Where Do Missionaries Go?

This is another of my posts inspired by talks at the recent Global Connection’s Conference. During one of his talks, Daniel Bourdanné of IFES came out with a phrase that was very dear to my heart and which I immediately tweeted.

N’oubliez pas l’Afrique francophone @Bourdanne #GCC2014 >> OUI!!!!

“Don’t forget Francophone Africa!” To which I added my own YES!!

Daniel was referring to the fact that a huge proportion of missionaries go to places where there are already lots of Christians, or as he also put it:

#GCC2014 When you look at the number of missionary agencies who base themselves in Nairobi you wonder if it’s mission or tourism @Bourdanne

This ties up with my experience of Nairobi, where I’ve often thought that you couldn’t throw stones for fear of hitting an evangelical missionary. Interestingly, when I tweeted this a number of people agreed with it, while others suggested that Chiang Mai in Thailand suffers in the same way. Someone else suggested that there are more missionaries in Nairobi than in the whole of Francophone Africa.

I realise there is a need for regional offices and stable, foreigner friendly cities are very attractive for them, but it is surprising how many missionaries you can find in tourist hubs!

However, leaving the issues of the big cities aside, I believe that Daniel has highlighted a significant issue. Missionaries are distributed in a very uneven way and the majority of them go to places where there is an established church and often many other missionaries. As Hannah put it in a post on the Wycliffe blog:

or every 20,000 Christians like you – Bible believing and living out their faith – only one will go to tell the gospel to an unreached people group.

Or as Martin Lee put it in his excellent talk to introduce the conference:

There are still vast numbers of people who have never heard of Christ and many countries still where Christians are few and far between. Indeed some countries have seen Christian fleeing elsewhere due to war and conflict and persecution such as Iraq and Syria.

Despite this according to the Atlas of Global Christianity, 85% of all Christian mission is aimed at other “Christians”. Much mission deployment is still trying to sustain the growth of the churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Often when I am talking to church leaders, they will tell me that their church has a link with a church in Africa. Almost invariably this means in one of the Anglophone Countries in East Africa. This is understandable, it is easier to reach people who speak our language, and the relatively easy climate makes travel easier (not to mention the game parks). But these countries are also the ones that have the most Christians. I have never heard of a church in the UK which has a direct link to a Church in the Central African Republic, Gabon or Togo. These areas tend to be left for the mission agencies!

As we look at world mission, we can’t afford to forget Francophone Africa, or those other parts of the world that receive the fewest missionaries.

From BandAid to RadiAid

Forgive me for posting one more video in this series, but this excellent TED talk gives the background to the RadiAid and Let’s Save Africa videos that I have mentioned recently.

If the video isn’t showing, you can view it directly here.

The principle of looking at the similarities between peoples rather than concentrating on the differences is one that I highlighted in an article I wrote years ago called the St Mary Mead Model of Intercultural Adaption; you can find it on our articles page.

A Hidden Disaster

Unobserved by most people in the Western World a dreadful situation is developing in Central African Republic. I know this video is quite long (18 minutes), but please watch it. I have friends from this country and expat colleagues who know this area very well.

If you receive Kouyanet by email and the video does’t show up, you can find it here.

Some of our Ancient Personal History

In the early 1980s, Sue and I felt that God was calling us into mission work in a French speaking country. For us, this naturally meant something, somewhere in Europe; Bible translation in Africa was the last thing on our minds. Over a period of many months we sought advice from the leaders of our church and other people we respected. We wrote to a number of different missionary organisations who worked in Europe and had a couple of interviews; but nothing seemed to work. It was all rather frustrating. Around this time, some friends suggested that we should visit Wycliffe Bible translators to see what they could offer us. To be honest, I thought this was a crazy idea, but Sue, who is a linguist by training, was quite attracted by the thought – so we went along. Over the space of one weekend, God turned our lives around completely. It turned out that my background as a research scientist was just as useful for a Bible translator as Sue’s linguistic ability. Not only that, but Wycliffe had urgent need for people to work in French speaking Africa. All of the pieces fell into place; our calling to a French speaking country and our academic background suddenly made perfect sense. Thankfully, our Church leadership thought the same thing.

