IPA

IPA is the International Phonetic Alphabet. It contains a symbol for every sound made in human speech. If you master the IPA, you can literally write down what anyone says in any language whether you understand the language or not. Not only is there a symbol in the IPA for every sound made in any language, the IPA contains the definition of how that sound is made by the human articulatory apparatus otherwise known as your mouth – well actually a bit more than your mouth. Every sound in human speech can be defined by the position of the parts of the articulatory apparatus. Does the tip of the tongue touch the alveolar ridge producing t or d, or does the back of the tongue touch the palate producing k or g? Do the parts touch and briefly stop the flow of air completely, as happens when you pronounce t, d, k or g? Or do they merely restrict the air flow as happens for s, f, sh and th. Are the lips rounded or not? Do the vocal cords vibrate or not? Does the air come out of the mouth or out of the nose as it does with n, m and ng?

All of this is taught in courses on articulatory phonetics and it is described in detail in textbooks. We have abundant and widely-available knowledge of the way the sounds in human speech are made. One of the foundational books on the subject was written by a Bible translator, Kenneth Pike. The process of translating the Bible starts with someone who knows the IPA sitting down with someone who speaks the language to write down words and phrases in the language using the IPA. It sounds like magic – writing down a language that has never been written – but its all described in the IPA and the books about it.

Congolese man telling of unsuccessful attempts to write his language

Without this bit of human knowledge, writing a language for the first time may prove impossible. I remember this older man in Congo saying that every since he was a child his people had been trying to write down their language without success. Oh, those who had been to school in French (the official language and the one taught in school) could write, but they couldn’t really figure out how to write some words. Also no one could read what they wrote. After a few weeks, not even the person who wrote the words could make sense of them. Decades went by. Then a few months work by a missionary trained in descriptive linguist and the problems were fixed. The old man said he was thrilled, and that he was finally confident that the translation could now move ahead. In fact, with the training given to the local translators, he said that the translation could succeed even if we missionaries left.

This was not the first time I have heard Africans tell of their repeated failed efforts to write their language. Some have even mistakenly concluded that their language could not be written. Then, decades later, a missionary linguist solved the problem in relatively short order. This happened so often in one area that I heard leaders of the biggest church in the area tell churches in other areas to be sure and ask for missionary linguists.

Bible translation is a spiritual ministry, but the science of linguistics sure helps, especially when it empowers local people.

The beatitudes of language

On one of my trips into Congo, I found myself in the city of Kisangani over a weekend. One of the church leaders I was working with suggested that I attend the French language worship service at his church. (French is the official language of Congo, spoken by under 15% of the people. Everyone speaks one of the 220 African languages native to the country.) It is quite common for churches in Africa to have multiple services on Sunday in different languages with one of them being in the official languages of the country (French, English or Portuguese).

Choir and the French language service

Choir and the French language service

I was disappointed. Instead of finding a vibrant congregation of government officials and others with good education, the congregation was composed of 20 or 30 high school and university students. They were not in a French language service because French was their preferred language for prayer and worship. Instead, they were in a French language church service because French is prestigious and they wanted to display that they were part of the educated elite. The thing is, they didn’t master French that well, so they had the opposite effect on me, although they were certainly impressing themselves.

It is easy to think that language is about communication and so in every circumstance where there is a choice between languages, people will choose the language most likely to communicate. Sociolinguists will tell you that this is not so. Living in a places where many languages are spoken has made me acutely aware that language choice is often not about communication. The young students in Kisangani that Sunday did not choose French because it communicated best, or because it helped them express their thoughts and emotions best. No, they choose French because of its prestige. Communication, if it was a consideration, came a distant second.

Preacher at the French-language service

Preacher at the French-language service

I have seen young pastors returning from Bible School or seminary preach to people in their own village in the official language even though they know that few understand it. Why? Because preaching in the official language shows that they are well-educated.

People choose one language over another to help them accomplish their goals. If their goal is to communicate, they will choose the language that communicates best. If their goal is to lift up, encourage and empower others, they will choose the language that does that.

