Vulnerable Missions Discussion

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Vulnerable Missions Discussion

This is a forum for the discussion of vulnerable missions.


 Richard said: Thanks for the invitation to give my thoughts on our discussion and on “vulnerable mission.” I have enjoyed our conversation because you think deeply, listen, and are open and frank. So I will try to do the same.

Jim said:  Thanks for those compliments, as I prepare to read the below!

Richard said: First of all, my ideals I think are quite similar as far as the importance of using local/vernacular languages and the importance of the indigeneity model (self-governing, self-propogating, and self-supporting). I think you have your finger on some major issues.

Jim said:  Thanks. I think that the ‘three selfs’ are desirable outcomes, but that the means to achieve them have often proved elusive to folks. VM is more a means of working that brings them about let’s say ‘by default’, whereas conscious strategies to ‘generate’ them for various reasons easily ‘fail’.

Richard said: I think that missionaries and other relatively wealthy people do often use wealth (or relationships with those who are wealthy) to gain power and influence (and vice versa) both in Africa and around the world. In my upbringing and young adulthood before coming to Africa there was a value on ministry and a suspicion of money. We lived simply, never asked for money and poured life into ministry. In our first 10 years on the field we never asked for money when speaking or in newsletters (the Hudson Taylor model) and we came out underfunded and have often wondered exactly how God would supply. I have pushed a Christian College to be more self-supporting so that it went from where fees only covered about a third of food to covering all the food and some other expenses. I have usually pushed for things to be done on as low a budget as possible to get as much done as possible and also so that there might be some hope that local people could take things over without outside subsidy.

Jim said:  I can identify with the emphasis that you were putting.

Richard said: However I have modified my idealism. I think the main influence has been listening to and watching African friends, especially those (possibly the minority) who really are not motivated by money, but by advancing the kingdom. I have seen them live in a Christian way while using the resources and influence they have for the good of others and the kingdom. They operate as righteous patrons within the relationships and ministries that they have. They give to things and are vulnerable with their personal money. They also keep integrity with using funds designated for specific things for those things. They understand that this is important to donors, even if it may seem foolish to some fellow Africans. As Ian was once told, “You are faithful to the point of being a fool. You have no house and no car and yet you are putting every bit of this money that was donated into this big church roof.”

Jim said:  Interesting points. I wonder how long ‘he’ can continue being a fool, or how consistently he is a fool … I also know some such Africans, and non-Africans also!

Richard said: These guys didn’t really ask for money for years, but were content with the $50/class that they were paid or the $25 including transport to go teach a 4 day seminar. They also were very faithful about accounting for every shilling used for ministry.

Jim said:  This has not been my experience …

Richard said: Eventually though, after we had formed a board they started asking to be let in on the financial matters. I wrote to my mentor here about them pushing me on this and he said “Don’t let them push you, get out ahead of them. If they want to deal with the finances, let them do it.”

Jim said:  Interesting advice – which I am tempted to pass on to some colleagues who are working in mission under pressure from local needs for finance!

Richard said: They said that they did not want to know what my personal salary was, but they wanted a say in the money spent at the school. So I worked out with my pastor at home an amount that would be given each month (provided the income was sufficient). Then together as a board we budgeted and planned how to use that. I think I told you about how they asked me about tithe and I am now doing much of our giving through the board. This was not a big step because before that I had gotten to where I often went to Ian or others of them when I had a need or a request was brought to my gate to ask their advice. Probably a big change was taking Ian with me to the US to introduce him first hand to friends and donors. I thought long and hard about this and it was something I had never imagined doing, but I have come to trust him and I wanted donors in the US to have more direct connection and see that even though we are moving to Malawi and will have less contact, the ministry in Africa is continuing and encourage them to continue to support it. One of the reasons that I encourage support of schools (but not of local pastors for example) is that no school in America lives off of the fees of students.

Jim said:  Interesting. Yes, you talked about some of this. My own approach is not to make activities that I am engaged in Kenya dependent on any of ‘my’ donors. For years and years in Europe, the church ran the schools …

Richard said: Regarding the language issue, I have made considerable effort to learn and use Bantu. In various educational boards, I have always argued for teaching in Bantu even while Africans sometimes have argued for English. When students wanted English classes, I told them to go ahead and plan them themselves if they wanted to, but we were not putting it in the curriculum because I didn’t think it was possible to learn well enough to be useful in short courses. When we started our degree completion course, we did agree to do it in English. There argument was that if secondary school and college are in English, you cannot be believed if you tell people “I have a BA” but cannot speak English. Eventually we started some English classes which my wife organized in order to prepare some of the top leaders for that. Still we many could not succeed well enough so we finally just last year started a Bantu track in the degree completion as well for those who chose that.

Jim said:  I would be VERY INTERESTED to hear more about this Bantu track for a BA. Again I guess that I am more inclined not to take advantage of my privileged position as a native English speaker, that of course African / Kenyan colleagues do not share. Thus, I think, I am not creating dependence.

Richard said: The goal is especially to give our diploma graduates more and also to train those who are otherwise skilled and qualified in their ministries to teach in the Bible schools. Of course they will not be accepted to go for higher (masters) degrees anywhere.

Jim said:  … until you start Masters’ programmes … and then also, Master’s degrees should hardly be a necessity for ministry. Hardly a Biblical model … although I understand some of the pressures in today’s world.

Richard said: Okay all of that is to give you my background and experience that I am speaking from.

Jim said:  Appreciated.

Richard said: Concerning what you are doing and promoting, I respect you for the choices you have made in this difficult area. I especially respect you for living them out. I think that what you are doing and promoting gives a good challenge to the way that missions work is often done, especially in Kenya. I do think that there is too much outside support which carries too much inappropriate power and influence. I do not think that money should run things or decide. I think too much is done without listening to local people’s real needs, but rather to match the donors desires.

Jim said:  Thanks for that affirmation.

Richard said: I do not believe that yours is the only way to handle these issues. Tactically, I think you would get much farther with telling your story positively and extolling the advantages that you have discovered as well as being honest with the weaknesses. When you try to argue the case that “this way is the only way” it is much easier to prove wrong or be dismissed by simply finding one defect.

Jim said:  I find in practice that it is enormously difficult to stay on such a ‘positive tack’. The main reason is because of objections made by a (Western) audience, who come to defend the ‘money and foreign language system’, so then to justify something different, I find myself having to point out the weaknesses in both of those, i.e. in a sense to be ‘on the attack’. Partly this is because vulnerable mission takes people into an ‘unknown’. Not using foreign languages, and dependence on local resources are ‘unknowns’ to most missionaries and missiologists. It is a bit like saying – the best way of climbing up this mountain is round the back, but people can’t see the back!

Jim said:  As to whether VM is the ‘only way’. In some ways of course it is. If one wants to encourage an indigenous church, then use indigenous resources – it is as simple as that. Isn’t it?

Richard said: Weaknesses that I see in your approach relate to power, listening, pride and trust.

Richard said: You are suspicious of the power that people wield by using their money. Yet you are also controlling the situation and the people by controlling your money. You are telling these schools that they cannot have any of your money or access to the people you know with money and this is the right/moral/godly/strategic thing for you to do.

Jim said:  Correct in part. But, by controlling my money so that I not use it I am NOT controlling the situation and people. I just need to be consistent on this. I don’t see how I can be controlling them by not using my money? It is one thing to use your money and then attach strings. Or to use money only where you like. That is controlling, and that is the problem of much mission. But if one doesn’t invest one’s money, then one can’t be ‘controlling’, which is the beauty of VM. So I disagree with your second sentence.

Richard said: Maybe an analogous situation relates to prayer, for example for healing. Some people claim to have the formula of how to pray “in Jesus name” or whatever so that God must do it. Others, if they pray, never pray for more than “God please guide the doctors hands.” Both approaches maintain control. I am in control. Why not pray, “Jesus, please heal this person?” We can do nothing, but we trust you (we trust YOU – knowing you love this person and can heal or may chose not to for reasons we don’t know).”

Jim said:  I am inclined to agree with your advice here, although I am not quite sure how it relates to the above? The above is merely a way of moving-towards the position in which locals themselves are in. It is also of course a strategy against witchcraft – and those nationals unwilling to turn their backs on witchcraft (especially ‘jealousy’) struggle with it.

Jim said:  To expand on the above point a little. I think a lot of Western ideology as expressed to Africa these days tends to encourage wcraft, as it is rooted in legitimising jealousy. This I consider to be foundationally unbiblical, and in a sense immoral. That is, things like ‘human rights’, and the West’s saying that they must redistribute their resources, and telling the 3W that the current poor distribution of resources is immoral, etc.

Richard said: I think you might improve on listening. In our conversations you did listen carefully, especially at first – better than I often do as an extrovert. Yet you don’t seem to modify your positions based on input from others (say Africans, others, etc.). Listen carefully to Africans especially. When they challenge you in an area take it to heart and pray about it and listen to God as well. If Africans are telling us, “we want some education in English. This schools needs money to be effective.” We need to listen carefully and sort through the arguments and motives (theirs and ours). We need to ask God if they are showing us something that we do not see just as we can sometimes see weaknesses they have that they seem not to notice.  In relation to research, maybe it would be good to do some interviews and especially to have some insider informants who you can run your data/findings by and see if you have understood correctly. Ian and others were very helpful in that way in my research, especially in helping me to understand in a deeper way local understandings. Ian was kind enough to even read through the whole dissertation and was present at my defense.

Jim said:  This is an interesting and deep paragraph. I am certainly glad for your saying that I ‘listened to you’. I hope I have the gift of listening, although I am not sure that I have it as much as some others.

Jim said:  You mention the possibility that Africans may ‘want some English … and some money’ say for their school to be effective. That is of course fine. If they want such, I cannot stop them getting it. However it is a personal choice, as far as possible, not to be the person providing it. Now that position I am sure impacts in different ways. In essence, I am not seeking to be valued for what I can contribute through my being ‘different’ because of the place and people I come from. I believe that is Jesus’ model, well illustrated in Phil. 2 and a good all round model for ministry. The latter sentences would really need a longer response. In brief, research by interviews are great, but also in my view extremely problematic. They are certainly ‘unnatural’ ways of learning. Some of my Kenyan colleagues did read through some Chapters of my thesis. But it also got to the stage where it could have been patronising to ask them to read stuff which was relating to a debate going on in the West. Would that not have been implicitly suggesting that they should have understood all that stuff, but why should they have to understand their own people through the lens of a Western worldview? That’s our job, and I think it is time we stopped forcing it onto our brothers and sisters in Africa. (I appreciate that these responses are incomplete. They are just stabbing at responses so as not to be writing another article ! … Let me know if you want more on this.)

Richard said: It appears to me that you have not found Africans who you can really trust. As I look back on my journey, a great deal of my change has come through learning to trust people like Ian and the guys on the board – also some insightful missionaries. I lived next to him and worked with him for more than a decade. I asked him long ago to confront me if he sees something that needs to be changed. He asked the same. We do this occasionally, but not too often. While taking the missions and money class he asked if we believed in I Tim. 6:17-19. The next day I said “As my pastor, tell me, do I need to learn to apply that verse better?” He gently said, “As your pastor, yes, I think so.”

Jim said:  Interesting comment. I am not sure what ‘really trust’ means? I am not sure how you translate that, for example, into Kibantu? ‘Hujaweza kuwagundua wale Waafrika ambao unaweza kuwaamini kabisa’? I think there is ‘appropriate trust’. Like – should I expect a busy business executive to remember to call me on the phone between meetings? I think not. If he does, fine. If not, then I need not be offended, but just to remind him. For me to call him, if you like. If to ‘trust’ African people is to expect them to behave like Westerners, then I don’t think it is appropriate to ‘trust’ them. If it is to expect them to behave like Africans, well yes of course I trust them.

Richard said: As a scholar and intellectual I feel strongly about the ideas that I have. I often think that I know or do better than other missionaries or Africans, but I do see people like Ian who are probably doing better than me. He shares more even though he has less. He makes his finances and his decisions vulnerable to others, including their mistakes. He gives to people who do not repay him or mishandle his money more often than I do, but he forgives and does not get bitter about it.

Jim said:  Thanks for sharing at this level. Paraphrasing Paul’s words – I take pride in no other than Christ Jesus, in my weakness is his strength. So, maybe vulnerability is something to be proud of? But yet it is not of course. I need to add more … to be proud of vulnerability, is that not to be ‘proud’ of Christ?? I am not sure I am doing this ‘question’ justice.

Richard said: Related to money, power, trust and listening is accountability. We as missionaries are very vulnerable to not submitting to others. If we are not submitting to anyone else, I think we are living not in the Kingdom of God, but in the “Kingdom of Self” (a paradigm setting book for me by Earl Jabay). We write whatever we want in our newsletters to people too far away to check, others we work with are often paid by us so cannot confront us, fellow missionaries may just not get involved because they don’t know enough or want to take the risk to confront in love. So I do not know the answer to this question, but do you have people who you are accountable to and who you submit to? I am looking now again for a spiritual director or some friends that I can be accountable to. Of course this situation is better than Africa in that I have a head of department, dean, vice-chancellor and others who are above me (almost all African and none of whom get money through me) as well as my pastor and elder board in my home church.

