How to dress for church in Tamale

I know. I know. You may never come to Tamale and so you will never need to know how to dress for church there. So classify this as entertainment.

How to dress for church in Tamale

Worship team in church in Tamale seen from the pews

I am sitting in church in the city of Tamale (pronounced TAH-mah-lay). There are three worship team singers, all women. The lead singer has on a western-style black and white dress. The other two women are wearing outfits of brightly colored African cloth. The floor-length outfit of the woman on the right is by far the more common variation, while the shorter version is taking style elements from Western office wear. So, ladies, if you come from the USA to visit me in Ghana, you can dress in your standard church dress. Or you can have a Ghanaian outfit made. Sorry, no slacks.

Ed trying on smock at the smock shop

The dress of the men on the platform is more varied. First, we have the man on the left with a back suit, white shirt and red tie. He is the preacher for the day. The man immediately behind the women is wearing traditional clothing for northern Ghana.  It is called a “smock”. It is made from hand-woven and hand-dyed cloth. It is traditional, but most definitely not low-class. It can be worn to any dress-up occasion. I really like the way Ghanaians value their culture.

GILLBT board chair in his 50th Anniversary celebration cloth

Lastly, we have the man in the white kaftan and hat. In some areas this kind of man’s outfit is associated with Islam, but in lots of places it is standard fare for everyone, and Christians wear it too. In addition to white, it can be made of the same colorful cotton the women wear, as you see in the photo on the right.

So, if you guys come visit me, you can bring your suit and tie. However, I will wear nice slacks and a nice shirt,  a combination quite common in the congregation, along with suits (rare), smocks (about 20%), some kind of kaftan (about 40%). The nice shirt can be a dress shirt, or it can be made of the colorful cloth the women wear, perhaps with some nice embroidery or cuff links.

Come to Ghana and experience the blending of traditions.

If you liked this, you might also like Cloth and Meaning, Yugu-yugu, or Heart Language.

Dying languages

You may have heard that a large number of the world’s languages are dying. That may have caused you to wonder if it might be a waste to translate the Bible into those languages. That is a very good thing to wonder about! As you might expect, the answer is not a simple “yes” or “no”.

First, how many languages are dying out? Well, UNESCO has an Atlas of Endangered Languages (Moseley, Christopher (ed.). 2010. Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, 3rd edn. Paris, UNESCO Publishing)  which you can find on line at
For Ghana, it lists five languages as endangered. There are five degrees of endangerment ranging from vulnerable to extinct. Languages not endangered are listed as “safe”. Here is the UNESCO language vulnerability scale definitions for each degree of endangerment.

Degree of endangerment

Intergenerational language transmission


Most children speak the language, but it may be restricted to certain domains (e.g. home)

Definitely endangered

Children no longer learn the language as mother tongue in the home

Severely endangered

Language is spoken by grandparents and older generations while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves

Critically endangered

The youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the languages partially and infrequently


There are no speakers left

None of the Ghana languages are extinct. Only one gets the next-worst ranking – “critically endangered”, and three get ranked as having the least severe degree of endangerment – “vulnerable” – where most people still speak the language. So it is far from certain that all of the five languages listed as endangered will die out. Even if they did, because there are more than 60 languages spoken in Ghana, at least 55 languages will continue. They are in no danger of dying out in the foreseeable future. In fact, almost all of them will probably even continue to grow. The situation is similar to this is much of Africa. On the other hand, many languages in other parts of the world seem to be headed toward almost certain extinction, as the following chart shows.
Chart of languages in danger of dying worldwide

Chart of languages in danger of dying worldwide

Before we translate the Bible into a language, we do some research to find out if the language is dying, and other facts about it. This assures that we make a good investment of God’s resources. We also make the decisions by taking into account the situation for each language, not on the basis of global trends.
Lastly, some language trends are not developing the way many predicted. For example, it was thought that the Internet would cause the spread of English and the consequent death or marginalization of other languages. But according to a recent analysis of languages used on the Internet:
In 2009, it only took 37 languages to reach 98 percent of people on the web, but in 2012 it takes 48 languages to reach the same percentage
So it might be that the Internet is actually making a way for smaller languages to survive, perhaps even extend themselves. Trends in human society are rarely linear or easy to predict. What seems obvious, sometimes turns out to be false.
Rest assured that we pay special attention to the question of language death in our planning and decision-making. Our agenda is to serve people who speak languages that are very much alive.

If you liked this, you might also like Teach Them English.