A little over four years after our first contact with Wycliffe, equipped with some of the best practical linguistics training in the world, we moved into a Kouya village in Ivory Coast, West Africa. The Kouya are a hardy, strongly independent people who live in twelve villages on the edge of a dense rain forest. At the time we settled into the village of Gouabafla, there was a handful of Christians in each of the Kouya villages, though the vast majority of them had been believers for less than five years. We became part of a first generation church; it was like living in the book of Acts!

The Kouya area is home to a number of different people groups, but non-Kouyas seem to find it almost impossible to learn to speak Kouya. Because of this, most Kouyas speak at least three or four other African languages fluently in addition to French, which they learn at school. It is hardly surprising that when we turned up in the village and said that we were going to learn to speak Kouya, that people were extremely sceptical. If Africans who had grown up in the area didn’t manage to learn it, how could a couple of white, outsiders expect to.

A rather younger Sue and Eddie: Ivory Coast December 1992

I’ve never done anything as difficult in my life. Intellectually, getting my head around a whole new way of thinking and a completly new vocabulary was a huge challenge, but it was the least of my problems. The really difficult thing was going out every day to talk to people knowing that I was making a complete and utter fool of myself. It really isn’t easy being laughed at every day. What’s worse, I found myself thinking some rather unpleasant things. “How dare they laugh at me? I’ve left my nice comfortable home in England to come and help them – they should be grateful.” “Do they realise who they are laughing at? I’ve got a university degree and tons of other qualifications, they are just cocoa farmers.” I’d come to share Jesus with the Kouya, but there were times when my attitudes and thoughts were miles from where Jesus would have wanted them to be. But this is the heart of The Story; God loves men and women so much that he wants them to communicate on his behalf, despite the fact that people are far from perfect. Like all of God’s people, I have a whole series of weaknesses and failings; which makes it all the more bizarre that I would look down on anyone!

It took two years of hard work before we became at all comfortable speaking Kouya, and even then it remained a huge struggle to say things in a way that people would understand what we were going on about. But there is nothing in the world to compare to the thrill of being accepted into a community that is completely different to your own. We used to love the expression on people’s faces when they would realise that we were speaking Kouya rather than French. Complete strangers would stop in market and say “aya, the world has changed, the toubabs (white people) are speaking Kouya”. We became something of a tourist attraction in our village. When family members or friends came from elsewhere in the region, they would be brought to our house to meet the tame Europeans who could speak Kouya. It was hilarious! Mind you, not every one was pleased to see us. There were some people who were very suspicious of our motives. Some thought we were spies and more than one person asked where we kept our radio that we used to report back to our government in Washington: it was hard not to laugh at that one. Others thought that we had come to write a book about the Kouya language that we could sell for a fortune back in our home country. At first we were very defensive about these sorts of accusations, but as we learned more about the Kouya and about the colonial history of the country, we realised that the Kouya had good reason to be suspicious of the motives of Europeans. History wasn’t really on our side. Despite the suspicions that some people harboured, most people were delighted to see us in their village. . The Kouya loved it that people from outside were making the effort to speak their language. They were used to outsiders not even bothering to master the basics, but here was a couple who had come all the way from Europe and who were chatting away in the language. Our being there gave them a sense of value and self-worth. Kouya people would tell us that their language was not a real language  like French; it couldn’t be written down and it didn’t have a grammar. Over time, we were able to help the Kouya to write their language down and we could show them that it didn’t just have a grammar but it had a very complex and elegant grammar that was often far richer than the French they learned at school. They loved that!

