Into the Mud: Inspiration for Everyday Activists: True Stories of Africa

by Christine Jeske

The author structures the book around the stories of ten individuals, mostly unconnected to each other. The common thread is the author’s connection to each.

Moody Publishers, 820 N. LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, IL 60610, 2010, 176 pages, $13.99.

Reviewed by Tom Keefer, a fifteen-year veteran of cross-cultural ministry in Europe and current director of compassion and justice ministries at Willow Creek Community Church/DuPage in West Chicago, Illinois.

I have never been to Africa. Christine Jeske allows me to feel that I have. She does this by telling stories from her life in South Africa as a development worker. More importantly, the stories she tells are of ordinary people. Into the Mud is a book for anyone who has an interest in learning about Africa, and in particular about development work. Those who know (South) Africa well will likely find little new information in this volume. Those just beginning may find the stories offer helpful insights into the culture, its diversity, and its challenges.

The author structures the book around the stories of ten individuals, mostly unconnected to each other. The common thread is the author’s connection to each. She has intentionally chosen people who are “average—the people I happened to get to know.”  

Jeske prefaces these stories with a chapter recounting observations that have grown out of her time living in South Africa, doing development work and facilitating microfinance enterprises. This book is borne out of the conviction that many westerners in Africa have not done the hard work of being learners and observers. They have not watched, listened, asked questions, and reserved judgment. They have not necessarily come with the patience, humility, and respect required to understand and appreciate a culture and its people. Jeske’s stories call us to a higher way.

She introduces us to Thembi, an orphaned school girl raised by an aunt. Thembi’s humiliation after surviving a rape attempt drives her to ingest rat poison. She survives, and ultimately becomes a surrogate mother to the children of her ten siblings, most of whom died from the consequences of AIDS. We meet Nikiwe, who against considerable odds, utilizes the services of the microfinance organization run by Jeske and her husband to build a thriving business selling amagwenya—softball-sized, lightly-sweetened doughnuts. Along the way, we learn of some of the challenges faced by many development agencies seeking to facilitate entrepreneurs in this setting.

Into the Mud takes us into the world of a forward-thinking farmer, a school principal, a sangoma (witch doctor), and a Dutch art teacher. Each story offers insights into what it means to be a respectful observer in a culture far from home. Readers will appreciate the perspective of the learner that Jeske clearly brings to her life in Africa. Refreshingly, she follows her own advice—observing, listening, and asking questions—and avoids premature judgments or any hint of arrogance and self-importance. She merely colors the canvas with her stories and allows the reader to interpret the painting.  

Check these titles:
Corbett, Steve and Brian Fikkert. 2009. When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Ourselves. Chicago: Moody Publishers.

Thurow, Roger. 2009. Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty. New York: Perseus Books Group.


EMQ, Vol. 46, No. 4, pp. 502-504. Copyright  © 2010 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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