It makes the verb happy

We are always continuing to learn and study the Maa language and culture of the Maasai.  And so back in September, I was very happy to learn a new proverb — 

Ekébikóo intókitin póoki náaramát ilóopêny

It means all things which their owners carefully tend last a long time.  I was very happy to find this proverb to add to our lessons on stewardship.  Whereas typical American teaching says “that stuff you think you own?  Well, it is not really yours, it is only God’s, only God is the owner, and that is why you should take especial care of it,” we teach that ownership is what makes stewardship possible.  (Of course, each of these approaches represent part of the Biblical teaching on stewardship — in one sense everything IS God’s and we are only his stewards, but in another sense because we are God’s children, God has given us resources that we manage as our own property — just like Maasai parents give animals even to their young children.)  So when we use the proverb that says, “the cow says, don’t give me, lend me,” we can reinforce the meaning of the teaching by next reminding that the Maasai also say, “Ekébikóo intókitin póoki náaramát ilóopêny.”  (To read more on how we teach Christian stewardship, read our My Father Is Alive post.)

But with this proverb I had a question about a bit of the language I didn’t quite understand.  I knew that <ekébikóo> comes from the verb <ABIKÓO>, “to endure, to last a long time, to remain a long time, to last forever” (coming in turn from <ABIK>, “to remain, to abide, to stay”).  But Maa verbal prefixes are tricky, and I wasn’t sure what the eké- prefix was doing.  So I asked our good friend and colleague Ntinga Sam Tome, who is trilingual in Maa, kiSwahili, and English.

It makes the verb happy and brings out the meaning.

“It makes the verb happy.”  Of course it does!  But why?  We laughed together.

A day in our life in Kenya

What’s it like to be missionary in Africa?  Our days revolve around teaching national Christians and our six children, whom we (mostly Ruth) homeschool.  To read more, visit today’s post on CMF’s blog, which was written by Ruth.

UPDATE (1 January 2019):  As we are continuing with the same work, but are now with affiliated with MissionStream, we have archived a PDF copy of the blog here.

When humans were kind …

Our four oldest are part of a Kenyan homeschool co-op choir called Anthem.  They’re pretty good.  Last February, Athem performed at the Safaricom House in Nairobi as part of the city-wide “Cultural Stopovers” events.  I’ve posted pictures and video for their part of the concert here.

Recently Fezi (their teacher / choir director) divided them into groups and had each group write a song together.  Alitzah, Hannah Gail, and Eliana were in a group with three others.  The lyrics of their song are profound due to a spelling mistake.  Here are the lyrics.

Once in the sky all nations were loved
Hate was not known; all were beloved
Up in the sky flew some white doves
There was no evil anywhere
All creatures were kind including the heir
And God walked among us even when we were bare

They meant “all creatures were kind including the hare.”  But while that works for the rhyme scheme, it’s a bit weak poetically – bunnies, whether rabbits or hares, are generally considered to be among the kinder of animals, even though in some folklore they can be quite the tricksters.  So saying that before sin entered the world even bunnies were kind is not quite the striking statement as saying that “even the cobra” or “even the hyena” was kind.

But in context, who is the heir?  Adam & Eve – and therefore by extension all humanity.  Look around, and you will see an overabundance of evidence of unkindness and cruelty within human hearts and from human hands and words.  But as written (though not as meant) these lyrics become theologically poignant:  Once upon a time, there was no evil … and even humans were kind.

So an orthographical error changed slightly awkward lyrics into a profound poem.  Awesome.

chewin’ the news

What’s not to smile about?

For some of our latest news, please read our October newsletter (.pdf format, with more pictures).

Note:  the update should be printed on legal size, rather than standard, paper.  If you need to print a copy, let us know and we can share a version with larger resolution images.

Calvince Ochieng, elder of the CCC congregation in the Raila community in the Kibera slum, with a copy of “Kujilisha” (at our home in Matasia)

Shalviah Tzadika

Shalviah Tzadika arrived at home on 22 January 2015.  Shalviah means “the peace of the LORD” or “the shalom of Yahweh.”  Shalom refers to peace in relationships:  not just an absence of strife and discord, but personal and familial wellness and wholeness.  This is truly that “peace which passes understanding” (Philippians 4.7) which we are able to experience as the peace of Christ.

