In December 2019 and January 2020, there were many sermons themed as “2020 vision.” It seems we were all short-sighted — only hindsight is 2020! How many of us had a year which went precisely according to plan?
For a summary of the second half of the past year here in Kenya (and pictures!), please read our December 2020 update (pdf).
Of course! Those who think otherwise are either confused about the nature of theology or are just wrong.
On definitions of theology:
“If you are a theologian, you will pray truly.
And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.”
— Evagrius of Pontus (345–399), “On Prayer,” The Philokalia, vol. 1.
For our Greek-nerd friends, here’s the original:
«Εἰ θεολόγος εἶ, προσεύξῃ ἀληθῶς, καὶ εἰ άληθῶς προσεύξῃ, θεολόγος εἶ.»
— Εὐάγριος ὁ Ποντικός
Thus, a theologian (théologien OR théologienne,* equally), is one who, having spoken well with God, is enabled to speak well — and teach well — about God and the things of God.
A theologian is not merely someone with facility in articulating academic jargon.
Today’s théologiennes are part of a vast cloud of witnesses. Here are a some of my favorites (mostly arranged chronologically).
Mary the First Evangelist and the Apostle to the Apostles (NT period)
Phillip the Evangelist’s four preaching daughters (NT period)
Junia the Apostle (NT period)
Priscilla the teacher of the apostle Apollos (NT period)
Lois the teacher (and grandmother) of the apostle Timothy (NT period)
Eunice the teacher (and mother) of the apostle Timothy (NT period)
Perpetua (martyred 203; Carthage)
Felicity (martyred 203; Carthage)
Macrina the Elder (before 270 – c. 340; Cappadocia)
Macrina the Younger (c. 330 – 379; Cappadocia and Pontus)
Nina the Equal to the Apostles and the Enlightener of Georgia (aka Nino; c. 296 – c. 338 or 340; Cappadocia and Georgia)
Marcella (325–410; Rome)
Melania the Elder (c. 350 – either before 410 or c. 417; Spain, Rome, Jerusalem)
Melania the Younger (c. 383 – 439; Rome, Jerusalem)
Paula of Rome (347 – 404; Rome, Bethlehem)
Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179; Germany)
Hadewijch of Antwerp (1200s; The Netherlands)
Mechthild of Magdeburg (c. 1260 – c. 1282/94; Germany)
Julian of Norwich (1342 – c. 1423; England)
Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380; Italy)
Catherine of Genoa (1447 – 1510; Italy)
Teresa of Avila (1515 – 1582; Spain)
Pandita Ramabai Sarasvati (usually just known as “Pandita Ramabai”; 1858 – 922; India)
Dorothy L. Sayers (1893 – 1957; England)
Mercy Amba Oduyoye (b. 1934; Ghana)
Marianne Katoppo (943 – 2007; Indonesia)
Gillian M. Bediako (living; Ghana)
Philomena Njeri Mwaura (living; Kenya)
Dana L. Robert (living; America)
Musa Dube (aka Musa Wenkosi Dube Shomanah, b. 1964; Botswana)
Lynn H. Cohick (living; America)
Michelle Lee-Barnewall (living; America)
Wanjiru M Gitau (living; Kenya)
Cynthia Long Westfall (living; America)
And of course this list would not be complete without the inclusion my very favorite théologienne:
Ruth Barron (living; America and Kenya)
The discerning reader will note that this is list is quite short with large gaps, both chronologically and geographically. I attribute that to the limitations of my own education. Also note that this is a list of favorites, not an exhaustive list of all whom I’ve read. Note that Macrina the Elder and Macrina the Younger were responsible for discipling two the other three “Great Cappadocians” — Macrina the Younger’s younger brothers Basil the Great (of Cappadocian Caesarea) and Gregory of Nyssa; she also played an important role in the formation of Gregory the Theologian of Nazianzen. Historically speaking, those three men were largely responsible for the survival of Nicene Orthodoxy. But the Nicene Orthodoxy of those three men is due to those two women, the two Macrinas. (Moreover, those godly men recognized publicly that they owed their very faith to the teaching of those two women.) Also of special note is Nina, to whom the ancient Church really did bestow two lofty titles: “Equal to the Apostles” and “Enlightener of Georgia.” She was nearly singlehandedly responsible for the conversion of an entire country.
