Cufflinks in Kete-Krachi

GILLBT 50th Anniversary cloth

GILLBT 50th Anniversary cloth

The Ghanaian organization Dayle and I work with is celebrating its 50th anniversary. As in many African countries, on such occasions an organization will have special cloth made and sell it. I explain that more in my blog on [get title and reference]. Anyway, here is the 50th anniversary cloth. Of course, along with other staff Dayle and I enthusiastically had outfits made of the cloth.

GILLBT board chair in his 50th Anniversay celebration cloth

GILLBT board chair in his 50th Anniversay celebration cloth

I was pondering what to have made – a long sleeved shirt, short sleeved, or something else when I saw the chairman of the board in his outfit (see photo). Then a couple days later at church I saw a man in something with different cloth but the same design, but his had cufflinks. I could not remember ever seeing cufflinks on that kind of outfit. But over the next few days I saw several. I had not worn cufflinks for years, so I decided that I would do it. We found a tailor (they are not expensive here), and commissioned my outfit. The tailor himself was wearing an outfit in the same style, also with cufflinks. We found a set of inexpensive cufflinks and I was ready to go.

My next trip was to the town of Kete-Krachi near Lake Volta. We left very early in the morning and did not arrive until after dark. The last 60 miles or so were on a very bad, dirt road. We bumped and jostled our way there at about 25 miles per hour. It seemed interminable. Anything but a serious 4×4 would be beaten to death in no time on that road. We were there for the dedication of the very first Scripture ever published in the Kaakye language – the Gospel of Mark. Of course, I took my new outfit, and all my colleagues would be wearing their anniversary cloth too. The next day I was getting dressed for the event when I discovered that I had made a serious mistake. I had forgotten the cufflinks!

Shop in Kete-Krachi where I bought cuflinks

Shop in Kete-Krachi where I bought cuflinks

Kete-Krachi is a smaller town with not much of a shopping district. I thought that I would have to wear something else and all of my colleagues would be in their 50th anniversary cloth. No one in the delegation had a pair of cufflinks with them, nor did any of the Kaakye translators, with whom we had breakfast. On a lark, we drove down the main road glancing at the shops. There weren’t many and it would not take long. My colleague, Naana Nkrumah, said “Stop! Stop! That one!” I got out and walked over to the little shop to see a glass and wood display box in which were placed about 20 pairs of cufflinks! Not only would I get cufflinks, I would have to spend a little time choosing among various designs. I bought a pair for about $3, was rescued from my error, and was able to celebrate the event in the proper attire.

Cufflinks in Kete-Krachi — who would have guessed.


I was working with my Ghanaian colleagues on some communication pieces (brochures, web pages, etc.) to help Ghanaians understand Bible translation. In a very good piece by one of my colleagues, he included this statement:

The Bible is a meaningful book with a message that is meant to be understood. When it was first written, it was written in the everyday language that the people of the time spoke.

Communication always starts from some assumptions about what people believe about the subject. So, those writing about AIDS might include the fact that it is not transmitted through casual contact such as shaking hands. Why write that? Well, because some people might believe that it can be. So let’s look again at what my Ghanaian colleague wrote.

The Bible is a meaningful book with a message that is meant to be understood. When it was first written, it was written in the everyday language that the people of the time spoke.

Why would he write that? He is assuming that some people think that the Bible might be a book which was not meant to be understood. Maybe they think that it is a mystical book which can only be understood by religious experts. Maybe they think that even when it was first written people did not understand it – more like a set of magical chants than meaningful words.

Translators and volunteers who shaped the transaltion of the New Testament in the Nawuri language of Ghana, assuring that it was both acurate and clear

Translators and volunteers who shaped the translation of the New Testament in the Nawuri language of Ghana, assuring that it was both accurate and clear

The thing is, his assumptions are correct. Many Africans have the mistaken notion that the Bible is not meant to be understood. Some of this comes from their traditional religions in which knowledge of the religion resides only in experts such as shamans and diviners, not in the ordinary person. It is not that the shamans and diviners explain. Not at all! On the contrary, they keep as much information to themselves as possible just like companies try to keep some things secret, such as the recipe for Coca-Cola. That way their clients always have to return to them, thus supplying a steady stream of income.

The belief that the Bible is not a book to understand is also reinforced by experience. Many Africans hear it preached in languages they do not understand, or do not fully understand, sometimes from stilted or archaic translations that do not convey meaning. The combination of coming from a religion in which they rely on experts to understand for them and hearing the Bible in language they do not fully understand can lead to an unfortunate assumption – that the Bible is not meant to be understood.

Congoelse women leaning in to watch the Jesus Film

Congoelse women leaning in to watch the Jesus Film

I was part of producing the Jesus Film in a few languages in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. We dedicated the films in four of the languages in the town of Bunia. As part of the dedication, we played some of the Jesus Film in each language. I could hear excited whispering as the showing started. I asked a local person what they were saying.

We can understand everything!
It is so clear!

Why the surprise? Well, they did not expect to understand. Their experience of church was one of not understanding. This is not just true in Africa, In Papua New Guinea a speaker of the Tokples languages said of the new translation in that language:

Before, the Bible has always seemed hard to understand. But as we have read from the Tokples Bible … everything has been perfectly clear. (Read more here)

But God loves to communicate. One of the speakers at the National Conference on Evangelism held recently in Ghana said:

God is a speaking God. We love God’s Word because in his Word we hear him speaking to us. We see him coming to us.