But, if their goal is to sound educated, enhance their prestige or establish their authority, they will choose the language that does that. Where I have lived in Africa, language choice is a great humility gauge and a very accurate detector of the intentions of the heart. Part of doing Bible translation in Africa is helping churches and pastors rethink some of their attitudes toward language. The Beatitudes give guidance for language choice in multilingual environments:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

In many contexts English (or whichever language is the official language) is the power choice, not the meek choice. It is the choice lacking compassion for the listeners, not the merciful choice. It is the choice of those wealthy in spirit.

multilingualism

Why the Old Testament – Ethnic Tensions

Three weeks ago, I introduced a series of blogs on the rationale for translating the Old Testament into the languages of Africa. As I stated in the introduction, there are a number of good reasons to translate the Old Testament. I am limiting myself to one proposition – that God has revealed himself in the Old Testament in ways that give his comfort, encouragement and instruction for many of the most burning issues facing African Christians, while the New Testament has little to say on those issues. Last week, I dealt with the issue of corrupt oppression. This week, my topic is ethnic tensions and rivalries.

Some people think that Africa is full of ethnic conflicts. (They are sometimes called “tribal conflicts”, but the word “tribal” is inexact and out-of-favor, so I will used “ethnic” in place of “tribal” and “peoples” or “ethnic groups” in place of “tribes”.) But most of Africa’s almost 2000 peoples live peacefully with each other year in and year out. This is not to say that there are not tensions and rivalries between them, but it does mean that they don’t escalate to conflicts. The rivalries between neighboring ethnic groups are not purely ethnic. Instead they are usually about resources such as land, jobs, water, cattle, political favor or even just respect.

Most Africans rub shoulders every day with people of different ethnic groups. Those relationships are cordial. They know that there is always potential for escalating ethnic rivalry into conflict through careless action or words. As in all places, there are sometimes a few hotheads who stir things up and some people ready to follow them.

After the division of the humanity into male and female, the next most noticeable division is into race and ethnicity. Yet few books on Christian theology make any mention of ethnicity or race. They may have a whole chapter on what the Bible teaches about human beings without hardly a mention of race or ethnicity. This is in spite of the fact that a word laden with ethnic connotations – Goy – is used throughout the Old Testament and another with similar connotations (εφνοσ ethnos) is used throughout the New, and in spite of the fact the Bible is full of ethnic conflict and rivalries, especially the Old Testament. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the Old Testament tells the story of hundreds of years of ethnic conflict between the descendants of Abraham and the Philistines. That conflict ebbs and flows throughout the books of Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, I Chronicles and II Chronicles. Furthermore, the conflict with the Philistines is not the only ethnic conflict in the Old Testament.

Bunia Storm

A rain storm brewing in Bunia

In the 1990s, an ethnic war had engulfed the town of Bunia in northeastern Congo. The town would switch hands from one side to the other, causing those belonging to the other ethnic group to flee or risk facing acts of ethnic vengeance. Perhaps I need to say something about this ethnic war and most such conflicts. Those actively taking part in ethnic conflicts are usual only a small minority from each ethnic group. Rather, some members of each ethnic group formed a militia composed of people from that ethnic group. Those militias had varying degrees of support from the people in that ethnic group. Some gave active support while many remained passive, and others tried to stay neutral. Some even covertly helped people from the other ethnic group, and a few openly opposed the militias. The militias sometimes killed or harassed people from their own ethnic group who opposed them, aided the other side, or who tried to stay neutral. I know one pastor who was targeted for assassination by people from his own ethnic group (and his own church!) because he took a meal to a member of his church from the other ethnic group who was in prison. They perceived his action as aiding and abetting the enemy.

Worship at a church in Bunia

Worship at a church in Bunia

Bunia was also the place where a translation of the Old Testament into the language of one of the opposing ethnic groups was taking place. The New Testament had been published a few years earlier. One day, the son of one of the translators disappeared. When his body was found some days later, it was obvious that he had been tortured and mutilated before dying. The translator buried his son knowing that he had suffered greatly merely for belonging to his ethnic group. The translator is an expert in the Old Testament, having gained a doctorate in that topic at a university in the Netherlands. So he was well acquainted with the ethnic conflicts recorded in the Old Testament and what God says about them. The translator is also a member of a church with members from both of the warring ethnic groups. By God’s grace, he found a way to keep fellowship with believers from the other ethnic group who were members of his church.

