Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Searching for languages of God

Walk into any Pentecostal church; you will either be entertained by English speaking pastors bellowing into the microphones and their ever available translators artfully flinging out Chichewa or other languages for the 'illiterate' masses to hear.


Many ask, though, we are all Malawians here why the trouble of using English? Or if you are in Mzuzu why use English when Tumbuka can do? What language does God hear or want to hear then?


Rev. Major Highson Gondwe of St. Andrews CCAP church in Mzuzu thinks the reason and the answer is 'many'.


"In the Bible, God gave us 'many' languages not one. That means He acknowledges diversity and, thus, everyone should use their language," said Gondwe.


But Donnex Mwenesungu, Deputy Divisional Director of the Assemblies of God in Mzuzu and whose church is among those using English along with Chichewa translations, thinks such a combination is justifiable.


He said pastors go to theological colleges where the language of instruction is English, and some theories learnt from there are difficult to expound in any language other than English.


Mwenesungu added that preaching the gospel is like marketing and so far their style has seen the church grow.


"Also remember that it is tradition, the British used interpreters. They left it with Kamuzu and we are just in line with that. Why do they use English in Parliament when it's a foreign language?"


Assemblies of God Presbyter for Katawa, Isaac Mhango, said the use of vernacular like Chitumbuka automatically means that those who do not understand the language have to find their own church.


As a solution, Mhango said English eliminates all that and Chichewa, which he believes is understood by every Malawian, is the next best. But Gondwe laughs off the suggestion and describes it as propaganda.


"Look, the constitution grants recognition to all languages not one. God also does that. We preach in Chitumbuka because we have spoken that language since we were born," said Gondwe.


Many theologians agree that the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 is a myth. But for whatever reason the peoples of the world are endowed with many dialects.


Further down that line psycholinguists like Noam Chomsky will tell you that when you speak somebody's language you adopt their culture.


So as a Mr Msiska of Movement for the Preservation of Endangered Languages in Malawi (Mopelama) believes, are the Pentecostal churches which often use English just a vehicle of imposing languages?


Ronald Harawa, Resident Pastor for the International Christian Centre in Mzuzu and whose church only uses English, says no.


"History is to blame. I wish we had one neutral language like Swahili but again you should know that pastors are universal. I am not called to one tribe only. I can go to China today and still preach because God is universal," said Harawa.


Mhango agreed with Harawa and joked that someone said the use of English and an interpreter was somehow entertaining because "people play a game of interpreting along with the pastors and thus evading boredom."

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