It took a further twelve years and input from a team of Kouya and Europeans before the Kouya New Testament was finally ready to be published. During that time, we saw the small church grow in numbers and maturity. I’m not sure how much impact we had personally in the process and I’m absolutely convinced that we learned more from our Kouya brothers and sisters than they learned from us. But there is one thing that was clearly communicated to the Kouya through our presence in their village: God cares for them. They may be a small ethnic group, more or less ignored or unknown by the larger groups around them: but God sent his servants to live amongst them and God speaks their language. I loved it when an elderly Kouya said to me that the Kouya were just as important as the Americans, French or Germans, because God spoke their language, just the same as he did for those others.


Yesterday was a long day. I flew out overnight from Heathrow to Abuja and then we drove up to Jos where I'll be based, more or less, for the next few days.

The overnight flight to Abuja was exactly the wrong length – just over six hours. It meant getting on the plane really late and then getting off and going through immigration when I'd far rather have been asleep. This tends to be the way with flights to and from West Africa.

We were out of the airport and ready to head north before seven. On the way up we called in to visit a couple of translation projects. It does me a lot of good to hear people talk about the value and impact of the Bible in their own language. We English speakers take so much for granted.

We eventually arrived in Jos in the early afternoon and I went straight into a meeting. I told you it was a long day.

Today, I'll be meeting with a couple of organisations who are involved in training and supporting Bible translation before heading off to the retreat where I will be the speaker.

Books I have Read: Adventures in Music and Culture

I have to start with a disclaimer. Not only was I given a free copy of this book to read and review, it was also signed by the author and I even get a mention on the acknowledgements page. I’ve known the author, Rob Baker, since he was a short term missionary in Ivory Coast, twenty years ago.

However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take my review seriously, because this is genuinely a good book. Adventures in Music and Culture is written with a vivacity and an eye for detail which bring scenes to life in technicolour. Anyone who knows West Africa will immediately find themselves transported back to familiar situations and those who don’t know that part of the world will be enchanted anyway.

If you want to know what it’s like driving through the West African bush, staying in bush hotels or getting groups together to write and record songs, this book is for you. If you’d really just like an interesting and amusing travelogue – it fits the bill too. Rob’s irrepressable good humour shines throughout, bringing lots of smiles and one or two laugh out loud moments.

The only thing I would complain about is the quality of the publication. In my copy the inner margin was so close to the book binding that it was difficult to open it far enough to see the last couple of letters on each line. This didn’t stop me enjoying the book, but it was a little frustrating. It would also be good to see this published for the Kindle. It’s an ideal book for holiday reading on the beach – but who carries paperbacks to the beach these days!

Women and Leadership in the Church

The question of the role of women in Church leadership is one which gets a lot of airing both in Christian circles and in the wider press. However, it’s one that we rarely touch on here at Kouyanet. This is mainly because it isn’t an issue which impinges directly onto our areas of interest. However, when I came across this piece by Onesimus, I decided that I had to post a link to it. There are a couple of points of interest: it is written by an Orthodox scholar based in Kenya (though with an evangelical background), but most importantly it takes a slant on the question that I’ve never seen before.

A few thoughts on Church ‘leadership’ as we find it in the New Testament.  First we must understand that ‘leadership’ is not a New Testament word; it’s a modern word.  Leadership implies authority, initiative, direction, management and control.  In many ways, leadership is a power word, and assumes a perspective on the world around us and takes on a certain posture and demands a certain course of action.  Leadership is a man’s word and its context describes a man’s context.  Today churches of all kinds have seminars on ‘leadership’. We give our shepherds three easy steps on being a more effective leader.  So many of our churches are so large that we need our ‘leaders’ to become more effective managers.  All of this is intended to enable our churches to function as effective institutions.  But none of this is found in our New Testament.  In fact, the emphasis throughout, indeed the direct teaching of Jesus himself and the apostles takes us in the exact opposite direction.