Jim said:  My position is one in which people who don’t like me, I guess just go away and leave me alone. I am sure there are problems in my character. I trust God, by faith, that somehow despite of me, he will do his will and bring his kingdom. I have accountability to the American missionaries at Kima. I am very ready to submit to folks, I think.

Jim said:  Certainly operating on VM principles does away with the problem of paying people so that they are not ready to confront us. In my own household people are immediately dependent on my wallet. Outside it, they are frankly not. I think that is quite a ‘normal’ way of operating in this world. One reason we have so few people in our Bible teaching programmes is exactly because I do not ‘pay’ folks. (Also because we do not have a ‘denomination’, etc.)  I agree that ‘lack of accountability’ can be a problem – because western missionaries tend to ‘buy’ their ministries. Hence one reason VM suggests that they not do so.

Richard said: I think we need to be vulnerable to others with our ideas and ideals, our money, our contacts. We need to share at some level the resources we have. Chet said once that “cows are for milking” and though we don’t like people to value us for our financial resources or connections, if that is something that I have I should let the right people benefit. I want to be valued for my wonderful teaching, but I am coming to accept that Africans can teach in their context and language as well and usually better than I can. What do I have to offer them?

Jim said:  Your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Richard said:  A different perspective, but also my friendship including my resources financial as well as educational and experiential and my connections with others. For Africans, a true relationship means sharing financially (even though for Americans that means it is not a real friendship since we are rich enough to be “financially independent” or at least aim for that illusion). I think real, loving relationship and friendship is a high goal.

Jim said:  I am inclined to agree with the above. Yes, it is a high goal – and a worthy one to be aiming at. Yes, true friendship in Africa all too often involves financial interdependence. Is that Christian? I find it quite a destructive mechanism, that generates corruption and then poverty. It generates and perpetuates wcraft. I prefer the Jonathon and David model …

Richard said: As one Indian at the Edinburgh 1910 congress said (in paraphrase of his eloquence:) “You have given your gold, your lives, your ministry, but please give us friends.” How to find true cross-cultural friendship is a key question. I do think that making distinctions between “us” and “them” harms this situation. So for example, it is alright for me to use English and money from America, but it is not alright for an African. I think greater connections with greater humble listening between Africans and others is helpful. I have loved the idealism of Gandhi and Nyerere, but economically their program of self-sufficiency and their pride that they knew what was best for others did not help.

Jim said:  The notion that difference will disappear of itself I find to be unrealistic. Difference, intercultural if you like, is there. The question is how to respond to it. I think an active overcoming of difference in order to facilitate relationship is practical and wise. We don’t need to put all our dirty washing on display for everyone else. Similarly in reverse of course. I would not expect a African coming to UK to insist on using Kibantu. If I were to insist on his using Kibantu, I hope he’d see through my ‘folly’.

Jim said:  One’s understanding of politics …

Richard said: As mentioned in “The Other America” we cannot really be as poor and vulnerable as village Africans. Even if we give up everything and all of our money, we can still make a phone call and get the ball rolling so that we are out of the village and probably on an airplane out of the country. When there is violence in Kenya, we can leave for some other country and not end up in a refuge or IDP camp. We do have access to a respected language, academic learning, etc. If “vulnerable mission” really is the goal, I think Africans should be teaching me, not vice versa.

Jim said:  I don’t disagree with you here. If we find ourselves ‘guilty’ because we have access to the West, that seems to me to be advocating some kind of ‘worshipping of the West’, that our African colleagues probably sometimes find incredible. Even in America people die. If I am ministering in the UK and a Chinese person comes to assist, I don’t think I will make it a condition that he cuts all links with China. That is ridiculous. So Westerners should stop feeling guilty about their escape hatches, and concentrate on the job in hand.

Richard said: Okay, I am rambling. I realize that I am being very direct and rather kali. Hopefully “faithful are the wounds of a friend” even though I realize that I have probably overstepped the level of friendship that we have had time to establish. So maybe there is something in the midst of this long email that can be helpful even if some of it is probably just based on how little I know you.

Jim said:  I don’t think you have been over ‘kali’!

Richard said: By the way the EMS regional conferences in the US are going with the theme of “Issues of Ethics in Missions” and missions and money is at least one sub theme. You might want to consider presenting something.

Richard said: So now that I have responded to your question, let me pose one of my own: According to pragmatics, have we been translating the words in Hebrew and Greek correctly into English and Bantu and other languages when we have said “witch” “sorcerer” “mchawi”? Africans fill the content of the few references with all that they know about witches and yet scripture doesn’t seem to have all of that content.

Jim said:  I am not quite following you here. I think that yes, there is room to re-examine translation that brings up words like wcraft. Also, the assumption that ‘daemon’ (Gk) should be translated as pepo, mzimu, whatever. Don’t know if you could explain your question more carefully?

Jim said:  Perhaps to add – that the Bibles critique of wcraft often seems to be on the basis of silence. So also corpses – are little discussed in the Bible. Perhaps that is God’s way – not to take notice of witches and spirits? By that though, I don’t mean to ignore them, and to assume a context in which they are not there as we do if we simply translate American models of church to Africa. But the question of how to respond to them in the church. Constant healing activity etc. can be empowering the witches through getting all the attention in the church. As I say, please explain more closely what you are meaning here.

David said: It seems to me you’re arguing for/you’ve been convinced by an extreme linguistic relativity/Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that’s been discredited as such (i.e., in its extreme form) in the minds of most linguists and anthropologists. You and I agree that translation is possible, however greatly it may prove difficult.


Jim Said: Whether translation is ‘possible’, depends on how one defines ‘translation’. I guess many people define it as ‘what is possible’, in which case, it is possible. ‘Translation’ tends to focus on ‘meanings’. When we look at how words are used (which advocates of ‘pragmatics’ argue is pretty much deterministic of the ‘impact’, i.e. ‘meaning’ of a word – see debate on the boundary between pragmatics and semantics), then of course we cannot ‘translate’ unless we re-produce the context of the use of the word (in the full sense of the word). E.g. someone saying ‘coffee’, only ‘means’ what it does as I am about to swat a fly on their arm and they realise that the cup of coffee they are holding in their hand is not visible from where I am sitting …).

David Said: Give me an example.

Jim Said: Let’s reverse things, and imagine that Kikuyu (an African people) have colonised California, and now are insisting that Californians use the Kikuyu language for formal purposes. Let’s also take some ‘ideal types’ for the sake of illustration; and say that Californians consider causation to be mechanical, and the Kikuyu consider causation to be from their ancestors. (I think broadly speaking those types fit.) So someone is out on their motorcycle and it grinds to halt in a middle of an open plain! What has happened? Kikuyu: you have displeased an ancestor. California: your piston rings are worn, and so the engine has consumed all the oil resulting in it overheating and thus grinding to an unpleasant halt.


David Said: But both of these may be true. The ancestor may have caused the piston-ring to be worn.


Jim Said: Of course these are not mutually incompatible explanations, both may be true, but the key questions is – where is the emphasis / which is important?

In English the rider would report in the local press that ‘I was riding along, when the engine ground to a halt, due to leaky piston rings’.

Now let’s look at the Kikuyu scenario. First the person would struggle to find Kikuyu vocabulary for ‘piston rings’. So perhaps he’d say ‘the round metal rotted’, or something like that. There is obviously a problem there already.


David Said: But surely that problem would be overcome.

Jim Said: Yes but that now, the press must use Kikuyu Kikuyu. That is, journalists are trained in Kikuyuland to get the skills needed for their profession. They are given numerous examples of how articles should be, and in fact many of the articles in the California Press are close imitations of others produced in Kikuyuland, with only details (like the colour of the people in the illustrations) modified. All those articles are based on ancestral-causation. There is much speculation as to which ancestor caused what and which taboo was broken for that to have happened. Now the first sentence: ‘I was riding along, when the engine ground to a halt, due to leaky piston rings’ is rejected through being of the wrong language (English instead of Kikuyu). But then the second sentence, ‘the round metal rotted’ also must be rejected because legitimate newspaper articles operate on the basis of ancestral causation and not ‘mechanical’ causation. (And this is where we have gone beyond Sapir-Whorf.)

In addition to having to start learning Kikuyu once they get to school, having done every thing in English before then (think about it – quite a blow to the system), the Californians also realise that they are not able in formal written communication to utilise their understanding of causation. Formal communication must give ancestors as causative, and not mechanical processes. No matter how deeply the Californians believe in mechanical causation, all formal education and writing must ignore this in favour of accounts that ascribe ‘the blame’ to ancestors! If communication does not pretty much ignore mechanical causation, then it is rejected by the Kikuyus who dominate the publishing arena. Now Californians can of course continue to talk informally about mechanical causation, they still believe in it, but the belief is not (and cannot or must not be) reflected in their writing.


David Said: So then we find that one thing is said in the formal written sector, while another is believed and discussed in the oral sector!


Jim Said: Exactly so, which is why in order to ‘understand’ a people, one has to get beyond the formal and into the informal sector. That informal sector operates largely in indigenous languages, and it can be saying things that are radically different from those found in formal communication.

You will appreciate that the example I have taken has already taken us close to theology. Let’s take a Luo in Africa attempting to write his (her) theology in English. The life of the Luo, as many African people, is pre-occupied in struggles with ‘ancestors’, and with ‘witches’. Much African theology arises in response to one or both of these. But write such in a theological journal in English, and what you write will be rejected. Plain as that. Instead, the Luo to get on as an academic (or journalist) must appropriate Western theological issues for the purposes of his / her writing, in order not to get scoffed at. I remember a recent theological conference in Nairobi advertising themselves as addressing ‘African issues’ such as AIDs, poverty, war, malaria, fornication … Of course, those aren’t African issues as Africans see them for themselves. Those are the issues and approaches to them that Westerners think that Africans should adopt.


David Said: Then what would be the ‘African issues’?


Jim Said: These are difficult to articulate in English. In brief, however, causation is considered to be spiritual or ‘subjective’ and not primarily mechanical, as mentioned above. So the issues are witchcraft, ancestors, breaking of taboos and so forth.

A preacher recently talked about ‘loko dhoch’ (Dholuo). The translator into Kiswahili said ‘kombolewa’, which could be translated into English as ‘redeemed’. Loko dhoch has deep deep roots into Luo beliefs about life, a few of which I happen to know. All those issues, pretty much, are lost when the translation is taken into English (or even in this case Kiswahili).

How well would a journal article go down if it explained the importance of pastor’s rubbing pig-fat onto their skin before going on pastoral visiting trips to deter the evil eye? Or if it explained that a chicken must be killed when the body is brought to a funeral? Or that the fence must not be cut in order to introduce the body into the homestead? Doing theology in English means the referees are Westerners, and that limits the theology to much that is ‘not real’ to the non-western people concerned.

Some things are not said. For example (and again probably simplifying for purpose of illustration) – one does not praise people’s property in certain African circles. Neither does not ask about their property. This is because praising someone (‘your cows are some of the best in this area’) is easily read as a confession that one is jealous, thus should anything go wrong one is the chief suspect of witchcraft. So also ‘how is your child doing in school’ results in the thought ‘why this interest in my child?’ and quite likely a response to deflect your interest, and not an objective report of progress. Should a Luo-language literature develop, then in the course of time readers would realise this kind of thing – as the pattern would show. It is part of the language. But translation into English implies that the English response to the progress of one’s child in school is ‘English’, and means what English means, which it does not.

Until African and other Western people can develop a literature that reflects the way they think, then it is hard to make ‘progress’, as progress is made by building on the past, not only repeating it.

Imagining that we can do African theology using English, has been a very serious error that requires urgent rectification. Of course this does not only apply to theology.


(The original of this discussion with Hazel is found at Thanks to oscar missions information service,, for allowing us to include it here.)

Hazel, Argentina         “The thing about the vulnerable mission article [referring to the above article] is that we are trying to live that very thing, but actually the people who we are working amongst would far rather we came accompanied by a cool million or two… we’re continually being shown projects that they would like us to fund, which we are not about to, not least because we don’t have access to that kind of money, and as a result we feel that we are a continual disappointment to the people here; but the article seems to be a bit simplistic in failing to mention that the power imbalance isn’t only chosen by the missionaries, and in fact if we did what the article suggests and sought to serve the local community in ways chosen by the local community, then we would in fact be doing the thing that the article tells us not to do, i.e. bringing in Western money and building big projects with it. So in some ways “vulnerable mission” itself could actually be seen as an imposition of Western thinking.  There is also the small side irony that if we are really seeking to do “vulnerable mission”, then we probably won’t be jetting around the world to conferences run by Westerners in the UK, Germany or the USA on the subject of “vulnerable mission”!!!”

Jim, Kenya     “Fascinating comments and many thanks to Hazel. Absolutely hit the nail on the head. A few short responses: 1. did Jesus come to ‘please’ people, or to tell them the truth? What of Paul, Isaiah etc? 2. Does the article suggest that we ‘serve the local community in ways that it chooses’? Who anyway ‘is’ the local community? Is it easy to identify, or are there a few people with a load voice who tend to draw all the attention? 3. Is vm Western thinking, or is it Biblical thinking? Or ‘godly thinking’? 4. I would have thought that conferences on vm are a way of preparing to be vulnerable? Hazel has made some good points that we need to work through. Perhaps a big question is – are we (missionaries from the West) representing the wealth of the West, or God? Or are the two these days somehow confused?”

