The Nature of God / Nyasaye: ‘a silly mistake’

A British Church, in partnership with an African church, decided to put on a conference. The conference was to be entitled The Nature of God. The name of God in that African language is Nyasaye. Somehow a mistake was made in the publicity material. Instead of promoting a conference on The Nature of God, the publicity put out internationally advertised a conference on The Nature of Nyasaye.

Immediately there was confusion at the church in England. Everyone who received the material was asking ‘what is Nyasaye’? Some said ‘we’ve never heard that name before’. Others said ‘what has that got to do with us’? Others said ‘the people preparing the promotional material must have made a silly mistake’.

Meanwhile, in Africa, people were getting excited. One said ‘I will talk about the history of Nyasaye’. Another said ‘I will explain the derivation of the word Nyasaye’. Another said ‘I will explain what Nyasaye is like’. Another said ‘I will explain some of the things my grandfather, one of the first generation of Christian believers in my tribe, used to say about Nyasaye’. Another said ‘I will explain how the Bible informs my understanding of Nyasaye’. Another said ‘my knowing Nyasaye changed my life — I will tell people how that happened’. Another said ‘this conference will really be ours’!

When the mistake was realised it was corrected on all the official literature. British people went to tell Africans about someone called God, who to the Africans was a stranger.
What’s in a name? What’s in a language?


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Jim Harries

Jim Harries

Jim Harries (PhD Theology, University of Birmingham, Professor of religion at Global University) teaches the bible in Western Kenya using the Luo and Swahili languages. His focus is on work with indigenous churches. He also works with orthodox and other mission churches. Many articles and books written by Jim can be found here. Having lived in East Africa since 1988, Jim promotes the practice of vulnerable mission. Jim has been a visiting scholar at Christian universities in the USA, Canada, UK and Germany.
Jim Harries

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