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Archive for the ‘African Missionaries’ Category

5 Resources for Finding Bibles in Any Language

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011



Find A Bible

The Forum of Bible Agencies International launched the Find A Bible project and on-line database.  It is an innovative and interactive website that gives easy access to Scriptures in more than 3,000 languages.  The Find A Bible site provides the most comprehensive and current database of Bibles and portions in majority and minority languages available.  Many Scripture products noted on the site have never before been listed on the web.   Through Find A Bible, users now have a single place to search, download, view, or listen to these Bibles through links to Forum member agency websites.

Find A Bible is the culmination of years of research and work by Forum agencies working together to see that all who are searching for God’s word in their own language can find it.

Scripture Earth

Wycliffe Canada maintains the Scripture Earth website which contain audio files, Jesus Film, written scriptures, and links to other information for select languages of 24 countries in a easy to use format.

Jesus Film

The JESUS Film Project distributes the film “JESUS,” a two-hour docudrama about the life of Christ based on the Gospel of Luke. The film has been seen in every country of the world and translated into hundreds of languages since its initial release in 1979.

On this site you can watch the entire Jesus film in any of the languages in which it has been produced.  There is also an audio tract and children’s version available for many languages.

The Jesus Film Project also will grant permission for ministries to direct links to watch the film in their language from their agency’s own website.


Ethnologue

The Ethnologue database has been an active research project for more than fifty years. It is probably the most comprehensive listing of information about the currently known languages of the world. Thousands of linguists and other researchers all over the world rely on and have contributed to the Ethnologue database.

Ethnologue.com is a place where you can conveniently find many resources to help you with your research of the world’s languages. Ethnologue.com is owned by SIL International, a service organization that works with people who speak the world’s lesser-known languages.

IFOBA (Forum of Bible Agencies International

The Forum of Bible Agencies International is an alliance of more than 25 leading international Bible Agencies and other missions organizations with a shared vision: “working together to maximize the worldwide access and impact of God’s Word.” This vision conveys that the Forum is not only concerned with delivery of Scripture but also, most importantly, with engaging people in the Word of God so that lives may be changed.

The IFOBA website contains resources for Scripture Engagement, Find A Bible, and information concerning its many regional alliances.

Fruitful Practice #2 : Develop A Unique Approach to Each Ethnic Group

Friday, October 29th, 2010

I am just at the beginning of a twelve part series of fruitful practices for church planting.  These are practices gleaned from my own field experience and the experience of many other missionaries.

I would appreciate any comments from you and, with the your permission, I will post responses in preceding newsletters.

The importance of planting churches among the unreached people groups was stressed in a previous post.  Click here to read Fruitful Practice #1: Target Unreached People Groups.  There are thousands of these unreached groups.  Many of them have cultural practices and worldviews that differ greatly from neighboring groups.  A unique church planting approach to each group, bathed in prayer, has the greatest opportunity to bear fruit.

FP: Develop A Unique Approach to Each Ethnic Group.

Every ethnic entity (tribe, nation, people, people group) deserves an opportunity to hear a clear, contextualized presentation of the Good News, in their own language. If we understand that each people group’s culture is, by definition unique, then a unique approach needs to be made to each ethnic group.


A major reason that some ethnic groups are unreached or have been unresponsive to the gospel is that initial attempts to reach them were not appealing because the message seemed foreign.  I talking about the message both spoken and lived before them.  They seemed foreign.   Dean Flemming, in Contextualization in the New Testament: Patterns for Theology and Mission put it this way, “Contextualization has to do with how the gospel revealed in Scripture authentically comes to life in each new cultural, social, religious and historical setting… Every church in every particular place and time must learn to do theology in a way that makes sense to its audience while challenging it at the deepest level.”

Some denominations and agencies implement standard methodologies that are often branded and market.  This modern, mass market approach to the serious endeavor of church planting may well result in alienating or inoculating people groups even further from accepting the message of salvation.

Wise church planters understand that people come to the Lord quicker when there are few barriers and many bridges into hearts and minds of the people.  Knowing that, he/she will pray and work toward fluency in language and culture, knowing that many unreached peoples think that one can’t at the same time be both a member of his or her ethnic group and a Christian. Many are convinced that to become a Christian is to reject one’s heritage.

A conscientious church planter will scrutinize the culture looking for parallels to the gospel such as the way in which people:

  • receive or reject forgiveness
  • settle disputes
  • are initiated into various life stages or cults.

How people handle news is also of importance.

  • how is important news disseminated
  • to whom is it disseminated
  • how do people discuss it
  • how do they make decisions concerning it’s validity
  • how do they show agreement and rejection.

