I have just learned that we have lost another giant.  The great John S. Mbiti of Kenya, professor and theologian and philosopher and mentor, passed from this life a couple of weeks ago, 6 October 2019, a bit before what would have been his 88th birthday.

If you are interested in —
.        • African culture or religion or philosophy,
.        • Christian theology,
.        • hermeneutics, or
.        • African Christianity —
then you should read his works. His monographs African Religions and Philosophy (1969) and Concepts of God in Africa (1970) were seminal and remain classics.

I can’t claim to have known him personally, but I was honored to meet him a few times, to have heard him lecture a couple of times, and to have had one delightful one-on-one conversation with him. He was a gentleman and a scholar … and a true Christian.

Professor John S. Mbiti and friendsThis picture was taken at a Centre for World Christianity event in Nairobi in March 2018. Those pictured include Professors Mark Shaw, Jesse N. K. Mugambi, John S. Mbiti, Andrew F. Walls, with Dr Ingrid Reneau Walls & Dr Kyama Mugambi.

Some of you haven’t heard of John Samuel Mbiti before.  For an excellent though short introduction to Prof. Mbiti’s work, see Francis Anekwe Oborji, “John S. Mbiti – Father of African Christian Theology: .A Tribute,” Journal of African Christian Biography 4/4 (October 2019): .3-14.
The issue is available online at the Dictionary of African Christian Biography here
(There are also booklet formats for printing available, in either A4 or 8.5×11.)

Professor John S. Mbiti, may your memory be eternal until you rise again to meet our Lord.


The Maa word for locust is olmaati (ɔlmáatî for linguists); the plural is ilmaat (ɨlmáāt). I don’t know whether these are the same species of locusts and plagued the ancient Egyptians (and others), but they are African locusts and can thus swarm.

Today I saw more of these ILMAAT than I’ve ever seen before in one place — not quite EMUS OOLMAAT (a swarm of locusts), which is probably a good thing. These were around the famous Oreteti Tree of Lenana, near the lower peak of the Ngong Hills toward Kona Baridi, Olepolos, and Kiserian.

Enjoy the 27 second video clip:

(click on the photos to see larger images)

OLMAATI / ILMAAT can refer to a number of different species of grasshoppers/locusts, some of which are consumed by some African communities (though not by the Maasai). Don’t try to mimic John the Baptist and dip these in honey, though! — these pictures are of Green Milkweed Locusts (aka African Bush Grasshopper or phymateus viridipes for our latinophone or entomologist friends). They like to eat milkweed and various members of the nightshade family, and so are decidedly NOT good to eat.

Edit:  (5 November 2019)
What’s the difference between a grasshopper and a locust?
The difference between a locust and a grasshopper is that they’re locusts when they’re swarming, and otherwise just grasshoppers. (That’s a bit simplified, but close enough.)  Except in some parts of America, cicadas are called “locusts”.

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.


It is perhaps not unfitting that it was on Epiphany (6 January 2019) that the great Lamin Sanneh breathed his last in this life. In his life and scholarship the light of Christ was revealed to many. He passed on only yesterday, yet already he is 

We grieve, but we do not grieve as those without hope.

Born in The Gambia in West Africa, raised as a Muslim, after his conversion to Christ he became a preeminent Christian scholar and missiologist.  If you haven’t read his books or articles or heard him speak, you should. His books are widely available and you can still find him on youtube.  Here are two of my favorite of his quotes:

“People receive new ideas only in terms of the ideas they already have.”

“Conversion is the turning of ourselves to God, and that means all of ourselves without leaving anything thing behind or outside.  But that also means not replacing what is there with something else. Conversion is a refocusing of the mental life and its cultural/social underpinning and of our feelings, affections, and instincts, in the light of what God has done in Jesus.”

~ Lamin Sanneh, Whose Religion Is Christianity?  The Gospel beyond the West (2003).

If you’re a buyer and reader of books, that text is worth acquiring.  But if you only buy or read one of his books, I recommend that you start with Translating the Message:  The Missionary Impact on Culture (1st edition, 1989; 2nd edition, revised, 2009).  Though you’ll run across a lot of books before you find anything that would surpass his Disciples of All Nations:  Pillars of World Christianity (2008).

Professor Lamin Sanneh (24 May 1942 — 6 January 6 2019), may your memory be eternal and may you rest in peace until you rise again in the Resurrection.

Update (15 January 2019):  Christianity Today has just published a collection of tributes, “Remembering Lamin Sanneh, the World’s Leading Expert on Christianity and Islam in Africa.” This article would be a great place to start to learn more about this great man.  Also … anyone interested in World Christianity should read not only Prof. Sanneh’s works, but also should listen to the voices of those who give him tribute here.

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