No no no

The Apostle Paul wrote:

I have always tried to preach where people have never heard about Christ (Romans 15:20 CEV)

John Piper calls this a Holy Ambition. Piper is far from alone in getting inspiration from the Apostle’s desire to take the good new about Jesus to places where it has not yet been announced. The website JoshuaProject.net is dedicated to listing all the peoples and languages of the world and the degree to which each has heard the good news. As is evident from perusing the website, intentionally taking the good new to new places requires research. One cannot just strike off in a random direction and hope to encounter a people who has not heard of Jesus.

I have colleagues who have spent a good part of their lives going out into the field and finding out where languages are, how many people speak them, if the people in one location can understand the people in another and if the language is dying out or perhaps growing. One of them is Ted Bergman who was an engineer before getting involved in Bible translation. After spending a couple decades training, organizing and leading small teams of researchers across Africa, he set out to find out how many places there in the world where there are no Christians, no missionaries and no Bible in the language of the people — a triple no.

The purpose of the research, of course, is so that people will know of those places and take action to remove one or more no. He found 138 such places. There are none in North America, South America or the Pacific. There is only one in Europe. The majority are in Asia but there are also a number in the Middle East and 18 in Africa. Just three countries have over half of the 138 places, but 19 countries have at least one. You can look at the list yourself, just ignore the columns of codes only missiologists understand.

I was a missionary for a while before I fully appreciated that missions requires research. Not the kind of research one does in a lab or on a computer, but rather the kind where one goes out among the people, talks to them, and seeks to understand their situation. What language do they speak? Have they ever heard an adequate presentation of the good news? Are there missionaries working among them? How many of them are Christians, if any? What religion do they follow? Is there a Bible in their language? This research is seeking out every niche where the good news of Jesus is still missing. A few months back, I was involved in an inter-agency committee in Ghana where we looked at research, made inquiries and came up with a list of all the remaining Bible translation needs in Ghana. What’s cool about that is the efforts now being made to shrink that list until it has nothing on it.

Area near the town of Goz Béïda in Chad which is near the Dar Sila Daju language area, one of the places with no Christians, no missionaries and no Bible

 

 

What’s in a name

Happy MannIn the US, we don’t notice names that have meaning as long as they are common names, especially girls names. So Hope, Faith and Rose are seen as normal. In fact, we might not even think about their meaning when we say them. But give a child a name that has meaning that is not usual, and people raise their eyebrows. I was amused by this Canadian election campaign sign for a candidate for the WildRose party. Yes, his name was Happy Mann. He did not win, so was Happy happy after all?

The Bible is full of names that are odd from our perspective. On the same day, Eli the High Priest died, his two sons were killed in battle, and one of their wives gave birth. She named the boy Ichabod – literally “Glory Gone” to mark the tragic events. The naming that tops them all, though, is when the prophet Isaiah named is son Maher-shalal-hash-baz which the Good News Bible translates as “Quick-Loot-Fast-Plunder”. Can you imagine the introductions?

This is my fiancé, Quick-Loot-Fast-Plunder
Hi, I’m Quick-Loot-Fast-Plunder and I’m applying for a job as a security guard

Child naming practices in parts of Africa where I have lived are sometimes strange to my American sensibilities. In some places a child’s first name is the day they were born on.

President of Nigeria Goodluck Jonathan

President of Nigeria Goodluck Jonathan

So I have known a good number of Friday’s including a great Nigerian colleague, Danjuma (meaning Friday) Gambo. Here in Ghana, Ashantis can give a child up to 10 names, including one for the day of the week. Lots of names are names of hope or of blessing. You will meet lots of people here in Ghana named Naana, which means Chief. Oh, and you will meet some named Chief and a few named Prince. The president of Nigeria is a man with a wonderful handle – Goodluck Jonathan.

But some do not hesitate to give names of calamity and despair, just like the biblical Glory-Gone and Quick-Loot-Fast-Plunder. A child born in times of famine and be given that as a name.

Nessiel Nodjibogoto

Nessiel Nodjibogoto

My favorite is the name of my dear Chadian friend Nessiel Nodjibogoto. Nessiel’s mother carried her first 3 pregnancies to term, but the babies were stillborn or died shortly after birth. Nessiel was her forth and she named him “He won’t last” which is the meaning of Nessiel in her language, Ngambaye.

Many years later Nessiel was going to a meeting outside of Chad. He went to see his now aged mother before leaving. In the course of the conversation she said to him: “You have given me grandchildren. We should consider changing your name!” But Nessiel told her that he wanted to keep his name. He said that some might call his development efforts in Chad, one of the poorest countries, “It won’t get done”. He likes the reminder, he told his mother, that those who say negative things are not always right.

Divine Munukum, one of my Ghanaian colleagues

Divine Munukum, one of my Ghanaian colleagues

Naana Nkrumah, one of my Ghanaian colleagues

Naana Nkrumah, one of my Ghanaian colleagues

N’Djamena church

I went to a church service in N’Djamena with Paul Djideti (pronounced gee-debt-ee). The church is on one of the main boulevards of the city and it is a church composed mostly of the thin Chadian middle class. In spite of the middle-class setting, the women and small children sit on the left side of the church and the men on the right.

The service was to start and 10 AM and be followed by a fellowship meal – something that happens only once a year. We arrived at 10:07. There is a semi-permanent shelter for fellowship events next to the church. It is made of pipes permanently planted in the ground to which are attached very colorful tarps, perhaps made of some kind of carpet.

