Category Archives: Uncategorized

Language that divides and conquers

‘Competition between languages’ is currently being demonstrated in Cameroon. Unusually, tensions between languages have here hit world-news-status. The reason – two giants are in competition. French and English are both European languages with global aspirations. When they clash, sparks can fly.

‘Competition between languages’ tends to be invisible. It tends to be invisible in Africa, because languages in competition with European languages are much weaker. They are simply forced to give way. Nevertheless, language battles can bring disenfranchisement.

Being played out in Cameroon is a struggle between Francophone and Anglophone. It is the ancient struggle across the English channel that continues to be played out, rather unfairly one thinks, on other people’s turf. As recently was Syria seen as between Russia and the West, now Cameroon has become a proxy battlefield.

Lessons to be learned – when African countries are made dependent on languages that are not theirs, they become trapped in and easily engulfed in battles that are not theirs. The current situation in Cameroon is just an example. Encouraging poor countries to become dependent on European languages is a justice issue.

Rwanda represents a parallel situation, but in reverse. ( https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/oct/14/rwanda-france )  The sharpness of the issue in Cameroon seems to be that, exceptionally, English, perhaps the most lucrative language the world has ever known, is being forced into a retreat.

Contemporary language-imperialism, if it can be called that, is enabled by contemporary technology. Global English and French are built on TV, internet, printing press, etc. In biblical times, such was not a practical possibility.

It was not colonial policy to transfer English to Africa. It happened through pressure from indigenous people (as also in India). See: Brutt-Griffler, Janina, 2002. World English: a study of its development. Bristol: Multilingual Matters. This has created a problematic that has the potential to continue bringing and perpetuating injustices.

What lies at the root of the above ‘problem’? Perhaps it is the reluctance of the contemporary (17th century and beyond?) missionary force to ‘die’ to the people they are serving. Contemporary missionaries from the powerful West go to serve with a foot securely remaining in their prosperous home. Benefits from the West coming through them are sufficient to motivate majority world citizens to prioritise outside tongues, no matter how negative are the long-term implications of doing so.

Perhaps the only solution this late in the day, is to create a disconnect between missionary mother-tongue and majority world prosperity. That is; for missionaries and development workers not to be sharing resources from ‘back home’, especially not using European languages.

By Jim Harries,

Click here for more information on Jim Harries and the work he is involved in.

StopArmut Conference – Personal Reflection

“God has chosen to work with people like us. I see myself in this position – that I can speak – for people who cannot; I can do justice – for people who cannot.” This was the answer of a pastor from South Sudan pointing to Proverbs 31,8.9, who was asked, why he stays in such a dangers place and works for reconciliation between fighting groups. Listening to this man I was challenged and inspired by his words. He repeated several times, how hopeless the situation in his home country is. But he is still not giving up.

How often does it happen to me that as soon as hard times and hardships are coming up, I lose hope and think about quitting. And when I see people like this man, who are ‘running their race’ because they have their hope in Jesus Christ and no matter what happens they trust in Him, it helps me to stay focused on Jesus as well, the foundation of our hope. If it’s not for Him, all our work is in vain (Ps 127,1). And it is such a blessing to meet people, who remind you of that and encourage you.

Such an encouraging time for me was the national conference of StopArmut in Switzerland about the refugee crisis, where I met this pastor from South Sudan in a workshop. I was encouraged to see how many people are carrying for refugees and are showing the love of God through their engagement. Over 800 people attended this conference and wanted to know more about possibilities how to get involved and help in the current situation.

After an event like this conference I often reflect about the things I’m taking with me back home and what I want to put into action. But most of the time it is not a clear plan of actions and thoughts. All this different experiences, thoughts from the speakers, various encounters with people, encouragement and new perspectives – it all fuses into a ‘bigger picture’ like pieces of a puzzle. But it’s not that easy for me to grasp this picture. It feels more fluid and takes shape in backsight. But somehow God is using all this various, big and small things to guide me on my way.

It was great to see the work of StopArmut as a part of Micah Family. Quite some people that I was talking to described these conferences as a place to meet with people who share the same vision and want to change things for the better. Being part of this reminded me again that it is such a blessing to be part of the Micah movement all over the world and that we walk together side by side, even if there are country boarders between us, with the shared vision to walk humbly, love mercy and act justly – by God’s grace.

By Sergej Kiel, Intern Micah Global, sharing his reflections on the StopArmut conference, November 2017

From Communism to Christ

The testimony of my life, by Thir B. Koirala

I was born in a Hindu family in a remote village in east Nepal. During my childhood, my parents were involved in many religious activities and rituals in our home. When I was teenager I began to question who and where God was, but found no answers. At that time I met a communist man in my village who taught communism and Marxist and Leninist political agenda. It influenced my impressionable and curious mind, and I became a communist in high school. It was not easy to be a communist, as it was still an underground political movement in Nepal. I was a very aggressive and angry person at that time. My conversion to communism drove a wedge between me and my father, destroying our relationship. He hated me, as a result.

