by Sarah Whitmer Foster, J.T. Foster Jr., and Kekelwa
The need for counseling was implicit in the immense numbers of refugees and displaced persons.
They called it ‘Lonely Park,’ a community of small houses with roofs held on by large rocks. A pipe stand every few blocks or so provided water that wasn’t available in each home. Often six, seven, or eight people would live in these quarters with pebbles and dirt for streets. A church provided lanterns at night for young people, students, to come and study. The strength and hope that lives there exceeds what many think is possible.”1 That’s what we, the Fosters, faced only weeks after arriving in Botswana in 1987. We also met church workers concerned for the well-being of others, especially their members. During a meeting with a senior African church leader, he said, “Part of the time I serve as a counselor, listening to my people and helping them with their problems. This actually makes me unusual, since most pastors have not had training in basic counseling skills. Whether you realize this or not, the average pastor lacks this knowledge. As a result they often respond to personal needs only with prayer. With your backgrounds, maybe you could design training materials to address this need.”
Over the next year and a half we heard more and more about the lack of prepared pastoral counselors. But we were not sure how to respond. We were new to the scene and realized that culture would have to be an important factor in figuring out what to do. So we asked questions and listened.
We learned from our African colleagues, friends, and neighbors. The Africans’ move to urban centers is well documented. Throughout the region people were flocking to cities looking for jobs and for almost any kind of work. Unemployment in some places exceeded 40 percent of the adult population; coming to the city was leading to rapid change. As one young man lamented, “People do not greet each other.” More traditional ways of life seemed to be breaking down. The role of elders, voices from the village, were less likely to be heard. Contemporary social scientists have described such living conditions as disorienting places where the pressures of individualism and materialism compete with traditional morality. In cities, “family life, sexual mores, and the socialization of children” all suffer.2
Added to this is the haunting specter of AIDS. While exact figures are not known, it is thought that 7.5 million Africans are already HIV positive. By the end of the decade this number may reach 25 million, leaving Africa with 10 million AIDS orphans.3
While our initial discussions of the need for counseling did not touch upon alcohol abuse or the plight of refugees, church leaders were concerned about both. A meeting of African Independent Church and mission church leaders identified alcoholism as a significant problem in October, 1987. Statistics suggested that “eight out of ten women were subjected to violence in their own homes.”4 Much of this was blamed on male drunkenness.
The need for counseling was also implicit in the immense numbers of refugees and displaced persons. Conflicts resulting from apartheid and the Cold War continued in Angola, Namibia, and Mozambique, forcing “one person out of twenty” away from their homes. The worldwide average at the time was one person in 350.5
Church responses have often been limited to food and medicine. Many pastors have not been to a seminary, and of those who have gone, they often attended schools which place little emphasis upon practical theology and counseling. Masamba Ma Mpolo describes pastoral psychology as a “relatively new discipline” in Africa. This is a product of churches placing little emphasis upon pastoral care while rejecting its “indigenous components.”6
Such a past helps to explain a dearth of publications about counseling by either persons of African or European origin.7 This trend, in turn, complicates the efforts of seminaries to address urbanization, AIDS, alcoholism, and refugees.
DESIGNING A COURSE
The need for counseling came up yet again in 1988 whenBotswana’s School of Theological Education by Extension, Kgolagano College, asked us to evaluate one of its courses. A review of the existing Kgolagano offering revealed strengths, weaknesses, and an important omission. While the course defined directive and non-directive counseling, it didn’t explore the implications of using these approaches. Directive counseling has, obviously, the potential of being misused.
Seeking to minimize this potential led to thought and reflection. After months of deliberation, we began writing a new course based upon a strategy. Case studies were written to portray some of the struggles of life—adjusting to living in a city, alcoholism, unemployment, spouse abuse, and feelings at the death of parents. We tried to describe real life situations as they often come to counselors — without quick answers. Solutions to problems were not to be imposed upon either the learners or upon the actors in the case studies. When solutions were found they were discovered by people thinking about their difficulties as they shared them with empathetic listeners. Telling one’s story to an understanding and thoughtful person holds, of course, the potential of spiritual and psychological insight and healing. The new materials sought to encourage students to become better listeners.