As Mercy Amba Oduyoye has explained, using an Akan proverb, “a bird has two wings.” A bird with one wing is necessarily grounded. A bird with only one strong wing may well fly in circles. If the Church is to soar, she most exercise both wings equally — she must give voice (and ear) to both men and women.
* In French, “theologian” is translated as either théologien (masculine) or théologienne (feminine); the language (and ancient Christian tradition) recognize that theologians — including teaching theologians — may be either male or female.
sad lamentation our father within the church how we’re missing him!
We have just heard from our dear brother and co-worker, Francis ole Yenko, that his father Simpano has completed his race. He ran well and completed the course, winning his fight. He was a faithful follower of Christ to the end. His wife, Kabarisho, is also a believer. Francis, of course, is an elder of the Olepishet Community Christian Church and the director of the Maasai Discipleship Training Institute. Simpano was between 80 and 90 years of age.
Francis told me this evening on social media chat of his father’s death. Due to pandemic travel restrictions, we cannot journey to visit him personally yet, but we had a good conversation. While we were chatting, I (Joshua) wrote the above lamentation (in haiku form). I also mentioned this to him, “kingar enkijuluus nagut tenebo, kake meibung ilo sina iyiook, amu kimbung iyiook osiligi osipa te Olaitoriani lang!”(we share deep lamentation together with you, but that sorrow does not hold fast to us, for we hold fast to a true hope in our Lord!) We mourn grievously, but we do not grieve as those without hope.
Here is a fairly recent picture of Francis with his parents, Simparo and Kibarisho.
Simpano, may your memory be eternal until you rise up to meet Christ when he returns!
As a missionary- and theological educator, I (Joshua) spend a lot of time in my study. Today I am spending some time with Prof. E. Bôlaji Idowu (1913-1993, Nigeria 🇳🇬). I was delighted to find this gem:
… a theologian who thinks that he is an intellectualist is only wasting his time. A theologian who is worthy of the name is first and foremost a man of prayer, waiting upon God for a message, God’s own message.
— E. Bôlaji Idowu, “God,” chapter 1 in Biblical Revelation and African Beliefs, 17-29, ed. Kwesi A. Dickson and Paul Ellingworth (Lutterworth Press / United Society for Christian Literature, 1969), p. 23.
I want to note this assertion, with which I agree:
A theologian who is worthy of the name
is first and foremost a man or woman of prayer.
As a historian, I am immediately struck by how much this echoes one of my favorite patristic quotations, Evagrios of Pontus defining what a theology is and what a theologian is. But I’ve written about that elsewhere.
“He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said.
Come, see the place where He lay.”
Here’s this verse (Matthew 28:6) again in a number of other languages, chosen because we have (or have had) friends and co-workers who use these as a first or second language:
MAA (Maasai): “Metii ene amu etopiwuo ana enatejo ninye. Wootu eng’urai ewueji apa neirragieki.” (There are some 2–2.5 million Maasai in Kenya and Tanzania. Most of our work is in Maasai communities. From 2010–2017, Joshua served as a translation consultant for The Bible Society of Kenya’s much needed revision/correction of the Maa bible. Our “Eating the Word of God” book was first published in Maa, Enkinosata Ororei Le Nkai. The Maa language is Nilotic, and belongs to the same branch of the family as ancient Nubian; Nubian is important for the study of the late patristic and medieval period of Christianity in North East Africa.)