Jay, USA        “Hazel, you have pinpointed the pivotal question? Who does a vulnerable missionary serve? Who are the stakeholders in their work? Who is the local community? Who is we? Vulnerable Mission needs to do serious thinking on spiritual capital and how this relates to a community’s future, not just a congregation’s growth. Otherwise, as you say, missionaries become brokers for Mammon, rather than bridges to God. Your thoughts?”

Hazel, Argentina        “This is a good discussion, thanks guys I could do with more of this.  Just thinking on… “4. I  would have thought that conferences on vm are a way of preparing to be vulnerable?” Maybe for missionaries in preparation, but if I’m on the field, and I’m not showering dollars over local projects, but I do have money to jet myself back to the West whenever I feel like it then it doesn’t matter what the topic’s on as far as local people are concerned, I’m hardly going to be seen to be living vulnerably.  It also raises questions about where my sources of resources, support and learning are; am I learning from local people, or am I only looking for Westerners to teach me? I think there is a big confusion about whether we are representing the wealth of the West or God, and what the overlap between the two might be.  Hollywood has a lot to answer for.  Here people think that the West is perfect and that Westerners have perfect lives, and that all they have to do is emulate the West.  There is a lot of over-realised eschatology around.  And as a Westerner it is difficult to preach a future escatology when the perception is that I’m preaching pie in the sky as a way of letting myself off the hook of sharing my riches around.  Somehow we need to get the Hollywood image into its proper place, and publicise a few “realities”… like the 46 million USA citizens who don’t have access to adequate health-care etc, and maybe it might be less about the West being seen to have all the answers and more about being on a journey together. “Local community”… “few people with a loud voice”…. Yes, I think so, and I think that is particularly the case when we undertake “development” or “humanitarian” type activities.  People who have contact with NGO’s, particularly foreign NGO’s are probably articulate and know how to make and develop contacts.  There is also an issue that middle classes of many developing countries live in ways which look quite a lot like the poorer people of Western countries, which causes NGO’s (both Christian and otherwise) to end up working with the middle class, while the real poor often remain hidden and marginalised.”

Jim, Kenya     “Thanks for that response Hazel. Not that I want to rob you of the ‘glory’, but almost all that you have written I could have written. So what can I say, as I go along with most of your sentiments. Yes, it would be good for more folks to learn from the place they’re at rather than seeing rushing back to the West as a prerequisite for learning. Hence the vm (vulnerable mission) principles we are advocating – that some missionaries use local languages and only local resources, so that they don’t have to ‘rush back’. That frees one up from having to work so hard on ‘raising funds’ and checking on accountability hither and thither. Then if you ‘force yourself’ to use only local languages, you are obliged to drop to the bottom of the pile and spend a lot of time listening to locals before ‘action’.
This then is how we are defining ‘vulnerable’. Not that you are about to die of hunger, or that you ‘cannot’ get back ‘to the West’ (although such latter may also be helpful, people tend to resist such) – but given that you are powerful through FOREIGN contacts that such foreign-based power not be used to ‘buy’ local power. I find that if I confine myself to local languages and resources, most people aren’t very interested in my ministry after a while, then it is up to me to find out how to operate within the community in which I am living so as to ‘attract’ folks! That’s what I am understanding by ‘vulnerability’. Of course I am ‘different’, but at least to be ‘the same’ (albeit a bit behind as I am pretty ignorant of local things) in terms of ministry. That means of course – what I can do ‘they’ can do! etc.
Do have a look at some more of the reading on the vm site. Here is a piece that says what I have above in a bit more depth that you might find helpful to start out with: If you don’t want to ‘go back to the west’, just avoid western languages and money in whatever your ministry is. ”


Daniel said: Last week I expressed my reservations about what I consider your rather extreme position on the use of the English language in Africa.  I consider this to be a serious enough difference of opinion that I must spell out some of my reaction in writing for your consideration.


Jim said: Discussion welcome!


Daniel: Considering the use of English in Africa, I had reservations about your position prior to our phone conversation the other day, but when you said in that conversation that English is “enemy number one” it raised the level of my concern significantly.


Jim: I was referring to a comment that I made to Rev. Prof. (now deceased) Kwame Bediako in August 2006 in a discussion at AICMAR (African Institute of Contemporary Mission and Research) near Butere, about 2 hours cycle from my home in Yala. His response was to say ‘yes you are right’ 6 times – I was counting! – as he thought about my suggestion.


Daniel: That is what convinced me that I must address the issue.  One reason for my concern is that you justified your position using the current Luo tensions with the Kikuyu in Kenya.  With all due respect, those two ethnic groups live within the same geographical and political boundary.  They cannot retreat to their own language to the mutual exclusion of the other if their differences are to be addressed.


Jim: I assume this is a question related to the ‘homogenous unit principle’. I am a bit rusty on this. But – my position is basically that it is ‘best’ for people to become Christians within their own linguistic / cultural context, rather than to be ‘forced’ to deny that context in order to be considered acceptable to Christ. Once sufficiently deeply rooted in a people, I believe that God’s Spirit will guide those people in their reading of their indigenous-language Bible to realise that it is their prerogative to ‘LOVE’ people of other ethnicities. On the other hand, if we make large cultural jumps a part of ‘becoming a Christian’, either less people will become Christians, or more Christians are likely to be shallow in their beliefs. I consider that something of the latter has happened in Africa, and that this is what is hindering the church from putting down deep roots. If the church is ‘shallow’, then it is less capable of uprooting aspects of inter-ethnic hatred that may be very deeply rooted. Hence I believe it is in the interests of the Kikuyu and Luo people that their churches develop deeply into their respective communities, so that they can come to meet in a relationship of love and not hatred.


Daniel: You may think that Swahili is an alternative, but Swahili is largely Bantu in structure and vocabulary.  Are Luo speakers expected to learn Swahili to solve their differences with the Kikuyus?  I venture to say that if another language (like Swahili) is acceptable as a medium, then would it not reasonable to consider using a non-Bantu language like (English) to help reduce tensions.  In that respect, neither the Luos nor the Kikuyus would have an advantage.


Jim: Interesting point, and indeed the Kikuyu would seem to have an advantage in terms of use of Kiswahili. I don’t quite get this sentence: “They cannot retreat to their own language to the mutual exclusion of the other if their differences are to be addressed.” Germans and Brits had a problem between them in the 1930s and 40s, I don’t think there was ever a serious suggestion that the resolution to their difficulties would be aided if both countries turned to speaking French? Indeed, interestingly, Alexander points out that the EU is willing to spend more on the maintenance of multilingualism in its institutions than any other international organisation” (1999:14). He also says that S African education policy in 1999 was that “the L1 [first language] of the learner should be maintained throughout the educational career of the learner” (1999:11) – a policy that most linguists would agree on.


Jim: English is a difficult language to use in inter-African communication, as it forces a detour (this is also Alexander’s term – below) – that is the speaker has to go from their mother tongue, to thinking ‘how would a British person respond to this’, to ‘how will my fellow African of a different tribe respond to this’, where the British are culturally very distant from most African people. Kiswahili on the other hand being an East African tongue, involves a MUCH smaller ‘detour’.


Daniel: In my estimation, the problem would be exasperated if someone promoted an African language as the best option for doing business in government or general society.  If Swahili were chosen as the primary way to communicate, what message does that send to the Luo, Maasai and others who speak Nilotic languages?


Jim: Many Luo at times deny a knowledge of Swahili. See Steiner – for how denial of knowledge of a language is used (Steiner 1998:34): “… where power relations determine the conditions of meeting, linguistic exchange becomes a duel. …[the underdog’s words are] porcupine quills, calculated to guard some coherence of inner life while wounding outward.” Many of those who deny such knowledge, actually know Kiswahili very well indeed – many I have known have gone on either to teach Kiswahili, or to teach in Kiswahili. Denying a knowledge of Kiswahili can be a statement of ‘pride’, as it implies a closer identification with white men.


Jim: Indeed African countries have opted for English (French etc.), with all the numerous problems that this brings in its wake. Some of the reasons for their doing this are quite clear, although the problems that this is bringing are manifold. Back to Alexander: due to “colonial oppression … it seemed as though every newly independent African state was doomed to take the same language policy detour by accepting in practice the primacy of the ex-colonial language …” (1999:6), this being an outcome of a “cruel dilemma” (1999:5). (I am using Alexander rather than other authors 1. because I recently read his piece and 2 because it is on the web (reference below)).


Jim: To me there are interesting parallels here with England after the Norman conquest of 1066. (Without having done detailed research…) I believe French came to be the ‘language of power’ in England for many generations. The Frenchmen were the Lords of the Manor, landowners, leading politicians etc. In due course, this changed, and although English was influenced by so being under French domination, it was (is) surprisingly English. Influence was minimal! Meanwhile we all know how violently the English refused the Spanish Armada, and how strongly they turned AGAINST Catholicism as a reaction to French attempts at forceful domination. Should missionary Christianity be such a ‘Catholicism’?


Jim: If we think that African countries and people will continue to use English when no longer economically forced to do so – we are kidding ourselves. The question then is – where are we going to plant the Gospel? In the dominating foreign language only, or in the hearts and lives of the people?


Jim: I believe that while of great interest to AVM, the above discussions are not central to it. As I understand AVM it is saying ‘well, try it out’!


Jim: I could say much more, and have done elsewhere, on issues that I meet every day – including today, in which missionary and development agency policy are identifying Whites as ‘gods’ and putting up enormous inter-racial barriers between blacks and whites that I for one think are not appropriate. We are all the same in the end, especially in the light of Christian teaching. The domination of European languages is preventing people from pulling up their socks and getting their act together to advance themselves and develop their communities. That is no small issue. Economically – Many African people are given ‘NO CHOICE’. The West is imposing that onto them, and should take responsibility for doing such.


Jim: Again, the above is peripheral to AVM, which is NOT concerned for national government policies. But it is one of the things encouraging me to promote VM.

Daniel: I lived in Zambia … where we have seventy-three languages.  I learned long ago that there was no way that one of the African languages could serve as the medium for government, although that was discussed during the struggle for independence.  There was no way that the Tonga people would accept Bemba or Nyanja as the national language for Zambia.  Some even proposed Swahili, but the experience in Tanzania convinced them that they did not want a truncated educational system which basically meant they could only do graduate study in Tanzania.  You may think that is preferred, but in my estimation, it is not realistic in the world in which we live.  


Jim: You have a right to your view on language policies in Zambia and elsewhere. My understanding is that Swahili was rejected because of its Muslim links. It is sad indeed that African people cannot agree amongst themselves that they use ‘one of’ their languages, and instead have to put themselves under more ‘colonial oppression’ by thus being left with English as the only other option. One does also have to doubt as to the real reason for such a choice. Many scholars, amongst them Alexander, have pointed out that economically it was extremely difficult to avoid the European language imperative. Fat-cats had too much to gain through use of English, and too much to loose by rejecting English. Tanzania did – although it was an extremely difficult exercise for them. They did not do so easily. The only other country I guess – Ethiopia, which I understand now has a policy whereby primary (and secondary?) schooling is managed by local people in their languages.


Daniel: Just to emphasize the point, Zambia has the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) in Lusaka which prepares medical doctors to serve in their country.  But if English were not the medium in Zambia, they could not produce doctors for use beyond the ethnic group in which the training was done.


Jim: There is almost unanimous scholarly approval that people’s education is best done in L1 (mother tongue). Much research has shown (I could give you examples) that doing primary schooling in an African language has given students a better grasp of English / French by (say) the seventh year, than those taught using English and French throughout. If higher education is to be done in English, then the question is – when to switch? Tanzania ‘switches’ at the end of yr. 7 of education. Malawi I believe at the end of year 3 (or 4)? But frankly, there is a very strong case to be made that education should continue to the end in that language – so see Alexandria and others. (Chichewa and Kiswahili are of course not ‘mother tongues’ to all Tanzanians / Malawians, but they are much closer to many mother tongues and African people are generally much more free to use them than European languages, for various good reasons.)


Daniel: And they certainly could not have seventy-three teaching hospitals.  If all medical training in Zambia were in Bemba, the Tongas would never produce a medical doctor of their own and vice versa.  In that respect, one could consider English as a gift from God to make it possible for people from many ethnic groups to get training in medicine.


Jim: This constant confusion between ‘English’ and ‘western’ and god; I think it is about time we missionaries jumped off that bandwagon and became ‘human’. While Zambia may have multitudes of highly qualified medical doctors, all convinced that they should be earning high salaries, preferably in European and American hospitals, having medical training in English continues to deny Mr. average Zambian basic medical understanding. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if medicine could be done in an African language, with all the implications for dynamic, progressive African language and culture that such would imply. Instead – African languages are left to rot, as Zambians (and others) are enlisted into serving Western medical whims and interests.


Jim: There are serious problems and difficulties that would need to be faced if ‘medical training’ were to be done in indigenous African languages, I believe. But I also believe that it is important to face and not to run away from those difficulties, as the same (or parallel) difficulties in actual fact continue to trouble African people when they use English.