One day in 1992, I was walking the hour to school, when the postman called me over and handed me a stack of letters to give to my schoolmate. There were more than a dozen letters, total. One was a big, thick letter and I figured that there must be something important and valuable inside. I opened it and found a small booklet with “The Way to a Happy Life” printed on it. I read it and learned, for the first time, about Jesus and the Bible. As a teenage boy I was eager for knowledge and to learn about new things, so I started corresponding with this organisation in Kathmandu. Two months later, I received a new letter from Kathmandu and it was a second booklet and questionnaire. I read it and wrote my answers on the questionnaire and sent it back. I continued to correspond in this way for two years from my village. At the time I was a student leader of my school’s communist student union. My other communist friends suggested that I not read Biblical books and information about Jesus. They said, “This is only a western capitalistic agenda, and American expansionism want to spread their interests through this religion“, but I wanted to know more about Jesus and the Bible so I started to study more deeply.

After two years of corresponding, I received a new testament Bible. I finished reading it within three days. I had yet to meet any Christians personally, and I had never seen a church. Regardless, one morning I went to my room and accepted Jesus as my personal savior. The Holy Spirit worked in my heart and helped me to understand who Jesus is. Other comrades (communist party members) were not happy with me and my choice, but I decided to follow Jesus. I used to pray everyday, though I didn’t really know how to pray – I simply repeated the Lord’s Prayer each time. I desperately wanted to go church and to meet Christians personally, but there were none in my village at that time. When I finished my proficiency level study at the local campus, I began looking for a church.

My uncle was working as a high-level officer in the National Investigation Department in Kathmandu. He invited me to Kathmandu to join this department. It is very difficult to find a government job in Nepal, so my parents forced me to accept his offer. I came to Kathmandu in 1998 and joined the investigation department after receiving a letter of recruitment from the ministry of home affairs. Because of my uncle’s power, I was not required to apply for the job or go through an official process to get it. After a week on the job, a new government was formed, and cancelled all current political decisions implemented by the previous government. As a result, I resigned my position.

After life in the village, Kathmandu was big and unfamiliar to me. One day, when my uncle was at the office, I left the house alone and began walking without a destination. I ran into an old childhood friend on the streets, who I grew up with, we had attended the same primary school in the village. He invited me to his room and I accepted. We spent the day together, and I stayed for dinner. After dinner, I heard singing coming from the upstairs apartment. I have always loved music and sang lots of communist songs in my village as a teenager. I asked my friend about the music, and he told me that the landlord was Christian and that every day they sang Christian hymns.

This was the first time that I had heard a Christian song. I went upstairs, but the door was closed, so I sat in the hallway and enjoyed the music. In the morning, I woke up early and went, for the first time in my life, to meet Christian people. I met the landlord’s wife first, and told her that I wanted to go to church. I asked her to show me where it was, but she told me that I needed to wait for a few days because church was held on Saturday and it was only Wednesday morning. It felt like eternity before I finally had the chance to attend my first church service. It was such an amazing experience. Never in my life had I enjoyed something as much as I enjoyed my first time in church. I still remember all of the songs we sang that day.

I was faithful to learn God’s word and to study the Bible. After two years, I became a youth leader in the church, which was very fundamentalist. Christians were not allowed to watch television, listen to the radio and read the newspaper. I obeyed my church’s rules and regulation, and separated from all world communication.

My church asked me to be a full-time missionary and go outside city to start a new church. After a month I moved to a small village in the northern side of Nepal to share the gospel in an unreached community. Unfortunately, I was badly persecuted by local people and was forced to leave after two months. After six months I went to east Nepal as a full time pastor to start new church.

In spite of being told to be totally separate from the world, I had many questions in my mind. Why should I not read the newspaper? What is wrong with television and radio? Why should we ignore the rest of the world? I prayed and God gave me my answer: there is nothing wrong with materials or any other things in this world but the problem is in the human mentality around these issues. I started to study journalism. After that, many newspapers published my articles about Christian faith and Biblical values. I presented Biblical values and social responsibilities on several radio stations and also telecasted TV programs from national television. It was one of my turning points in my life. I am still working as a freelancer journalist.

I found huge gap between church and community in my country. My church taught me that we are heavenly citizens who should not be involved in social activities in this world, that is not good to work in the secular spaces and communicate with secular people. We were even not allowed to fellowship with Christians from other denominations. You can imagine, a communist young boy separating himself from the world around him? I lived like that for almost 5 years.

