Sunday, 4 November 2012

Back to the books

When I think about it, I’ve never really been far away from books – all my growing up years I’ve loved the written word, devouring books from the county library, reading in the car (much to the disgust of my parents who wanted me to look at the scenery) and reading late into the night when my parents thought I was fast asleep. As I grew older the number of books I consumed per week dropped considerably, as other things filled my time, but still the books were near at hand. And then I became involved in making and formatting books in other languages, so that now I can’t read a book without noticing double-spaces where they shouldn’t be or spotting inconsistent indentation that most people would never notice! Now that phase of my interaction with books is behind me for a while, but the skills learnt come in handy for crafting my essays and my consistent love of books makes the library a pleasant place to study. 

Reflecting on the centrality of the written word in my life, I am brought back to the centrality of the most important written Word, the Book of God. In a recent essay I was reflecting on Luke 24, where we read of how Jesus walked with a couple of His followers on the road to Emmaus and later appeared to all of His disciples as they met together. They were confused by Jesus’ death as they had thought that he was the one they were expecting who would liberate Israel. And what did Jesus say to them? “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (24:25). How would they have known what the prophets had spoken? Because it was written in their Scriptures (our Old Testament). And later Jesus says to them, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” (24:44) Here I see two things. Firstly, the importance of the written Word. God has chosen to reveal Himself through the written Word. Yes, He has revealed Himself ultimately in Jesus, but even Jesus chose not to immediately disclose who He was to the disciples after His resurrection, but first pointed them to the Word – everything was already written there. After opening the Scriptures to them, then he revealed his own identity. Secondly, I see how even Jesus’ closest disciples hadn’t understood what was written and Jesus needed to interpret it to them. 
What are the implications of this? Firstly, the importance of the Bible, through which God makes Himself known (indeed, it is one of many means, but clearly a primary one). Do I/we devour the Bible as I devoured books as a child, for this is how I will come to know more of my God, my Creator, my Father? What about those who don’t know how to read or don’t have any books in their language? How important it is that God’s Word is made accessible to them, through written and oral mediums. It is this concern that drives the work of Wycliffe Bible Translators as they translate the Bible into people’s mother tongues, teach people to read it and make it available in audio formats. Secondly, the importance of teaching the Bible. Just as Jesus needed to interpret God’s Word to His disciples, so people today need help understanding what is written – it doesn’t all make sense on the first read! But as our eyes are opened we see more of who Jesus is and can grow in our intimacy with Him, our friend, brother and Saviour. Who/what helps you to understand the Bible? Do you need help? Or who can you help? This is what drives Wycliffe’s work of Scripture Engagement, which I have been involved in for the past five years in Tanzania. I hope that this year of study will better prepare me for this role of helping others dig into God’s Word and find the treasure within, just as I myself need to keep digging, so that I might day by day find my identity to be more securely rooted in being the beloved of God and learn to wait on and trust in Him in all things.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Identity crisis

Aunty Katherine
People ask how I’m settling in and does it feel strange to be back. The answer is always yes and no. In some ways it feels completely normal to be here, I am so happy to be with my family once again and Tanzania seems a dream, while in other ways I miss my life in Tanzania a lot and feel out of place here. As I’ve reflected on this, I’ve realised that one of the reasons for these confused emotions is a crisis of identity. In Tanzania I had a clear identity – I had a role (Scripture Use Coordinator), a home of my own, a clear social network (through work and church) and a purpose to each day. Now who am I? I don’t have a role (maybe I could create one with a new handy acronym that sounds like some exotic language: ‘Basipakaak’ – ‘Between assignments Scripture Impact person also known as Aunty Katherine’), I don’t have a home to call my own (though my parents kindly let their home be mine), I don’t have a clear social network (my friends are scattered all over the world and UK) and I don’t have a clear purpose to each day (though I do have a long To Do list of random things).
This loss of identity leads to a very unsettled feeling, which is an inevitable part of transition. I know I will pass through it, and probably soon be wishing that I could go back to my routine-less, purpose-less days, when I have to start writing long essays and reading lots of heavy theological and missiological tomes! But until that time (and that’s yet another transition – to community college life and studying) the unsettled feeling remains.
So, if you ask me how I’m doing, and I give the polite British answer of, “Fine, thanks”, you will now understand that the real answer is much more complicated! However, hopefully this little blog will have helped you understand something of what I am really feeling. Thanks for your prayers.