Daniel: To sum this up I am more convinced than ever that you will need to adjust your position on the use of English or I fear that the positive benefits of promoting VM will be lost.  Indeed, unless that change is made, I will not be able to lend my support to the movement that you are promoting, including the seminars that are being arranged. 


Jim: I struggle to see the connection here. I think it is plain that AVM is encouraging that there be ‘some western missionaries who do their ministry in the language of the people being reached’. Are you disagreeing with this aim?

Daniel: In reality, right now I have many other things on my agenda and would not like to get sidetracked by what I see as an unnecessary debate.  Of course, I agree that missionaries should learn a local language, and if that were your objective I could wholeheartedly endorse it. 


Jim: and that is our objective, … So what is the problem? As I understand, we also say some missionaries should use it, and not only learn it.


Daniel: I learned … Bantu languages as a missionary and promote the idea in the seminars I teach far and wide.  Unfortunately, you go far beyond that, and in the process you lose me. 


Jim: I would encourage you to read more of the articles that I am writing and have written. I appreciate that some things that I say are unconventional, but have not yet found anyone who has successfully refuted my arguments. It has taken me a long time to reach some of the conclusions that I am now putting forward for debate and urgent attention by the missiological and ‘development’ fraternity as a result of carefully considering and examining the pertinent issues from a ‘vulnerable’ position in many ways as an ‘African insider’. I believe this is important, and certainly it is connected to AVM, but I can state again that AVM’s concern is that “there be some missionaries … do their ministry … using local languages … and resources”, and that is all. If we can agree on that, then why make issues of other differences?


Daniel: I suppose there are parts of your rationale with which I am not familiar.  I simply don’t have time right now to read everything you have sent.  But with what you said on the phone the other day and with what I have heard you say on other occasions, I have enough reason to give me concern.


Jim: I am glad that you are concerned, and hope that such concern will prompt you to do further research.


Daniel: Before I close I feel I should [say that] I have an international ministry that reaches not just across Africa, but also to Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.  … But with particular reference to Africa, the impact of my effort is through the use of the English language.  Though I speak two Bantu languages as I said above, if I were limited to them, I would be limited to a very small part of the African continent.  Yet it is the wider population that needs the word of encouragement … .  Recently I spent three weeks in South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, Kenya and Uganda and in every case I was dealing with people who speak English ….  If English is enemy is number one (your words) am I fraternizing with the enemy when I speak with them?  Ironically it is English that I use to share the encouragement I have to give.  I know the deeper reasons for learning local language, but I cannot accept that English is the primary enemy.


Jim: I have given the context for that statement. It is not, I think, an AVM position AT ALL. Not yet. I believe that if we were to have some vulnerable missionaries, they would in due course reach that conclusion. Why are we afraid of vulnerability? … I am aware that some Africans may prefer westerners not too get too close, as they are not sure we can handle what we would discover should we do so. Meanwhile, westerners dominate Africa, and the Africans are left struggling to pick up the pieces that those dominating do not understand.


Jim: Are all members of AVM from hereon restricted in their research interests, or do we remain free to following different research avenues and engage in debate that we find to be important? I vote for freedom.


Jim: I very much appreciate what you share above regarding your ministry. But, my primary concern is with the African people, and not with empowering Americans to continue to lead the African agenda from offices in the West. Yes, English makes much of African wide open to westerners of all persuasions to visit, and get an audience (almost guaranteed at least in the contexts with which I am familiar). Not only yourself. I see them come, and get an audience, and leave, and send the money all the time. African listeners say ‘yes’, and they also say ‘please come back’, especially to old men. That is part of African hospitality, it is deeply ingrained, it is a wonderful thing, now let’s understand it for what it is.


Daniel: This is already too long and I must run for a meeting.  I welcome your reaction because it affects whether and how much I can be involved in VM activities.


Jim: Daniel: – there is no reason for you to become less involved in VM than all the time and efforts that you have available – unless you disagree with the aims, that I have already mentioned above. Debate is useful, and let’s engage, but not so as to rupture relationships in such critical areas as resolving issues of ‘dependency’.


Associated Bibliography:


Alexander, Neville, 1999. Abstract: ‘English Unassailable but Unattainable: the dilemma of language policy in South African Education.’ Paper presented at the Biennial Conference of the International Federation for the Teaching of English (University of Warwick, England, UK, July 7-10, 1999). (accessed 28.08.08)


Steiner, George, 1998, After Babel: aspects of language and translation (third edition).  Oxford: Oxford University Press

Jim was asked:

“Are you taking an absolute stand against any form of aid originating say in the US and directed to Kenya? Or does your work aim to distinguish better and worse forms of aid?”

Jim’s Response

a. Very basically the aims of the Alliance for Vulnerable Mission, as I understand them, are to encourage for there to be some Western missionaries operating in Africa (and presumably other similar places) in other than donor roles. (With identities other than donors.)

In a sense, that is all that I want to say.

b. Then again, I can also go deeper and wider, I think. I believe that should step a. be taken, feedback from those who avoid donor identities will confirm the importance of the ‘no-money route’, and that a serious trickle will become a surge. Hence in another sense I am advocating that Christian mission as a whole from the West to Africa (especially) make a serious effort at avoiding donor roles.

c. Similarly, I am trying to address mainly the mission community. I believe we have a lead over the rest (to say the least), but have been throwing it away by mimicking the practices of secularists. I believe that Christians could be showing the big secular organisations the importance of God’s centrality rather than money’s centrality. In due course then, it is my belief that the secular bodies will also realise the damage they are doing through their aid flows.

d. I also acknowledge however, that there is already enormous dependency on existing aid flows, such that were they to be halted abruptly that would literally spell disaster for millions of people. So then my emphasis would be on not creating new dependencies, even if we have to pragmatically accept to sustain existing dependencies.

e. A part also of what I am saying, is that the aid machine is now so massive and so penetrative, that frankly Christians ‘needn’t’ be on its front line. So you could say, in a country in which social services are provided by government, Christians need to focus more on pastoral care. The massive secular aid flows should be freeing Christians for more sensitive and critical tasks.

f. Similar to e. above, is the fact that the secular aid flows are making it easier for missionaries to ‘live with the people’. My case is probably classic, in that my home village is in a Millennium Village project area. Hence the UN is providing all kinds of services for free. Unlike the old ‘days’ when missionaries (or anthropologists of course) had to make great efforts just to stay alive (clean water, electricity, medical services, hacking through the bush etc.) materially the ‘gap’ in lifestyle has been reduced. Western Missionaries ought to be taking advantage of this, so as to spend less time and money on their own ‘upkeep’, and more on developing relationships.

g. Rather than taking a stand against aid, I am advocating that we take our eyes off aid, and help people build on what they already have.

Jim was asked:

“Second, when you call for “vulnerable mission” not dependent of western aid, does this mean that you yourself do not operate in Kenya with “Western” aid? Or only that Kenyans are not supposed to operate with “western” aid? That is, are you calling for a form of mission that makes you vulnerable, or that makes Kenyan brothers and sisters vulnerable? If the latter, can you point me to the writings of Kenyans who are advocating such a pattern of “vulnerable” mission?”

Jim’s response:

Thank-you for this question. Allow me to answer as follows:

a. My emphasis is on finance used in ministry. Not on dependence on Western aid for ‘survival’ or self-maintenance. I am 100% (maybe 99%?) dependent financially on my supporting churches in the ‘West’. That is far from an ideal situation – ideally I should be 99% dependent on supporting churches in my African home-community.

b. Such gross dependency requires as much humility. That is, money acts as a guarantor (I am sure there must be a technical term for tihs)? That is – if you employ me, then the financial agreement we come to helps me to know that I am truly of service to you. If I was not, you would tell me, or refuse to pay me. Missionaries coming to Africa with their own support, are not in that position. They may get little or no helpful feedback, because they are independent of the local economy. This requires much extra sensitivity to the local context. One way to be so sensitive, is not to buy oneself into power. I.e. not to invest financially into one’s ministry.

c. To explain b. in another way. Money should be invested in areas where a community is accepting of the project being promoted. This of course applies even to businessmen (who judge the acceptance of what they set up by the way people invest in it). Communities make decisions about who is to have power amongst them in many ways – such as attending to what a person says, going when they are called to a meeting, attending their church etc. Hence in natural communities power is in the hands of those who are given that power by some sort of concensus. (Obviously this is open to abuse, but that is not my point here.) Now, a foreign missionary being supported from overseas who builds their ministry on that overseas money does not have that local-community stamp of approval. In that sense, power they exercise using foreign money could be seen as illegitimate.

d. If we now turn to ‘Kenyans’ (or ‘Africans’). The above (b and c) of course applies to them. An outsider’s funding of an African person is then bypassing the indigenous system. For example, Jane may have had little respect from other village women. But, should a Westerner take a liking for her and fund her, she will have been given power in that community. The question for me arises, as to the legitimacy of that power. Then the long-term helpfulness of such power. This especially as ‘donors’ tend to be relatively ignorant (and the fact that they are donors in many ways maintains their ignorance) of these ‘local communities’. Yet they easily purchase great power.

e. I guess one could say that communities have power balances, affected by people’s likeability, gifts, intelligence, strength, of course God’s blessing, family ties etc. A foreigner coming into such a system needs to be sensitive to the complexity of such ‘systems’. One way of being ‘sensitive’, is by restricting the power of one’s ‘impact’. One major way of doing this, is by engaging without money.

f. So, should Kenyans operate without Western aid? I find that question a bit ideallistic. In the ideal world I think yes, Kenya should not be so grossly dependent on aid. In the world as it is, Kenyans are in a number of ways better equipped to operate with Western aid than are Westerners (especially short-term Westerners etc.) as they are familiar with the local culture, community etc. On the other hand, they are likely to be less knowledgeable of what the foreign aid is trying to achieve. (e.g. much aid is given with the aim of creating sustainability. African uses of aid tend to be for more immediate needs.) So one could add, things like the fact that Kenyans living amongst their extended family come under a lot more pressure to ‘abuse’ funds than are Westerners whose extended families are well cared for by their home countries economies, etc. If Western aid were suddenly withdrawn from Kenya, I think it would be a huge calamity, perhaps with millions of deaths. No joke. …

g. Are Kenyans writing in a way that they want to be vulnerable? For me, the vulnerable mission emphasis is very much directed towards Westerners. In a sense, whether a Kenyan wants to be vulnerable or not, is not my issue. They will understand God’s calling as God leads them, if you like. I would want to witness as a Christian in such a way as to demonstrate an example of vulnerability that I hope they will find valuable and would like themselves to immitate. I believe Jesus’ example is vey much of vulnerability, but Western mission has not always effectively communicated this.

h. To re-iterate point g. I would like to encourage Kenyan people to value vulnerable mission by being a vulnerable missionary to them, and not by insisting that they be vulnerable while I am not.

i. Many people recognise that if you say ‘do what I say and not what I do’, then people will still follow what you do! This has been one of the problems of Western mission – which has advoated humility in ministry, while buying ministry opportunities for itself. Africans have seen through this. More and more of them have realised, that to ‘succeed’ in ministry today, you first need a source of overseas funds. Unfortunately getting this often requires different forms of corruption and deceipt (not always intentional, but may arise form inter-cultural misunderstandings). Building ministries of whole churches and denominations on such Western models has serious repercussions, especially of dependence. It forces African churches, for example, to (formally) appropriate Western theologies, whether they like it or not. It means that only the educated (who have acquired fluency in English for example) are taken seriously in Christian ministry, as only they can get serious funding. So it is an enormous damper, in other words, on innovation and indigenous growth of the African church.

j. For a Kenyan to advocate ‘vulnerable mission’ is, given the world described in i above, almost self-destructive. Much of the ‘anti-Western’ discussion in Africa is therefore not in formal circles, certainly not in the international scholarly arena (although of course indications of it do get through. Do you want a list of articles / books?). It is rather implicit in what people do, how they do it, discussions engaged in vernacular languages etc. I.e. it is best picked up through ‘participant observation’, not scholarly papers. Hence a need for ‘vulnerable missionaries’ who can listen in such contexts.

k. In another sense, no of course Kenyans do not want ‘vulnerable mission’. Neither do pastors in the US or the UK. Rather, their circumstances dictate it in the latter. They have to use local languages, and they have to be dependent (broadly in some cases) on the financial means of their local community. (At least they have to be accountable to someone who has a pretty good understanding of what is going on, like a bishop who is a fellow national.) Given the opportunity to have a supply of funds independent of their church members or heirarchy, I guess most US pastors would take it. Whether the church would be a better place as a result, is another question. (I believe the US constitution outlaws state funding of churches?)

l. This of course leads us to the issues addressed by Elisha. Accountability. I have addressed such in my article <>.
I suggest in this article that accountability structures are basically not-there in much of mission today, which means Westerners have power but no eyes and no local wisdom, which I suggest is immoral. Like if I was to take over your university and run it from here, and insist that you all use Kiswahili and follow my decisions made in total ignorance of local context … Hence we need ‘vulnerable missionaries’, who have eyes and ears.

I had better stop here. I hope those answers are helpful, and am grateful
for the questions!