In 2005, I was pastoring a new church in east Nepal. A Bible trainer presented a power point presentation about The Good Samaritan from the Bible. All of sudden, I started to cry – I asked God, “Who is my neighbor?” I discovered I was like the priest and the Levite who had walked past the wounded man. God opened my eyes and I  decided to serve outside the four walls of the church where the large community was living in darkness. People are facing lot of problems and difficulties. After consulting other church leaders we established a local NGO called New Life Society in east Nepal. We worked with HIV positive people and disaster relief and responses to crises.

From that day onwards, I understood the Bible in a different way. I recognised my neighbors, and I got clear vision from God. Today I am serving God as an Integral Mission promoter or social activist in different ways, and still serving my same almighty God, reading the same Bible, and following in the footsteps of the same Jesus. I believed that God has sent me to serve my community and my nation to glorify his name and kingdom here. As a national coordinator of Micah Nepal I am actively working with organisations, churches, communities and governments.

Change has come …

by Dr Melba Padilla Maggay, President Micah Global

Those were brutal times. Small countries like Israel writhed under the iron boot of imperial Rome. Greco-Roman culture, billed as the apex of civilization in the ancient world, sanctioned a structure where a thin layer of citizens were borne on the backs of slaves, viewed merely as “living tools” by one of their best thinkers, Aristotle. Unwanted female babies were exposed to the elements in the forest or thrown in garbage heaps, and the main spectator sport was watching gladiators battle each other to their gory death.

Israel itself suffered a leanness of spirit: For four centuries God was silent. No prophet broke into the scene to bring clarity or a word of hope to a nation living in ambiguous times. The religious leaders were either narrow legalists like the Pharisees who thought that punctilious observance of the law would bring about the prophesied messianic age, or liberal interpreters like the Sadducees who pandered to popular will and sought power by collaborating with the Roman colonizer. The Davidic dynasty had long decayed, and in its place was a usurping Idumean named Herod who murdered his way to the throne and curried favour with Rome and the Jewish people by impressive engineering feats, building cities named after the Caesars and reconstructing the temple.

Into this context God the Father sent his son. He came as a helpless baby parented by a woman barely in her teens and a carpenter so bewildered by the circumstances of his birth that he had to be assured by an angel that it was the Holy Spirit’s doing.

There were no signs of the birth of a king except for an angel announcing the joyful news to shepherds keeping watch over their flock, and a star that appeared to astrologers from the East. Like all deep things of God’s doing, the advent of the Christ Child was hidden except to those who were the simplest and wisest.

There were no courtiers, no heralds but for a brief moment when the sky opened and the heavenly host sang of the glory and peace that was to come through this new-born king.

But the portentous significance of the event was not lost on Herod. Obsessively paranoid, he went on a rampage, ordering the killing of all children two years and under in Bethlehem. The coming of the true king was not without great bloodshed; the powers knew that their days were numbered.

Today we hear again the sound of “wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children…” The Herods of this world continue to rise and rule with an iron fist. That the Messiah has come seems like a distant memory whose meaning is lost in the mist of history.

But then social historians tell us that if, in our time, slavery is abhorred and has ceased to be seen as an economic necessity, women are given equal rights to social space, and racial discrimination is at least viewed as detestable if not totally eliminated, these are gains largely accounted for by the rise of Christianity in the western world. The Pauline vision that “in Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free” set forth a new social ethic that marked those small communities of believers known as “followers of The Way.”

The social impact was immediate. Even when Christians were yet a small and powerless minority movement (estimated at 200,000 in a total population of 30 million in the first century), funds of the fledgling churches were used to buy the freedom of slaves. Believers cared for the children of prostitutes, gladiators, and infants abandoned on the rubbish heaps in the Roman Empire.

More recently, we think of William Wilberforce and his colleagues in Parliament working for the abolition of the slave trade, or Martin Luther King dreaming of a just world beyond Alabama’s cotton fields. Jesus says his people are like walking lamps. And a lamp is put on a stand, so that it gives light to all in the house. Imagine a one-room peasant house in Palestine all lighted up because of a single lamp!

What can happen when a determined minority grows into a critical mass that overturns a corrupt social order? The sociologist Robert Bellah speaks of a small minority of Christians in Japan who proved to be game-changers in politics and had an impact beyond their numbers: “We should not underestimate the significance of the small group of people who have a vision of a just and gentle world… The quality of a culture may be changed when two percent of its people have a new vision.”

Article first published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on 23rd December 2016

More than the Minimum

Why the Living Wage matters

Many years ago Dan Ndzuzo and I managed a small employment/job readiness project through our church (Khanyisa Community Church) in Gugulethu. We had the privilege of walking alongside people who were seeking work and connecting these job-seekers with opportunities. One of the painful aspects of the work that changed my life was listening to men and women sharing stories of exploitation and racism, sometimes covert and other times overt, stories that opened my eyes to the ongoing suffering and immoral treatment of domestic staff in South Africa. Some of the stories were from homes that were clearly Christian in their beliefs. We reflected on homes that had ‘missions jars’ for children to give some of their pocket money to foreign missionaries, while domestic staff were being paid just enough to pay for transport, food and the most basic of shelter, and were clearly struggling to make ends meet.