Dr. Sule-Saa's doctoral thesis which explored the impact of the translation of the Bible in two languages of northern Ghana

Dr. Sule-Saa’s doctoral thesis which explored the impact of the translation of the Bible in two languages of northern Ghana

None of the ethnic groups involved in this war had the whole Bible in their language. I find that fact pertinent. The fact that ethnic rivalries are a part of life is an excellent reason to translate the Old Testament into more languages in Africa. It just might help Africans create a more harmonious continent.

As a matter of fact, a Ghanaian researcher, Dr. Solomon Sule-Saa, studied the impact of translations of the whole Bible into languages in northern Ghana where ethnic tensions regularly broke out into conflict. He found that the translations contributed greatly to peace and reduced tensions.

When one ethnic group gets military dominance over another, the underdog can feel that God has abandoned them. A mostly Christian ethnic group can feel that God has cursed when they are overtaken by another ethnic group with few Christians. But the Old Testament refutes the conclusion that God abandoned them or cursed them because in its stories Israel was many times under the military dominance of others. That situation may have been God’s correction, but it was never his abandonment or curse.

So why translate the Old Testament? Because it gives God’s counsel about ethnic tensions and conflicts to people who desperately need it, whereas the New Testament says little.

Safety

ONUC Peacekeeper in Congo Deploys to Combat Zone, UN Photo/Marie Frechon

ONUC Peacekeeper in Congo Deploys to Combat Zone, UN Photo/Marie Frechon

Most days, I read news about Africa and Ghana. I also subscribe to a very small number of blogs. Among them is a blog by an American living overseas. I don’t think the author is a believer, but she is much better than I am at putting into words what it is like to live and work in a very different culture and context. Sometimes, it is like I am reading my own life. That is how I found the choice quote below. The author decided to go live in a very dangerous country. Her American friends were shocked. She writes her responses to the questions people asked when she visited the US, including the question: “Were you safe?”. (The emphasis is mine.)

Of course we were safe. Of course we were not safe. How could we know? Nothing happens until it happens. People get shot at schools in the United States, in movie theaters, office buildings. People are diagnosed with cancer. Drunk drivers hurtle down country roads. Lightning flashes, levees break, dogs bite. Safety is a Western illusion crafted into an idol…

Camp for displaced people in eastern Congo, UN Photo/Endre Vestvik

Camp for displaced people in eastern Congo, UN Photo/Endre Vestvik

It seems to me that safety is one of the great quests of Western society – safer highways, safer food, safer water, an environment that does not contain toxic threats, less violent crime, children protected from sexual predators, etc. Of course, all of these quests are more than good – they are noble. However…

The horrors of the acts of ISIS cause American Christians fear for their political system, freedom and safety. They demand political and often military responses. So far so good. But…

We live in this world, but we don’t act like its people or fight our battles with the weapons of this world. Instead, we use God’s power that can destroy fortresses.
II Cor 10:3-4

When our reaction is the same as the people of this world, we need to stop and pray. Are we deploying God’s weapons – prayer, missions and evangelism? Has our concern for safety and our way of life overwritten our faith? Are we following Jesus’ approach to personal safety?

Seeking safety causes us to draw in and cut off. So one of the first reactions to Ebola was to proposed cutting off flights to affected countries. But our God does not draw in and cut off. Quite the contrary; he seeks out. He moves towards those in danger. The Jesus who left the safety of heaven and was killed said:

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
John 20:21

Camp for displaced people in Congo, photo Julien Harneis

Camp for displaced people, photo Julien Harneis

When we are back in the US for a short stay we get asked if we are safe. In some ways, it’s an impossible question. For a while, Dayle and I worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo, just at the end of a civil war that claimed more civilian lives than any war since WWII. I flew into airstrips controlled by rebel forces where very young soldiers greeted us with assault rifles. I had a drunk soldier with an assault rifle stop us and use his weapon to extort a little money from us. A missionary in the area was recently shot by bandits.

Was I safe? Well, I’m writing this!

Is being safe what actually happens or is it the degree of threat I feel? People who feel perfectly safe end up dead or maimed every day. Every day, people who fear for their safety with good reason finish the day alive and well. Which of them was really safe?