“What is “Vulnerable Mission” REALLY All About? An Exchange” (April 2008)

Edwin Zehner (Ph.D. Anthropology, Cornell University) has published on missions, conversion, contextualization, and related topics in Anthropological Quarterly, the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Social Compass, and Missiology. He has recently contributed to a co-edited volume (with Wheaton College anthropologist Brian Howell) forthcoming from William Carey Library, and another edited volume (edited by Robert Priest of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) forthcoming from the Evangelical Missiological Society.

Over the years Edwin has done anthropological fieldwork among Christians and Buddhists in Thailand. In recent years he has also been studying Arabic, Islam, and Muslims. In the spring of 2008, when we had the following exchange, he was a Visiting Fellow of the Southeast Asia Program of Cornell University.

Jim Harries (Ph.D. Theology, University of Birmingham) is the Chairman of the Alliance for Vulnerable Mission and writes from Kenya, East Africa.

Edwin: Hi. I have to admit that, while I’ve been open to receiving your e-mails, I’ve been skeptical of the whole “vulnerable missions” approach. The emphasis on learning indigenous languages seem obvious and already well-accepted, at least inSoutheast Asia (perhaps there was something radically different about missionary attitudes inAfrica?)

Jim: I suspect that probably yes, there is something radically different aboutAfrica! I wouldn’t know statistics, but I suspect that a very high percentage of missionaries coming toAfrica expect to use European languages in their ministry. Not only expect to, but then end up doing so.

Edwin: At the same time, the emphasis on deliberate financial poverty seemed extreme, and I have yet to see an argument that presents a clear justification (at least one that would sway me personally, and I suspect that “swaying” people is what you are about.. )

Jim: I guess I am trying to ‘sway’ folks! Having produced many arguments that seem to me to be convincing, and most of them being already posted on my web page ( ) perhaps you could help me by explaining in more detail where the case has so far in your view been lacking?

Edwin: On the other hand, I share your discomfort when I realize I am considerably more affluent than my friends in the field, and perhaps that’s what you are getting at.

Jim: Yes also. But that feeling of discomfort tends to be akin to ‘guilt’, which results in donations, which confirms to the ‘other’ that they need to be helped rather than that they need to help themselves, kind of thing.

Edwin: Furthermore, I kind of agreed with Jim Harries’s assessment of an academic conference on short term missions that he and I both attended in March 2007. I think we were indeed discussinghow to make the most of a less-than-ideal situation. But isn’t that almost always the case? Regardless of topic? As I’m sure was said at the conference itself, it seemed clear that short-term missions was going to happen anyway. So our best strategy was to try to steer it in useful directions rather than follow the prior (ineffective) strategy of simply complaining about it. At least according to the conference organizer, and I kind of agree.

Jim: I agree that ‘how to make the most of a less-than-ideal situation’ has a lot going for it. At the same time, myself as a person living in the African village, struggle with that, seeing how major a distraction short-termers can be. I hope I was not ‘complaining about it’, but was trying to point out the problems that it brings. Would people realise them, I think the short term missions orientation would change drastically.

Edwin: But getting back to your e-mails. I wanted to say that I am strongly in agreement with Goal #1 in your message below. I’m looking forward to reading the article.


(This is the #1 referred to by Edwin.) 1/ ‘Letting the genie out of the bottle’ – that’s Bible translation, according to the executive director of Wycliffe, UK, Eddie Arthur. This is because once a people have the Bible in their language, it becomes very hard for an outsider to ‘control’ their churches. Rather, as Jesus in his incarnation, the missionary who translates the Bible is taking on vulnerability to win hearts, and not compel belief. See:


Jim: Thanks for getting back with some good questions!

(… a few days later)

Edwin: Hi. Thanks for the response. I went over to the website but got distracted by the link to AICs, and decided I’d better avoid getting bogged down in too much reading, lest I not get my other work done. So I hope you don’t mind my continuing the conversation. (while probably spending an equal amount of time writing this note!)

Jim: Fine. Know what you mean …

Edwin: First the distraction: For some reason AICs have tended to fascinate me, though I’ve never been to Africa — possibly because for several years I was a member of what might be called a TIC (“Thailand Independent Church”?) and it suffered the same problem of misrepresentation by outsiders, possibly even worse than in these papers. An additional reason for my interest may be because they also pioneered the very notion of independence and self-reliance that your “vulnerable mission” campaign and organization seems to want to support (though it never actually says it supports local church independence from outside missions, I saw that as implicit in the “vulnerable mission” goals.)

(The article Edwin was looking at is found here: )

Jim: Interesting! I have a lot of background in working with AICs, and so does another of our board members Stan Nussbaum. That does not in itself mean that I, or Stan I guess, favours AICs as against other churches. There is something to be learned from them that is not so easy to learn from other churches, I suggest. Interdependence is of course normal human existence, and healthy also for churches – if it isn’t all one sided or the foreign imposing itself with economic coercion on the indigenous.

Edwin: Your course on AICs must be a real challenge to teach, given the attitudes some of the students seem to be bringing to the material. For example, I found myself reading the third report in the file (the one on the Israel Church) and wondered why the student was so disturbed by the congregation he was observing. Even his adjectives seemed to show discomfort (the preacher “thundered” – p. 9 – though maybe that’s a positive term in the Kenyan setting), and his final statement was downright dismissive. As for the author’s charge that singing about Jesus’s blood amounts to focusing on the “dead” Jesus (if that was actually the reason for the charge – the author was not clear on that), that is a complaint that could probably be leveled at any evangelical congregation in theUSA.

Jim: Not sure what to comment here! Unfortunately that course was only taught one year, and then it was removed from the syllabus. It is hard to get indigenous content onto theological college syllabi it seems!!

Edwin: The only things I saw that were not “mainstream” Christianity (other than the overall style, which was decidedly African, but not in a way likely to be viewed as problematic by most American observers these days) were (a) the characterization of the leader as “nabii” and (b) the practice of meeting on Friday (assuming that was correctly reported). Both of these were presumably borrowed from Islam? — unless the meeting was after dark on a Friday evening, in which case both references could truly have been toIsrael – keep reading). But in these cases as well I see no problem. Nabii could equally well have been taken from the Hebrew scriptures (means “prophet” in both Hebrew and Arabic), and in Yemen even the foreign Christian community reportedly worships on Friday since the weekends are Thursdays and Fridays (while in Yemen last fall I kept referring to “Friday” as “Sunday” and vice versa, making it very difficult to remember which days I was supposed to Skype my family back home!). Again, if that service were after dark on a Friday, the symbolic reference would more likely have been to the Jewish Sabbath than to the Muslim “day of gathering” (literal translation of the Arabic word for “Friday”), which of course would have been in keeping with the church’s self-reference to Israel.

Jim: The meeting was on Friday,midday. The reasons I have been given include to celebrate the day of the sacrifice of Christ. And to help in reaching out to Muslims by giving an alternative venue to them on their prayer day.

Edwin: But now to the main issue, which I’ve still managed not to read up on — finances:

I suspect that, as in the case of the languages, I may be from a different experience. I grew up in the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA), where missionaries were never expected to raise funds for themselves. Instead, they were expected to spend large portions of their furloughs helping the denomination personalize its work in the field by visiting annual “missionary conventions” in the various churches, and they often did so by means of stories about themselves and their favorite church partners and almost never focused on specific fundraising projects. (It is partly because of those presentations that I became interested in the world outside theUSAfrom a very young age). Also, I’ve never had to raise funds for myself (other than writing grant applications that usually don’t get funded). So for me this probably does not resonate at the same personal level as it does for many in your movement.

Jim: Sounds OK!

Edwin: Come to think of it, though, I was actually “vulnerable” for about 14 months in the 1980s, though possibly not in the sense that you mean. I was truly without reliable income for that time and was probably perceived as a “missionary” due to my particular involvements in that TIC (though I lacked a “missionary visa” and though a sociologist who met me at the time considered me a prospectiveanthropologist “gone native” since I was helping an indigenous church’s ministry). For about 6 of those months my “support” came in the form of small anonymous offerings designated to me that suddenly started appearing in the church’s offering bags each week (only after they stopped did I learn who was making them — it was a Thai woman of modest means who’d also been helping our English-language outreach to expatriates in other ways — the ultimate in “vulnerability,” eh?) It was especially “vulnerable” because I never really knew if there would be another offering, and only when they stopped did support start arriving from elsewhere, and I also never wrote a support letter — other than reporting back home some of the things I was doing, which was something I’d already started even before my research grant money had run out [yeah, I guess I’d truly gone native — though I still think it was a GOOD thing])

Also in your favor, early in fieldwork in Thailand, so many years ago, I found myself reflecting on the ways that concerns for raising funds – or at least maintaining their flow — could affect in dysfunctional ways what gets reported backhome and what gets done in the field . For example, I was concerned about missions’ tendencies to get possessive about “their” churches (when the churches themselves often seemed most interested in simply getting help and mentoring wherever they could find it). I also suspected missions tended to get over-focused on “countable” activities and results rather than thinking about their work holistically. And so on. [As I say this, I realize that my own letters sometimes emphasized the “countable” — as did the homegrown Thai denomination in which I worked — they were among the biggest offenders of all in their efforts to report big numbers, both internally and externally — though they had no reason to be, as the plainreality was already impressive enough]. So that may be part of your concern.

Jim: I think these problems do easily arise in the current system. I think these issues are a bit peripheral to my concern. My suggestion would be, that someone considering working with a TIC do so using the Thai language and not by raising funds for the Thai church from overseas.

Edwin: Am I getting close? I still don’t think total financial “vulnerability” is necessarily the solution, but at least I may see some of what you are driving at? And in addition to the above there are of course inherent power imbalances when the visitor has money and the locals do not. Anthropological fieldworkers have been dealing with similar issues for decades, and there is an extensive literature on that, though I don’t think they’ve come anywhere near to resolving the imbalances inherent in their own field relations (though at least they TALK about them).Anthropologists probably even have the same practical objections to total “vulnerability” that many missionaries have, because not only can it impede their professional work (hard to travel, ship field notes, etc., if you have too few funds), but there is also that disciplinary concern about “going native,” which technically means getting so close behaviorally as to become psychologically incapable of stepping back analytically [note the unexamined assumptions implicit in the formulation!], although in practice I think it mostly gets stuck on those who live too much like the people studied and who go farthest in adopting their mindset. And it is admittedly very rare anyway.

Jim: You raise many vital issues here, that you rightly say are shared by missionaries and anthropologists to a large degree. These are issues that I have, directly or indirectly, tackled in a number of the articles that I have written. The ‘going native’ thing is indeed insufficiently critically examined.

Edwin: On the other hand, every time I talk with church leaders inThailand I hear complaints about missionaries who live too high on the hog, enjoying their nice house and their maids (which many — but not all — church leaders can’t afford), while not seeming to work very hard, at least not in the ways that their critics consider work. Nobody ever named names, and I suspected nobody was criticizing anyone they worked with closely. But the stereotype of the overly “comfortable” missionary was always out there, with the implication (especially strong as I was hearing it on this most recent visit) that some of the missionaries were more focused on enjoying status and privileges denied to them back home than in the work it (these critics typically knew enough about America and Europe to realize that missionaries’ lives could be “cushier” in Thailand than back home). One need not go all the way to “vulnerability” to counter that (at least not the total vulnerability that seems to be advocated by your organization), but it certainly is an issue that must be kept in mind.

Jim: The debate has long been, as I have understood, on things like ‘simple living’. It has been my experience that such often are of little real effectiveness. They can be pretentious. One is vulnerable, or not, kind of thing. Pretending to be vulnerable, is another thing. In AVM I hope we are defining vulnerability as we are using it. It is the vulnerability of using ‘their’ language, and relying on ‘them’ to supply resources needed for your ministry. It may not be every other sort of vulnerability, and in my view has little to do with the actual support levels and in some ways even the life-style of the missionary (when not ‘on call’ or ‘engaging in ministry’ so to speak).

Edwin: And even secular anthropologists have noted the rampant tendency inAfrica for local pastors to seek to enhance both their status and their financial security by latching onto a missionary “sponsor.” In the one article I read (I wish I could remember the author and title, as I’m sure that you would appreciate it), there was a particularly gripping (for me) account of how this courtship dance could be played out, as both sides realized exactly what was happening (the mission actors tended to have their own parallel agenda part of which involved avoiding commitment!).

Jim: This is a frequent drama. I would be interested to find any account of such written by an anthropologist! [NOTE: We were informed later that the article Edwin had in mind was “The Quest for Missionaries: Transnationalism and Township Pentecostalism in Malawi.” The author is anthropologist Harri Englund, and it appeared in 2001 as a chapter in Andre Corten and Ruth Marshall-Fratani’s book Between Babel and Pentecost: Transnational Pentecostalism in Africa and Latin America.]

Edwin: As for the use of European languages — I can’t help reflecting that this may be yet another legacy of colonialism? Because the colonists left their language behind, missionaries think they can win hearts in the language of the colonists? (While continuing to live colonial lifestyles relative to the locals?) I can see how that can be powerful and counter-productive. [Or are there other reasons behind the tendency — in this paragraph I’m simply assuming that you meant missionaries tend to use English in formerly English colonies [like Kenya], French in former French colonies, etc.] – I can even see why that would happen, as members of those countries who come overseas to preach or study tend to be fluent in the language of the metropole, thereby contributing to the cycle of assumptions). Just some thoughts there. Is that part of what’s going on?

