Inter-cultural Bible Reading
In 2006 a masters student, Adriaan van Klinken, from Amersfoort in the Netherlands spent some time with us in our home as well as with our AIDS ministry in Swaziland. His supervisor at the University of Utrecht and I know each other and when he started working on his MA-thesis with the title “Theologising Life, Even in the Face of Death – A Study on the Reflections of three African Women Theologians, namely B. Haddad, I.A. Phiri and F.L. Moyo, on HIV/AIDS and Gender and its Relationship”, she recommended that he visit us. And so a friendship developed and we still have regular contact through e-mail. What further developed was a relationship between his congregation and my congregation.
Some time ago he told me about a very interesting project done from time to time between different congregations, especially across cultural borders. The idea is that the two congregations come to an agreement on doing some form of Bible Study and then sharing their results with each other, to try and understand the differences in approach to certain parts of Scripture, due to the difference in culture. The request was whether we would consider doing something like this with them. The idea sounded interesting to me and when I asked the people at our church whether they would be interested in doing this, they immediately agreed.
Today the pastor of the congregation in Amersfoort sent me an e-mail to explain in greater depth what they have in mind. In fact, I then found out that there is a website devoted to this topic: http://www.bible4all.org Shortly, how it works is that the two congregations agree on a certain Bible story (rather than dogma) which is read and discussed in both groups. The group leader tries to determine how the group members understand the story in their lives by asking certain key questions, such as:
1. About the story and one’s own life experiences
• What thoughts, memories, and experiences from your own life does the text evoke?
2. About understanding the text
• Does the story contain aspects (positive/negative) you can relate to? If so, which ones?
• What is the story about?
• What does the story tell you?
3. Identifying with the text
• Which person in the story do you identify with?
At the end of the session(s) a report is compiled by someone who had been appointed to take notes during the discussion and this report is then sent to the other congregation. At a following session the congregations will then discuss the other group’s report in an attempt to understand how they see the passage. They will then write down their reactions, positive, negative, questions to try and get a better understanding, etc and send it back to the other congregation who will then discuss the reactions, write down their response and send it back again for further discussion.
I’m extremely excited to be part of this process. I’m used to Bible Study where one will sit down with commentaries, dictionaries, Bible translations ranging from Greek and Hebrew to the most modern English translations, all in an attempt to determine the true meaning of Scripture. This seems to be different. The idea is not, as I understand it, to spend so much time on the exegesis of the passage (although I would think that this will still play some role) but rather to look at the understanding of the group of the passage.
It is obviously always difficult for groups from different cultures to understand each other, but perhaps, by listening to each other through the Word of God, this may just lead to greater understanding of each other’s background, fears, joy and expectations.
I’m looking forward to this and I’ll keep you posted on how things work out.