The men are dressed up – some in suits and ties, some in slacks and nice shirts including shirts made of colorful African cloth, some in safari suites and one or two in traditional Chadian robes. The women all have their heads covered, mostly with very colorful cloth matching their clothes which include a full-length skirt and embroidery.

The church building is quite nice. It has a high roof with open metal trusses and metal roofing. There are very big windows all the way around so keep the air flowing in the hot climate. There are ceiling fans too, but there is no electricity. It is a well-conceived sanctuary in an arc around the platform and the seating is sloped with white plastic chairs on each “step” of the slope. The walls are unfinished and unpainted cement and the floor is uncovered and unpainted concrete.

I am told that there will be a communion service and then the meal. It turns out to be a bit different. There is a station for hand washing near the main entry to the church. Most people are washing their hands before entering. I wondered if this was a reflection of a north African influence.

The service started at 10:20 with the pastor and elders around a communion table in front of the platform. The pastor led the communion service with a number of elders praying and leading songs. Because there is no electricity, there is also no PA system. Like many churches in Africa, there is a lot of movement and little noises during the service. Children make a bit of noise and move around. Some adults have little conversations with each other during the service. It is almost impossible for me to hear what is being said.

The singing is mostly traditional French hymns from a hymnbook which has been around for a ♠very long time. But it is almost impossible to recognize the hymns because they are sung with a strong North African flavor. For two, I only recognized the hymn from the words and then afterwards I was able to figure out that the melody was the one I was used to but with very different harmony and a lot of notes changed. They sang a number of songs. At 10:50 the bread is distributed. It is in loaves and each one breaks off a piece. At 10:55 the cup is distributed. They used about six “common cups” with each cup being passed from person to person.

The men are seated on the right and the ladies on the left. Small children are with the ladies. Preteens mostly had an area to themselves among the ladies. Teens sit with the men or women.

At this point, my pen runs out of ink and I can’t take any more notes! When communion is finished the pastor goes to the platform and the elders back into the congregation.

We sing and there is another prayer. It is now 11:12. The song leader gives us a 3-4 minutes exhortation. At 11:25 they ask all visitors to stand. About 20 people stand. We are greeted but not asked to introduce ourselves (relief!). Another man goes to the platform and makes a number of announcements. Then yet another man goes to the platform to report on an evangelism effort. 63 persons were contacted, 15 made commitments to Christ and six were Christians who repented from not following Christ. Four of the new converts were in the service, others had decided to attend other churches closer to where they live. The four are introduced and church members who live in their neighborhood are asked to stand. The man making the announcements announces that the evangelism efforts need some Bibles in Arabic. At 11:36 the sermon starts. The text was Acts 2:43-47. We are exhorted to continue in the same things the early Christians did. At 11:55 the sermon is over. It was clear, to the point and very well presented. At 11:45 they get the PA system working on a battery (still no electricity) and at least I hear all of the last 10 minutes of the sermon.

We sing a hymn while the offering is being taken. The hymn drags and the song leader stops us and insists that we follow his speed. He taps the cadence on the pulpit and we sing at a good rate. The faster rate works – more people are singing and they seem more engaged.

The final prayer is at 12:06. We each pick up our white plastic chair and take it outside. There are a few tables but not nearly enough. The shelter is not big enough for all of us. I sit with Paul under a mango tree. Things move slowly and my little group is asked to join the serving line at 12:55. The food was amazing. I had “boule” – a kind of very thick millet porridge, fish and greens. We all ate with our hands. A young lady came around with a basin and a teapot. She pours the water over our hands as we wash them over the basin.

The ladies are seated with the ladies, the men with the men and children from about 10 years and up are also together. Things break up suddenly. I am told that we are leaving and all of a sudden it looks like half the crowd is leaving. It is 1:40 PM.

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

Nessiel Ndjibogoto

Nessiel is the man who leads the organization I will be working with. A few years ago he told us an interesting story about his life. His mother had carried four pregnancies to term and lost the baby at birth or shortly thereafter. Her fifth pregnancy was Nessiel. So when he was born she named him Nessiel, which in her language means “He won’t last”.

A few years ago Nessiel went to visit his now aged mother. She told him that now that he had given her grandchildren it was time to reconsider his name! Nessiel responded by telling her that he was involved in Bible translation in the languages of Chad of which there are over 120. He told his mother that man might call that task “It won’t get done”. So he wanted to keep his name to show that God’s evaluation of a situation are not the same as man’s.

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

Chad trip

I (Ed) will be in Chad from October 20 through November 1 plus a travel day on each end. Chad is a country in Central Africa with plenty of challenges. I will be in N’Djamena (pronounced n-jah-MAY-nah) and Moundou (pronouced moon-due).

Here is a map.

I will be working with a Chadian Christian organization which does Bible translation. Wycliffe is partnering with them. They have a great vision, good skills and the confidence of the churches in Chad. What they lack is the capacity to manage their budget well. They also want help with managing funding which Wycliffe sends them to the legal standards required. My job will be to work with them to develop a plan for both of those and to make a recommendation to Wycliffe concerning future partnership with this national organization.

Pray for good interactions, for transparency and for clarity. I will be doing almost all of my work in French, so clarity is an important thing. While I can say anything, I sometimes struggle to say it with the right nuance and tone.

I’ll post more as I am able. I am not at all sure what internet connection, if any, I will have in Moundou.

For more information on Chad and the national organization I will be working with see:
http://www.wycliffe.net/ContactUs/tabid/71/Default.aspxentity=CDN
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/country_profiles/1068700.stm
http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_2876.htm

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