The beginning of a new year seems like a good time to reflect on the vision we are giving our lives for. I (Terrill) am a visionary by personality---the things I write here are what I 'see' in my imagination---but Amber shares the general picture and is the one to help me turn dreams into reality by God's grace.
God gave us love for the Ik people of northeastern Uganda. Not because they are more special than any other group. Not because they are inherently more lovable. But because He just did, and only He knows exactly why. We gave God our 'yes' in our youth, and He said "Go to this place. Live among these people. Obey me there."We are trying to stay faithful to that calling and that commitment.
In my imagination I see an Ik people flourishing to the utmost of their human capacities. I envisage spiritual depth and vitality, minds trained to think and wonder, bodies strong and healthy, a booming and environmentally sound economy, and civil infrastructure that promotes societal well-being. I see Ik artists producing genuinely Icien art, Ik musicians producing genuinely Icien music, and Ik authors writing Icien poetry and prose. I see Ik people trained in valuable technical skills. I see Ik leaders capable of leading their families, communities, and entire tribe forward through the 21st century.
To summarize: our vision is for a new 'golden age' of Ik culture where all the God-given endowments to the Ik people have the opportunity to be brought to their full realization. The grammar and vocabulary of the Icetod language tell a story of centuries and perhaps millennia of heavy influence by other tribes and their cultures and languages. This type of heavy influence often occurs in social contexts where the more powerful groups influence the weaker ones. This suggests that far back into the prehistory of the Ik people, they have been the underdogs, the less prestigious, even the oppressed. When one peels away the many layers of foreign influence in the Icetod language, comparatively little 'original' material remains. Where does that original material come from? Who were those people? Did they ever experience a time of cultural flourishing, ethnic strength, and societal stability? We may never know (though I'll spend the rest of my life trying to find out more), but what we can do is try to help create the context for a spiritual reformation and cultural revival.
After earning a master's degree in 2007, I was burnt out of 'higher education'. It took a few years for a love of learning and research to crop back up again. For my job with SIL/Wycliffe, I continually tried to complete and check language development tasks off the list, but I kept bumping into obstacles created by my ignorance of the Ik language, culture, and context. At one point, in 2011, it seemed time to consolidate what I had learned into the form of a grammatical description of Icetod. Then a friend told me about a doctoral program that was free and that wouldn't require us to leave Uganda. No fees, no coursework, no homework, no residency requirement. Just research and writing. There couldn't have been a more tailor-made study program for our situation. And so I started the program in 2012 and finished on December 16, 2014, as I wrote about two posts ago (see below).
Reasons for doing this Phd in linguistics were the following: 1) To become a better linguist, not only for personal satisfaction but also so that the linguistic work done for the Ik would be of better quality; 2) to contribute to science, because I believe God created us to 'plumb the depths' of the world in every area of knowledge---it's a divine mandate to learn the world, love the world, and care for it; 3) to earn a professional credential in my field or 'craft' so that what I can contribute will be up to international standards and will be considered valuable at an international level; 4) to create explicit knowledge of Icetod that can act as a foundation for literature production, education, language-learning, research in other areas (like anthropology and ethnobotany)...and really anything that can 'till the soil' of Icien thought, belief, culture, language, and religion, so that when 'seeds' are planted in it, it will produce a bountiful harvest of prosperity, health, well-being for the Ik---in short, full-blown Icien flourishing.
Admittedly, it's a dream that only God can turn into reality. Our job is to consider what our unique role is in the process and just obey the Holy Spirit on a daily basis, leaving the really spectacular things to the One who alone can do them. For me personally, I am looking for ways my knowledge of Icetod and my professional skills and opportunities can help push the whole creative enterprise along. A few things are being planned for the coming couple of years, for example 1) writing a collection of language-learning lessons for non-Ik people who want to learn Icetod; 2) editing a collection of biographical sketches given by some elderly Ik and distributing them to family members; 3) doing a study of Icetod discourse grammar (the structures of language bigger than single sentences) in preparation for future scripture translation; 4) and laying the groundwork for a Christian school for Ik children in our local area (more on that later!).
Getting a doctorate in Ik grammar isn't the end of learning about the language. In some ways, it's only the beginning. By now what I really know is how much there is yet to learn. But it is a benchmark, and I thank God for allowing me to reach this point. He has enlarged my intellectual and spiritual capacity over the last three years, and that means more can be poured out of me than before. And that means both higher levels of joy and suffering for the years to come! When the Rector Magnificus handed me my diploma, he said I now have an obligation to both "science and society." I take that responsibility very seriously, and I pray that God gives me the privilege to keep pouring out my life energies for the furthering of the human enterprise, both on a general, cosmic scale (for science) and at a specific, concrete level (for Ik society and its individuals). And that's just me. What we really want to see is the Ik people doing the same thing: for their own people, for the whole world, for God.
Our little family of four want to be humble witnesses of God's Word, His Logos, manifested in Creation and in Jesus Christ, the Crown of Creation, in Christian Scripture, and in all true Knowledge and Wisdom. Please pray with us that this Word gains a wide audience of Ik people in the years to come!