Interviewing @kouya

If you were given the equivalent of an ‘Elevator Pitch’ (30 seconds) how would you sum up your life and faith so far?

Inside, I’m still the nervous kid from a council estate in Sunderland. Somewhere along the line, I grew older and I’m very happily married and have two grown up sons. I’ve been a Bible Translator in an African village, a mission leader, a trainer and numerous other things; but the main thing about me is that I’m a follower of Jesus and I’m still learning.

You’ve recently returned from the Lausanne conference – what are the key messages that you came away from the event with?

I must admit that I find it difficult to remember the details of many of the talks and presentations at the Lausanne Congress. There was just so much content that it all became a bit of a blur after the first day or two. I know that I really enjoyed some of the speakers, though I can’t for the life of me remember why. When I get a bit of time, I need to go back and listen to a couple of the talks to remind myself why I thought they were so good. There are a couple of other talks that I found much less helpful, but I probably won’t go back to remind myself why that is so!

Overall, there are two, related, impressions which stick with me:

The sheer size of the event and the amazing breadth of people who attended will stick with me for a long time. I’m a cross-cultural professional; I’ve spent the last twenty five years working with people from all around the world and multi-national Christian gatherings are hardly a new thing for me. Just a week before Lausanne, I’d been at a meeting of 200 Christian leaders from fifty or so countries. But the Lausanne meeting was on another scale entirely. This was a cross-cultural gathering on steroids. During coffee break one day, I was chatting to an old friend from our supporting church in Southampton, when we were interrupted by the leader of the Bible translation movement in Bhutan – that sort of thing doesn’t happen every day. It was amazing to bump into someone I’d last seen twenty five years ago when she had just become a Christian and to see how she had grown and matured into a significant leadership role in her own country. The size and breadth of the world church is absolutely amazing.

On the other hand, I was struck by how much we need to work at true, equal partnership with the world-wide Church. Ninety nine percent of the plenary presentations were done in English. This was done to make simultaneous interpretation into other languages more convenient, but it also had the effect of marginalising other linguistic and cultural groups. I know that being a Bible translator makes my hyper-sensitive to this sort of thing, but I was saddened to see people forced to stumble reading stuff in English, when they would have been dynamic and interesting speaking in their own languages. Likewise almost all of the worship time was in English – we did sing English songs in other languages, but they were still English songs. I wonder what Lithuanian, or Turkish worship music sounds like? On the last morning of the congress we were reminded that we have to listen to the voices from the margins of the church, but if the congress is anything to go by, we will only listen if they speak English. We still have a lot of work to do before we truly have an international community.

When did you start your blog and what inspired you  to blog? Do you have any particular strategy for your blog, or is more reactive and reflective?

We work with Wycliffe Bible Translators and we don’t receive a salary; we are responsible for raising our own financial support and for finding people who will pray for us on a regular basis. Kouya Chronicle (our blog) started off as a static web site which focused on getting information about what we were doing out to our regular supporters. Initially, it was little more than an archive for our regular prayer letters and a photograph album. Like many people who started out designing their own websites, I used MS Front Page. After a short while, I swapped over to WordPress. This wasn’t because I wanted to start a blog, but because I wanted to make small changes to the website without everything falling apart which happened with frightening regularity using Front Page.

Having set up a blog, I started blogging in a fairly haphazard fashion. The main aim is still to stay in contact with our prayer supporters. We use WordPress to manage a mailing list for email news. But over the years, short book reviews and comments about mission and Bible translation have become more a part of what we do. There are times when I will write a series of articles on a topic (the Gospel and Culture for example see here) and I also include some contentious pieces (try this one on the Great Commission, but much of what I write is reacting to things I find elsewhere in the blogsphere. These days, I’m too busy to have time for much original thought and writing. This makes me sad, but each season of life brings different things – perhaps my next season will allow me to read and think more.

People may want to know why the blog is called Kouya Chronicle. Back in 1988 we started working with the Kouya people in Ivory Coast and adopted the title Kouya Chronicle for our printed prayer letters. The Kouya New Testament was published in 2002 and since then we haven’t really worked with the Kouya, though we maintain a number of close friendships with people in the region. The name has stuck with us though. If you want to know more about our work with the Kouya, take a look at this video.

We see that you have a blog, podcasts and an active Twitter feed (@kouya). What do you feel you gain from producing your materials in this digital format?

Hmmmm – I’m not sure. The podcast is a bit of a cheat, basically I just link to any talks I give that are recorded and appear on any website anywhere in the world. This includes lectures, sermons and mission talks. I don’t produce anything intentionally as a podcast, but it does serve to aggregate the stuff I do elsewhere. I don’t have many subscribers, but those who use the podcast seem to appreciate it.

Twitter is partly fun and partly serious. My blog posts a tweet each time it is updated and I do retweet some things seriously. I’ve been following the elections in Ivory Coast over the last few days on Twitter – it’s the best source of news I know. However, much of my tweeting is simply fun with a group of people for whom I’ve developed a huge amount of respect and affection – even though I’ve not met most of them.

We still produce printed newsletters, but they are an awful lot of work compared to blog posts and emails and fewer and fewer people seem to want to receive them. Perhaps one day we’ll drop them altogether. I’m also writing a book (when time allows). Much of the content of my book has turned up on the blog over the last year or so. Blogging is so much easier than getting publishers and such like.

2011 is the 400th anniversary of the King James  Bible, commonly celebrated as ‘the Bible in the vernacular’. You work with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Why do you feel that this work is so important? What do you think is the value of a project such as Big Bible? Do you think it reflects modern day vernacular?

How long have you got? I could wax eloquently about this for hours; but let me just cut to the heart of the matter. The whole narrative of the Bible shows us that God wants to communicate with us and that He comes to us in order to do so. Bible translation is all about us bringing God’s word to people because that is what God himself does. This video captures some of the them as does this article.

I like the Big Bible project – anything that gets people reading and talking about the Scriptures is alright in my book. I think we have tended to be far too individualistic in our approach to Bible reading over the years, and I hope that projects like the Big Bible will reintroduce the idea of reading the Bible in community. We probably need to back up this sort of approach with some serious thinking about what a hermeneutic community looks like in post-Christendom Britain.

About bigbible

The #BigBible Project. Educating in the digital spaces, creating 'bigger Bible conversations' between #digidisciple(s). Look out for #bigread14.