The church in Africa as a thriving market (Gitau)

Maggie Gitau, new PhD student in World Christianity provides this imageof the church in Africa:

….Some years ago I lived in the backyard of Toi Market, a bustling and sprawling second-hand clothes market annexed to the Kibera slums.  During the 2007/ 2008 political violence it was razed to the ground. After it was reconstructed the market was as alive as ever, but in the reordered version, I found my way much more easily and could direct a stranger on where to find products. Later, I watched a TV feature that showed how suburban residents come to new Toi Market to shop, freely mingling with kibera slum dwellers, all looking for quality deals on clothes and foodstuff. The Church in Africa is quite like that market. It is alive and aflame with all sorts of activity. It has a lot to offer to the continent, but I do not think we have yet realized let, alone appropriated that potential.  For me, there-in is the challenge and the opportunity. I believe we need to understand our own story, in a way, to ‘make sense of this market space’.  If can articulate the common themes around which we as Africans Christians identify, despite our numerous diversities, we will rally together more easily to resolve the immense challenges facing the continent in the 21st century. And that way—if we solve practical bread and water type of problems, then we will be all the more relevant. We will help those who are on the fringes to discover that there is something for them in the church as well. In short, make order of the market to make room for even more efficient and productive business…

Read the rest of Gitau’s interview here. Images of Toi market., which happens to be where we buy many of our clothes.

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Religious Restrictions Rising (Pew)

A recent Pew study shows that religious restrictions have risen for over 1/3 of the world’s population between 2006-2009. More than 2.2 billion people – nearly a third (32%) of the world’s total population of 6.9 billion are facing greater religious restrictions. See Executive Summary for more details.

 

Among the five geographic regions covered in this report, the Middle East-North Africa had the highest government and social restrictions on religion, while the Americas were the least restrictive region on both measures. The Middle East-North Africa region also had the greatest number of countries where government restrictions on religion increased from mid-2006 to mid-2009, with about a third of the region’s countries (30%) imposing greater restrictions. In contrast, no country in the Americas registered a substantial increase on either index.

In China, there was no change in the level of government restrictions on religion, which remained very high. But social hostilities involving religion, which had been relatively low, increased substantially from mid-2006 to mid-2009.

Personal transitions

I’m (still!) a struggling dissertation writer, but a few other things have happened over the past year or so:

  1. I’ve  joined Africa International University (AIU)‘s  Institute for the Study of African Realities (ISAR) as a research fellow.
  2. My wife Christi become a certified life coach (Awaken Coaching).
  3. We’ve become an official missionaries with Pioneers.
  4. We spent three and half months visiting friends and churches in the US and Canada (see #3)–26 states, 2 provinces, and over 50 different beds. This was the longest I’d been in North America in nine years, and it was great to reconnect with so many old friends and make new ones.
  5. A year ago, two of our kids were diagnosed with pretty serious heart murmurs attributed to “pulmonary hypertension”–due to allergies, sinus infections, etc. Both were checked again while we were in North America this summer were given a clean bill of health.  Kiara’s murmur is mostly gone, and while Liam still has a strong murmur, one a leading pediatric cardiologists in Toronto checked everything out, and his heart looks great.  Thank God!
  6. Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School (NEGST) received its university charter and is now considered the core constituent school of Africa International University (AIU).
  7. Four of my close friends received their doctorates.
  8. ALARM published an ethnicity manual we worked on together.
  9. My father suddenly retired from from being a professor at African Bible College Malawi due to a heart condition that requires close monitoring. (I packed up 20 years of their life in one week.) They relocated to Greensboro, N.C.
  10. Our two youngest got their Canadian citizenship.
  11. My mother became an American citizen at this ceremony. We got to be there, where my two little Canadians posed with members of the revolutionary militia (see below).
  12. I turned 40 and struggled emotionally through a year of  questions guys often have at mid-life.
  13. I lost a very close friend to cancer.
  14. I had some pretty significant spiritual turning points–not that anyone other than my wife would notice.
  15. My eleven-year-old daughter would like me to add that her school, Pistis, changed their curriculum, is putting on a new roof so they can have an out-door eating area, and their website is under construction.
  16. much more
All of these have long back stories, most of which we have alluded to in our newsletters. If you’d like to receive the fabulous newsletter that my wife writes, click here to send me an email.

On faith and the academic pursuit of correct answers (Yoda)

I was in a silly mood this morning while corresponding with a friend about young students wanting direct answers from their profs. It got me thinking about my own academic and spiritual journey.  My five-year-old son has become a Star Wars fanatic, and many conversations in our home are now conducted now with a Yoda voice. So in my best Yoda imitation, here is my response to a younger me.