No hard knocks

“Knocking, knocking, knocking”. When I lived at the guesthouse I heard it every day. Ghanaians coming to our little apartment say it softly as they approach the front door. There was no doorbell, and they never knocked. If I am deep in thought, they might have to repeat their gentle “Knocking, knocking, knocking”. In Burkina Faso, instead of knocking people said, “Ko, ko, ko.”

Kassem village

Kassem village

A short visit to a village in Burkina Faso will explain why. The round houses sit inside a boundary wall of mud, straw, small rocks and sometimes animal dung. The entry is an opening without a gate or door, although the residents may block it at night with tree trunks or pieces of wood. This is where all visitors stop. Knock all you want, there is nothing here that will make a sound that will carry. If you knock on the mud wall you will get scraped knuckles, but no sound. Calling out “Ko, ko, ko”, on the other hand, makes a lot of sense.

When our two sons were 1 and 3, we took them out of Burkina Faso, the only place they had known, to the US with a stop to visit friends in Switzerland. It was January, so on our first day in Switzerland our boys got to know snow for the first time. Then I went for a walk with our older son around the small town. I realized how much they had adopted the culture of Burkina Faso when our oldest walked up to the door of a Swiss store, stopped and called, “Ko, ko, ko.” I had to tell him that the Swiss have a different way of life, and that they just walk through doorways of stores without calling. No one is listening for them.

In Burkina Faso, we learned that there is a specific kind of person who knocks on doors. That is the thief checking to see if anyone is home. So, how might you translate Revelation 3:20 into a language of Burkina Faso? If you translate it word for word, what will people understand about Jesus?

Village in Burkina Faso near Banfora

Village in Burkina Faso near the town of Banfora


Don’t forget the heroes

A few months ago I was intrigued by the following news article.

Jewish and historical groups in Poland have called for a special day be put in the Polish calendar to remember the thousands of Poles who aided Jews during WW II.

The Association of the Children of the Holocaust, the Jan Karski Association and the Museum of the History of Polish Jews have addressed an appeal to President Bronisław Komorowski to initiate a Day in tribute to Poles-holders of the Righteous among the Nations medals.

Those who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust deserve a special place in the nation’s memory and historical debate, the appeal says. Read more

Map of eastern Africa

Map of eastern Africa showing Rwanda, Congo and Kenya

Something similar is needed for Africa. We see the horrors in Africa, such as the genocide in Rwanda in which radical Hutus killed almost one million Tutsis. We rightfully ask why? How could such a thing happen? Those are excellent questions, but we should ask other questions too. If you take time to read about the genocide in Rwanda, you will notice that those killed are described as “Tutsis and moderate Hutus”. The fact is that many Hutus died protecting Tutsis from the murderous rage of the  radicals in their own Hutu ethnic group (or tribe). The movie, Hotel Rwanda, illustrates just one such case.

I was in Kenya when the 2008 election crisis caused ethnic clashes. One of my colleagues, a Kenyan who gave me computer support, was saved from certain death by people of the ethnic group which were supposedly against his ethnic group. They harbored him against the attacks of their own people.

Ed and Congolese graduate

Ed and Lamumba (not his real name) graduating with a degree in Bible translation

When I worked in Congo, we sponsored a Congolese Bible translator for advanced translation studies. I’ll call him Lamumba, as it still is not safe to use his name. When he came out of Congo to start the studies in Kenya, he told a harrowing story. In his area there was a tribal war going on. One tribe would take control of his town and then kill or imprison people from the other group, then the other tribe would take over and do the same in reverse. When the militants from his own tribe were in control, a believer from his church, but from the other tribe, was imprisoned. He took that person a meal in prison. Incredibly, people from Lamumba’s church, who were from his own ethnic group, perceived that as aiding the enemy and sought to kill him. He had to sleep in a different house every night to avoid them.

When we react in horror to ethnic clashes, as we should, we should also remember that God probably has his heroes right smack in the middle. There will be many Hutu martyrs for Jesus in heaven who died defending Tutsis against the attacks of their fellow Hutus. There are other Congolese, like Lamumba, who helped fellow believers in spite of the tribal clash that should have separated them. Some probably died for it. The instigators of the ethnic conflict in Kenya are going to be tried in the International Criminal Court, but no official body is looking into the stories of those in their ethnic group who acted against their machinations.

God remembers, and one day he is going to put on display the righteous acts of those who suffered to do right, and thereby thoroughly humiliate this world (Rev. 17:8). Don’t find yourself listening to the stories and saying, “Oops! I really should have expected that,” or, “Oh! How wrong I was to condemn all Africans!”