Friday, October 26, 2018

Clarity overnight

Storytime with Zach

This weekend we traveled to a visit the Gbari, to facilitate a meeting to help them plan how to use their newly translated Gbari Scriptures.  The Gbari and Gbagyi languages surround the nation’s capital, Abuja.

It had been a crazy week before going down, so I didn’t have time to write a prayer request and get it sent out before leaving.  I happened to be traveling with my friend and neighbor David, a prayer letter checker, so I just wrote a request on the way down, and he helped me to clarify what I was writing. (Thanks to David and Mike by the way, who often help make my words clearer!).  I couldn’t send the prayer request out, because the internet connection was a bit spotty on the road.  Besides, I wanted to put in a photo from a place we where were going to stop on the way.

When we arrived in Abuja, I was busy in the night and early the next morning preparing audio stories [link] that we would use during the facilitation.  Before sleeping I uploaded the prayer request I had prepared on the road earlier.  But I was too tired to read through it carefully.  I decided to send it out in the morning, but that wasn’t possible either.

We’ve done all we planned to do, but…

The rest of the day passed by quickly.  We did a Bible study using the recently drafted translation of the John’s gospel in Gbari.  Then we facilitated several discussions which laid the background for good Scripture engagement planning:  how the Scriptures apply to challenges in Gbari, what languages are used in ministry, and what is helping and hindering them in achieving their goal. 
That goal was one sticky point.  In every step we tried not to tell them what they should say, including in the statement of the goal.  Helen simply reminded them of the previous conversation and noted a theme that they wanted to use Gbari Scriptures more in their ministry.  How would that state that goal in their own words?   “Having the Gbari Bible so lives would be transformed.”  Helen wasn’t content with that goal so she stopped facilitating to quietly ask Princeton and me if it was okay.  It seemed a bit more focused on translation than using the translated Scriptures, but I remembered how much time we had wasted once in the past trying to get a better goal without much success. “It sort of ends with Scripture engagement; it should be okay,” I whispered.
After reflecting on things helping and hindering them from reaching their goal, they broke into small groups and they finally got to listen to some Scripture engagement stories we had recorded in the morning.  This sparked further issues of things that were helping and hindering them towards their goal.  Finally, they identified four areas and developed proposals on how they wanted to work on them.
About five in the evening, I stood there looking at their plans.  Something didn’t seem right.  We had followed the exact process that we had planned, carefully facilitating observation, analysis, and the initial steps of planning.  The observation had gone great, as usual.  But looking at the analysis, it just didn’t seem focused on Scripture engagement.  Even the Scripture engagement stories [link] about others’ experience hadn’t sparked ideas clearly linked to Scripture engagement.  Some were broad such as “Frustration”, “Total involvement”, “Flexibility in accepting our flaws”, and “Knowing our challenges”.  Was all the effort on facilitated discussion and Scripture engagement stories still not working?  So many things can affect how people use (or don’t use) Scriptures, so technically everything they had listed did apply to Scripture engagement.  Yet still, we didn’t seem close to practical plans.
On the bright side, there were several items which seemed they could lead towards a Scripture Engagement focused plan.  For example there was “Universal acceptability of terms” which could lead to activities to ensure agreement on words that are difficult to translate into Gbari.  Also there was “Culture” which they explained to mean the influence of their traditional religion.  One could design Audio Bible studies to focus on meeting these needs.  There was also “Stories” a wonderful cultural resource which can be used to communicate Biblical truth to all ages.  
However, in the end they had chosen to focus their plans on “Funding” (Is that for Scripture Engagement or generally for the whole Gbari programme?), “Bible in Gbari” (Does that mean getting the Bible in Gbari?), “Literacy” (Truly important, but there should be a separate plan for that), and “Training” (What kind of training and for what?).   It was hard to imagine these topics leading to detailed plans that focused on helping people to engage with the translated Gbari Scriptures.
I felt a keen need for others to join in prayer by the time I got to my room.  I had been busy non-stop since I had drafted the prayer request on the road down the previous day.  Thankfully, I already had an approved prayer update to send out, and it asked for just the right things.  I clicked “send”, happy that while it was 5pm here it was only about noon or so for most of you who are praying with us.
After dinner we all met as facilitators to discuss the way forward.  We all agreed that we were not content with the direction this planning was going.  We suggested many different ideas on how to improve the planning, but as the evening got later, we realized we were all too tired to think clearly and we had not yet come up with good way forward.  Looking at what was left to do, we also thought we needed more time than we had originally planned on.

Joy comes in the morning

I begin to realize I will be spending another night here
The next morning, we sat as facilitators outside at a nice table in the shade of some trees, feeling much more optimistic. “I have an idea,” I said, “but it might involve breaking a few of the rules of participatory methods.”  We always try to keep our own ideas out of the discussion with communities, so that we don’t manipulate the conversation.  “Listening to all they have been talking about, there are a number of helping and hindering things that we have heard that apply directly to using the Scriptures in their language.  Why don’t we facilitate the helping and hindering discussion again?  But this time we can start out by listing our own ideas?”
“Also, why don’t we give them a choice of three goals?” Someone else suggested “These goals can be more clearly focused on Scripture engagement.”  Soon I was listing the helping and hindering items in a notebook as we all discussed together.  
Handing over the proposed plans the group drafted
We still felt we would probably need to stay a bit longer.  A difference of even an hour or two would mean we couldn’t travel back the same day, since we cannot travel after dark.  So three of us volunteered to stay on while others agreed to return, having appointments in Jos the next day.
 The changes worked even better than we anticipated.  When the four original plans were presented, they were all right, but all of them focused on producing products, such as literacy primers and translated portions of Scripture.  As we hoped, our input to the conversation led to further discussion on each of the points we raised under the trees that morning.  We got better insights into opportunities and challenges the people faced than we had even expected.  By the end of the day, we had four goals, still chosen by the community, that all focused on activities that would help Gbari people to engage with their newly translated Scriptures:  Audio Bible studies, children’s ministry, youth ministry, and the Jesus film.  
We wouldn’t repeat this exact process again.  But we came away grateful that God allowed our messed up process to be patched.  Thank you for praying with us!


  1. God works in mysterious ways, and unexpected ways. Thankful for good results.

  2. I loved hearing how God answered yours prayers while we were praying for you.


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