Jim: I think yes, that’s right.

Edwin: Despite that, I’ve also seen people — even inThailand — who can be effective despite that, at least in the short term. sometimes I think mission effectiveness (in terms of souls saved, churches started, and leaders enabled) has more to do with personal characteristics than with language facility or with perfect philosophy. Indeed, in some situations, it may not be relevant. For example, I have long felt that in most situations today, the ideal missionary role is one of mentor and encourager (sometimes more the latter than the former), even though most missions still seem to see their role as “church planting” under direct mission leadership, which I personally see as a waste of funds and personnel in most cases where local leaders are available for such work (hope I am not criticizing anything you are doing, by the way!), and in such cases there may be times when the foreign language may genuinely be OK, as long as the missionary brings compensating strengths to the table such as prior relevant experience and a listening attitude. But most of the time I’m agreed with you. Even in these situations, I’m sure most people prefer to work in “the language of the heart.”

Jim: Many points again to respond to! I appreciate your sharing on the importance of missionary as ‘encourager’. Very often the missionary can be more the ‘critic’ – otherwise why would they be planting their new church? Personally I guess, I don’t want to ‘discourage’, say, indigenous churches, but in a sense it is also hard to ‘encourage’ movements that in Christian doctrinal and other terms appear to be seriously ‘flawed’. I think this is a problem of cultural gap. In broad terms, I am not in favour of missionary ‘church planting’. UNLESS, that is, a missionary could do that in local language, and without outside resources coming into play – then I guess it’s great, if that is what the Lord has called him to do.

Edwin: As for short-term missions, I don’t remember that your article on last year’s workshop ever said what you’d like to see different in order for the short-term missions to be appropriate and successful. Sounds you have some ideas on it, though. Care to shoot some my way? I’d be interested in hearing…

Jim: My thoughts here – as per AVM. Not so much to ‘ban’ stm’s. But, if mission agencies etc. put sufficient emphasis on vulnerability (i.e. use of local languages and non-use of outside resources) then that would challenge STMs. One reason for STMs flourishing, is because even long-termers instead of building on their experience, operate as short termers – i.e. their project success depends on their supporters generosity, and their mother-tongue and not on their ongoing presence or language or cultural acumen. If agencies would get very serious about language etc., stms would thus be challenged in a way currently they are not.

Jim: Valuing your points, and hope that is helpful!

(a few hours later. . . )

Edwin: Jim, as I reflect, I realize I may not have grasped what vulnerable mission is REALLY allabout. Once again, it is in the area of finances where I tripped up. As you note, I hadconfused “vulnerable mission” with “radically simple lifestyle due to refusal to raisesupport funds from abroad.” But such a statement rests on a lot of assumptions and stereo-types that your response hints are not necessarily true.

Maybe you could help me out by listing some of the specific ways that people practicing vulnerable mission have supported themselves (or received support) over the years. Perhapsthat could help me form a more robust picture? Thanks in advance.

Jim’s response, which appears here for the first time:

Thanks for that comment, that makes me wonder how many folks ‘out there’ have misunderstood vulnerable mission in this kind of way.

I think Paul’s teaching clearly indicates that a preacher ‘should’ eat from his flock. Ideally therefore, one could say that a missionary should be supported by the people he is ‘reaching’ and not by his sending community. (While in Paul’s day there was not of course the banking infrastructure that we have today that even made the latter an option, how would he have responded to it had it been an option – we do not know!)

In my view, vulnerable mission is concerned with the context of impact with the people being reached, and not what the missionary has or does in their home country or how they support themselves financially. I guess I would be wary of the kind of practice in which nationals being reached are incorporated into efforts for prayer on behalf of the missionary’s raising of funds from his / her people.

I quote from my article that can be found at :

“Instead a European must have two homes – his African home and his Euro-American home. His wife, children, television, car, computer electricity supply, running water and air conditioning stay in the latter. His ugali (fufu), bicycle, Bible, vernacular dictionaries and warm African hospitality be in the former. For three days per week he is allowed to be his Euro-American self, keep in touch with his friends, and look after his family. For four days a week (which need to include Sunday) he is ‘at work’, only to be contacted by his family in a dire emergency and living and sharing with the people. … The playing field has been leveled. Now let him play his best!”

I am not dictating missionary life-style. Rather, I am suggesting that a Western missionary have a separate identity and existence that is not always heavily coloured by it.

I am not talking about financial vulnerability whereby the missionary puts himself into a crisis and needs bailing out by an indigenous church. There may be a place for that, and it may happen without the missionary’s intent. That is not what I see AVM (theAlliancefor Vulnerable Mission) as advocating!

The anti ‘going native’ lobby seems to reify a supposed ‘objectivity’ that is somehow lost by ‘going native’. This reminds me of an article I once read, that tends to stick in my mind (sorry, details not available to me now) that points out that Euro-Americans look at everyone else’s ‘culture’ as if they themselves have none. Europeans define themselves as ‘objective’, and everyone else engaging with Western scholarship really has to assume the same, albeit a nonsense. This assumption underlies pretty much all that Westerners do!

Whichever role a missionary chooses to take, or more accurately is called to take, (within reasonable limits but including church planting) I do not have a problem with – if they keep to the VM principles (local language, no outside resources). Calls for missionary moratoriums, or as yourself above restricting them from the key tasks in the church, may be restraining someone who God wants to use. It also tends to remove missionaries from vulnerable positions in which they could be learning from the local culture, pulling them back into support positions sitting at a computer doing administration. The problem I suggest is not the missionary church-planting, it is their money and their language!

Just one more point, re. ‘listening attitude’. I want to suggest that this is over-done. That is, not that missionaries shouldn’t ‘listen’. But, that ‘listening’ needs to be done also in a context in which people are sharing freely. That is, in the language of the people, and not only in the context of inter-cultural debate: ‘please tell me how we can best help you’ kind of thing. A missionary needs to get to a place where he can hear (and participate in, but to hear is more important) conversations between people in their language when he / she is not being ‘addressed’!) Otherwise all that a missionary may hear, could be a made-up-show.

Missionaries can behave like mere channels for Western language and culture. That a short-termer can quickly learn to do, and perhaps do it as effectively if not more effectively than a long-termer, which leads to the raising of the status of the short-term and questions on the need (even) for long-term service. Is this really what Christian mission is about? If so – then indeed Christianity = Western culture – which to me is a great heresy, if a popular one.

I have heard a few people concerned for the short-term missions movement comment on the paucity of feedback from the field. My own experience in theUSAin 2007 – is that many people do not want feedback, except that which pats them on the back. They are not ready to listen to contrary reports. People on the field who are to various degrees financially dependent are therefore encouraged to keep quiet, say nice things, or get harangued.

Edwin: Thanks for this clarification. I look forward to hearing more in the coming months.

Previous Discussions:

Beth said: This is the clearest and most succinct presentation of your position I’ve seen. [In response to Jim’s Journal, October 2007. ] We need to challenge each other in an atmosphere of academic freedom. I have a glimpse of what you are implying. Would you agree that your position has this implication for international development:In order for true 1 “development” and “progress” (these, of course, need to be defined) to take place among rural and marginalized peoples, the only hope 2 is for these people to see Christ-bearers living among them under their own conditions, and demonstrating how biblical values can make a difference 3 in the culture so that the people can figure out their own solutions to the problems they face.

Jim Responded: (the numbers refer to the superscript numbers in the paragraph above).1. I would use ‘internal’ rather than ‘true’.
2. I wouldn’t use such a narrow term as this. It may not be their ‘only hope’, but it’d be the best thing we as Christians can do for them.
3. how they can make a difference, but before that how they can make sense I think.
There are many more implications that you have not mentioned above of course.

Beth said: but this would a more normal position:

I would think of development and progress as including improved nutrition leading to improved thinking ability, improved interpersonal relations leading to ability to cooperate, time for thinking about things other than survival, ability and willingness to network with other communities to benefit from their solutions to similar problems. It seems to me that a major factor in Africa’s lack of development is the geography that has prevented the sharing of technology and knowledge that the Middle East, Europe and China benefited from. So in this sense, some of the people need to be able to speak a “trade” language, which in the 21st century global world is English. I think this may be where some objections lie.

Jim Responded: I am particularly struck by the comment ‘time for thinking about things other than survival’. I certainly would not say in my experience of African communities that they spend less time than Westerners ‘thinking about things other than survival’. Rather the contrary – and it is the West that is caught up in ‘survival’, so that even matters of belief and ‘religion’ and so on come to be put aside.The ability to ‘network’ with other communities implies having a shared base of understanding. I don’t think that Africa and ‘the West’ have this. They tend rather, let’s say, to ‘talk past each other’. (see

This is a very materialist position – to suppose that the ‘basic problem’ is nutrition. There are many places in the world where nutrition is clearly not a problem, but there are many social issues and poverty. The native American situation seems to be the one that is closest to you over there? Poor nutrition has its causes.Geography may have been ‘a problem’ in Africa – but it is no more.Again, few would question the need for a trade language. In some senses I would, but that is a bit peripheral. There is a MASSIVE difference however between there being a trade language, and trying to force a foreign language to supplant local tongues. Or to force people to use a foreign language to run their country, church etc. (I say ‘force’ because economically the West does ‘force’.) The latter is seriously undermining anything else that people may otherwise be doing, inside and outside of the church.

Like in Kenya – anything not done in English is despised, because it is only if it is done in English that it can get foreign subsidies. That means in effect ‘anything that local people can do is despised’. It is surprisingly hard to operate and be innovative in a foreign language, especially using that foreign language as its owners use it.Kiswahili is already a very effective trade language in East Africa. So why English? English may be the global trade language. But in Africa it is very much an ‘aid’ language, as it is spread by aid / compassion / charity and not primarily by trade. Anyway, missionaries aren’t ‘traders’. If we were only interested in selling a product, then perhaps.Regional languages have often been especially helpful when they don’t belong to anyone in particular. So I believe was Latin. Thus is Kiswahili. Hence there is flexibility in terms of how to ‘attach meanings’. But English of course has its owners. And African countries are not using it as a trade language, but as a ‘dependency’ language. Hence when African people use English they never know quite what they are saying. (Neither do we exactly. But, say British and American culture being quite close, I think I have a pretty good idea how you will understand my words. African culture is comparatively vastly different from ‘ours’.)There is much more I could say about ‘language’, and I have already said much of it in various articles! I will give you a url to one or two.

Beth said: This is a complex problem deserving the wide discussion you are helpfully fostering!

Bill said: 1) Although you admirably live with the locals (at their life-style level) ride a bicycle and speak the language NEVERTHELESS you own a laptop and fly to the UK or to the States ‘WHEN IT SUITS YOU! Your African African do not have that option. So you dip in an out of the evil of the western technological and financial infrastructure as part of your job, although you do not live in it. In fact your working there is dependent upon people in the West giving regularly to you, which they are able to BECAUSE they are living within that infrastructure!

Jim responded: Correct. This is why I like my interaction with the people to be SEPARATE from my relations with the West. If I try to give my ‘international self’ as a model to be imitated – the people very soon get stuck, or drawn into ‘corrupt’ means (and this is a MEGGA problem in the African scene). I must NOT make African folks dependent on that ‘foreign, but keep the two distinct, so as to be able to reach over and work from within their system, if you like. Like if a good footballer finds a water-polo match going on, he shouldn’t need to drain the water out of the pool to participate. (Hence one reason why to me English is such a big problem in Africa.)

People are usually very considerate of the needs of others to maintain familial and home ties. So, I am sure someone’s wife being on the phone to her mum doesn’t upset the typical husband. Why should it? The fact that she can draw strength from her mum actually ADDS TO and does not draw from her family. What a husband may object to is being told that HE must spend as many hours talking to his mother-in-law as his wife does. So, when working in Africa, people know I’m not an African, so they do not deny me my freedom to maintain a link with my own people.

Bill said: 2) African Nations are seeking to modernise or at least to join with the family of Nations. African Nations have representatives at the United Nations. Now if you discourage local people from wanted to get a good education and the ways and means to participate in that process (the process of nation building), are you not being just a very negative ‘reactionary’ influence, trying to keep your village people forever poor and ‘stuck’ in a pre-modern era in the name of the Gospel!!!!!. Will that not make them even more vulnerable to tribal superstition, to exploitation and manipulation by ‘more advanced Africans’ not to mention unscrupulous Westerners? It seems to me (perhaps because of your Anabaptist background) you do not have any positive Christian theology on how, as Christians, Africans can be legitimately involved in the development and ‘improvement’ of their own economic, social, and material welfare.