Right answers seek you?

Truth. Very difficult.
Much confusion in the world there is.
Through a glass darkly many facts we cannot know.
Answers maybe not helpful.

Dogmatic world: someways easy.
But too much they deny.
In fear many live.
Stuck in past they are, but no more sense all makes today. Some yes.
But too much Good News dogma misses.

Even here, only guesses we can offer.
Try we do.
But reality are they?
A much bigger world there is.

Like Peter, where else go we? The Dark Side?
Much worse it is.
In faithful community refuge seek.

The deeper Wisdom, very hard for you now, my Padawan.
I know. I know. Hmmmm…
But your feelings you must probe.
Why? OK to ask.

Trust God you must.
Faithful to Jesus you can be.
Through fresh eyes, the Bible read we.

To others listen.
Different cultures understand.
Marginalized reach out to.
Touch them.
Loving, you must become.

For Peace, Jesus ask.
Answers? Not so much.
More knowledge? Maybe.
First, much suffering you will have.
Much pride from you he must remove.
Till you become as a child.
In openness and humility, solutions lie.

Your fear, he must conquer.
Your questions, he must change.
Deeper Wisdom, he will give.

But much time it takes.

Love outlasts fear and ignorance

I’ve come to believe Love doesn’t outright defeat fear and ignorance as much as it simply outlasts them. No matter how much you give, our little neighborhood fellowship will never overcome the culture of poverty surrounding us. We are just the Resistance, wreaking compassionate havoc where and when we can, waiting for a much stronger force to come finish the job…In the meantime, we try not to push too hard, for fear of burning ourselves out. – Bart Campolo.

For some reason, this comment comforted me. Maybe it has something to do with coming back from a three and a half month tour of North America (the longest I’ve been in the US in nine years) to a place where I’m surrounded by friends feeling the effects of poverty.

What to do on a short-term missions trip

Preston Sprinkle asked two veterans of theological education in Africa what a positive short-term mission trip would look like.

They said: don’t teach. I know you’re a teacher, you even have a PhD, and it looks like you’re doing a fine job in America, but if you come to Africa, don’t teach during your first trip. Before you teach Africa, first be a student of Africa. Sure, hundreds of schools and institutes would love to have you come teach. You’re educated. You’re white. You’re the very symbol of wealth, wisdom, and upward mobility. But frankly, you don’t know the culture, and you have a better chance at doing more harm than good if you go in and dump all your knowledge—and perhaps a wad of cash—with no awareness of the complexities of the culture. But what you could do that would be hugely beneficial for both you and them is to learn. Find an African bishop, priest, or pastor, and follow him around. Be his shadow when he’s visiting a mother dying of AIDS at the hospital, or at a refuge camp where displaced Christians are wrestling with forgiveness. Go with him to the slums, to the cities, to the villages, and to the homes of congregants living in grinding poverty. Follow him. Ask questions. Take notes. Stare into the eyes of the man who lost his daughter to the militia seeking young soldiers. Don’t teach. Don’t counsel. Just learn. Drink deeply from the rich wells of African wisdom. And if you do this for a couple of months, you will be in a much better place to teach in Africa—if your heart beats hard enough to bring you back.

I might just add that you might also want to talk to one or two “locals” who move in these circles as well (click here for a West African version) just so you see it all.

Education at its best: collaborative, fun self-teaching and the grandmother effect (TED)

Christi and I enjoyed this TED talk last night on how kids can teach themselves. It has a lot of implications for how we view education even with adults. Some take-aways for me include seeing that good education involves:

  • a few key resources
  • strategic set-up (design)
  • fun
  • curiosity
  • collaboration
  • encouragement and affirmation (the “grandmother effect”)

BONUS: Following are a few tips from my TED watching practices for your own convenience and time saving:

  • Subscribe to the TED blog in Google Reader, so you can hear about all the new talks.
  • Download interesting talks with the Firefox add-in DownThemAll. (Click download then right click on the preferred format and save into a TED file using DownThemAll. I add a subject title for easy recall.)
  • Wait for a night when we’re too tired to work, not quite ready to sleep, but don’t have enough time for a full movie. (Thankfully, we don’t own a TV.)
  • Watch a few TED talks using VLC media player. (My favorite feature is being able to watch them at 1.25 or even 1.5 speed–for slow talkers.)

While you are at it check out this graphic on social media’s impact on education (HT: Steve Lutz):
Is Social Media Ruining Students?
Via: OnlineEducation.net