Back in Kenya

I’ve been in Nairobi, Kenya with a small team the last week covering several stories related to the Wycliffe organization in Kenya – Bible Translation and Literacy (BTL).  BTL oversees all of Wycliffe’s Bible translation work in Kenya, and is also fully engaging with the local church.  As a matter of fact, most Bible translation projects in the country are led by Kenyans, and much of the resources for those projects are coming from within the country.

The trip went well, and it was nice to be back in a familiar place. Nairobi is constantly changing.  There’s a new sky-scraper going in across the street from where we used to live!  But, still many things are the same, and I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with old places and old friends.

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On Saturday BTL had their annual Run for the Bibleless fund raising event. We’re currently working on a story about it.  This year more than 6000 people participated and they raised more than $50,000 USD for Bible translation!

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Another story we were working on while we were in Nairobi was about how people are engaged in praying for Bible translation.  One group involved in this is a men’s prayer group at a large Baptist church.  These guys meet every Wednesday at 6am, so it was an early morning for us!  The men come from across the city, to study scriptures and pray together.  They don’t only pray for Bible translation, but it is one topic they cover.

This will be our second story on prayer, and I’m looking forward to its completion.  Prayer is often done behind the scenes, but it’s one of the most important ways to be involved in any ministry.  It’s something we all can do, and it’s neat to see how people are involved in it across the globe!

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God’s Word for Seven Deaf Communities

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I was in a Nairobi, Kenya for just a few days to help gather photographs of the celebration of the completion of several portions of scripture for seven Deaf communities in Africa:

  • 110 Bible stories on DVD for sign languages in Ghana, Burundi, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Tanzania
  • An initial 32 Bible stories on DVD for Nigerian Sign Language.
  • The completion of a video Biblical commentary (called The Deeps) for Kenyan Sign Language.

140920_6839 After participants from each translation team lifted the colored fabric that covered the DVDs they had so faithfully worked on, they shouted for joy and danced in the front of the room waving their DVDs above them.  It was exciting to share the moment with them.

It is estimated that as many as 400 Deaf communities around the world, each of whom use a different sign language, have never experienced God’s Word because it is not in a form they can understand.  DVD translations of scripture on one of the ways that many Deaf communities are access scripture for the first time.

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This could have been me – my memories of Westgate

mall People run from the Westgate Mall in NairobiPhoto by zzagada

This could have been…me.  It could have been…us.  We could have been part of the crowd running from the Westgate Mall. Or worse, we could have been victims.

I’ve been transfixed on the news of the Westgate Mall terrorist attacks in Nairobi, Kenya.  The mall was one that Jeff and I would go to occasionally to watch a movie, eat at a restaurant, or pick up some groceries.  Our favorite restaurant in the mall, the ArtCaffe, was one of the prime targets of the gunmen.  Jeff and I would go there for a special dinner, and a few times I went there with colleagues for a meeting and a cappuccino. When we didn’t go to eat in the restaurant, we liked to buy loaves of farm bread and sometimes a couple of almond croissants from the ArtCaffe bakery counter.

A few years ago I took my sister there to buy gifts at a store that sold ceramic bead necklaces.  I bought my Africa Bible Commentary at the bookstore in the mall.  Jeff and I saw Iron Man 2 in the movie theater there.  We both were quite familiar with the large Nakumatt at Westgate – a grocery store/super store with locations all over Nairobi.  Jeff bought me a $50 android cell phone at the FoneXpress in that Nakumatt.  I once took a guest staying at our home to the tourist market held in the upper parking lot at Westgate so that she could get some souvenirs to bring home. Even since we left Nairobi, on my business trips there I would occasionally stop at that mall with my last visit to Westgate this past January. I went to buy a loaf of farm bread. I parked in the underground lot.

