Tag Archives: pan-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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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.