KISWAHILI: “Hayupo hapa, kwa kuwa amefufuka, kama vile alivyosema. Njooni mpatazame mahali alipokuwa amelazwa.” (There are about 1.8 million waSwahili people on the coasts of Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique. KiSwahili is spoken as a second language by 90–150 million throughout East and Central African countries, especially in Tanzania and here in Kenya. Swahili is a Bantu language with significant influence from Arabic. While English is the official language of Kenya’s government, Swahili is the language of business and commerce and the market. The second edition of “Eating the Word of God” book was published in Swahili,Kujilisha kwa Neno La Mungu; Joshua was one of the editors as well. We’re currently making progress in learning Swahili, in addition to Maa. Though let the record show that in our last Swahili test, our children scored higher than their father!)
SAMPUR (Samburu): “Meti ene amu, kitipiwua ana natejo apa. Wootu entodol ng’oji neiterperieki apa.” (The are perhaps 350,00 Samburu in Kenya; they were once a subtribe of the Maasai, but the Sampur language and the majority Maa dialect, Purko Maa, currently have only a 70% linguistic overlap. We’ve trained some Samburu pastors and church planters at our Maasai Discipleship Training School. Some dear friends of ours from Finland, bible translators with Wycliff, prepared the Sampur NT. Whereas we have facility in Maa, we simply “get by” in Sampur.)
NGA TURKANA: “Emam ngesi kane, ayaru ngesi loger lokolong alimuniotor. Potu kingolikisi ni ngoon aperio ngesi ne.” (There are over 1 million Turkana in Kenya. There are also smaller groups in Uganda and Ethiopia. Most years since 2010 Joshua has spent 2-4 weeks each year teaching at the Turkana branch of CCBTI, Community Christian Bible Training Institute. The third edition of “Eating the Word of God” book was in Nga Turkana, Akinyam Akiroit a Akuj. Joshua ended up having to learn some Nga Turkana to help with the editing of the volume, though we make no claim to know the language … yet.)
GĨKŨYŨ (Kikuyu): “Ndarĩ haaha; nĩariũkĩĩte o ta ũrĩa oigire. Tookaai muone harĩa araarĩ.” (The Agĩkũyũ are a Bantu group of over 8 million here in Kenya. In English, “Kikuyu” derives from the Swahili name of the language, Gĩkũyũ, and refers to the language and the people. Many of our dearest friends are Kikuyu.)
KALENJIN (Nandi): “Ma komi yu; amu kagong’eet, ko uu ye ki kamwa. Obwa, ogeer ole korue Kiptaiyat,” (The Kalenjin are a group of ten tribes in Kenya numbering over 6 million together; their language is Nilotic. Sometimes the term in English refers specifically to the Nandi and Kipsigis tribes. We have a number of Kipsigis Kalenjin friends and Joshua has spent some time in Kipsigis villages. One of Joshua’s fellow students in his PhD cohort is a Pokot Kalenjin pastor. We found this translation, in the Nandi dialect, online.)
DHOLUO (Luo): “to oonge ka, nimar osechier mana kaka nowacho. Biuru une kama nende onindoe,” (The Luo “proper”, or Joluo, live in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. They number approximately 7 million. More broadly speaking, “Luo” can refer to a Nilotic group of tribes spread from Tanzania to South Sudan to Congo. Ruth’s best friend is a Ugandan Luo living here in Kenya.)
FRANÇAIS (French): “Il n’est pas ici, car il est ressuscité comme il l’avait dit. Venez voir le lieu où il gisait,” (There are about 430 million French speakers, including those who speak it as a second or third language) spread throughout 29 countries in Africa. We have good friends who are missionaries in Francophone West Africa — specifically Côte d’Ivoire and Burkino Faso. One of Joshua’s fellow PhD students is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo; French is his second language … English is fourth or fifth. Joshua has some reading facility in French from his public school days.)