Was it safe to go to the Congo? I’m not sure. Did God keep me safe in the Congo? Obviously.

Safety is a Western illusion crafted into an idol

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you
Psalm 56:3

I trust in the Lord for protection.
So why do you say to me,
“Fly like a bird to the mountains for safety!
Psalm 11:1

Titles or names

Dayle at the Shalom University of Bunia

Dayle at the Shalom University of Bunia

In early 2009, Dayle and I were traveling into Congo. Our first stop was at the Shalom University of Bunia. When we arrived at the Bunia airport, we found that the university had sent a driver for us. Dayle introduced herself to the driver and asked him, “Who are you?”  He responded, “I’m the driver”.  But Dayle, of course wanted his name so she asked, “But what is your name”.  “Bahati”, he responded.  A few minutes later we were on the campus of the university conversing with some of the professors. We saw the Rector’s wife coming, who we know well and who is a close friend of the families of the professors we are taking with.  One of them says, the Rector’s wife is coming.  Dayle looks up and says, “Oh, its Feli!”.

Note that in this story Dayle prefers calling people by their names, but the Congolese prefer using titles like “driver” and “rector’s wife”. Congolese and many other Africans prefer titles over names. The wife of the most prominent MAF pilot in Bunia is known as “Mrs. Pilot”.  The staff of the University almost always call each other by a shortened form of their title.  So they are “Rector”, “The Academic” (for the academic dean), or “The Administrative” for the Administrative Secretary. When we lived in Burkina Faso, I was known up and down the street we lived on as “Matthieu baba” – “Matthew’s Father”. Everyone knew who Matthew’s father was, but few knew my name. Men there are often there are known as the father of their oldest son. Just the other day, a police officer in Ghana addressed me as Obroni – white man in Twi. He was not being smart or demeaning, just friendly.

To my American ears, titles sound formal, aloof or demeaning. Calling someone “White Man” even sounds bizarre. But to many Africans, titles are completely natural. Plus, the preference for titles gives them an edge in understanding some parts of the Bible.  “Jesus the Christ” makes a LOT of sense to them because Christ is a title, not a name. But many Americans understand Christ as a name.

Not a few missionaries in West Africa have been irritated by being called “White guy”. When we first arrived in Burkina Faso, we used to be irritated by the incessant cries of Toubabou (white man / white woman in Jula) or Nasara (same in Moore). I have even found blogs by Westerners living in Ghana telling their experiences with being called “White”. I just followed the case of two missionaries figuring out how to deal with always being addressed as “Whites”. At first they were irritated. But after getting advice from other missionaries and local people they trust, they got some degree of acceptance. Better, they started using titles more themselves. When in Rome, do as the Romans – or when in Ghana don’t do as an Obroni.

Parts of this blog post were taken from a post originally published in April 2009.

No electric meters

In January 2003, I spend a week in the Congolese town of Ariwara helping at an event to help Christians better use the Bibles in their languages. The town had electricity in the evenings but few houses had electric meters. So billing was based on the number of light bulbs in the house – the equivalent in local currency of $2.25 per bulb per month. I was reminded of that because many Ghanaians call electricity “light”, as in “there is no light”, probably because for many people of modest means, light is the principle use of electricity.

Here are some photos of the event in Ariwara, which unexpectedly garnered almost 700 participants.

Isiro-Wamba

There are two airstrips in Wamba, but in 2007 neither had been maintained. I had to meet with church leaders to get their input. That meant traveling the 66 miles by road, well, sort-of road. The forest and its rains had taken advantage of years of civil war and resultant neglect to almost reclaimed the space once occupied by the road. What had once been a pretty good improved dirt road was now a rutted, rocky, muddy and lumpy track.

One of the best parts of the road

One of the best parts of the road

We did not have a vehicle. A local development agency would rent us a solid Land Rover with driver. Scarcity had driven up fuel prices. So it was going to cost me over $500 to rent the vehicle for two days and 132 miles. It would have been cheaper and faster to fly.

As soon as we hit the outskirts of Isiro we ran into eroded slopes and muddy holes. We crawled along. Three hours into the trip we had not yet covered 20 miles.

