Tag Archives: African

Impossible with God: The Africa Study Bible launch

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Coworker Nyambura and I celebrate a big achievement & our big God

To be honest, there were times I doubted we would ever launch the Africa Study Bible.

A study Bible is the most complex possible type of publishing project. The layout must juggle the Bible text, notes, cross-references and more. You have to print on very thin paper with special printers. And all the notes have to be extremely high quality theologically and grammatically because they’re bound up with the Word of God.

But this was more than a typical study Bible. We designed six different types of unique features to connect the Bible to Africa, so we had to teach our writers to see the Bible differently as they wrote. And no one has ever produced a study Bible with 350 contributors, much less from 50 countries writing notes in 5 languages.

Compared to this task, our resources were tiny. Our small organization had to invent the entire project management infrastructure from scratch for this unprecedented feat. We wanted the top scholars, respected pastors, and influential ministry leaders from Africa involved, so they all did their part on top of their normal busy commitments. When a writer missed a deadline, it could be due to power outages, malaria, or bereavement. We struggled to find writers from some countries because they were facing civil war or religious persecution.

At one point, I was incredibly overwhelmed with a sense of personal responsibility for the project. After a late Skype call with colleagues, I walked home and put my briefcase down on the grass outside my house. I looked up at the stars and cried. “God, I can’t do this. This is your project. You started it. I surrender. You’re the only one in control. If you get this project done, I’m going to give you all the glory, because there’s no way we can do this on our own.”

On days when it looked impossible, I jotted down how God was at work and reminded myself of the end goal. I couldn’t think as abstract as discipling the continent, so I literally pictured the spine of the Africa Study Bible on my bookcase. “This will get done,” I said to myself. “One day, I will be able to hold the finished product in my hands.”

On March 30, the Africa Study Bible was launched to the world!

Church leaders from all the major ecumenical groups, leaders of several Christian ministries, and seminary scholars gathered in a hotel ballroom in Nairobi, Kenya. Guests and ballroom alike were decked out in African colors and patterns. We sang together, “When Jesus came down from heaven, he landed in Israel. When there was trouble, he came down to Africa. So we must praise him – praise him in an African way!

I rejoiced to meet contributors in person who I had emailed for months. I couldn’t help but notice that the 350 seats in the room represented our 350 contributors. The few empty ones reminded me of so many who had been involved in the project – our French writing coordinator, half of our review team, key editors…. They would attend the Ghana, US, Nigeria or South Africa launches. The little taste made me hungry for our complete reunion in heaven.

As we celebrated the momentous occasion, we remembered where we had come from and where this was going. A youth pastor gave a devotional, highlighting our African Christian heritage from Augustine to his grandma. He reminded us that youth are the Africa of today, not tomorrow – and this Bible roots them in their identity and the word of God. A government minister for education spoke of his vision for using the Africa Study Bible as a key resource as they reform the national curriculum to teach children values. Christians from three generations passed a kerosene lantern along, praying that the Bible would illuminate hearts for years to come.

Then the unveiling. Lights dimmed and pulsed. Young people robed in red Maasai shukas and traditional kanga wraps danced in to a drumbeat. The audience stood and clapped along. The ribbon was cut, the veil was lifted, and the larger-than life Africa Study Bible twirled around like it had jumped into a dance circle. We sang a Nigerian song with hands and hearts lifted, “Imela! Imela!” Thank you, my king!

After all the celebrations, my US and Kenya coworkers went out for a relieved and grateful dinner. Laughing around the table, I realized these people have become my people, almost family. Yet we might never all eat together again until the kingdom of God comes again. We sang a hymn before we departed: Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

When I got home, I put my briefcase down on that eventful spot of grass and took off my shoes. Hands up and teary eyed, “You did it, God!” I jumped and spun, dancing under the stars. “Hallelujah!”

And when I went inside, I opened the pages of my very own copy of the Africa Study Bible.

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Destined to edit books for the church in Africa

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Our missionary family “prayer card” – about a year after my salvation

Last month, I moved into a new associate acquisitions editor position at Oasis International. Over the weekend, I realized that God has been preparing me for this for twenty years!

I moved to Tanzania as a two-year-old and grew up there as a missionary kid. When I was four – exactly twenty years ago this weekend – I decided to follow Jesus. I don’t remember it, but my dad recently unearthed his old journal and came across the night I became a Christian. Earlier this year I noticed the file on my computer, realized this would be twenty years, and decided to celebrate my “re-birthday.” So I read over what my dad had written:

October 22, 1996        Hannah is 4

Dear Hannah,

I want to write this now for you to read later so you can remember what happened tonight. Tonight at bed time you wanted to read your Swahili book and they you wanted to read a book that your Sunday school teacher at the PEFA church next door gave you awhile back. (We had never read it before.) It was in English even though he only speaks Swahili. It was about heaven and hell and a little African boy named Mutu having salvation explained to him. You and I had talked about heaven and that Jesus died for us and what that means.