Now the Nakumatt is a heap of the charred remains – melted bottles of lotion, carcasses of washing machines, ashes that once were bags of pasta.  The upper parking lot is collapsed.  The movie theater is gone.   The ArtCaffe is riddled with bullet holes. Many cars in the underground lot are crushed.

When I see the photos of the attacks and aftermath, I know those places well.  I could have been there. I can’t help but think – what would I have done if I was there.  We’re far from Nairobi, but it still feels all too real.

Our friends in Nairobi are all OK.  A few of them had friends or relatives in the mall when the attack occurred, but no one we know at this point is connected to any that died.

Please keep Kenya in your prayers.

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Cultural Economics: Expenses in One Place Don’t Match Another

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When we moved to Africa (Nairobi, Kenya to be exact) four years ago, I took my first real trip through the grocery store to look for items that I actually needed for our home. The Nakumatt Mega near our house was an amazing store with a variety like Walmart in the US. You could buy everything from a loaf of bread to a new kitchen table and everything in between. There were some familiar brands, but so many new ones I had never heard of.  I remember little things like how different I thought the carts (trolleys) were because they had four wheels that all turned independently (which I’ve since noticed in some other countries, too).

One difference that I didn’t anticipate was prices. I guess I always thought that someone somewhere just magically set some objective pricing system that would determine the cost of goods sold…well…everywhere. My first trip to the grocery store, amongst other things, turned into a lesson in cultural economics.

Price tag surprises

What did I find that surprised me so much? I remember picking up a medium box of corn flakes, doing the currency conversion, and discovering that it would cost me almost $10USD! At that time at home that same box might have been $3USD–maybe even less with a coupon. On the other hand, I remember visiting the butcher and discovering that we could buy a nice piece of beef filet pretty inexpensively. Chicken breast, however, tended to be costly.

We began to see this with all kinds of other things, too. Familiar dairy products were priced higher than we were used to, but some of Kenya’s really nice fruits and vegetables were far cheaper than we would ever pay for the same things at home. Clothes and home goods from stores in the mall felt extremely expensive (how could that fleece throw blanket cost $50?!?). Then again, going out to eat was often less than it would be at home, and even a visit to the local wildlife reserve was pretty cheap (about $10USD for foreign residents).

Economies are cross-cultural, too

Everything felt upside-down. Money and expenses were just another part of cross-cultural learning.  I had to throw out all those presuppositions about how much something should cost. The overall buying power of the country based on wealth and population, cultural values, available local products versus imports, taxes – all of these impact local prices.

I guess before living in an African country, I also had the idea that if a country had less wealth, then products would be cheaper. What I learned was that while labor for services was often cheaper, products (especially those requiring some kind of processing or manufacturing) were usually more expensive because fewer people want or can afford those items. The supply is less because the demand is less, so the price is higher.

The 2012 results from an annual survey of the cost of living for some of the world’s cities included 13 African cities in the top 50 most expensive cities in the world!  Luanda, Angola, in Southern Africa, was listed at number two with one of the highest housing costs in the world (higher than Paris and New York City).  Learn more.

Constantly changing currency exchange rates add another complication. 

Explaining differences can be a challenge

Maybe you’ve had some of these same thoughts, and perhaps this information comes as a surprise to you as it was to me.  When missionaries travel abroad, it can sometimes be difficult for them to adequately explain these differences in expenses between the country where they serve and the country where they are from to their financial support team.  Maybe some supporters feel that the missionary needs to raise too much money for the location they are going to, or for a particular budget item.  Or maybe something that is very inexpensive where a missionary serves seems extravagant because it is expensive in the missionary’s home country.

A colleague once shared with us about a how difficult he thought it would be to base some staff in a new strategic location – a country that had previously not allowed any missionaries.  While it was an economically poor country, he said that the cost of a simple, secure and unfurnished one-bedroom apartment in the capital city could be more than $2000USD/month.  He shared that the struggle he saw would be that it would be very difficult for someone to raise the amount funds they needed. Potential donors might not believe that the expenses to live in an economically poor country could really be that high.