Repairing vehicle on the road 02Fortunately the road got better and soon we were zipping along at 20 even 25 miles an hour, slowing for holes, ruts and large pools of water hiding under huge bamboo stands hanging over the road. I put a lot of physical and mental energy into steadying myself against the unpredictable movements of the vehicle. A noise from the engine brought us to a halt.

This is where the Congolese practice of hiring a mechanic as a driver proves its wisdom. He was able to get us going but there was still a noise. He would make full repairs in Wamba.

Church by road 01We stopped to visit a little church in a small hamlet. Probably a missionary had never preached here. Certainly one had never lived here. Like most churches in Africa, it had been started by African believers. It was a reminder that African believers have taken their faith to the most remote places where they worship the Highest One in very humble surroundings.

We spent six hours in roll, pitch and weave before we reached Wamba.

The plan was to meet with the church leaders for 4-5 hours the next morning then drive back to Isiro in the afternoon. But after the morning meeting, we found that our faithful driver-mechanic had the noise-producing parts of the motor taken apart. Better to wait and get it fixed. The driver got the vehicle back together at about 6 PM and after an hour of testing declared it repaired. I had to catch a MAF [www.maf.org] flight out Isiro at noon the next day, so we set off to make the journey at night.

Road at night 11The bad news? It is impossible to sleep in a vehicle that is being tossed and rolled in unpredictable ways. The good news? The road was so bad that we could go just as fast (meaning slow) at night as during the day.

Whenever I got in a small airplane with a missionary pilot in Congo, I remembered that road trip to Wamba and I thought about the days I would be spending, the back I would be wearing out, and the extra money I would be spending if this plane and pilot were not provided. In fact, translating the Bible would cost more and go slower without those planes. Thank you to all those who support the MAF, JAARS and other pilots and mechanics and those who give toward the purchase of the airplanes. I love the impact you have including the fact that I suffer a lot less impacts.

Slow motion Pentecost

define Pentecost - Google SearchThis coming Sunday is Pentecost Sunday. It commemorates something strange that happened at the Jewish festival of Pentecost two millennia ago. The Holy Spirit took control of everyone, and they began speaking whatever languages the Spirit led them to speak. Many people from every country in the world were living Jerusalem. When they heard this noise, a crowd gathered. But they were surprised, because they were hearing everything in their own languages. They were excited and amazed, and said:

“Don’t all these who are speaking come from Galilee? Then why do we hear them speaking our very own languages? Some of us are from Parthia, Media, and Elam. Others are from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, parts of Libya near Cyrene, Rome, Crete, and Arabia. Some of us were born Jews, and others of us have chosen to be Jews. Yet we all hear them using our own languages to tell the wonderful things God has done.” Act 2:4-11 CEV

Bus loaded with boxes of New Testaments destined for a remote area of Ghana

Bus loaded with boxes of New Testaments destined for a remote area of Ghana

This phenomenon, of people “hearing everything in their own languages”, has been accelerating. In 1900, The whole Bible or some part of it had been translated and published in 530 languages. By 2000, that had increased to 2,298. That is an increase of 1,768 languages – a rate of a new languages every three weeks for 100 years! Since the year 2000, the rate has increased further, jumping from 27 languages per year to over 70,” which amounts to a new language every 5 days!

That is not as dramatic as if it happened on the same day and at the same place, like it did at the festival of Pentecost. Instead, today we have a slower-motion Pentecost. But, unlike the event being commemorated this Sunday, it is spread over the world. What the new, slow-motion Pentecost lacks in immediacy, it gains in geographic spread.

Congolese ladies in Bible study in Kisangani

Congolese ladies in Bible study in Kisangani

But the real wonder is not the number of languages. It is the impact the translations are having. On the broadest level, we have the assessment of Ghanaian theologian Kwame Bediako:

African Christianity today is inconceivable apart from the existence of the Bible in African indigenous languages.

Then we have the assessment of leaders about what is happening in their areas where translation is being done:

“Some people are gradually shifting away from the evil aspects of the culture,” Lefa language of Cameroon

“Drunkenness is reduced and people cooperate together better. Now my job is easier.” Unbelieving community leader in Ghana

Pokomo man (Kenya) with 5 New Testaments

Pokomo man (Kenya) with 5 New Testaments

At the narrowest level, we have the statement of people.