All of this information comes into play as the a unique strategy is formulated.  (See my articles “Culture Fluency: Experiencing Another’s Reality and “Language the Key to Culture“)

There is no shortcut to language and culture fluency.  It can take several years.  Most cross-cultural, church planters focus their attention and ministry on one ethnic group for ten to fifteen years, or more.  That is not to say that they stay ten to fifteen years with one congregation, rather they multiplying relationships and congregations over the years.
The current global security situation presents real challenges to church planters and their supporters.  Cultural sensitivity is extremely important when working among people groups in these countries.  Each situation is different.  (see “Security and Missions“).  Praise the Lord that we no longer shy away from planting churches in countries who are not favorable to our presence.  The Spirit has supplied many, creative ways of entry.

In upcoming post I will discuss Fruitful Practice 3: Form relationships with groups of non-christians in public settings. Relationships formed in disparate locations exposures one to language and culture variations.

As always, I invite your comments.

Culture Fluency – Experiencing Another’s Reality

Friday, April 10th, 2009

Prime among the tasks we cross-cultural missionaries and development workers engage in during our first tours on the field is the study of language and the culture. More to the point, we strive to gain fluency in language and culture of the people among whom we minister.

This IS the first stage of our mission. Despite what others may say, we know that we are never really transformed into the likeness of those people. We don’t even try to do that, but we do our best, and ask the Almighty to aid us, to understand what it is like to be one of them.

We look for signs that mark our progress in this understanding. One of the key signs that we are gaining fluency in a language is the ability to no longer translate in our head. Those words that used to be so strange now enter our ears and we respond without being aware of any search for meaning.

That same degree of culture fluency will benefit us greatly in our ministry. This new, ‘foreign’ culture is the realm in which these people live and it is the reality in which we work. We must come to intuitively know what those among whom we minister are perceiving as reality and how they react with it. We are not only concerned with how they act. That is the easy and less important aspect of culture to understand. How they act and react internally – what they think and how they reason – is of extreme importance to us. The outward manifestations of culture such as eating habits, medical practices, agricultural processes, even birth rites and sacrifices are easy to observe. It is more difficult, yet more pertinent, for us to know why they do not eat fish, why they slice a narrow cut across the stomach of a sick child, why they leave some plots of land uncultivated and deplete the nutrients from others by cultivating them year after year, why women stay secluded after giving birth and why village elders go into the forest to sacrifice a chicken.


We may become fluent in their language. But, do we hear what they hear and picture in our minds what they see when we speak those words. We need to know what they are perceiving when we say, “Jesus is the sacrifice for your sins.” We need know what they feel when we tell them “God is the Almighty and He loves you.” To understand those thoughts and emotions is to gain the fluency necessary to really communicate – to say what we want to say and to know how it is being received.

To jump into “the work” before gaining culture fluency is to assume that those we minister among are going to struggle and come to understand what we are saying and somehow allow this knowledge to change their lives. This is a task that is almost impossible for most of them.

We cross-cultural workers routinely set out to learn culture. We see, hear, and smell that we are in a ‘foreign’ country. We are good at learning about what we experience through those senses. But we learn them through our own emotional and perceptual grid. I might see a particular cluster of huts in Benin for the first time. I most likely perceive the huts to be a village, or a set houses that families live in. My friend who is a member of the Aja ethnic group in Benin may accompany me and see the same cluster of huts, but he may be aware that he is entering a territory where gods and ancestral spirits different from those in his own village reside. I might want to tell the people in this new village why I have come so they will know that I have come with something important to tell, but my Aja friend begins by telling them where he lives, what clan he is from, who his father is and asks if any women from his clan have been married into this village. He says this so that he can communicate to them that he comes from a peaceful linage and means them no harm. It is not a matter of just learning what words to say when you greet people, but what are the emotions involved when strangers meet. We should not only learn the verbal dialog, but the dialog that is going on in their minds – their thoughts and emotions.

Culture fluency – understanding what is going on in their heads – has an enormous impact on the ultimate outcome of our ministry. The stakes are high. We need to be keenly aware that if we do not comprehend how they think and feel we may not be able to point them to the eternal help that God offers to the crucial problems, dilemmas, hurts and fears that reside in their emotions and outlook on life.

This deep level of culture awareness comes not primarily by observing what they do in their culture. It comes by experiencing it as they do. It is extremely difficult for an outsider to experience a culture the way an insider does. It is difficult, but not impossible.

There are some aids to learning the emotions and perceptions of a people group. Their contemporary songs, poetry, proverbs, and myths are windows into their minds and view of the world. I am not talking about traditional culture here – not the historical descriptions and explanations that are found in most ethographies written by scholars, who are outsiders. I am referring to folk or pop culture – the songs on the lips of women today as they prepare food or weed the fields and the proverbs men tell at informal public gathers around fires, on the street corners, or in the bars. We should know the contemporary music on the radio. The poets who compose the songs are creating mirrors that reflect thoughts of the common people. Something else we need to do is acquire the skill of purposeful, polite eavesdropping. Listening to what people talk about among themselves can reveal a lot about what is important to them – what gets them excited, makes them mad, and causes them to laugh. How they interact reveals their emotions and view of the world.