My dad writes that he explained the gospel in four-year-old terms and we prayed for my salvation.

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Mutu’s story might have come from this Christian bookstore in my hometown in Tanzania

I shared this story with a friend, who noticed, “Books have been part of your story from the beginning.”

“Wow, I never thought about that. This was even before I was reading on my own. But I guess they have!”

And as I thought about it more, I realized that it wasn’t just any book. It was a Christian book written in English, contextualized for Africa, distributed to me through a local pastor. It was exactly the literature that Oasis creates and distributes! Jesus saved this little American-African missionary kid through the same work that I do now!

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Editing Christian literature for Africa from my office in Nairobi, Kenya

From there, God weaved the rest of the story together: The second-grade teacher who told me I’d become a writer. The pastoring grandparents who always gave me Christian books for my birthday. The many childhood visits to village churches. My preteen years on a seminary campus where my friends biked to the bookstore for candy, browsed the shelves, and made our faith our own. The last-minute English major in college and the unexpected call to ministry. An Oasis job opening after graduation asking me to move back home to Kenya – literally to my parents’ house. Getting sick of Pulitzer winners and discovering African fiction. Multiple people randomly telling me last summer that I should go into acquisitions editing.

How does God do it? Not only saving me and continuing to affirm our relationship as I grew up, but designing the way I was saved to chart my destiny? I’m so in awe. I felt like I stumbled into this path, but what a comfort that God has known all along where we’re going!

So all I do is echo Ephesians 3:20: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”


The church in Africa deserves to be heard

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Africa Study Bible contributor Bishop Raphael Okeyo from Tanzania

I believe that the voice of the church in Africa deserves to be heard.

We don’t need imported sermon illustrations about “Prayer is not like a vending machine” – what’s a vending machine anyway?

We need stories from African pastors and teachers that give us a new perspective on familiar Bible passages. We need the story about trapping monkeys in the Kalahari desert. Monkeys know where water is found, but they want to keep the secret to themselves. So people catch a monkey and feed it salt until it becomes thirsty. Then they follow it to the water source. When we hear that Christians are called “the salt of the earth,” it can also mean that we lead people to the source of living water (Matthew 5:13).

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Photo by Craig Shaw from ForestRescue

Pastors and teachers from 50 countries have written 2200 notes like the one I mentioned as part of the Africa Study Bible. On the page next to the Bible text, notes and essays connect Scripture to African contexts to help people live out their faith without rejecting their whole culture.

This is not your typical study Bible, written by about 50 American scholars. 345 people wrote notes, edited pieces and reviewed the theology and relevance of each piece.

These writers were dedicated. Some authors were dealing with civil war, persecution as Christians, malaria, or family funerals. All of them wrote alongside their normal work in churches, theological schools or businesses. Nearly all wrote in their second language – either English, French, Portuguese, Arabic or Swahili.

But as I managed the first half of the editorial process, I saw their commitment firsthand. They believed this was crucial work for God’s kingdom. As contributor Dr. Issiakia Coulibaly from West Africa Alliance Theological Seminary (FATEAC) said, “Like Philip explaining the Scriptures to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:31), so will the Africa Study Bible be to thousands and thousands of African Christians today.”

The writing is done, and the editing is nearly complete. The church in Africa is ready to speak – we just need to give them a platform.

If you want the voice of the church in Africa to be heard, this week is your chance! Invest here through Kickstarter. Your giving enables the writers to give everyone their “rich resource for the church in Africa and the world” (in the words of contributor Bishop Dr. Isaiah Majok Dau from South Sudan).

Then be salt and lead people to the water. The Africa Study Bible is published by Oasis International Ltd to satisfy Africa’s thirst for God’s Word. Would you join me in spreading the word about the Bible for the last 7 days of our fundraising campaign? Share this overview video on social media, email or in-person.

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Instead of me telling you any more about the Africa Study Bible, listen to a Kenyan World Christianity scholar. Dr. Wanjiru Maggie Gitau shares how the Africa Study Bible reflects the exciting things God is doing in Africa today. Or, check out this sneak peek of the book of Genesis, where the authors’ notes speak for themselves!