Jim said: Hmm. Many ways to answer this question:

1. There is MUCH evidence that people learn international (second) languages better if they do so after having set a firm foundation in their own languages (cultures). Reducing the primary focus on learning what is foreign, may assist the effectiveness of learning of what is foreign because it will be learned from a basis of maturity arrived at through self-understanding.
2. There is a large body of theory in favour of ‘protectionism’ for ‘infant industries’. While you / I may or may not agree with it – it is there, and has its protagonists, and does make some good sense.
3. Your critique would seem to apply to a unitary model of the world. That is, where there is one centre, and any threat to people’s linkage with the centre is against their self interest. It does not apply if there is / are to be more than one centres. For example – why invest in Nairobi when one could be investing in Washington? If it is worth investing in Nairobi, then why not Kisumu, and if Kisumu, then why not an even smaller town / village? Where is the line (if there is one)?
4. You are assuming that language translates. A key component in my ‘thesis’, is that it does not. So, when talking about Africa one is not talking of a choice between becoming modern or not, but between what people don’t understand, and what they do. (See part 4 of )
5. There is some positive theology around Africa, re. development of themselves etc. It often does not get the chance to ‘take off’ though, as unscrupulous Western money has a divisive influence on churches – often causing infighting, and even ‘divide and rule’ on the part of the West (whether by intent or not). Positive theology would have more chance to take off if it was given half a chance by well meaning but heavy handed foreigners.
6. I am not ‘discouraging’ people from good education, but am encouraging them to good education. ‘Bad education’ could be defined as – that which brings corruption, or that which orients people to what they do not understand. (I do not see myself as a powerful player anyway in this. I choose to offer theological education in a way that speaks to people meaningfully and in a language and environment in which they can respond freely and intelligently, and that ensures my own (appropriate) vulnerability. I would encourage other educationalists to also follow this line – also for other reasons that I have not given here. That’s all.)
7. There is no ‘modern’ in Africa – see above.
8. It could leave people very vulnerable to unscrupulous people, if they do not get their act together, so as to have some sort of strong local base which is not just blown by the gusts of international fortune.
9. The ‘positive theology’, I am suggesting, is not simply a process of transferring from ‘West to rest’. It needs to be appropriated, and if necessary re-invented (devised) for sub-communities. Just eating left-overs from other people’s meals gets hum drum after a while. There is an imperative of the local. I think this has happened to the Gospel many times before, and could easily happen again by the guidance of God’s Spirit.

Bill said: 3) I get the uneasy feeling that if one of your ‘children’ (one of the young men or women) expressed the desire to become a Doctor, or a Lawyer, and to obtain the kind of education necessary for that, that you would strongly discourage any such ambition or at least not give it your active support.

Jim said: I wouldn’t be able to support it as things stand, no. This is for many reasons, related to the fact that I choose to remain within the African milieu. (To take your line of thought seriously, African governments also ought to make it as easy as possible for foreigners to adopt their children. Many try to put up barriers.) But then – if I wasn’t in the African milieu, neither would I be able to keep the children. Children need also to keep in touch with their ‘extended’ family. I am not here to take them away from their people. Further explanation:

1. If someone super-elevates children, then that will bring problems on the intake-side. It will have created a super-normal market situation. This will obviously generate corruption, put the person / project under pressure, result in jealousies etc.
2. The above would generate enemies, who could try and interfere with a very sensitive child-rearing process.

Bill said: 4) And what of our own children (if you did get married and have them) and your son made it clear to you that he wanted some kind of career in one of the big African cities or even to go abroad? I suspect that you would strongly discourage any such plans and do your best to keep him barefoot, in the village and working the land with his cow. I see he might deeply resent that AND with good cause, I may add!!!

Jim said: This is a bit hypothetical as I do not have ‘my own children’, or apparent prospect of them. (Unless you are negotiating for me, and this is a question posed by the father of the girl concerned.) But – I don’t see why I should prevent / deter such a career. Although – probably, if this theoretical son / daughter were to pick up my values, which children I guess tend to do, then they would probably not be very interested in such a career. I guess I picked up some of these values from my own father.

Diana said: My main issue (at present!) is when you say:’Avoid using outside money to start, subsidize, or sustain ministry activities in this mission.’ This i believe is not actually biblical; Paul was in favour of helping the poor, (Gal 2 ;10, 2 Cor 9:1-15, he organized aid to be sent to jerusalem (Rom 15:26), and relief to judea thru Barnabas Acts11:27-30.

Jim said: We may be wrong to assume that the collection for Jerusalem was ‘relief aid’ in the modern sense at all. ‘The poor’ I understand to have been a term referring to Jews, or true believers in Yahweh in general. In fact: “… when addressing the Jesus believers of Jerusalem as the ‘poor’ or the ‘saints’, Paul was only pointing to their own eschatological self-understanding” (Georgi 1992:page not known). This is partly because true believers, even in Old Testament times, would avoid corrupt business practices, and therefore not make as much money as others. Paul was particularly concerned over the split in the church that had arisen between the circumcision group, and the non-circumcisers. The Jerusalem church represented the circumcisers. One of Paul’s strategies for bringing church unity, was to encourage Gentile Christians to make a collection for Jewish Christians, to prove to the Jews that the Gentiles really did respect them. Hence the collection: “… gave concrete expression to Jewish and Gentile Christian’s common sharing in the spiritual heritage of Israel” (Wedderburn 1988:40). Although there is no Biblical record of the collection having been accepted, as it appears that Paul “was spurned by Jewish Christians jealously clinging onto their spiritual privileges and refusing this quid pro quo” (Wedderburn 1988:41).

(Wedderburn, A.J.M., The Reason for Romans. Edinburgh: T and T Clark (1988). Georgi, Dieter, 1992. Remembering the Poor: the history of Paul’s collection for Jerusalem. Nashville: Abingdon Press.)

There was certainly a question as to whether Paul’s ‘service’ (Greek: would be acceptable to the Jerusalem church (Romans 15:31).

Diana Said: i could also argue that you are contradicting yourself with this same point 2 when at the same time saying in your web page on ‘Jim’s work’, (the last paragraph) ‘ The support of many christians in the Uk and germany make this possible.’

Jim said: In the ideal world I believe a missionary, as a pastor, should be supported by the community s/he is reaching. Difficulties in Africa include that; 1. the African people are very used to Westerners coming and not only supporting themselves, but also many other people. Now for a Westerner not to be able even to support themselves, would be a great shock. 2. Western lifestyles are very financially dependent, but African economies are not very good at generating financial surplus. Hence I propose the ‘solution’ that missionaries from the West while supporting themselves, should NOT also support ‘their ministry’.

The Westerner may support something else. Note my emphasis on ‘the ministry’. It may be that Westerners in Africa today need to be seen to be supportive of something so as to prove to people that they are not merely greedy. Then this should not be the ministry. This is because Christian ministry should survive, even should other activities fail, but it can hardly be expected to survive if built on a foundation of inaccessible (to local people) foreign finances. In my own case, I support children in my home, but that is not my ‘ministry’!

Diana said: I know where you are coming from, but i believe if money is used wisely and appropriately in the context of the local community through an experienced Missionary like yourself with a deep understanding of culture, then (and then only is it safe).

Jim Said: I wish I knew an easy and ‘safe’ way of being such a donor

Ian said: I have just received your prayer letter / journal.As always I read it with interest.First of all let me congratulate you on your PhD.Congratulations also on being stubborn – it takes courage but also it is important that we maintain our integrity and don’t bend to the pressures.

Jim said: sounds like our experiences were parallel!

Ian said: I appreciate your thinking though as someone who also has alternative views don’t always agree with all your conclusions.In particular I wonder why you are so concerned about language, and do not seem to give any space for someone like me who brings together experience over a larger area.Yes I gained my insights in working in one language area and learning the language and culture but I do not feel bound to stay now in that one area, and so have to use the language of education to reach more people and bring together ideas.

Jim said: You ask on the language issue. It is often the other one of ‘no funds’ that has proved more difficult to communicate in the USA. The language issue is a ‘no brainer’ an American said to me. But, in reality of course not quite so simple.

Jim said: I think your case is a good one, and in more general terms an ‘exception’ can be made for cross-cultural workers. Like if I have been a missionary to Congo for 20 years and then I visit Kenya for 2 weeks, am I a typical ‘short-term missionary’? I think the answer is no, especially where cultures are related. But then in no time am I not trying to put myself into a privileged club??? Not sure.

Ian said: I very much agree with your analysis of the damage of overseas funding and in particular projects.We have had long contact with Glen and Verna and others in WMA [World Mission Associates].We have recently been bowled over with the degree of interest in our teaching and especially that on Natural Medicines, and how this enables people to do things from their own resources, with a holistic exploration of how they fit into Christian African worldviews.

Jim said: I didn’t realise you were known by and knew the Schwartz’s.

Ian said: We are however in a diverging society.I was recently challenged as we studied Acts 6 about the Hellenistic and Hebraic Jews, and how this contextualises so well to modern Kenya.It is interesting how the Hellenistic Jews are the ones who are concerned about their widows being left out.They are both Jews but with a very different worldview.The Greek culture is based on a dualistic worldview which separates the material and the spiritual while the Hebraic is a holistic worldview, and I can see the same split in modern Kenya.Formal schooling brings in English thinking and those who have progressed in the school system have to greater or lesser degrees a dualistic worldview, which contrasts with the rural less schooled population who are still very holistic.I think this explains a lot.

Jim said: Interesting. In short, I don’t see much expression of the ‘dualistic’ worldview in practice, except in cases linked in to other problematic practices. Just as example – I went to a secondary school sports day the other day, and enjoyed the apparently ‘clean’ football matches going on. My local school was doing very well, which I reported with glee on getting home, only to be told to forget my joy, as they were cheating by using non-pupils on their team. That small matter of ‘corruption’, and Kenyans are very happy to admit that their country is corrupt. Everyone you speak to is the exception to the rule in the corrupt society around him/her, kind of thing, as those who report corruption seem to imply that they themselves are not corrupt. But how can that be? The whole ‘corruption’ thing of course links in with the witchcraft thing. In practice though, is the introduction of a system that has no roots and does not fit with local ways (‘dualistic thinking’) not the very powerhouse of corruption itself?

Jim said: So, in short I am suggesting that a dualistic system ought to grow from local roots, and not simply be transplanted using a foreign language and a foreign context. As for NT times, we do have the influence of Hellenism on the NT, which of course is such a problem for Muslims. So Jewish widows who know Greek are comparable, as you explain, to Kenyan people who know English. … One major difference of course is that whereas Greek language and culture in those days was spread by people, these days English is spread largely by ‘remote control’; i.e. radio, books, TV, internet, foreign subsidised projects etc. That is, in those days dualism came with a human face, these days it doesn’t.

Jim said: I can ask then, whether dualism actually comes at all if it has no face? That is – how can language alone communicate a culture? This is an issue of epistemology. A Kikuyu person who knows only Kikuyu culture being taught English by a fellow Kikuyu will surely simply fit English to their Kikuyu way? There is a vast difference between Biblical times, when Greeks intermingled with other native peoples, and the kind of cultural and economic gap separating Black and White in much of SSA today.

Ian said: Now we have universal primary education, so everyone is being socialised in the dualistic and materialistic thinking of the West, and tapping into this with RELEVANT teaching in English is important.This has become particularly striking to me with my involvement in Sudan where there is the big threat of Arabic, and English is in some ways seen as the antidote to the spread of Arabic culture and language.There we are wrestling for vernacular against Arabic, and I believe there is a certain amount of the same with Kiswahili though it is not strongly linked to Islam.The Muslims often link English with Christianity but although in some cases there is a clear link it is not a necessary link as with Arabic and Islam.

Jim said: Again, are they being ‘socialised into … the West’?? I question that. Providing teaching in English is surely building on a foundation that is very shaky – corrupt is the term often used. It is also a chameleon like foundation, switching with the times pragmatically and so on. Surely better to build on a well tested ancient well worn foundation – the mother tongue and indigenous culture? Otherwise one can be building on … air!

Jim said: You make many points here, which to me are interesting and challenging. One response to finding that Arabic is a very Islamic language, is to try to keep it at bay. Another would surely be to win the language for Christ? (I speak as someone ignorant of Sudan issues so I hope you will allow me this small license to divulge …) If there was a strong church (say) in Southern Sudan using Arabic, that would help Arabs enormously to understand Christianity as they could see how it functions in familiar terms, instead of only when using foreign ‘sounds’? The Coptic church in Egypt of course functions primarily in Arabic. You say you are battling for vernacular against Arabic, and in other ways with English. Why not battle for Christianisation of Arabic? In some ways simply because – it is harder (much harder!) for us Wazungu (Europeans)! But easier for many Sudanese. But, we have the money, so we set the agenda, and pull everyone onto our turf as best we can. So, because (say) 100 Western missionaries won’t learn Arabic (or Kiswahili etc.), instead 100,000 Africans must learn English. In the meantime by not learning Arabic (Kiswahili), the 100 missionaries remain isolated from the community they are reaching, so they remain largely in ignorance and unable to express the Gospel in ways that truly meets local people where they are.

Ian said: The other issue that I feel very strongly about is that we are part of the universal church and the church is not territorial and I believe very strongly that as a Christian, being a part of the same body I have as much involvement with any church I am involved in as anyone else.So I am an insider in the Luo church or the Luhya church and do not see myself as an outsider who has less right than anyone else.OK I have learnt African languages and have studied African thinking but I think it is important not to encourage falling into the trap that black Americans have of having an identity by excluding.