ESPAÑOL (Spanish): “No está aquí, pues ha resucitado, como dijo. Venid, ved el lugar donde fue puesto el Señor.” (There are over 483 native speakers of Spanish around the world, second only to Mandarin Chinese. It is the fourth-most spoken language in the world, after English, Mandarin Chinese and Hindi. Ruth learned Spanish well enough in school that she could communicate with an Italian bus driver when she visited Italy. We have friends who minister in Spanish-speaking areas.)
AFRIKAANS: “Hy is nie hier nie, want Hy is uit die dood opgewek, soos Hy gesê het. Kom nader en kyk: daar is die plek waar Hy gelê het.” (There are 7.2 million native speakers — both white Afrikaners, descended from Dutch settlers, and “colored” — and an additional 10.3 million who speak Afrikaans as a second language, mostly in South Africa and Namibia but with smaller communities in Botswana and Zimbabwe as well. We taught at a small Bible college in South Africa in 2000–2001, and learned a little Afrikaans. A cute little three year old girl of an Afrikaans-speaking family “adopted” us as a second pair of parents, and so we learned the Afrikaans of a three year old! At one point, Joshua had memorized the Lord’s Prayer in Afrikaans, but now he only remembers the first phrase.)
SETSWANA (Tswana): “Ga a yo fa; gonne o tsogile, fela jaaka a buile. Tlaang lo bone felo fa o ne a letse teng.” (Sestwana is the Bantu language spoken as a first by some 5.3 million people in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, and by another 7.7 million as a second language in South Africa. One of the two congregations we were involved with in South Africa was majority Sestwana-speaking. We learned some greetings; Ruth also learned greetings in Sesotho and isiZulu.)
TOK PISIN: “Em i no i stap hia. Em i kirap pinis, olsem bipo em i bin tok. Yutupela kam lukim ples em i bin slip long en.” (Tok Pisin is one of the official languages of Papua New Guinea. While there are only about 120,000 native speakers, it is spoke as a second language by at least 4 million. I, Joshua, preached from Daniel in Tok Pisin in 1993, when I was in PNG for an internship with Pioneer Bible Translators. I wrote out a sermon manuscript, because I was terrified that I would reach into the “not English” part of my brain and either come up with nothing or French — that had already happened sometimes in conversations.)
KHASI: “Um don hangne; la pynmihpat ïa u, kumba u la ong. Ale hangne bad peit ïa ka jaka ha kaba u la thiah.” (The Khasi language, with the Jaintia-Pñar dialect, is an Austroasiatic language spoken primarily in Meghalaya state in North East India, with smaller populations in Assam state and in Bangladesh. I spent two summers in Meghalaya, 1995 and 1998, the latter being for my MDiv internship. I composed some poetry and some choruses. I was told I spoke with a decided Pñar accent, rather than the “official” Khasi dialect — no bad thing, since most of my time was in the Jaintia area — and also that my syntax sounded more like that of the grandparents than of my peers. In doing some research on the 1905-1907 revival in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills for one of my PhD courses —”Dynamics of Global Revivals” with Prof. Mark Shaw — I stumbled upon some videos of Khasi worship choirs, and was pleased, though surprised, to still understand some of the language.)
As a family, we’re making progress learning Swahili, which is becoming increasingly important to our ministry, in addition to Maa. Today’s word is kutoka. It means to go out, to leave, to exit or to be from a place. So we might say “Tunatoka Marekani” — we are from America.
But as we are having to focus on the office work side of curriculum development and ongoing language learning due to the current pandemic, and as the children’s HomeSchool co-op is not able to meet due to temporary government restrictions, we’re all thinking “ninataka kutoka!” — I want to go out!
Kutaka is the other word in today’s phrase. It means to want. A similarly sounding word is takataka — trash or garbage. Unataka takataka? Sitaki takataka!Do you want garbage? I don’t want garbage! It’s interesting how much kutaka (to want) sounds like takataka (garbage, is generally not wanted by anybody).