I started to ask questions like, “If we truly believe all people are equal, surely how we treat staff should reflect that?” and “How can Jesus followers who are called and motivated by the call to love our neighbours, be a part of a system that is clearly exploiting others?” and “If the Bible is so clear on its command not to exploit others, why is it so rife amongst Christians in South Africa today?” and “What is lacking in our theology that allows for seeing people struggle and suffer under the burden of poverty and inequality within our immediate sphere of influence?” and “If I truly saw my staff as equal as a human being, would I be able to watch them leave work in the pouring rain knowing they would arrive home drenched a few hours later?”

My questions remain, because the status quo remains largely the same 15 years later.

And as we face a growing hopelessness, anger and discontent amongst young people, I think about how many young South Africans have seen their parents come home after a long tiring day, and hours in public transport without much to show for it. Young people who have seen the ‘junk’ passed on by their parent’s employers. Who have not had their parents at home because they work long hours and then make the long journey home. Who have heard story after story, as Dan and I did with Jobnet, of racism, be it of the ‘polite’ kind or of the more obvious kind, from their parents. Or who have seen the effects of the status quo and system that does not honour their parents. I think of James 4 which says, “The wages you failed to pay the men who mowed your fields, is crying out against you.

In our unequal society with our history, I believe it is very important to continue to employ people, although some would argue it perpetuates the current system. Many people have few employment choices due to our past. But as we seek to bring about structural change and ensure that fellow citizens have greater options as they consider life vocational choices, there are things we can do immediately to limit the daily damage. I believe it is imperative that Christians act immediately on the call of God to not exploit, to serve those who have been treated as ‘lower than’ in ways that show they are truly equal, and this requires going above and beyond what is comfortable as the scales have been tipped immorally for so long. It is imperative that workers (whether permanent or ad hoc) are paid a living wage, which is more than double the minimum wage, and are paid for leave to rest well, or paid if the weather is bad (many men who work in the garden on an ad hoc basis are not paid if it is raining and they are unable to work).

Treating domestic staff with the dignity every human being deserves as it relates to their economic freedom and sustainability, for many privileged South Africans, is the very first circle of practising justice and righting the wrongs of the past.

Five basic first steps:

1. Have a conversation with your staff member/s around how you address each other. Ask if the name you are calling them is their mother-tongue/preferred name. If not, find out what their preferred name is, learn it, and call people by their first-choice name, regardless of the language (or whether you find it easy to say). We have a history where South Africans were given English names that were easier to say, regardless of mother tongue, and reversing this is one of the first steps in restoring dignity.

2. Increase your staff’s wages with immediate effect. Cut out other things in one’s lifestyle that would open up money for a more just wage. Decide which sacrifice you and your family will make together, if that is what it will take. If you are truly unable to pay a living wage after adjusting your budget and making necessary sacrifices, then cut down the staff members’ hours so that they can be at home or working elsewhere, for the same wage you were paying before. For example, if you cannot pay a living wage for 5 days, then hire someone for 2 days, at the same rate, and adjust the work load accordingly.

3. When adjusting the wages, don’t use the ‘going rate’ as a yardstick as the going rate is way too low and based on people’s desperation and our history of exploitation, and not a just and fair system. Use the baseline of around R6000 minumum per month as a yardstick for the first steps towards a living wage, anything below that is a diluted form of slavery, which we, as privileged South Africans, have grown accustomed to, but which is alien in more just and equal societies. We need to spread the burden that people are carrying, and it is often the vulnerable who pay the price.

4. If you don’t have one already, write up an agreement of leave (annual, sick and family) and draft a pay slip so that the person can use it in processes that require proof of earning and also create the sense of security of employment. Ensure that you are registered with UIF and have the right basic labour practices in place. Click here for basic information.

5. Speak with your employee about what their vocational dreams and aspirations are, and then work on a plan together to help ensure they reach their dream – with your assistance of resource, support, information and flexibility. I know many people who have walked alongside their domestic staff until they find and are equipped to move on to the work they would love to do.

When in doubt about the nitty-gritty, spend time with God and ask what ‘Loving your Neighbour’ looks like when it comes to your domestic staff. Can you share their load or burden in more meaningful ways? If this was a loved one, what would my desires for them be? What role can I play in their life in reversing the impact of our history on their lives and family and future generations?

The joy of doing the righteous thing and following the Jesus way in this, will be rewarding for you and your family, and your domestic staff and their family. Let us start a Living Wage revolution today. The impact will literally be felt for generations to come.

Linda Martindale