Tzadika means “justice” and “righteousness.”  Every childish cry of “it isn’t fair!” echoes our longing for justice.  These days righteousness seems to be “just a church word,” but it simply means being in right relationships vertically and horizontally.  And while there may be “no one righteous” and “no one that does good” (Romans 3.10, 3.12), yet we are clothed in Christ and covered with his righteousness.  Just as the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1.7), the righteousness of the Father cleanses us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1.9).   So by naming our daughter Tzadika, we are blessing her with this promise.

Shalom and justice/righteousness:  it is impossible to fully have one without the other, and impossible to truly have either apart from God.  We pray that our Shalviah will be filled with the peace of the Lord that she might bear “the fruits of righteousness” (Philippians 1.11).

Though we address her as “Shalviah” and “Tzadika,” we have also given her a nickname, Shamirah.  This name means “protection” as well as “guardian” or “protector” (it is the feminine form of “Shomer”).  We recognize that both peace and justice/righteousness provide protection.  We also know that each must be carefully guarded.  So we pray that Shalviah’s heart will be forever protected (Proverbs 4.23; Philippians 4.7), that the peace of the Lord will guard her and that she will grow up to be one who protects justice/righteousness and peace.

Our older children had a role in naming their new sister, discussing options with us at length.  Alitzah read through a long list of names, with their meanings, suggesting possibilities.  While we were reviewing the short list, when Eliana grasped the meaning of Shalviah, she said, “That should be one of her names, because she is a very peaceful baby.”  It is true.  We also pray that these names both reflect and form her character.


(In case you’ve forgotten or never known, these are the nicknames for our other children:
Alitzah is Tzitzah
Hannah Gail is Shoshannah & also Kanara
Eliana is Tzahala & also Ailona
Zerachiah is Shomer
Ahaviah is Zemirah
Have you ever wondered why we named our other children as we did?)

Oh, and for those of you who will want to know:
She arrived at 7:23 pm and weighed about 7 lbs.  The following day with a more precise scale she weighed 3.1 kg (6 lbs 13.28 oz) and measured 52 cm long (20.5 in).  Our lovely midwife was here to assist.  Of course, Shalviah is beautiful.

peace and righteousness,
joshua & ruth,
alitzah + hannah gail + eliana + zerachiah + ahaviah + shalviah

Thorn Removal

I learned a new word today.  Do you need to say “I am pulling out thorns”?  Maa has a single word for that, aitaaiki.  Who knew?

Given the large acacia thorn-tree (which has thorns 1-3 inches long) beside our house (not to mention the grass-thorns), I’ve had many occasions when the use of this word would have been appropriate.  The last two times a big thorn has had to be removed from the foot of one of our girls, Zerachiah (4) snuggled up to comfort the sister in question (10 & 8, respectively), telling her that he had lots of braveness, and so he could give her some his.

(Aitaaiki is pronounced something like ah-ee-tah-icky, where the “ee” is as the “ey” in “key” and “ah-ee” is sort of a dipthong like “I” in parts of the American south, but faster, and the “tah” is like a 1/16th note while the other syllables are 1/32nd notes)

“I’m busy”

When our two year old — oops, he’s three already — doesn’t want to do something (say, go to bed) he tells us “I’m busy.”  I can’t help but cringe a bit when I think of how he must of learned that phrase.

So this morning when I was lying in bed trying to figure out why it had gotten light so early, I jumped out of bed quickly to go to him when he started calling, “Momma! …  “Mommmmaa!”  (Ruth was still sleeping and I thought she should.)

“Where Lala is?” he asked me.

“Do you want Eliana?” (Eliana, our next oldest child, is five and a half.)

“Yes.  Lala play with me,” he added confidently.

“I think Eliana is still sleeping.”

“You play with me, Daddy?”

“Yes, son, I will play with you,” I said, wondering just how often I may have, while working in the office (which is adjacent to our bedroom), answered that I was busy.  After a while, I remembered that I hadn’t started the laundry yet.  (It’s the rainy season, and we line dry our clothes, so it pays off to start the laundry earlier rather than later.)  So I invited him to go outside with me and around to our “laundry porch” to start the machine.  I let him push the buttons.

When we came back inside, there was his big sister Eliana sitting in the entryway.  Zerachiah had not forgotten his first question of the morning.  “You play with me, Lala?”  Eliana reached up and pulled her little brother down and gave him a big hug which he received and returned.  “You play with me, Lala?” he repeated.  She consented and so the three of us returned to his room.  After a while Alitzah (our eldest, nine) joined us.  I’m not sure what we built, but it had a door which you could drive a truck through, an impossibly high chimney, a tiny cat door, and a construction crane on the roof.