A concern for listening is, of course, African, and it is a crucial theme in both customary law and in traditional healing. After studying the relationships between traditional healers or “diviners” and their clients, Uba came to believe that listening was “the core” of traditional helping.8 In addition to listening, African healers tend to treat their clients and their problems with positive acceptance, and then, prescribe a herbal or ritual treatment. The importance of listening also appears in still other works by Cole, Berinyuu, and in the “Pastoral Letter on AIDS” by the Catholic bishops of Uganda.9 It was recommended by Berinyuu in Ghana as a response to pluralism in cities. “The caregiver can listen with empathy to the spoken words and the non-spoken signs of the client.”10
While a combination of listening and current problems offered ways to adapt the course content to the cultural setting, the lessons were also structured to reflect cultural processes. Information is still exchanged orally. It has been the custom in Botswana to “share the news” after friends greet each other. By using brief case studies, or small vignettes in story form, the lessons take on a structure that replicates patterns of everyday life. As a result, the workbook became somewhat contextualized in two dimensions, in content and in process.
The design of the new materials was enhanced by a number of factors. First, and perhaps most importantly, our church colleagues became involved. In addition, Kekelwa Nyaywa-Dall, a Zambian social worker, was so enthusiastic about the potential use that she agreed to join us. Together we focused on topics that were drawn from everyday life. Second, Botswana has been a primary place of anthropological research for over 60 years. The nation’s cultural groups have been studied extensively by anthropologists, creating an invaluable collection of writings. Among them is a study of self-concept among the people of Botswana.11 Third, our group brought to this task backgrounds in anthropology, social work, international education, and adult education. Academic knowledge was then combined with practical experiences and an understanding of the context of learning. Our team brought an invaluable perspective on daily life.
The workbook has 65 lessons, each of which has a section of text and a brief series of open-ended questions. The text begins with change as it affects people in urban areas and an example of a person perplexed by life in a city. These lessons are followed by ones which introduce the themes of listening and problems where listening might make a difference. Within the first lessons arethree brief case studies which provide starting points for defining counseling and identifying characteristics of effective counselors.
The lessons are not in a linear sequence and topics appear, run for a number of pages, and then disappear only to return again. Among the recurring themes are agape, confidentiality, different types of counseling, and a concern for one’s neighbor. A number of lessons identify counseling skills and relate them to examples either in case studies or in dialogues. The same pattern is also followed in defining different parts of counseling sessions—concepts are combined with examples throughout the text.
Before the workbook ends, it raises various topics where counseling could make a vital difference — suicide, AIDS, and refugees. Then, it concludes with a return to agape and the thought that there are times when effective counselors are “good shepherds.”
Returning to the United States in July, 1989, we began sharing early versions of the course with Africans and with persons knowledgeable about Africa. This was a diverse group, both in experience and in denominational affiliation. The African readers were from Ghana (3), Nigeria (2), Swaziland (1), Zambia (2), and Zimbabwe (1). Among this group were Catholics (2), Baptists (2), Presbyterians (2), and a number of Methodists. While these readers responded positively to the course, they also expressed the view that it could also be useful in East and West Africa. These sentiments were repeated by Americans who had served in Kenya, Zaire, and Nigeria.
The designers were very encouraged by the reactions of readers and put the workbook on computer disks, increasing the capacity to respond to suggestions. By August, 1990, a number of improvements had been made and a draft had been sent to Kgolagano for trial use with students.
While Kgolagano used the course in 1991, 1992, and 1993, a pattern of recommendations emerged in the United States from senior clergy who had read the workbook. They sought more lessons that showed the use of directive counseling. This led to the creation of new lessons. One example describes a pastor responding with advice to an older person who is seeking specific help. As a result, the workbook has gained in theoretical balance without deemphasizing the basic theme of listening.
In late 1992 and early 1993, we began exploring returning to Africa to learn directly from student and faculty users. A staff member of Kgolagano College expressed a willingness to collect student reactions. By April a very simple questionnaire had been developed, shared with a university faculty member in sociology who conducts quantitative research, and revised in light of his suggestions. (See box on p. 307.)
One hundred questionnaires were mailed in Botswana to students and former students of Kgolagano College. Of these, 20 were returned completed. The majority of students are in certificate programs rather than in a diploma program, implying that most have not completed secondary school. If the respondents were typical of the college’s student population, two-thirds would be women from a variety of denominations.
While the questionnaire was being circulated in Botswana, it was also being shared with Africans in the United States and with Americans knowledgeable of Africa, pastoral counseling, or missiology. Twelve copies were sent by mail and nine were delivered in person. Of these, 19 were returned, 14 by mail and five by hand. The respondents were under no obligation to put their names on their questionnaires, and 13 of the mailed responses were unsigned. The same pattern occurred in Botswana, with 17 of the 20 returned without signature.
