Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Backside of the Desert – Where God Speaks

As I write this I’m sitting underneath a tree beside the mud hut I’ve been staying for the past five days. I won’t be able to post this until next week, as I am at least 80 miles from the nearest cyber cafĂ©. No electricity, no running water, yet I was able to call my daughter in America on my cell phone. Remarkable.

One of the joys of being in the desert is the time I’ve had to sit, read and reflect. When I get back to civilization my thoughts will be bombarded with a barrage of information, some worthwhile and interesting, other meaningless and mundane. Not having television, radio, Internet or even a daily newspaper, I am cut off to the world of distraction.

My companions on this safari are Hiebert’s work, “Transforming Worldviews,” a biography on J.R.R. Tolkien (author of “ The Hobbit,” and “Lord of the Rings’) and my Bible. God’s Word is my compass, gives me balance and reminds me who He is and what He wants me to be. Rebuked, comforted, challenged, His Word brings me to the reality of eternity and moves my mind away from temporal desires.

Hiebert is all academic, which is good because it is in the field of academics and missionary anthropology that I’m down in this wasteland in the first place. I need to be in the constraints of the desert to digest all that Hiebert has to say.

Reading about the life of Tolkien, who was a contemporary of C.S. Lewis and a member of the informal writers fraternity called the Inklings, is pure entertainment. What’s interesting about this writer was that he was, by all appearances, a very ordinary man who lived a very ordinary life. What set him apart was that he wrote an extra ordinary book, which brought him notoriety and wealth, but did not change this ordinary way of life.

It’s difficult staying down here in the low country as it is quite lonely, hot, and I do look forward to reemerging with the rest of the world in a few days (and especially a long shower). But I shall miss the solitude of the bush; for it is at the backside of the desert that God Himself would withdraw to commune with heaven.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tanzania to Kenya

The past week I have been in Tanzania, first in Morogo, then to Dar es Salaam.  The seven hour journey from Dar to Moshi, which is at the base of Mt. Kiliminjaro was taxing.  While in Moshi taught pastors on cross-cultural communication and church planting. 

Of course it's always good to be with missionary friends.  Some of these guys I have known for over 15 years as they have served in this country.  One of the best ways to sharpen ones own thinking is be around those who wrestle with the  issues each day.

From Moshi we travelled to Nairobi. In a few minutes will fly to Kitale where I will be working for for two weeks, primarily in West Pokot. I look forward to my time in the bush, but a bit anxious. Working in the desert is not for the faint of heart.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Default Cultures and Personalities

There was a time that the word default meant only something that failed, like a loan. In computer terms a default is something that is preset and goes back to that setting unless it is intentionally programmed to do otherwise. The default color for MS Word is black. I can make it blue for this blog, but the next time I create a new document it won’t be blue but will default back to black.

In Sherwood Lingenfelter’s latest book he mentions there is a default culture that people fall back to as it relates to behavior or practice. I have taught this concept in my class for years, but never used the term. When speaking of “time” I tell my students that an African can learn to be “on time” if he/she has a job which requires punctuality, but since Africans (South Asian’s and Latin’s) are notoriously late for everything outside the workplace they default back to being “event” oriented. Enculturation is a pattern of behavior set by culture and it’s a process that is deeply ingrained in a person early in life and becomes their default setting throughout their existence on earth. An African may become a follower of Christ, but the superstition associated with his animistic past will be a default practice in times of crisis, which includes going to the witchdoctor.

Default behavior is not only cultural but is true with personalities as well. If a person is a worrier, manipulative, prone to anger, feelings of negative self-worth or lazy, it’s because they have a set a life pattern that becomes their default personality. People who have a good outlook on life, an encourager, are generous, laid back, creative, speak well of others are good practices that has been developed probably in a home environment that programmed them into a default pattern (good argument for the need of good parenting and good home atmosphere).

It is possible to change some cultural or behavioral tendencies as a person gets older, but precedent has been established early and few people will change basic dispositions after they are past puberty. Implications? First, if you are a parent of small children work hard and intentional on the lives of those little ones God has given you. Your role in setting your kids default settings can’t be over emphasized. Second, we can change patterns in our personalities, but to do so means we have to reboot every day and throughout the day reconfigure the settings in our life. That comes with spending time in His Word and being mindful of God’s instructions. If you’re like me, you will have to reboot several times a day because, sadly, my behavior always go back to a bad default setting.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

First Stop - Tanzania

First stop on this five-week journey is in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Located in on the east side of the continent, Tanzania is the birthplace of Swahili. I haven’t used Swahili for a year but by the time I finish teaching here and in Kenya I should have much of it back, at least enough to communicate well. Tanzania Swahili is what they call “safi,” or clean. Having worked in the bush of Kenya for 14 years, my usage of this trade language is classified as “upcountry” Swahili, not always grammatically precise. As I teach in Tanzania I will depend on an interpreter and will no doubt throw in Swahili words and phrases throughout.

One my goals for this trip is to put into practice many of the things I teach my students. As a quasi-anthropologist, I want to try to learn as much about the underlying reasons why people do what they do and use that knowledge to help them communicate the message of Christ more effectively. Tanzania has a history of political collectivism, patterned after Chinese socialism. They are also a unique sub-Saharan country as they have a significant Muslim population. Using the patterns of their worldview, what are the key issues within their social environment that can be used as a bridge for the Gospel? As I remind my students, it’s not enough to know the answer, we must be aware of the questions in each social context. My goal is to discover the questions and figure out how to connect the dots.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Year End - Year Beginning

If you read this blog on a regular basis you have a pretty good idea what I do. However, each year I send out an annual report. For those interested in reading this report, click here report.pdf. Not only will this give you a good overview of our work but what's in store for 2009, which includes teaching in India as well as doing research in the bush of Kenya.