Jesus’ followers were to be different.  They were not to be like certain Gentiles, who lived to lord it over people.  Nor were they to be like certain Jews who were keen to maintain the perks of position and power.  Instead, Jesus’ followers were to be different, known for putting the needs of others before their own, known for being like slaves in their readiness to do whatever for whoever was needy, known for being like Jesus himself.  ‘If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done to you.’ (John 13:14-15)  In this Jesus leads by example.  He takes on the posture of a slave, and for those homes too humble for a slave, the posture of a woman.
Immediately after Jesus offers the disciples the bread of his body and the cup of his blood, a quarrel breaks out as to which one of them should be the one in charge over the rest of them. ‘Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  But you are not to be like that.  Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  For who is greater, the one is at the table or the one who serves?  Is it not the one who is at the table?  But I am among you as one who serves.’ (Luke 22:25-27)  This is only one of several examples that I could point to where the disciples import their cultural understanding of leadership into what Jesus is calling them to do and be, only to have Jesus present them with an alternative vision of what it means to be his people that is so radical and unexpected that his disciples simply cannot fathom it.
I wish to suggest that it isn’t just the disciples who had trouble fathoming Jesus’ vision for discipleship and for the community of disciples that would be known by his name.  Every generation of Christian church has struggled with the profound temptation to import the surrounding culture’s understanding of leadership and authority into the church.  I want to suggest that when one looks at the historical record, one finds that the Church has repeatedly taken the easier road and abandoned Jesus’ blueprint in favor of the way it’s always been done.  The evidence for this can be seen everywhere throughout the history of the Church to the present day.  At almost every point, the church and her ministers look nothing like what Jesus was talking about and calling his followers to be and do.  The discrepancy is simply shocking.

If you wan’t to know how this is applied to the question of women’s ministry, read the whole article.

Languages In Nigeria

Next month, I’m travelling out to Nigeria, where I will be speaking at a retreat for my colleagues out there. It was a nice encouragement to read this peace in the Nigeria Guardian which is very complimentary about Wycliffe’s work there:

FEBRUARY 21, the International Mother Language Day, provided an opportunity to take a critical look at our languages as Nigerians. Because of the second fiddle nature Nigerian languages have assumed in our own society, it is pertinent to ask: Who is Killing Nigerian languages — foreigners or the language owners?

Incidentally, Nigerian languages have enjoyed a wide range of support from the Occident, the U.S in particular. One such support is from Wycliffe, a US-based organisation — established since 1942 to translate the Bible into every language spoken in the world. Giant strides have been made by the organisation as it has completed 700 translations. Currently, it supports languages spoken in 90 countries, including Nigeria. In keeping with its vision, Wycliffe has deployed human, financial, special-designed software and other resources to build orthographies for hitherto non-written languages, educate native speakers to read and write their languages, build glossaries in these languages while preserving the histories and cultures of language owners, etc. Unknown minority languages spoken by 10,000 and 1,000,000 speakers now have written documents, thus preventing the languages from extinction.

Pertaining to Nigeria, some ongoing and finished bible translations, which are due to the effort of the Wycliffe teams and native speakers of the languages include: Ezaa, Ikwo and Izii languages of the Abakaliki cluster (spoken in Ebonyi State: Abakaliki, Ezza, Ohaozara, and Ishielu LGAs); Benue State: Okpokwu LGA), Alago (a first language spoken in Nassarawa State: Awe and Lafia LGAs), Dadiya (a first language spoken in Gombe State: Balanga LGA; Taraba State: Karim Lamido LGA and Adamawa state: Numan LGA, Huba (a first language spoken in Adamawa state: Hong, Maiha, Gombi, and Mubi LGAs), Hyam (a first language spoken in Kaduna: Kachia and Jema’s LGAs), Ichen or Etkywan (a first language spoken in Taraba State: Takum, Sardauna, Bali, and part of Wukari LGAs).

Speaking of Nigeria, it’s nice to have the excuse to show this excellent photo of Sue doing some translation consultancy work there, a few years ago.

Sue consulting Nigeria

Bloggers in Africa

A group of Christian bloggers have just set off on a visit to Uganda from where they will be reporting on their adventures. I’m sure they will have a wonderful and informative time and no doubt they will generate a lot of publicity for the organisation who are fronting the trip.