Let’s hear what the church in Africa has to say to us.


The Path is Made By Walking: Summiting the Africa Study Bible Project

Walking through a cloud on KiliIn January 1995, my family flew into Tanzania. Exactly twenty years later, I saw Tanzania from a bird’s eye view again—standing at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

This time, I earned the view. I walked.

I walked through a rainforest thunderstorm, over bridges lined with Seuss-like cacti, through a cloud in the artic desert. I walked in wet clothes, with aching muscles, warding off the equator’s sun with a hot pink sunhat. I clambered over rocks in the freezing moonlight.

“The path is made by walking.” In the hours of hiking up Mount Kilimanjaro, I told myself to focus on the moment, not the distance ahead.

My hike gave me perspective on the Africa Study Bible project. As far as we know, no one has ever created a study Bible with 250 different contributors, and certainly not with writers from over fifty countries speaking different languages. If you stare at the mountain ahead, it can seem insurmountable.

I doubted that I would make it to the top of Kilimanjaro. I’ve never climbed more than a hill—could I really climb the tallest freestanding mountain in the world? To my surprise, my upbringing prepared me. Living in Nairobi the past few months helped me deal with the altitude. My college years in “Minne-snow-ta” helped me differentiate between slippery and soft snow along the crater’s edge.

The day my friends and I summited Mount Kilimanjaro, we walked a full day through clouds to the last hut. After two hours of sleep, we began the steepest part of the hike. My teammate in front of me wore a headlamp, but I walked by the light of the nearly full moon. I recalled the Swahili version of “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.” One verse in that translation says, “If my path is long, he gives me salvation. If the clouds hit me, his strength is my light.”

The complexity and scope of the Africa Study Bible project have produced challenges and delays. But although the Africa Study Bible work seems like unknown traversed terrain, I recall what God says in Isaiah 42:16: “I will lead blind Israel down a new path, guiding them along an unfamiliar way. I will brighten the darkness before them and smooth out the road ahead of them. Yes, I will indeed do these things; I will not forsake them.”

Kili summitThe summit of the Africa Study Bible project is still months away, but as we grow closer, the trail is also growing steeper. I believe God is at work in the Africa Study Bible project. If we could accomplish it easily on our own, where would his glory be? But as we trust God with every step in the process, we blaze a new trail.

At the highest peak in Africa, I saw the sun rise in splendor, brighten tiny farms and towns out to the horizon, blind in brilliance off of pale blue glaciers and a snow covered crater.

With the Africa Study Bible, we are going to see Africa at its height. We will see the landscape from the heavens’ perspective. We will see that what God creates is magnificent.

So all of us—the hundreds of writers, partners, designers, and editors scattered across the continents and across languages—continue to make our path by walking, one step at a time.

~Originally published January 16th, 2015 on Oasis International’s blog.


Stateless at the African Union

Note: I expanded this post for Oasis International’s blog. In that version, I also explain how the Africa Study Bible is part of Africa rising.

Last week I visited the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa.

I had been invited to Ethiopia for a conference. The leaders of Christian student movements throughout English-speaking Africa had gathered for training and collaboration. They invited me to present about my work with the Africa Study Bible project and brainstorm possibilities for partnership.

I had never been to Ethiopia, but the conference felt familiar. As an undergraduate, I was a student leader in this Christian student movement, in the American branch called InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Most of the pivotal points in my college career were sparked by an InterVarsity conference. Now, I was with the staff leaders of the movement across the globe, but the training was as high quality as ever.

So I fit in – mostly. I was the only white woman there. But that’s been a lot of my life. So I switched between Swahili and my East African accent, relished the njera (sourdough flatbread) and helped myself to chai (black tea with milk and sugar, not the US coffeeshop stuff that tastes like pumpkin pie).

But then we took a field trip to the African Union.

Africa with gold rays

The main lobby had marble walls. The ceiling was twice as high as the palm trees, which rose like columns. In the center of the building stood the circular Nelson Mandela conference hall. Marble steps led up to its entry. Above them was a vast gold Africa:

We took a picture beneath it, hands raised. Instead of “cheese,” we said, “Africa rising.” My dad had preached about Africa rising to explain why Americans should invest in missionary work. But for this group, “Africa Rising” symbolized their hopeful destiny.

Inside, the conference hall was like Congress, with seats for hundreds of delegates. Everyone scrambled to find the placard for their country. They posed for photos in the cushioned seats, hands poised on the light wooden table, wearing a headset.