It’s important to remember that every economy functions differently.  Each needs to be evaluated from within it’s own context.  Thankfully, many missionaries have financial advisors that help them construct budgets to compensate for these differences.  However, even with advice the reality of the finances of a new place can still seem very strange at first.

If you’ve ever travel abroad, what expenses have surprised you?  What has been more or less than you expected?

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The Heart of the Matter

Dr. Andy Alo, a graduate and lecturer at Africa International University (AIU)* speaks five languages. However, it is his mother tongue, Lugbarati, that holds a valuable place in his heart.

From generation to generation
Andy was raised in the village of Abedju, which grasps the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda and holds them together at DRC’s northeast corner. Andy’s grandfather, one of the first Lugbara believers in DRC, became part of the Lugbarati translation team, which finished the Bible translation in 1966.

Andy’s father became an active proponent for Bible translation in the region as well. And, as the third generation in his family to follow Jesus, Andy also experienced the difference the translation had on his family and how it helped the church in the Lugbara community.

“This was the evidence for me, that once we had the Bible [in our first language], people started to move forward in their spiritual lives without the church being weakened by anything,” said Andy.

Getting involved in Bible translation
Andy pursued a degree in education with a major in teaching languages in Bunia, a city in northeastern DRC. While studying there, he met a young woman, Yvette, in the church choir, who would eventually become his wife.

Soon after finishing at university, he began teaching French with the conviction that education was the best way to help people to live more meaningful lives.  However, a friend studying at AIU in Nairobi, Kenya, told Andy about the Master’s degree program in Bible translation at the university.

“Then, I realized that the Word of God was the true light people needed for an everlasting joy and life,” said Andy who decided to enroll in the program at AIU.

After graduation, he and Yvette returned to Congo where Andy worked as a translation advisor on Congolese Bible translation and language projects. He also taught an introductory course in translation principles to other translators and linguists at a local teacher training college.

“Being an African gave me the ability to explain things from the inside,” he said. “Because I speak [those languages], as well as share the worldviews, I was able to help translators solve some of the challenges they face.”

Multiplication
After five years, they felt motivated to do something more:  multiply themselves. They returned once again to Nairobi and AIU.  This time Andy did doctoral level studies in translation and research. In a few short years, Andy was encouraged to join the teaching staff in AIU’s Translation Department. He is now one of several lecturers in the department.

One of the courses Andy teaches is program planning—a course designed to help students understand how to plan a Bible translation and language development program.


In one of his recent classes, his students engaged in a discussion regarding the methodology of entering a new people group who did not yet have the Scripture in their mother tongue.

Many people in Africa speak at least three languages. Those who attend school learn a national language like French or English, in addition to the trade language of their region and their mother tongue. However, Andy and his students all agreed that when the Bible is only offered in a national or trade language, it is deficient.

“Many people may be multilingual,” Andy said, “but their level of knowledge in those languages is not as deep as the knowledge they have in their mother tongue. The Word of God is more successfully communicated when it’s done in the native language.”

Through teaching, Andy is multiplying his knowledge and experience by helping people to have a meaningful part in Bible translation projects. His knowledge of language and personal experience with Bible translation make him an excellent fit for his role at AIU and an important part of Bible translation.

“It is one thing to lament over the spiritual and socio-cultural misery of the marginalized ethnic groups who do not have the privilege of reading the Word of God,” said Andy.  “It is another thing to get involved, one way or another, in taking the Word to them. I have chosen the second option because I know that reading the Word and living by it will make a difference in their lives.”

* AIU was formerly known as Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology (NEGST)

Photos by Taylor Martyn

Read a longer version of this story 

Content and photographs for this article were provided by staff from African Inland Mission’s On Field Media team (AIM-OFM). See more of their stories on www.aimstories.com.

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This story was written for the Wycliffe News Network.

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