For we cross-cultural workers culture fluency is important to our own well being and peace of mind. Without it we find ourselves more of a loner and outsider than we have ever been in your life. We are outgoing people. We like to fit in. I remember attempting to tell jokes to my Kipsigis friends in Kenya. Instead of laughing, they just starred at me. When they told jokes to each other, I found myself wonder what was so funny.

I came to know Christ in my own cultural milieu. I cherish my individuality. I also feel my own very personal pain over the way people treat me and over the way I have treated God, yet understand God’s grace – He loves me and has forgiven me and continually brings blessings into my life. That is a far different view of the reality experienced by my non-Christians Aja friends who I desired to share my faith with. Reality for them is: many infants die, adults die young, crops fail, disease is everywhere and most of this is the result of the interactions in the unseen realm of gods and ancestral spirits who lurk everywhere. Fear is a major common denominator. Yes, I can sympathize with them, but sympathy does not cause them to engage with the Lord and His word. Sympathy is what an outsider feels. Empathy – ‘rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15) – is what we need to pray for and strive to gain. We need to somehow experience what they feel, even in a fleeting and momentary manner, and to sense the hurt and pleasure in their lives and know what is causing those emotions. If we can borrow their lenses to see and feel the world as they do we can begin to introduce them to the appropriate scripture and emotion of the Lord that will stand a chance of being perceived as a genuine, possible remedy to one of life’s real predicaments.

I feel the need to speak now to an African who is working among Africans or an Asian working among Asians. You are no longer like those you are ministering among. You, too, have been changed by your academic studies, exposure to Western ways, and you have come to the Lord and walk with Him. You cannot assume that you still understand your people, especially when you are working with an ethnic group different than your own. You need to take the same care as an American missionary in acquiring the eyes to see reality as the people around you see it.

In the same manner, this is language and culture fluency ought to be acquired by domestic church planters and preachers as well. Most North Americans ministering to North Americans and Europeans ministering to Europeans have gone through four years of undergraduate study, went on to graduate school and/or seminary – floated around in the culture and language of the academic halls – then stepped up to the pulpits. They have become outsiders and cannot afford to assume they have remained fluent in the popular language and culture of their contemporary parishioners. They, too, must acquire this fluency if they are to expect to help those they work among to engage the Lord and the scriptures.

We cannot really gain an understanding of culture through academic study. Don’t get wrong, while we are still in our home culture or in the academic halls we should read all we can about the culture of the people we will be working among. Even after arrival on the field we will do well to latch onto to and read every book and article about them. (Domestic church planters and preachers need to subscribe to Psychology Today, Wired, and Harpers Magazine and read the lyrics to contemporary songs.)

A word of caution is needed here. Attempting to gain culture fluency from books, articles and even from the mouths of co-workers and long-term missionaries has its pitfalls. Such knowledge has the potential of being what Dave Parrish, my former colleague at Pioneer Bible Translators, calls ‘missionary myth’ – a misunderstanding handed down from one outsider to the next. We need to observe and experience the culture for ourselves. As we interact with the people we will ask God to show us what He wants us to know about these people He has sent us to.

A final word of caution. We missionaries and church planters are prone to be concerned with and speak about the heavenly and eternal things: the Creator, Satan, origin of man and his destination. Development workers have the tendency to explain things and work in terms of Western scientific method and reflect on ‘best practices,’ modern physical remedies and procedures. Both miss the concern of the common people who must deal with day to day life and relationships as it is played out here on earth where seen and unseen beings and powers interact.

How might we better experience how the common people in our own or other cultures view the world? How might we walk in their shoes for awhile? What are your thoughts on acquiring culture fluency?

How Many Christians Does it Take to Send a Missionary?

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

How Many Christians Does it Take to Send a Missionary?

How many Christians does it take to send a missionary? None, of course. The Lord sends them. There is no disputing that fact. He raises up all the leaders that His church needs to “to prepare His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:12,13)



A lot of what God does is mysterious, even unexplainable. This is especially true concerning the way He calls and sends missionaries. It does not seem to me that He raises them up though any standard, common or preferred channels from one generation to the next. He delivers their support, both financial and spiritual, from some of the most unexpected sources – so unexpected that that I often miss seeing them. At times His movement is brought into sharper focus, for me, through research data. Such clarity came to me recently when I was invited by Missions Resource Network to attend The State of the Gospel 2009 a Mission Exchange webinar presented by Jason Mandryk.



