natoka kuzunguka pote duniani, nikitembea huku na huko humo” (1:7) he is basically saying that he hasn’t seen anything worth mentioning, nothing to worry him, no-one breaking the pattern of self-interest, no-one worshipping God for who he is. Then verse 8 is God giving the exception that Satan has missed. Then verse 9 is Satan’s rationalisation – this isn’t a genuine exception to his observation – Job is just a religious form of self-interest. Then come the tests that prove who is right – is there a real worshipper who genuinely seeks God?
  • The reality of the spiritual realm, reality of Satan, his limited knowledge, the LORD’s restraining, but also the extreme permissions granted.
  • We love this verse: “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” Well in Job’s case there is something prepared for him (1:12; 2:6) but this plan for his life isn’t revealed to him and he probably wouldn’t want to know it anyway.
  • Every time you read it it is utterly amazing that Job loses everything and worships (1:20). He really is the true worshipper. He wasn’t worshipping God for the stuff. He wasn’t worshipping the stuff itself. He was, and continues to, worship God himself.
  • Three times in 25 verses we are told Job was blameless and upright. What comes next has absolutely zero to do with some personal sin.
  • What are the 2 things emphasised in prosperity preaching? Health and Wealth. What does Job have taken away? His Wealth and then his Health.
  • His life is spared (2:6) because it’d very important for us that we listen to the next 40 chapters, see the innocent sufferer, wrestle with the theological arguments.
  • The big question for us: Shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil?

Also today:

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At iServe Africa we’ve been thinking for a while that there’s a gap in the market in Kenya for a magazine that:

  • engages issues of gospel ministry & mission, faithful Bible teaching & preaching, gospel content & gospel impact on all of life,
  • does so in a thoughtful and careful way with an emphasis on listening hard to the Scriptures, going beyond some of the lighter, more motivational features in circulation in our context,
  • stirs up Scripture-searching, thinking and quality conversation  in churches and on campuses, as we remind each other of the gospel and work through together what gospel living and gospel ministry look like in our context.

First issue is due out 5 April 2014.

  • If you’re a praying person please pray that this would be a successful, helpful and Christ-honouring thing, used in some way to contribute to a movement for revival in our context.
  • If you have experience in Christian magazine production/design/editing do share your wisdom and advice on how to sustain a long-lasting product.
  • If you’re in Nairobi do come to the launch on 5 April. Contact here for more details. Karibu sana.
  • Check out the accompanying blog – Conversation Magazine – and start the conversation…

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