Kenya hosts me and my family now, but I didn’t look for Kenya’s sign. I’ve only spent two years there. If it had been the UN instead of the African Union, the USA would have been there, but I wouldn’t have gravitated toward my passport country anyway. I spotted Tanzania, land of my childhood. But it wouldn’t be right for me to sit in that chair. As an mzungu (white person) I don’t represent Tanzania. So I posed with someone else behind my seated Tanzanian friend, supporting her in a group pic.

Kwame NkrumahWe went outside to the statue of Kwame Nkrumah, who was Prime Minister and first President of Ghana as well as a pan-African activist.

After a photo frenzy, we linked hands and prayed for Africa – that Africa would unite, that Africa would rise. The prayer rose in volume. Individuals saying “amen” and “yes Jesus” acknowledged becoming one through the prayer.

I felt honored to participate in such a powerful moment with my brothers and sisters.

I also felt a little jealous.

When I returned to my room that night, I told God I wanted to belong to a country too. I want a flag, a national anthem, countrymen, national holidays, a history of heroes and battles.

Then I remembered some heroes. They too were “looking for a country of their own.”

Hebrews 11 describes the heroes of the Hebrew Bible as “foreigners and strangers on earth,” living in tents, moving when God said so, not knowing where they were going (that sounds familiar). They were “looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

“People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:14-16).

That city will have a flag. Jesus “will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him” (Isaiah 11:10). People of all cultures will be one people – the people of God. With my countrymen, I’ll put my hand over my heart as we hear our national anthem:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.” (Revelations 5:9-10)

Then I realized – that’s what I had been doing all week.

In fact, that morning people from Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan worshipped together in their own languages. We’d even sung from Revelations: “Worthy is the Lamb to receive praise.”

We’d recited victorious battle stories of the Christian student movement – how groups were fighting Ebola, building peace in war zones, and promoting holistic health for students.

I even had national holidays in common with these people – Christmas as our Presidents’ Day, Good Friday as our Memorial Day, Easter as our Independence Day.

I spoke Swahili and giggled and prayed and danced in worship with these people.

No wonder I had felt so at home here. I was.


Labyrinth: A Patchwork Psalm for the Road

Birthday card (from Amani ya Juu in Kenya)

Birthday card (from Amani ya Juu in Kenya)

Exactly 22 years after

crowning at my dawn birth

and nearly a month after

cap and tassel crowns me an adult

 

I stand at the crossroads and look.

 

Behind me are

the jobs I turned down and the ones that turned me down,

the housing offers I passed up

because my gut wouldn’t settle.

 

Ahead of me is

where the sidewalk ends

and before the street begins.

 

I used to walk

hoping the length of my strides

would project strength I didn’t have on the inside.

 

This time I humble my pride,

silence myself to seek the ancient paths.

 

A ring tone

an editor

tells me my writing will be published.

a coauthor

quotes Antonio Machado

“Caminante, no hay camino,

se hace camino al andar.”

 

In Walden’s solitary naturescape

feet padding to the pond

wore a groove through the grass.

 

A ring tone

a stranger

calls me

to work on the Africa Study Bible team.

the job

calls me

to move to Nairobi.

 

I wanted to settle

two more years at least in Minnesota

but my gut

freed me of job or house ties.

 

There is no reason I couldn’t.

 

A ring tone

my pastor

calls me

to read Isaiah 42:16:

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not seen

Along unfamiliar paths I will guide them.”

 

For my birthday my parents give me

a card from Kenya –

flipflops and a proverb:

“The path is made by walking.”

 

I will be collecting proverbs

connecting them with scripture’s wisdom.

 

I have already started.

 

New things shown

God

calls me

“This is the way, walk in it.”

 

I have already started.

 

Sing into the unknown

I

call out:

 

“If you will be with me

   On this journey I am taking

If you will give me food to eat

   And clothes to wear

So that I return safely

   To my father’s household.

Then you, Lord, will be my God

   And I will follow you.

 

“Like in blindfolded partner dodgeball,

Your voice will tell me “This is the Way.

Through a shadowed valley,

    Your word is my streetlamp.

I wait for your direction

I listen to your commands.

If I do what you want

   You will make certain each step I take is sure.

You hold my hand

   So if I stumble, I still won’t fall.

Knowing you will never forsake me,

    I walk with grace and confidence.

 

“You go before me,

   You hem me in behind.

I trust in you,

Because you are the path-maker.

I step inside your footprints

You have already pressed the snow smooth.

 

“Your ways are higher than mine,

You see the labyrinth’s end from a bird’s eye view.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

   Too lofty for me to attain.

 

“I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;

    I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.”

 

I have already started.