How i c it

English country garden with soft grass!
I’ve been back in England for over 2 weeks, and as I’ve reflected on some of the differences between life in Tanzania and England, I’ve come up with a little list of things beginning with ‘c’:
Cushiness – everything in England seems to be soft and cushy, from carpets to grass to toilet paper. This is in stark contrast to homes in Tanzania, where floors are usually either dirt or cement, grass is usually scratchy and toilet paper (if available at all) is somewhat thin and rough. While I enjoy the softness, there are many other aspects of England’s cushy lifestyle that I find harder to accept as it demonstrates the wealth and consumerism of a country which, even in a time of economic crisis, still seems opulent compared to Tanzania.
Costliness – linked to the above is the high cost of everything. I still find it hard to stomach a meal that costs the equivalent of a week’s wages for a casual labourer in Tanzania, even though I know it would be virtually impossible to get even a basic meal here for what I’d pay for food in Tanzania, and everything is relative.
Civility – people in England are very civil and polite, but somehow lack the warmth and openness of Tanzanians. I find myself greeting people I don’t know with a friendly, “How are you?” only to be ignored or see confusion in their faces. I am starting to learn the British, “Hi” accompanied with the little nod of the head and moving on. I miss the ease with which you can get into conversation with people in Tanzania, whether it be the person you are sitting next to on the bus or the lady selling bananas at the market.
Closed in – I feel very closed in, almost to the point of claustrophobia, due to the indoor lifestyle. Due to England’s adverse weather conditions, our lives are predominantly indoor ones, and due to the Brits' love of privacy, any ‘outdoor’ happens in the back garden where no-one can see you. (Of course, there’s exceptions such as outdoor sports and country parks, but on a regular day to day basis, one finds that people get home from work, shut their doors, and that’s the last you’ll see of them until the next day). After the predominantly outdoor, communal lifestyle of Tanzanians, I have found this almost claustrophobic. Which leads me onto another ‘c’…
Community (or lack of!!) – it feels rather isolated here, because it is a very individualistic society. While community in Tanzania was not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be, at the same time, there were nearly always people who would be happy to have you visit or with whom you could talk, you would be recognised by people as you walked around town and could stop to chat and people generally had time for one another. Here people lead such scheduled and private lives, that you can feel completely alone. I sometimes felt very alone in Tanzania too, but for different reasons.
And so the list goes on. I’ve generally focused on the negative, but of course it’s not all bad. A lot of it is just different and takes some adjusting to, after having been used to another culture for the past five years. However, I hope that I can hold onto the good of the culture that I’ve been a part of, and not leave it all behind in the country that I have said goodbye to for a while.
What about you, how do you ‘c’ it? Any suggestions for more ‘c’s warmly (not just civilly) welcomed.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Is it all over?

From some of the questions I have been getting about my plans to return to the UK, I sense there is another question that is being asked behind them all, “Is it all over?” The answer is a resounding, “No!” In my heart I am still ‘KJ in Tanzania’ – though I may not physically be in Tanzania for much longer my heart is still that of a missionary called to serve God cross-culturally. Instead, the question should be, “Where next?”, and this is a question that I am waiting on God to answer over the coming year.

During my time in the UK I will remain a member of Wycliffe Bible Translators UK and of the Uganda Tanzania Branch of SIL International*. This will only change when and if I feel God is leading me in a new direction. Officially I will be on ‘Secondment return period’ (a fancy name for furlough) and ‘Study leave’. As a result, my financial support system will stay the same, with gifts being processed through Wycliffe UK as usual. However, as I indicated in my newsletter, my financial needs will actually be increasing due to the cost of the study program and the generally higher living costs in the UK compared to Tanzania. If you would like to get involved in supporting me through this period, please let me know.

There is a prayer in 1 Thessalonians (1:11) that I recently read, and which I would ask you to pray for me, that our God may make me worthy of His calling and may fulfil every resolve for good and every work of faith by His power. I want to be worthy of the clear call God has placed on my life to ‘go’ and to ‘teach’. I pray that over the coming year God will make it clear to me where it is He wants me to go and how it is He wants me to teach. Thanks for praying with me over the past five years as I have lived in Tanzania, and for continuing to support me in this way as I look ahead.

*SIL International – a sister organisation of Wycliffe Bible Translators. I was sent to Tanzania by Wycliffe UK, and am seconded to the Uganda Tanzania Branch of SIL in my work here.

