The will to read

In August of 2009 Kenya newspapers carried articles about the passing of the world’s oldest pupil.  Joseph Stephen Kimani Nganga (un-GAH-un-GAH) Maruge (ma-ROO-gay) had entered primary school at the age of 84! He was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s oldest primary pupil.  When he passed away, they posted a tribute to him

Mr. Maruge was two years shy of finishing his primary school education when he passed away.  But he did succeed in his goal.  He told everyone that he was going to school to learn to read his Bible.  And learn to read it he did!  The Associated Press quoted  Anne Maruge, 18, as saying “”In the morning he used to wake up early to read the Bible before going to school.  Even when he fell ill and you found him basking in the sun, often he would be reading the Bible.”

Mr. Maruge’s story reminds me of Pastor Paul Hema.  He was the only pastor in the town of Niangoloko, Burkina Faso when Dayle and I lived there from 1978 through 1981.  He would sit in front of his humble house and read the Bible in the morning.  Even more remarkable was the story of his wife Mariama.

She would also sit outside reading her Bible.   But we knew that she had never been to school.  So we asked her how she learned to read.  She said that one day she told Paul that she wanted to read the Bible like he did and so he should teach her.  He responded that he did not know how to teach someone to read.  Her response was that she was determined to read and that he had better figure out the how to do it.  So he sat down with her beside him every morning while he read the Bible.  He read out loud to her while following along under the words with his finger.  And so, with this ad hoc and unscientific method, Mariama Hema learned to read and began reading the Bible for herself.

Mr Maruge and Mariama Hema put me to shame.  My Bible reading is handed to me on a platter by comparison.

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Where hunger comes from

It is easy to assume that all hunger is related to economic conditions and poverty. A lot of hunger is, but a lot is also related to instability and conflict. The map below shows that the Democratic Republic of Congo has one of the highest rates of hunger in the world.

The eastern part of the country has some of the most fertile farmlands in the world. A good part of that area is, however, in the throws of conflict and insecurity. So people cannot farm the good land they have. The translators for one of the languages told me about the situation in their home area. They asked me not to give the name of the language for fear of reprisals! The area is contested by two different armed forces. If someone goes to his field, he will pass through a zone controlled by one and into an area controlled by another. The food he is bringing back to his family may be confiscated by armed men. Worse, he may be accused of siding with the other side, thought a traitor and shot. So people are unable to farm the good land they have. The solution to most of the hunger in DRC is not economic development or better agricultural methods. Instead, it is plain old fashioned but illusive peace.

Because of this problem, we have had to move more than one group of translators out of their home area.

Most of the people caught in this conflict are believers. The conflict is not between local people. Rather, it is run by powerful militias many of whom finance themselves through exploitation of the mineral riches of the country. Local people are caught in a situation over which they have no control. They are not fighting anyone.  They want peace and would do anything in their power to have it. The truth is, there is little that they can do except try to avoid the armed me who extort things from them, loot their houses and businesses and sometimes kill them.  They pray, read their Bibles if there is one in their language, and put their hope in the Lord.

Whose Religion is Christianity?

Ghana is full of signs of Christianity – literally. There are signs on vehicles, on business and even billboards that bear unmistakably Christian messages. Some of them are a bit exaggerated or even humorous such as the “Last Stop Christian Centre”.

On my recent road trip from Accra to Tamale, we stopped to grab a bite to eat and found a group of ladies from a church selling “Shalom Delicious Bread” and “Jesus is Alive” bread. In addition to English, one of the bread stands had a blurb in the Thwi language meaning “Jesus is risen”. They readily talked about their faith and started witnessing to me. The growth of Christianity in Ghana is part of a much wider phenomenon. Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds in Africa, South America, parts of Asia and the Pacific. Even as Christianity shrinks in Europe and large parts of American society are cutting ties with its Judeo-Christian heritage, people in other parts of the world are adopting faith in Christ in the largest numbers in history. In the next decade or two, Africa will become the center of world Christianity at least in terms of sheer numbers of Christians. The title “Whose religion is Christianity” is borrowed from a book by Lamin Sanneh, an African, a believer and a professor at Yale. The book analyses the shifts taking place. Anyone who believes that Christianity is a western religion is way behind the times.

Billboards advertising all kinds of churches can be found alongside the roads in Ghana. Accra, the capital, has a number of growing and vibrant mega-churches. We drove by one when I came back to Accra. One of these mega—churches started a Christian university with money raised in Ghana! Christians in the growing Ghanaian middle class are filling those churches, giving to all kinds of ministries and organizing outreach in the cities and in the more remote rural areas. This has happened in the last 20 years, which makes me wonder what more will happen in the next 20.

Of course, not all is roses. There are sects. Some call themselves believers but their lives do not bear witness to that. But these things are true all over the world. Other things are right on target. Look up Deuteronomy 15:11 and see how appropriate that text is in the poorest continent.

My 18 days in Ghana were spent working with a Ghanaian Christian organization full of articulate, dedicated Ghanaian Christians who want all the peoples of Ghana to be blessed with God’s Word in their own languages. The churches are behind them. They are even talking about sending Ghanaians to do translations in other countries in Africa. I was part of a team, itself mostly African, sharing with them about how to make the work go faster and have greater impact. It looks like I will be blessed to make some more trips to work with them in defining specific ways to fulfill their vision.

It is so exciting to live in these days. God is at work in this world! If you are discouraged about what is happening where you are, lift your eyes!

Cell phones and colors

On Saturday the 12th while in Ghana, I traveled from Accra to Tamale by road.  In keeping with the rainy season, the sky was laden with low-hanging grey clouds that pressed their gloom down on us.  To keep us from falling into depression, we were treated to a visual shock treatment in the form of the colors of the cell phone companies.

As advertisement, each cell company offers to paint your house or business in its color for free, provided you let it add its logo.  MTN’s color is yellow. Vodacom’s is red.  Tigo’s is blue and Zain’s are purple and green.

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It seemed that every other building beside the road was painted Vodacom’s neurotransmitter red or MTN’s smiley yellow with a few of Zain’s mood-enhancing greens or purples for variety.  It seems that Tigo’ s painting program is a lot less active.  Perhaps it is just as well.  We did not need more “blue”.

Sometimes the Vodacom, MTN and Zain colors would be right next to each (see one of the photos on the right)  as if we needed to be on two or three anti-depressants at once.  In one rural village, the yellow and red buildings were contrastively interspersed between the earth browns of traditional mud-walled houses.

As an adjunct treatment, taxis are required to have each of their four fenders painted a deep yellow.  There were quite a few taxis in most towns; often awaiting clients in front of a building painted in cheery MTN yellow or wake-up Vodacom red.

In Congo the same thing is happening to the point that it seems that there is a race on to see which company can paint more of the buildings in town its colors.

In addition, cell phone towers are everywhere.  So many that the Ghana government suspended cell phone tower construction temporarily while it studied the matter.  In one place one tower rose out of a little papaya orchard, like a misplaced tree of the wrong species.

The dreary day was dealt a deadly blow.  I arrived in Tamale in great spirits.  My apologies to the makers of Prozac.

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