I am glad that I love to read because there is a lot I can read as I prepare for our time in Kenya. World Missions recommended several books. One of them was David Livermore’s Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence, in which he examines the perspectives and assumptions we bring to our cross-cultural practices. One of Livermore’s primary sources of information is his own original research into short-term missions, including a study of the practice of North American pastors who went overseas to train national pastors in other countries, which is what I’ll be doing in Kenya. Livermore interviewed both the North American pastors and the national pastors about their experience.
Of particular interest to me was Livermore’s chapter on the Bible, which opens with this quote from a North American pastor, “Just stick to the Bible and you can’t go wrong.” But you can. To illustrate how culture influences how we interpret Scripture, Livermore tells this story. A group of Western missionaries and African pastors were both asked to write down what they considered to be the central message of the Joseph story in Genesis. The shared conclusion of the Western missionaries was that Joseph is a picture of a man who was faithful to God in the face of sexual temptation. The Africans concluded that Joseph is a picture of a man who remains loyal to his family in spite of their mistreatment.
It is all-too-easy for me to dismiss Livermore’s concerns. After all, he’s from a theological tradition different than I am. My theological tradition has already trained me to read Scripture as the Story and to focus on the original intention of the Biblical authors, as Livermore advises. Besides, he writes about pastors offering ministry skill seminars to pastors; I’ll be teaching in an academic setting. But then I read this comment by an African pastor: “I was surprised we studied Jesus’ ministry without really considering any of his miracles and his battling against supernatural forces.”
One of the courses I anticipate teaching is an introduction to the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. All three of those gospels contain stories of demon-possession and exorcism. How does the African context influence the way one reads those stories? How can I teach those stories in an African context? Or, better yet, what will I learn about those stories by teaching them in an African context? What perspective will I gain on the life and ministry of Jesus from my African brothers and sisters?
In addition to the books recommended by World Missions, I asked Drs. Lee and Kativa, the principal of Bridgeworld College and East Africa Director for World Missions respectively, to recommend sources on the history of Christianity in Africa and African Christianity. In addition to the books Dr. Kativa recommended, I also bought the Africa Bible Commentary , the first single-volume Bible commentary written exclusively by African scholars. I am currently reading Wilbur O’Donovan’s Biblical Christianity in African Perspective, which includes chapters on the spirit world and spiritual warfare. I also hope to read the commentaries on Matthew, Mark and Luke in the African Bible Commentary before leaving for Kenya – all in the hopes of gaining perspective and serving with eyes wide open.