Translating the Bible is not about producing a book. It is about God speaking today; about knowing Jesus, who himself said:

The Scriptures tell about me (John 5:39 CEV)

Festooned with signs

Sign painting shop

Sign painting shop beside the road in city of Tamale

When we moved to Ghana in 2011, I started doing some reading about Ghana. An article on economics mentioned something new to me. It said that and important next step in Ghana’s economic development should be the naming of streets and giving houses and businesses numbers on those streets. Being able to identify the physical location of a person, or where a vehicle or other piece of property is kept, turns out to be an important for business, banking, and credit.

Before coming to Africa, I naively assumed that all places had street names and house numbers. In Burkina Faso, our first assignment, only a few main streets had names, I never saw numbers and I made my own map. Ghana has more – some streets with names, some lots with numbers, and there are several maps of the city for sale. See an earlier blog – The Rock that God Put – for a story of how I found someone in a good-sized town when I only knew the part of town he lived in.

Street corner in Adjiringanor, Accra

Street corner in Adjiringanor, Accra

Businesses and churches want to be found. So they have solved the problem of lacking street names. The solution? Many roads wear a lively garland of signs. Intersections host a swathe of them, each vying for your eye so that you will see that their business, church or whatever is just down this street, if only you would turn here. The need for signage is an economic opportunity. Sign painting businesses proliferate along with the welders who make the bare signs for the imaginative painters.

Street corner near our place

Street corner near our place

The content of the signs is just plain fun. There is no other word for it. Not fun in the sense that they are to be made fun of, but fun in the sense that I don’t know what is coming next. Will it be the “Blessings come from God’s Great Covenant Beauty Salon?” Or perhaps the “Jehovah Lives Automatic Mechanic”, the “Out of Time Radiator Specialist” or the “Remember the Truth Photo and Video Studio”? I would love to have conversations with Ghanaian shop owners to find out how they chose the names for their shop, just like I did with a taxi driver to find out why he put Shame in his window.

Enjoy the signs, I sure do.

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Literacy for Life

Many deep comments have been made about the following passage from Luke chapter 4, and rightly so:

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down.

Today, I do not have any deep thoughts about this passage, but I do have one simple question: How and where did Jesus learn to read?

Literacy class at night

Rural literacy class being held at night by lamplight – Photo by Paul Federwitz

Universal public education is a relatively new thing in human history. It is certain that the Roman authorities who ruled the Jews at the time did not provide education for them. So, how did Jesus learn to read?

Well, he learned in the synagogue from the Rabbi, or perhaps some in his family from his parents.

Teaching children to read was part of the Jewish tradition. Before the advent of government-funded universal education, is also became part of the program of the church. Sunday School started out as a school (reading, writing, ‘rithmatic’) which happened on Sunday before church. It became what it is today when universal schooling took away its original purpose.

A woman teaching other women to read

A woman teaching other women to read – GILLBT photo

As Christianity has grown rapidly in Africa and other places, it is encountering again some of the issues it faced in the not so distant past in Europe. Many churches today are in places where most people do not know how to read and write. Think about that. What would it be like to be in a church where most people do not know how to read? What challenges would that present for Bible study?

Man selling literacy books in the market

Man selling literacy books in the market – GILLBT photo

Here in Ghana, the organization I work with (GILLBT) is addressing this issue with a program called Literacy for Life. This program, run by Nelson Jatuat, offers churches help (training, primers, etc.) setting up church-based adult literacy for their members. People learn to read their heart language. Each lesson includes both teaching to read and write as well as a Bible lesson. It is offered in 18 of the more than 60 languages in Ghana.

Woman and child reading the Bible in their language

Woman and child reading the Bible in their language at a Bible dedication – GILLBT photo

This year, 900 local churches are participating in the program and over 15,000 church members are learning to read. Every year, different churches take part and a similar number of Ghanaian Christians are enrolled. The program is run on a shoestring – churches offer the locale, chalk, and blackboard  free of charge, teachers are volunteers with no pay (although they may receive something small as a recognition for their services), and learners of their churches buy the books. Using these methods, churches and GILLBT can work together to teach an adult to read fluently in his or her language for well under $100. Now that is a bargain.

The program is run by Nelson Jatuat who travels to various parts of the country to train teachers and help churches with evaluation at the end of the teaching cycle.

Outdoors literacy class

Outdoors literacy class – GILLBT photo

Not only do the participants learn to read the Bible in their own languages, they also gain a life-skill that they can use in all kinds of ways. They can keep records, correspond with family, sign their name on official documents, teach a Sunday School class, be the secretary for a local women’s group, take part in a Bible study, or teach a literacy class themselves all things which they could not do before knowing how to read and write. This program has a disproportionately favorable impact on women – the reverse of the unfortunate tendency of development programs to favor men.

Nelson Jatuat

Nelson Jatuat who runs GILLBT’s Literacy for Life program

Where else but in adult literacy in minority languages can a person simultaneously proclaim the Gospel, make disciples, enable others to make disciples, carry out a practical economic development activity and elevate the status of women all at the same time? And where else can one do all that but among some of the most marginalized and neglected people on earth? Anyone out there want to get involved in that? Contribute to it? Come and do it? Pray for Nelson?

If we could ask them, what do you think they would say – the people who taught Jesus to read? And the Christians learning to read through GILLBT’s Literacy for Life program? What do you think they will say in heaven about those who taught them, subsidized their books, sponsored those who developed primers in their languages? And when they say it, do you think that Jesus might remember his own experience learning to read and be impressed?