Outline of Jim Harries’ Illustrated Presentation

Jim Harries began by eating humble pie and asking for the patience of the very experienced people present listening to his sharing of (sometimes unconventional) mission wisdom.

In his illustrated presentation, he gave a case study from the UK of how ignoring race issues can make a mockery of government investigations and decision making in health care. He then reflected on our concern as Christians for our brothers and sisters around the world into which God has put us.

Jim outlined three Bible passages that speak in favour of VM (vulnerable mission) principles. In John 6:15 Jesus walked away from the ‘donor’ role. Acts 2:8 strongly suggests that the Gospel should go be shared with people in their own tongue. He pointed out that Acts 13:10 condemns ‘witchdoctors’ and witchcraft.

Jim went on to share at length about his personal missionary journey. He had started his missionary career as an agriculturalist, but got disillusioned with agricultural and ‘technical’ models of development that seemed not to touch people’s deep and debilitating concerns about witchcraft. Instead, God led him to Biblical and church ministries. His orientation to staying close to the African people he is reaching in a relationship of love has had him adopt the VM principles of: using the local language and not using outside resources in his relationships with people on the field.

Jim showed us where he is located in East Africa; in a ‘typical African village’, where he looks after orphaned children in his home. He then shared something of the ‘African churches’ he works with, who he said frequently relate closely with their ancestors. Other churches in Africa are heavily dependent on outside aid, he emphasised. Jim’s primary work in Kenya is in teaching of the Bible and Theology in two ‘extension’ based schools using African languages, and one American-rooted school that uses English for instruction (Kima International School of Theology).

Jim re-iterated the emphasis of the AVM (Alliance for Vulnerable Mission) as being that some Western missionaries use local languages and resources in their ministry to non-Western people. He explained the importance of this with reference to examples. He told of an instance when an offer of bicycles to an indigenous ministry caused a great deal of time-consuming strife. He explained how difficult it was to ‘help’ widows without causing jealousy and conflict, and how some African people orient themselves to asking for charity with great force (see David Maranz’ book African Friends and Money Matters)! He explained how some Westerners can conclude that African people are ‘evil’, but that this is through misunderstanding how they use language, and he told us of ways in which English is inadequate for use in African contexts.

Jim closed his talk with an appeal; that some Western Christians be on the ‘side of’ the African people. He suggested that at the moment the West is over-occupied in enrolling people into its own arena, rather than (as is appropriate for Christians) being concerned to understand and assist non-Westerners with their lives, issues, and problems.

“Let there be some Western missionaries to the non-West whose ministry is carried out using the language and resources of the people being reached … – is that too much to ask?” was Jim’s closing appeal.