The Receptive Life

"We are beggars; this is true." (Martin Luther)



I first saw his name in the carbon copy of an email.

Forty African pastors from all over the continent were about to come to Nairobi for a ten day seminar on The Receptive Life. Rev. James May of Lutherans in Africa had given Naftali the task of translating my material into Kiswahili. It was a daunting assignment, and as always, the demands given to a translator come with tedious and time consuming edits. The work also comes with hard deadlines hidden under the soft request of another.

Translation is servant’s work. It labors on behalf of another’s material, never your own. And so, Naftali set aside his other work for a time and gave his diligent and detailed attention to my material.

Here’s what I gave and what he offered in return.

a small portion of my draft of the Psalm 119 Prayer Cycle
Naftali’s translation

Just this afternoon the name in the carbon copy of an email read in the United States was given a face.

Of all of the places in Africa, we met at the residence of the Finnish Ambassador to Kenya. Naftali had married a Finn as did Rev. James May and we all gathered for a Finnish Christmas celebration. After a traditional Finnish lunch (the raw salmon on rye bread was my favorite) our paths crossed poolside. The source of the words and the servant of those same words were brought together over a cup of tea and coffee.


We talked about many things but the core thread of the conversation wound its way around the urgent and dire spiritual needs of the pastors in Africa. Naftali shared how the Triune God had strategically positioned Lutherans in Africa to form African pastors to be teachers of the faith.

Napfali put LIA’s mission into three co-equal categories:

Translation: The availability of Lutheran materials in the native tongue of the pastors is critical.  LIA and the Lutheran Heritage Foundation work together to meet this need. (translated works include the Small and Large Catechisms, The Book of Concord, the “What About?” series)

Distribution: The delivery of the translated materials to pastors across the African continent is the next logistical challenge. This takes time and travel and diligent planning, especially over a land mass that is two and a half times the size of the continental United States.

Theological Education: Translating and delivering Lutheran materials to pastors is not enough. Theological education must follow. Through its offsite seminars in 23 different countries and its new onsite seminars held at the budding Lutheran School of Theology near Nairobi, LIA equips pastors to use the translated materials in their own ministry context.

Naftali’s parting words were …

“We must teach, teach, teach. Teach the Word of God. Always teach. And while we teach, we trust that the True and Real Teacher, the Holy Spirit of the Lord Jesus, will do His work.”

Sounds like Luther’s words in the Large Catechism …

“… we must teach the Devil to death.”

My small part in that mission begins Monday. As Naftali served my words may I serve the Word made flesh. Together, as ambassadors of the Lord Jesus, we labor with the promise that one day the Word and the servants of the Word will meet face to face.

Till then, well done, Naftali, good and faithful servant.


If you would to like sign up and receive updates to this site, enter your email address below:
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quoted on this site is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.