However, can I respectfully suggest that if you really want to understand what is happening in Africa, you might do better to follow blogs written by Africans or by others who have a long term commitment to living and working on the continent.

Here are a few suggestions of blogs from across Africa. The list is not exhaustive and shows a bias towards people I know or countries I’ve lived and worked in and to Bible and Mission stuff. However, I’d like to have other blogs to follow, so if you have some suggestions, please include them in the comments.

Bridges from Bamako: written by an anthropologist, this outstanding blog gives a superb insight into life in Mali’s biggest city, with the odd foray out into the country as a whole.

Djobouti Jones: a fascinating blog about life as an expat in the horn of Africa.

Drogba’s Country: Journalist John James is not actually based in Ivory Coast at the moment, but his blog is still a great place to get insights from that country.

Every Tongue: Mark Woodward works in language development in Tanzania. His blog gives a great insight into living and working across cultures, while trying to explore the Bible’s message.

Fasokan: I’ve been following Boukary Konate on Twitter for ages, but I’ve only just (thanks to a comment, below) discovered his excellent (award winning) blog. It is in French and Bambara.

Global Voices: this is an excellent place for news from across the world. Locally based writers give insightful comments on what is happening in their particular situation. You can sign up for a news feed from just about any country on the planet.

Heart Language Observations: a language and Bible orientated blog written from Ghana. Lots of good insights.

Mausts on Toast: the Maust family have recently arrived in Cameroon and are blogging their experiences.

Onesimus Redivivus: this is a blog by a former Presbyterian  now Orthodox Christian who teaches theology in Nairobi.

Phil in the Blank: Phil Paoletta describes himself as a slow traveller. That just about sums it up, he’s been in Francophone Africa for years now and his blog gives fascinating insights into the area – along with lessons on how to draw camels.

That’s Our Life: Tim and Ali Robinson blog from Nigeria. Much of what they write covers the struggle of bringing up a young family in a situation which is far from stable.

The Task: this is an organisational blog (and none the worse for that) which covers Bible translation and literacy in Uganda and Tanzania.

Until Our Independence: this young Ivorian blogger covers politics and technology from his home country and across the continent.

White African: Eric Hersmann is the guy to read if you are interested in technological innovation in Africa.

The following blogs contain some good stuff, but either they are not updated regularly, or their authors have relocated to the West.

There are undoubtedly lots and lots of good blogs that I’ve not mentioned here. This is either because I’ve lost their links or I never knew about them in the first place. As I mentioned above, please put links to other blogs in the comments. I’d be especially keen to see other (more accurate?) lists of African/Africa-based bloggers.

Edit: these are blogs that have been suggested to me on Twitter. I’ve not had time to follow them all up, so I can’t comment on the content. But exploring new stuff is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Someone, somewhere must have produced an up to date, geographically organised list of African bloggers!

First World Problems

This short video (just over two minutes) has a very powerful message…


I have to admit that I’m rather uneasy with the way this important message is got across.

Firstly, I don’t like the terms first world and third world; I know that they are easily understood, but they seem to imply a value judgement that I don’t like.  Perhaps I’m just being picky.

More importantly, the video gives a somewhat distorted picture of life in Africa. Surprisingly enough, there are many people in rural Africa who have mobile phones and who share all of the same frustrations about network coverage and keeping the phone charged that we do in the West.

However, the key thing is that this video presents the relationship between the ‘first’ and ‘third’ worlds as being one dimensional. We don’t have real problems, they do. I’m not implying for one moment that there is no terrible grinding poverty in Africa – there is. But, if I can permit myself a generalisation, most Africans live lives which are richer in human relationships and connectedness than most Westerners. The loneliness, isolation and depression that are endemic in European cities – especially for the elderly – are relatively unknown in Africa.

Yes, we can help provide water (try sponsoring me in the London Marathon), but we also have a lot to learn from the developing world. The world is more complex than a short video can express.