Anonymous responses also came from nine men at the Baptist Seminary in Gweru, Zimbabwe. In May, the course was used in a class largely composed of students in certificate programs, most of whom had taken “O” level exams at the end ofapproximately 11 years of schooling. This means that the average Baptist student at Gweru had attended school longer than the typical student in Botswana.
The 48 questionnaires were tabulated and the median, mode, and mean were calculated. The respondents “strongly agreed” with statements 1, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 12. Each of these statements had a median of 1, strong agreement, a mode of 1, strong agreement, and a mean between 1.43 and 1.77. Three items, 6, 10, and 13, received a median of 2, “agreement,” and a mode of 1, “strong agreement.” And the three remaining items, 2, 3, and 8, received a median of 2 and a mode of 2. The means for items 6, 10, and 13, were 2.563, 1.875, and 1.667. For items 2, 3, and 8 they were 2.146, 2.021, and 2.146.
While the course received positive scores on all 13 items, it was rated the highest for promoting discussion, developing listening skills, and encouraging people to discover their own solutions to problems. The weakest score, a mean of 2.563, went to the statement on reading level. Thirty-one percent of respondents had difficulty with the reading level—all of whom were African students. The only modification suggested by the questionnaire would be a further adjustment of the reading level.
This problem did not keep the workbook from being widely endorsed. Of the 48 respondents, 43 (89.6 percent) recommended its use in extension education, 45 persons (93.8 percent) felt that it could be used to improve the skills of pastors, and 44 (91.7 percent) encouraged its use in seminaries.
(A complete statistical analysis of the responses to the survey is available from the authors at 8319 Jack Burd Lane, Richmond, Va. 23294.—Eds.)
A letter came to us some months after the field testing. It was from a student who lived in yet another “Lonely Park.” He wrote, “Your book is so useful to me. I am working with some youth and need it. It is a challenging thing to learn the importance of each other as members of the body of Christ.”
How exciting it is to act as members of one large diversified body. Our efforts with the workbook, An Introduction to Pastoral Counseling: From Africa For Africa, have been cooperative.12 It is a tangible and collaborative reality, reflecting the valuable inputs from all of us—church workers, seminary faculty, anthropologists, missionaries, and others. The topic is critical and the results are very encouraging, the product of sharing among persons of goodwill.
1. Field notes, Sarah Whitmer Foster, 1987-1989.
2. A. Shorter, “Urbanization: Today’s Missionary Reality in Africa.” African Ecclesial Review 32 (Oct., 1990), pp.290-300.
3. Dennis C. Weeks, “The AIDS Pandemic in Africa.” Current History 91 (May,1992), pp. 208-211.
4. Chronicle, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, March 11, 1988.
5. South African Economist, “Making Room at the Inn,” 2 (Feb.,1989), p. 5.
6. Jean Masamba Ma Mpolo, “African Symbols and Stories in Pastoral Care.” The Journal of Pastoral Care 39 (Dec., 1985), pp. 314-326.
7. G. Hawkes, “The Relationship Between Theology and Practice in Southern Africa.” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 69 (Sept., 1989), pp.29-39.
8. Anselm Uba, “Counseling in the Present African Context.” African Christian Studies 7 (Dec.,1991), pp. 54-73.
9. Victor Cole, “Concepts of Pastoral Leadership in Africa: A Case Study.” Africa Journal of Evangelical Theology (2, 1990), pp. 3-11; A. A. Berinyuu, “The Encounter of Western Civilization and Civilization and Islam on Ghanaian Culture: Implications for the Ministry of Pastoral Care and Counseling.” Africa Theological Journal 17 (2, 1988), pp. 143-149. Catholic Bishops of Uganda, “Message of the AIDS Epidemic.” African Ecclesial Review 31 (Oct., 1989), pp.289-300.
10. A.A. Berinyuu, “The Encounter of Western Civilization,” op. cit.
11. H. Alverson, The Mind in the Heart of Darkness: Value and Self-ldentity Among the Tswana of Southern Africa. (Johannesburg: MacMillan, 1978).
12. Sarah W. Foster, J. T. Foster, Jr. and Kekelwa Nyaywa-Dall, An Introduction to Pastoral Counseling: From Africa, For Africa. (Tallahassee: New Focus Publications, 1990). A revised version is currently being considered for publication in Africa.
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