Back in Kenya

Kenya is where it all began, with my first trip to Africa being to Kenya in 1999, and for a few weeks I am back, though staying in a place that I have never been to before. For just over three weeks I am staying at a place called Ruiru, where I am helping to teach on an academic course, organised by SIL International, training translators, literacy workers and SU workers. I am teaching on the SU track, and have the privilege of interacting with a great group of students from Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan and Kenya. It’s hard work, with lesson planning, teaching and marking assignments, as well as dealing with administrative tasks from Mbeya. However, as always, teaching stimulates me, so I am enjoying it all.
It’s not all work though, so here’s a few pictures of what I’ve been up to the last couple of Saturdays…
Olympic games trials - Kenya

14 falls, Thika (near Nairobi)
With some of my students from Uganda

Delicious Ethiopian food on Ethiopian night

Saturday, 5 May 2012

How to plough the shamba

I’ve just returned from a week away in the highlands – not the bonny hills of Scotland but the equally breath-taking hills of the southern highlands of Tanzania, which includes the Kinga and Vwanji language areas where we were staying. The journey to the Kinga language area took us through some beautiful scenery, including Kitulo National Park – a plateau over 2600m above sea level, home to great numbers of wild flowers. If only we could have seen it all! A good part of the journey was in thick fog. This, coupled with a pretty rough dirt road and not knowing exactly where we going meant that it took us five hours to reach the Lutheran Centre where we were to stay, arriving in the dark. The next morning revealed that we were located in a beautiful place surrounded by mountains and with woodland that could easily be mistaken for the forests of the UK’s own highlands.

We were there to hold a seminar on how to lead and prepare Bible studies. This method of studying God’s Word is a new concept in the majority of churches here, but as the participants came to understand how it works, they saw its benefits and what a useful tool it could be. However, they found it very challenging to write suitable questions and to identify the main teaching point of a passage. There is a huge need for church leaders to receive more teaching in the Bible, as their own Bible knowledge is often poor due to a lack of theological education and availability of Bible resources. It has been said that Tanzania is over-evangelised and under-taught, and this is a reality that I have seen over and over again.

After two days in Tandala (the village where we were staying) we moved onto the Vwanji language area, still in the hills, to hold two more seminars – one for Sunday school teachers and another one on Bible studies. As we waited for all the participants to arrive (there is no such thing as starting on time) we got into conversation about the shambas all around us. Almost every family has a shamba – a plot of land for growing food (somewhat bigger than an allotment but much smaller than farms in England). The Vwanji language area has fertile soil and plentiful rainfall and as the climate is cool they are able to grow similar crops to what we grow in the UK – right now seems to be cabbage season, and there were also numerous potato patches to be seen, maize crops and sunflowers. They were amazed that we usually just use a spade and fork in digging our allotments, while they work the earth with a hoe. (They were equally surprised to hear that I have never held a hoe in my life and wouldn’t know what to do with it.)

After getting back from this trip (which was challenging, fun, interesting and saddening, but I’ll spare you all the details), I have been reflecting on the work that we are doing and how we can develop it. I feel like we are trying to plough a very large shamba. The shamba are the churches here and the ploughing is the call we have in Scripture Use to help people engage with God’s Word, to handle it correctly and in so doing to grow in a knowledge of God and see lives being changed. So far, I feel like we have only ploughed a tiny corner of the shamba; we need to reach further and dig deeper. The question is, how? Should we use the hoe or the spade – what tool is most appropriate for the soil here? One thing is clear, teaching is desperately needed at all levels. I’ve been reading through Hebrews and this section (6:1-3) struck me as being as relevant here in Tanzania as it was to the Hebrews: “Therefore, let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God….And God permitting, we will do so.”

May God show us the way to plough the shamba here, and give us the tools to do so.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

From the mundane to the divine and the ridiculous to the sublime

You just never know what a day will hold. This week in the office hasn’t exactly ranked as one of the most interesting, as I’ve spent most of it dealing with rather mundane matters – administrative preparation for a workshop and drafting a budget for the next fiscal year. One day, I was doing just that, when two of my colleagues returned to the office from having been out helping a relative who had been wrongly imprisoned. They brought the relative with them, and explained that as they left the prison they had been able to share the gospel with him, using his release from captivity to freedom as an illustration of what Christ has done for us. Nothing like making the most of every opportunity. After talking to the man some more, he wanted to become a follower of Jesus, so there and then, in the office, my colleague led him in a prayer and we all prayed over him. From budgets to salvation, from the mundane to the divine!

Yesterday I left work under an ominous looking sky. Sure enough, the thunder rumbled and halfway home I had to take shelter under a tree where I continued to get wet, despite my huge umbrella. When the tropical downpour eased to torrential rain, I ventured out as otherwise I may have been stuck there a very long time! I nervously crossed the bridge over the river only to be confronted by a waterfall instead of the steps that I normally climb. There was no way I could get up there, so I had to turn round and take a longer route. My trainers were fill of dirty water and my skirt clung to my legs. I have never been happier to get home and change! Unfortunately, I found my bed had a big wet patch on it and some books in the lounge were also damp. The leaks on my roof obviously hadn’t been fixed as promised! The rain you get here really is ridiculous, and right now, there’s plenty of it!! In the evening I had some friends round to eat pancakes and watch ‘Anne of Green Gables’ – perhaps that can’t quite be called ‘sublime’ but it was certainly fun.

I wonder what will happen next week?!