Hello – Fine

Today I said “Hello” to the bag boy at the grocery store. He responded “Fine”. That is not an unusual response here, although it is typically those will less education who say it.

In Swahili you greet someone by saying “Habari”, which can be translated “How are you?” The response is “Muzuri” meaning, “I’m fine”. So in the exchange “Hello” – “Fine”, the person is hearing “Hello” with the meaning of “Habari” and responding with a truncated translation of “Muzuri”.

This is called “interference”. It happens when a person from a certain language is learning another language and transposes the meanings and structures of his language on the language he is learning – sometimes with funny results and other times with disastrous results.

When learning French Dayle tried to say “I’m full” translating the sentence word for word into French as “Je (I) suis (am) pleine (full)” which happens to mean “I’m pregnant”. It was very strange when I made the same mistake.

Learning language in a rural location in Burkina Faso many years ago had lots of similar moments. People would remember particularly funny things I said while learning the local language, Cerma. They would tell them again to everyone present whenever I came around, and the telling would be followed by gales of laughter.

One of the helpful by-products of learning another language is a little comic relief for those around you. That is, comic relief for them and embarrassment for me. Language learning requires enough confidence in the Lord and his love, that the hits your ego takes in language learning do not cause you to give up. Beside, even I had to admit that that my language mistakes were pretty funny, although not until 10 years later.

(This was originally posted on a different blog. It was republished here in March 2012.)

Failing states

Journalist and others are using the term “failed state” to designate a country which has lost control of all or part of its territory. When a state is unable to control its territory, then armed gangs and rebel movements often take over. The economic decline in Congo and the conflicts which happened between 1996 and 2002, but which are still continuing in some limited parts of the country, created a situation where the LRA could move in and create havoc. There was no effective armed forces or police force to stop them.

As Christianity grows around the world and especially in Africa, more and more Christians live in countries which do not provide them with adequate security. More and more are being harassed by rebel groups, armed gangs, organized crime syndicates or even rogue elements of their own police and military. Martyrdom has received some needed attention in recent years. What has not yet been noticed by many is that the number of Christians around the world subjected to criminal or rebel violence is multiple times greater than those persecuted for their faith.

Our situation mirrors that. It is highly unlikely that we will be detained, harassed or killed for our faith. It is much more likely that we will be the victims of criminal violence or be harassed by elements of the police or military who do not respect human rights. I am not an expert, but that is probably true of most missionaries in the world today.

For more information on failed states see:
Failed States Index 2009

Effects on Bible translation

The LRA attacks have not yet had many direct effects on our work. We have had to delay a few activities and move a few others to safer places. As you can see from the map, the area where the LRA is carrying out attacks is not that far from one of the main centers of our work, Isiro. In addition, there is a camp for displaced persons there. Isiro is not under threat.

The churches we work with have been heavily affected. Pastors have been driving from their homes was well as tens of thousands of church members. As you can imagine, finding ways to assist them is a priority for the other members of those churches and their church leaders. Bible translation is understandably and rightly being sidelined for the moment in their priorities.

What can you do?

First, you can pray. Ask the Lord to protect his people. Ask him to thwart the plans of those who do harm. If you want to do something concrete, I suggest that you consider Samaritan’s Purse whose leader, Franklin Graham, highlighted the LRA threat to the Zande people in a recent letter which you can see at http://www.samaritanspurse.org/index.php/Newsletter/june_2009/. We are in the process of selecting Zande who will serve as Bible translators and that process has been slowed and made more expensive by the LRA attacks.

More about the LRA

The LRA (stands for Lord’s Resistance Army) is a rebel group which started in Northern Uganda. Its leader, Joseph Kony, says that he wants to set up a government based on the ten commandments. But his actions are far from those advocated by the Bible. The LRA conducted a twenty year reign of terror in northern Uganda, pillaging and abducting tens of thousands of children who they force into service. They were driven out of Uganda a few years back and have taken refuge in northeastern Congo. They have also attacked villages and towns in Sudan and the Central African Republic. For more information see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LRA.

(This was first posted on another site. It was republished here in March 2012.)

One man’s story

The man standing in the photo is studying to be a pastor at the Shalom University of Bunia. He was sent by his home church which does not have a trained pastor. For almost two years the church supported him as best they could with their meager incomes, in the hope that he would come back and help them better understand their faith. But, he comes from the area affected by the LRA. The pastor and members of this home church were chased from their homes and fields. For three months, he did not even know where the pastor had gone, nor most of the members. Needless to say, the church has not been able to continue its support, so he is struggling to keep his family well and continue his studies. There are many stories like his.

(This was first posted on a different site. It was republished here in March 2012.)

Peace Turned to Disaster

Attacks in northeastern Congo by a Ugandan rebel group, the LRA, has displaced at least 320,000 Congolese, perhaps as many as 120,000 of them in the last month. Those displaced are mostly farmers who now have no access to their fields resulting in malnourishment and a threat of starvation. You might think, “Oh, more bad news about the Congo”, and I would understand. But the fact is that the area in question has been peaceful unlike some other parts of the Congo. So people who were able to take care of themselves and their families through subsistence farming, and who were going about their lives in peace, have been harassed and chased from their homes by a rebel group to which they have no tribal, ethnic, ideological, political or other link. Their only “fault” was living in an area where the LRA felt they could operate because it is remote and offers good cover.

You can
Testimonies of Fleeing the LRA
Lord’s Resistance Army spreads fear and threat of famine in Congo
Some 125,000 flee east DR Congo rebel attacks
Ugandan Rebel Group Motives Unclear as Terror Campaign Expands

(This was first published on a different site. It was republished here in March 2012.)