Tell the work awaiting me in my office I’ll be late:  I’m busy.

Mme ninye …

One of the favorite parts of my job is serving as a translation consultant to the Kenya Bible Society as it is working to revise the Maasai Bible.  The Maa translation was prepared from the English RSV with occasional reference to the Living Bible (English) paraphrase.  Now the folks who worked on the original, all things considered, did excellent work.  But there are still passages which are incomprehensible to native speakers, clauses that are missing, and other errors.

For over a year I’ve been working with the two Maasai believers who are overseeing this revision via email, together with a missionary friend and colleague of mine (Paul Highfield).  But recently I’ve learned that their office is in Ngong town, just 15 minutes from our house.  So I’ve started meeting weekly with Peter and Paul.  They have Maasai names, of course, but I was introduced to them with their biblical names, and “Peter and Paul” does sound nicely apostolic for bible translation work.

I want to take a moment to share a snapshot of this part of our ministry.  At our last meeting Peter asked me to review a particularly tricky passage in Romans.  The verses in Maa had been translated in a “literal” and (wooden) word-for-word fashion from the RSV.  Consequentially, it made absolutely no sense whatsoever to a Maasai … unless, of course they were also fluent and literate in English and had access to the RSV.  Then they could figure out the meaning of the English … but the Maa verses themselves had no discernible meaning.  So my “apostolic” colleagues had labored over six or seven English translations and come up with a translation that made sense in Maa.  They asked me to review it to see if it made the same sort of sense as the Greek in which Paul (the other one, the famous one) had written it.

So I started reading.  But before I got to the revised tricky part of the passage something caught my eye.  “Mme ninye,” it said.  Literally that means “not he/she/it.”  But the sense of the Maa phrase is better rendered in English as “no, not that,” as in “no, I’d rather not have coffee, thank you … could I perhaps have some tea?”  But I knew that’s a passage where Paul is saying μη γενοιτο, pronounced “may genoito!”

The phrase is sometimes translated in English versions as “by no means!” or “not at all!”  Literally, it means “may it not be!”  But it has the moral force of a curse, sort of like saying to your buddy John, “John, may YOU not be, may you not exist now, may you never have existed in the past nor may you come to exist in the future.”  This is very strong language.  Several times Paul asks a rhetorical question such as “shall we then continue to sin so that grace may abound?” and then, just to make sure that there is no room for mistake, he answers his own question:  Absolutely not!  Never!  God forbid!  or even, Hell no!  He uses the phrase 10 times in Romans, once in 1 Corinthians and thrice in Galatians.  The crowd that Jesus was teaching uses it once, in Luke 20.16.

Clearly to translate may genoito as mme ninye, no, not that, maybe something else is a bit weak.  So Peter and I spent  over an hour discussing it until we found a Maa phrase that carries the force Paul intended.  I noticed that in the Luke passage, the phrase is rendered as “God forbid!” in the RSV rather than the weaker “by no means” in the Romans verses on which we were working.  Next I checked the Maa version and was delighted to discover that the original translators had nailed it.  They didn’t translate “God forbid!” literally, but they did translate the moral and dynamic force of “God forbid!”  So the fourteen times Paul uses the phrase, the new revision of the Maa bible will now read “Taba meing’uang’a!”  This phrase is the strongest of “absolutely not, not now, not ever” language that the Maa language has to offer.  It’s a perfect fit in Paul’s discourses.  Thus to the original translation, we can say “mme ninye!” (not that, something else) and offer a new translation to Maasai believers that better conveys the apostle’s intended sense.






By the way, the rest of the tricky passage was fine.  Next we need to check the OT.  The Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the OT used by the first century Church, uses the may genoito phrase  three times.  Each time it translates the same Hebrew word, khaliyl (חליל).  That word occurs 21 times in the Hebrew OT and is used where ever it says “far be it from” so-and-so to do such-and-such.  Now we just need to look at those verses and determine for each case from the context whether in Maa we should have a simple mme ninye, the slightly stronger taba mme ninye, or the full strength taba mme meing’uang’a … .

The goal?  A Maa bible that is comprehensible to Maasai believers.  …  I love my job.