What’s wrong with Tanzania?

May 31, 2013 in Mark, Africa, Culture, Front, Justice, Tanzania

On the train from Mbeya to Dar es Salaam this week it was fun to bump in to some of the backpackers for whom the TAZARA train seems to be an essential part of their African adventures. I was interested to hear their perspectives of Tanzania, as well as Zambia, Malawi and South Africa that they had travelled through.

However, it seemed that the travelers all came trying sub-consciously to answer the question: What is wrong with Africa? Whether it was in complaining about the train being a couple of hours late (not really a big deal when it travels thousands of miles, and there is no strict schedule anyway), or frustration at not understanding how the process works to buy tickets (yes there is an orderly queue even if you don’t see it, and no you can’t just push everyone until you get to the front), or thinking that workers digging a road are lazy because the majority are standing around (if you do manual work from dawn until dusk every day near the equator, you’d better pace yourself in the middle of the day or you’re not going to survive…), there seemed to always be the unspoken assumption that Tanzania is broken. The worst thing is that I can see all their same attitudes in myself when I first visited Kenya twelve years ago. Read the rest of this entry →

First World Problems

February 6, 2013 in Mark, Justice, Mission

The following video, made by Everyone Matters, is entitled “First World Problems read by Third World People”. Personally I don’t like the terms First and Third World, but I think the video does a good job of juxtaposing the very different realities of day to day life in different parts of our world. Read the rest of this entry →

“The Africans”, the Non-Africans, and a bus trip

December 29, 2012 in Mark, Africa, Culture

On my recent trip to Mbeya I brought along a couple of second-hand books that we had been given a while back, to pass the 16 hours each way on a bus. One of the books was The Africans, by David Lamb, who lived in Nairobi, Kenya, for four years and travelled around several African countries as a newspaper reporter. I had expected the title of the book to be ironic, but no, Lamb really does aim to describe “The Africans” in 300 pages. (Given the fact that there is apparently more genetic diversity in Africa than in the rest of the world combined, in addition to immense cultural diversity too, one wonders whether it would actually be easier to write a book about The Non-Africans.)

After the first couple of chapters I was ready to throw the book out of the window as Lamb paints a pretty depressing picture of the continent as a whole. There is little hope, and quite a patronising tone towards Africa and its people. However, the fact that I still had 6 hours before I reached Mbeya and little other reading material persuaded me to keep going. I was glad I did, as there are some very interesting stories, and I learnt a lot about the history of parts of Africa (mainly from the 1960s, when many countries gained independence, to the 1980s when the book was written), albeit told from a particular perspective.

This perspective was evident throughout the book, and I ended up learning as much about the author’s worldview as I did about Africa. Read the rest of this entry →

Giving Up Everything?

May 23, 2012 in Mark, Africa, Front, Mission, Theology

When a cross-cultural worker moves to a different country and a very different culture, as well as experiencing many benefits, they will also inevitably give up a great deal to do so. The things that they have to give up may be financial (a well-paying job), relational (family and friends) or just simply the comfort of knowing what to expect when living in one’s own culture and speaking one’s own language.

When moving overseas it can be easy to focus on the things one has given up, feeling like we are suffering a great deal for God and his work. “We had to give up so much in order to move to this country”, or “my life is difficult but God needs me here” can be common sentiments among cross-cultural mission workers. In this situation I can also deceive myself that I am vitally important to God’s work, and that I deserve to be in charge and making the strategic decisions since I have invested “so much”. Read the rest of this entry →

Wise advice for short-term mission

October 17, 2011 in Africa, Mission

Short-term mission is something that is hugely popular here in the US, with millions of dollars spent each year to send people of all ages overseas for anything from a week to a few months. A significant amount of research has been done in recent years into the effectiveness of such trips, generally concluding that they can have a very positive or very negative impact, in large part depending on the extent to which the local church and community is involved in the planning, and how the trip relates to long-term missional engagement in the community.

While the visiting team will almost always benefit from their cross-cultural interaction, this should never be the primary reason for the trip, or the determining factor in planning. These are issues that in Wycliffe UK we have tried to think through in some depth in recent years as we sent summer teams to Africa and Asia, seeking to focus on relationships, visiting existing long-term translation projects, and hopefully building ongoing links. Read the rest of this entry →