Our twelve year old’s favorite sentence in Swahili? So far, it’s Baba ni bata! — Daddy is a duck! Hmmm. Whence do you think she got that silliness?
Last month (in February), I (Joshua) was able to spend a week in Oletukat, teaching my History of Christian Mission course at a missionary training school founded and run by our Maasai friend and colleague, James ole Sinkua. Last year, we all visited Oletukat as a family as Ruth and I had a planning and curriculum development meeting with James (for more, see our November newsletter).
As usual, when I teach I have just as much of a learning opportunity as my students. Besides learning new Maa vocabulary, my students taught me this wonderful song, Irriwayioki ! (or “Send me!”). In the Maa Bible, in Isaiah 6:8, the prophet answers God’s call: “Irriwayioki!Send me!” While this hymn has innumerable verses, I learned five of them plus the chorus.
The first verse is especially powerful: Send me to our Maasai people, Send me even to the Agĩkũyũ … . The first phrase is a call to evangelize and disciple one’s neighbors, kinfolk, and fellow countrymen. But the second phrase asks God to send the singer to the Kikuyu! This is significant because traditionally the Kikuyu and the Maasai are tribal rivals.
(Properly speaking, Agĩkũyũ is the name of the people and Gĩkũyũ is the name of the language. In Swahili, Kikuyu is the name of the Gĩkũyũ language spoken by the Agĩkũyũ. From this Swahili usage, “Kikuyu” is commonly used in English to refer to the Gĩkũyũ language and “the Kikuyu” is used to refer to the Agĩkũyũ people.)
While the two tribes sometimes intermarry, often the Maasai and the Agĩkũyũ are about as affectionate toward each other as are supporters of rival political factions in America. This song is a radical invitation, asking God to send us that we might join God in God’s mission in the world — not only to our friends but also even to our enemies.
Give it a listen, and scroll down for the lyrics and translation:
To those of you who saw our “Sing or Dance?” post from last month (20 February), accept my apologies for only having an audio file instead of a video file.
This recording has six verses. Here is the Maa translation, with English translation, of five of the verses plus the chorus. (When my students sang it for me to record, they added what is the fifth verse here, and for the life of me there are a couple of words that I just can’t hear. I didn’t have a chance to ask them to transcribe that verse for me. When I figure out that verse, I’ll edit this post.)
This translates «שִׁ֣ירוּ לַֽ֭יהוָה שִׁ֣יר חָדָ֑שׁ» (Hebrew) or «ᾌσατε τῷ κυρίῳ ᾆσμα καινό» (Greek). Some of y’all might know the King James: “Sing unto the LORD a new song!”
But the Maa phrase can translate into English as “Dance unto the LORD a new dance!”
Um, what?! How’s that?
If we’ve visited with you, you may remember the answer. The noun <osinkolio> means equally “song” and “dance.” The verb <arany> means equally “to sing” and “to dance.” Thus “arany osinkolio” can be translated four ways into English: ……. • I sing a song, ……. • I dance a dance, ……. • I sing a dance, or ……. • I dance a song. In the Maasai cultural imagination, singing with the voice without also dancing with the body (or is that dancing with voice while singing with the body?) is unimaginable, except for the infirm or lame.
While other African languages have different words for singing and dancing, as does English, this lexical insight applies across many African cultures.
Application: of COURSE we line dance during worship here. What else?
“to clean or remove charcoal
from the outside of the calabash gourd
after cleaning the interior of the gourd.”
The gourds — used as containers especially for milk and sour milk — are cleaned with a stick of wild olive wood (olóírién), the end of which is a live coal. This burns away any pathogens or other bad stuff and lines the interior of the gourd with charcoal, which has a filtering/purifying effect. It also gives your milk a smoky taste. So if you’re taking chai in the villages and your tea tastes a bit like smoked cheese, this is why.
So AMESÚTonly refers to the removal of olive wood charcoal from the outside of a gourd that’s just been cleaned on the inside.