Among the wealth of data that Mandryk presented was a set of facts that changed the way I perceive what the Lord is doing among churches in the Majority World. You may be unfamiliar with the term ‘Majority World’, but more familiar with the terms ‘third world’, ‘developing countries’, or ‘poorer nations’. The designation Majority World refers to those same people, but highlights the reality that the majority of humankind lives in these countries.



Mandryk revealed that currently it takes far fewer Christians in the majority world to send out a missionary than it takes for Christians in richer countries to send one out. According to Mandryk’s data, it takes one thousand Canadian Christians to send out a missionary, close to double that many in the United States, and 3,500 in the UK. Among the Churches of Christ, the fellowship I belong to, it takes 2,200 USA members to send out a missionary couple or a single. In parts of the majority world the picture is quite different. It takes 222 Mongolian Christians to sent out a missionary and four hundred Singaporeans to do the same. In the much poorer African countries of Niger and Mali it takes 451 and 608 respectively. Spain is the only non-majority world country ranking in the top ten countries when it comes to membership/missionaries sent ratio. Other countries in the top ten are Lebanon, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Faeroe Islands, and Thailand. This data was collected from Protestant, Anglican, and independent churches and includes only countries where Christians have sent out fifty or more missionaries.




Why such a disparity between majority world churches and the resource flush churches of the west? There may not be any clear answer, but one can deduce some likely realities. (1) Churches do not have to be wealthy to send out missionaries. People in Nepal, Niger, and Mali rank among the poorest of poor, yet they support missionaries. (2) Very small congregations can be extremely missional in outlook and actions. Of course there are large congregations in Singapore and Thailand, but small groups of believers typical to countries like Mongolia, Niger, and Mali seem to understand that the Lord wants them to reach out across cultural barriers and plant churches. It does not take a mega church to send missionaries. (3) Young, evangelical congregations, where most of the members are first or second generation believers, have missions in their very DNA. For them, sending out missionaries is normal and doable.



In an article titled Costa Rica: Sending Missionaries to Africa the Christian World News reported that a congregation of one hundred in one of San Jose’s poorest neighborhoods uses eighty percent of its income to train and support their own members to be church planters in Africa. Read the amazing story of how these poor Christians have started a bakery and an auto repair business to support their missionaries. “With the Bible in one hand and tools in the other, future missionaries work hard to maintain their companions in Africa.” In the past eight years, this congregation has sent out 21 missionaries. Make no mistake these are true missionaries – they learn the language and culture of the Senegalese and Malians they minister among. God has blessed them.



Then there is the story of, Philippe and Ruth Sagara, who are missionaries to the Bozo people of Mali. In the early 1990s the Sagara were the first Malians sent out as cross-cultural missionaries by their brothers and sisters in the Gospel Missionary Union. God blessed their efforts and before the year 2000 had arrived, nine other couples were sent out by this Malian denomination. The fact that they are Malian has not sheltered them from the adjustment struggles common to all cross-cultural missionaries. In some cases “the temptation is not to put a priority on language learning,” and settle for using a trade language like Bambara. But, the time and effort put in mother-tongue language learning has paid great church growth dividends. Today, some of the more experienced Malian missionaries train and counsel Western missionaries who continue to arrive to labor along side them.




Some might say these case studies and data only points out the obvious – it cost less to send missionaries from the majority world than those from richer nations. That may be true, but it has very little to do with the results revealed in this data. Western Christians send western missionaries at western support levels. The majority world Christians make similar financial sacrifices to send their brothers and sisters out at majority world support levels.



It would be a misuse of this data for Christians of richer nations to justify a scaling back of the number of Western missionaries they send out and redirect their funds to sponsoring majority world missionaries who can be sent for less. What this data shows is that Majority World Christians have taken seriously the task of sending their own to the unreached. For western Christians, agencies, and churches to step in and take over what these sacrificial Christians are already doing well would be counter productive. Why take from them what God is already allowing them to do on their own? Western Christians may need to view what their Majority World brethren are doing as an example or model of what they ought to be about. In these times it seems God is using Christians in what used to be considered ‘the mission field’ to set the pace for the ‘historically Christian nations.’



I am convinced that this shift has little to do with any recent strategy adjustments. For it is evident that God is, in many cases, using those who have very little understanding of strategic matters. They simply have a healthy understanding of what He has done and is doing among them. They are grateful and prayerful. They trust in His promises and move out in faith, expecting Him to be faithful, not based upon what they do, but upon who He is.



What is ahead in this new era of missions? What else will the Western church learn from their Majority World brethren? I am not sure. What I do know is – this is an exciting time I are living in. Thank you Lord for allow me to to witness it.