Jim said: I agree that the church is universal. I wonder though whether therefore one particular church (the native English speaking one) should be dominating the rest? I agree that it is good to take oneself as an ‘insider’, but then I think I also have the obligation to depower myself, and one way of doing that is not using English. Otherwise I assume enormous power for myself. Frankly also, there is a great deal that English cannot begin to express that African languages can, so that the English user will always find him/herself on the ‘outside’ of things. In a sense (see attachement) there is so much of this nature, that one could say that English is totally incompetent in a ‘tribal context’. Everyone else (pretty much) in the Luo church builds their theology by beginning in the Luo worldview, so in order to understand the Luo, one has to have a grasp of that worldview, and one cannot do so without using the Luo language. (Imagine trying to run British society using Dholuo, Kikaonde, ChiBemba etc., and one begins to get an idea of what is happening when English is used to run an African society.)

Ian said: Linking with the above is what I see as the very important part the African church has in influencing the rest of the world.The Nigerian church often cannot easily do this because they have developed a strange form of English.By helping Kenyans have a form of English that can be understood in the rest of the world we are enabling the church in Africa to have a very loud and useful voice in the universal church.

Jim said: This is an interesting point. I have often thought that there must be this problem in Nigeria, and you confirm that it is there. But, I would tend to look at it the other way around – and to rejoice that Nigerians have been able to appropriate a language and make it their own, whereas Kenyans are stuck with having to use someone else’s language for what is supposedly their business. This in essence I suggest as being a MAJOR problem in Kenya. That is, every English sentence has two major alternatives for interpretation, the correct ‘English’ one, and the ‘correct’ Kenyan English one. Hence in English it is very hard to make progress as it is always hard to know what someone is saying. When political pronouncements are made for example in English, who is being addressed? The mixture of these two language meaning (implicature) systems, it seems to me, lies at the heart of the very serious corruption here in Kenya. Over-hearers are bound to be there, so if a Kenyan is speaking to a fellow Kenyan, a Westerner can overhear, but will not understand as they won’t know the context of what is being said. So also Kenyans will ‘over-hear’ discourse from the West without understanding it fully.

Jim added: If the African church’s voice is to be useful on the world scene, then I suggest that it needs to go through a process of translation. Taking ‘raw’ Africa-speech into the world scene can unfortunately all too easily result in Western people learning to disparage Africans for abusing the foundational tenets of their language and culture. This is all too evident when one looks at black churches in ‘the West’. They are over-whelmingly black, even if those people know excellent English! For example in terms of commitment. People here in Western Kenya laugh at Whites, for their tendency to make commitments say to visit someone the following day, and then actually to do it. Saying ‘I will visit you tomorrow’ in Kenyan speak frankly means something different to what it does in England-speak. This should not surprise us. As ‘I’ll be with you in a minute’ does mean that literally to England-speakers either. Using one international language interculturally is extremely problematic.

Ian said: I love what you say about dependency, projects and being seen as a source of money, but I would plea for you to delink this from the language issue.The language issue is a significant one but it is not at all similar in my thinking to the other important issue and could easily detract from it!

Jim said: You say that you are able to express your experience more widely by falling back onto English? That is right of course, but this also means that African people are being opened up to every other native English speaker’s efforts, including those who do not have the kind of experience that you do. That would be OK if the native English speakers would be ready to compete fairly on the ‘education’ market, i.e. if they were not constantly to be subsidising their words over those of others. So, if I go to Sudan and want an audience that’s great, but let me not pay anyone to listen to me, which in many roundabout ways is very commonly happening these days. Using English is itself competing ‘unfairly’, as English is the language of money. Its effect I suggest is enormously destabilizing on African society.

Jim said: The alternative would be to have ‘missionaries’ learn people’s languages. Then they could be challenging and stretching people where they are, instead of assuming them to be where they are not. Going from known to unknown is the normal in education. This can happen if missionaries are ready to use indigenous languages. At the moment we have many ‘missionaries’ who have a very wide spread over the African continent. We could say (a bit sarcastically) that their knowledge of Africa is a mile wide but an inch deep! Hence very few of them can speak specifically into a local context. That would be OK if cultures really were so very similar, and even more if languages really were ‘equivalent’. But are they? I would suggest that it might be a much more helpful model in terms of assistance for the African people themselves if instead of having 100 missionaries all visiting 100 tribes, we had 100 missionaries each of whom knew a different tribal language and were able to work with their own ‘tribe’ in depth!

Jim said: Using the language of the people you are reaching is of course only a way of making yourself ‘the same as’ them. Hence the two tenets of vulnerable mission (use their language, don’t invest in your ministry) aim to have the missionary give an example that is within reach of the African. For as long as English is the king-pin for Christian education, so the dependence of the church on the West is confirmed and strengthened.

Julia said: I am in a state of some confusion, with trusted people/friends virtually opposing principles ofv/m (vulnerable mission), so pro-western thinking and at the same time believing it unwise and unhelpful to be too rigid and extreme about issues concerned.

Jim Responded I think I can understand a little on how you feel, following my recent stay in the USA and in the UK. Indeed, people in the west consider themselves to have the solution to the problems of poverty in the Third World, so what they see as important is for the rest of the world to listen to them. It is only, it seems to me, following long exposure outside of the west, especially from a position of vulnerability and using the language of he people, that one realises just how unconceivable that actually is. It is hard when trusted people say one thing, which in the end is not true!

Jim Not being rigid is fine. VM aims to get someone to a position where he / she can make an informed choice, if you like. That is, listen to both sides, and will you still agree that the solution is only on one side? That ‘listening’ though can’t be done by a book, a tape, or a meeting, as it is about having one’s fundamental ideas of ‘the other’ challenged through long term exposure.

Julia One of the issues I grapple with is finding the balance between going along fully with the whole globalization thing, and or on the other hand resisting it to the point of being unrealistic (which I think you tend to be-sorry!) and in turn seeming to be unfair to our young generation where in reality they need to learn English to have a job and move on in their lives.

Jim Accused of being unrealistic! If you had a Polish grandmother, would it be unrealistic to expect to have to learn Polish in order to have proper close conversation with her?

Jim I am not sure that it is a matter of ‘resisting globalisation’. In a sense it is enabling it. One major problem that many people in Africa it seems to me currently suffer from, is the mismatch between globalisation and the ways of life that they are used to. But, because their language and cultures get no attention, they become somewhat fossilised, hence the mismatch is never addressed. VMs are those who set out to assist people to progress in their own lives, and to be ready to meet the challenges of globalisation. Let’s say being given a car for your birthday is no help until you are given the key. VM missionaries attempt to provide the key with which to benefit from globalisation.

Jim I don’t want to overdo that. For myself, my aim is to take the Gospel. What happens from thereon is in a sense up to God. But, my taking the Gospel to the people in a true way, not distorted by prosperity Gospel etc., is a mega empowerment to them. Not an empowerment that the west sees, which would be taking more western goods, but an empowerment of people’s own society, replacing fear of spirits and bewitchment with love for God!

Julia What do we do about African tribes (e.g. the masai) who are in crisis? Do we let that crisis continue to the point of them being virtually non-existant, or resist and defend their tribal rights etc? I guess at the end of the day as long as the gospel is preached and their souls are saved that’s all that matters in the light of eternity. Maybe God is interested in building His church among the masai more than maintaining their tribal practices for the sake of it. Maybe what is at stake is the dignity of the individual rather than the practices and customs they stand for.

Jim You say the Masai are in crisis? … I don’t think the Gospel message is only about writing people’s names in the book of eternity. If the Masai are in crisis, it is perhaps because the way that they look at the world (their worldview) is incompatible with the way the modern world is coming charging onto them like an out-of-control truck! The person following VM principles will seek to get to where the Masai are in their thinking, so as to be able to assist and guide them out of their dilemma.

Jim The cruelty of the situation that gets the Masai into ‘crisis’ is the subsidising of all kinds of activities that are contrary to the interests of the Masai, without the Masai being given sufficient voice in them.

Jim Again, I suggest that this is not a matter of attending a conference or reading a book. The former approach assumes translatability. It assumes that a Brit. can ‘understand’ the issues that the Masai are facing. In effect, what happens is a form of shadow boxing. That is, the westerner responds to Masai issues as a westerner. That is, they see their own shadow on the Masai. Now that is OK if someone thinks they have solutions for the Masai, let them go and implement them. But, if they implement using a lot of money their solution will gain acceptance whether it is correct or not or right or not, as the hungry Masai can easily come flocking. So – let them apply it without money and see what happens. Then they are on an equal footing with the locals. English being almost equal to money in East Africa, means that they must also do so without English.

Julia I guess this is one of the modern day challenges facing missionaries and mission at large; do we continue to make it our aim to maintain the culture and traditions and lifestyles of people groups (making a distinction between what is of sin and evil of course), or do we take on the ‘developing world’ approach (for want of a better expression), and go whole hog to do things like encourage the use and learning of English and promote a western life style.

Jim But the learning of English does not in many ways encourage living a western lifestyle at all. It rather encourages an imitation of a western lifestyle. That can be vastly different in substance. A man can dress like a woman, try to talk and behave like a woman, even stick a pillow up his shirt and oranges on his breast, but that does not make him into a woman! What is it to be ‘western’? Is it English? Of course not, as Finish people don’t speak English but I believe they are western. Is it clothes? Of course not. It is something about one’s attitude to oneself and to others and to God. This attitude has arisen from the inside. The same needs to happen if Masai people are going to be similar. That is, there is a western way for a Masai man to respond to his own situation, which is not the same as an ignorant western man’s responding to the masai’s situation. I think we need to get away from the externals.

Julia I personally would veer on the former, and I suppose that is what vulnerable mission is all about.

Jim Languages and related cultures develop and grow when they are used and challenged, not when they are neglected because people are distracted by someone else’s languages and cultures.

Julia I don’t think though there are easy answers and each has to walk in obedience to God according to their individual calling. I do believe it is important to let The Holy Spirit bring balance to all these issues, which perhaps is sadly lacking (as well as being properly trained) and maybe why we (as Christians) tend to adopt ways of the world to reach people with the expense of denying them their identity as a people group, thus robbing them of dignity etc. I know Jesus never did that. I think it is only God that can bring the wisdom to know exactly how we are to go about maintaining the native culture and lifestyle and at the same time not denying the people the right to choose education, the learning of English etc. I guess these two things are contrary to one another, and again maybe it up to ones individual calling.

Jim The principles of VM allow a lot of room for individual calling. It is a question of, will you work with the people, or ‘for’ them from a distance? Will you join your efforts to theirs, or go off on a tangent?

Jim The alternative to vm has only become possible due to the enormous wealth of the west. 300 years ago missionaries had no option but to be vulnerable – as when they went somewhere they’d have no choice but to use that language and depend on those people. Nowadays we have a choice, and that choice is denying the people being reached real contact with the missionary. Ocean going trawlers aren’t good for fishing in streams, kind of thing.

Julia I do believe there is too little knowledge of good mission strategy, so easy just to plough into a country/ foreign community with our good works and finances to ‘better’ the community in our terms, when in the long term we are doing very little worth while.

Jim But this is what is hard for people in the UK to see. To them, whenever and whatever evidence they see of say Africans being ‘more like them’, that has become success. This applies even if it makes very little sense when you think about it. Those who say this isn’t worthwhile are accused of being cynical, when they are simply being realistic. Language issues and the dominance of Western culture worldwide further confuse this.

Julia I think we have to get back to the basic preaching of the gospel in its power and fullness, which may inevitably involve giving of our substance, and meeting practical needs of the people but this has to be appropriate to the community/culture and which does not produce dependency. Is that possible?

Jim Yes, if your giving is of local resources. E.g. help someone weed their crop, go and wash the sick woman, cook the ugali for the lady with the painful hands.

Julia One ‘off the cuff’ point( hope you agree with this), it is not money itself that produces corruption, it of course contributes and precipitates, but sin is the root cause which has to be addressed head on with the preaching of the gospel., then when you are dealing with ‘saved’ Christian people it is safer to offer the practical help they need with less risk of corruption creeping in.

Jim It is sin indeed. But it is also quite an inevitable process if people continue to be so unwise in the ways in which they give money. Much that we do to people in Africa, we would never consider doing in the UK, for example. Can I blame you for getting drunk if I stop you drinking water and leave only a bottle of whisky besides your bed?

Julia What do you think of this statement? (not my own, said by a late well known preacher in uk)’ the root of all culture is religion’. (by religion here he means the existence of codes, practices and ordinances that have become more important in themselves than the God/gods they once worshiped). Meaning I think that the only true and right culture is a Christian one. So that leads me to ask can Christian culture exist in the context of say an African lifestyle? I think the answer has to be yes, else the gospel does not work.

Jim I agree. Hence the message of a missionary should be the Gospel, and not medicine, fertiliser, English or computers. etc. Now the challenge is to get the Gospel to the people. No small challenge, which certainly requires understanding their language (and culture) and a dose of vulnerability.

Julia I know I have ‘brushed’ over ideas very broadly, and it’s a bit of a ‘hotch potch’ of ideas, feel free to edit . I guess a lot of the issues mentioned are dealt with more fully in your articles.

Jim The issues are in my articles. Glad to elucidate a few here though. I hope helpfully.

Julia By the way, did you know to use the term ‘western’ is apparently inappropriate now, we should use ‘developed’, because of China’s influence on the developed world which is not in the west.

Jim Hmm??? Wow.

Jim Thanks for your very interesting and challenging questions. I hope the answers I have provided are helpful.