 “I have read many times the book of Jonah, where God tells Jonah to get up and go to Nineveh. But when I read this in [my language] it is like God is standing right next to me and speaking to me! It makes me realize that God is close, and that he speaks directly to people.”
Tanzanian man

“I came to know the Lord four years ago, but I was still living with my idols. No one in the church had taught me that I needed to abandon them completely. My pastor preached many sermons but had never spoken of that. Listening to Scriptures, I heard Jesus say you cannot serve two masters. In Thessalonians, I heard how people left behind their idols to serve the living and true God. I called the pastor and explained my situation to him. He was very upset that he had not taught me about such things. That day I repented and handed over my idols. Since that time, I have had peace in my heart.”
Man from southeast Mali

“I used to lie, slander, and quarrel. That has changed.”
A young mother in Mali

At that festival of Pentecost many years ago, they were surprised, excited and amazed at “hearing everything in their own languages.” The slow-motion Pentecost of our day calls for that same response. It’s time to be surprised and amazed and to get excited.

If you liked this, you might also like The day tribal ended.

When does it start?

GILLBT Projects 080 ChumbrungI am very interested in what enhances, and what inhibits, the impact of a program to translate the Bible into a language in Africa. A while back, I was reading an evaluation of the impact of a translation of the Bible done in Ghana, for the Chumburung language. It was very interesting, but one thing puzzled me. The researcher doing the evaluation used the year 1989 as a baseline because that was the year the New Testament in Chumburung appeared. The Old Testament came later. But the translators started work on the language in 1972. So a period of 17 years (1972 to 1989) is left out of the evaluation. Presumably because the evaluator thought that the impact would start with the publication of the Bible. Bible translation is a long-term endeavor with long-term impact. Still, 17 years before seeing the first benefit seemed way too long.

Town of Banda where the Chumburung Bible was translated

Town of Banda where the Chumburung Bible was translated

In fact, the process of doing the translation usually has impact. In November, Wycliffe put a series of stories on their blog in which national translators in Papua New Guinea tell of the changes in their own lives. Changes which started around the translation table. In one of them, a national translator resisted a cultural imperative to revenge the burning down of his house, because of what he had learned while translating the Bible.In another case, a church leader listening to the draft translation being read so that they could comment on it (a step called checking), said:

“Wow! It would be very good if all the church leaders were here checking this translation! We would be evaluating ourselves, not just the translation. We leaders might think that we are righteous men in the eyes of the people, but in the eyes of God, it may not be so!”

In Congo, one group was under a tree practicing reading various parts in preparation for the recording of the Jesus Film. A crowd gathered to listen to the practice. Some people came to faith and one person who had left the church and Christian life repented and renewed his faith.

The very first translation in the Nyangbo language, written on a blackboard

The very first translation in the Nyangbo language, written on a blackboard

Too often, missionary translators have seen the positive impacts of the translation process as wonderful by-products – encouraging ‘accidents’, but they make few, if any, planned or systematic effort to use the translation process itself to impact the community. In fact, some might consider that a distraction.

Fronting and deliberately planning early use and impact of translation is coming to the fore in Africa, with some interesting results. Translators have tried several approaches, including translating the Gospel of Luke, then producing the Jesus Film, based on the Gospel of Luke. There are also attempts to get more pastors involved in the testing process. Recently, a Cameroonian friend posted on Facebook that they had recorded the first 100 verses translated in the Mpumpong language. He wrote:

[We] went out on the dusty streets of Yokadouma to test it out. And before we knew we had gathered a crowd – they were all excited to hear the Word of God in Mpumpong! The people shared what they had heard, what it meant and what they thought about it.

This story points to the impact that can happen when the translation gets into the community quickly  – as soon as even one story from one Gospel gets translated, then bringing out more little pieces as they become available – getting them read in the church, recording them and playing them in the streets, performing them as skits, reading them to listening and discussion groups, or getting choirs to make new praise songs from them. In fact, a translator in Tanzania printed a few chapters, took them to a funeral and read them with amazing results. Here’s a short video of what happened: https://vimeo.com/13483359

Planning and implementing immediate use and impact into translation programs in Ghana is one of Ed’s tasks.

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!”