A Reconciled Community of Suffering Disciples

Aspects of a Contextual Somali Ecclesiology

by Frank-Ole Thoresen (Author)
©2014 Monographs X, 268 Pages
Series: Bible and Theology in Africa, Volume 17


Church members among the ethnic Somali population in the Horn of Africa constitute a culturally marginalized and persecuted minority. Despite more than a hundred years of Protestant missionary efforts, the growth of the church has remained slow and protracted. The very concept of «Somali Christian» accordingly continues to constitute a contradiction of terms in the mindset of most Somalis. Moreover, the few Christian congregations that have been established have most often remained unstable and in flux.
Through empirical research, A Reconciled Community of Suffering Disciples: Aspects of a Contextual Somali Ecclesiology explores the background for such a development and interprets it within Somali cultural and religious patterns. By emphasizing the key aspects of contextual relevancy and theological coherence, it suggests a way forward for the Somali church.
A Reconciled Community of Suffering Disciples is particularly relevant for courses on contextual theology in contexts of religious persecution. It offers insights for anyone with an interest in the Somali church and Somali culture in general.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1 Introduction
  • 1.1 Field of Inquiry
  • 1.1.1 Applied Terminology
  • 1.2 Relevance and Objectives
  • 1.2.1 Background
  • 1.2.2 Objectives of the Study
  • 1.3 Approaching the Problem
  • 1.3.1 Accessing the Context
  • 1.3.2 Research Questions
  • 1.3.3 Scope of Relevance
  • Chronology
  • Denominations
  • 1.3.4 Related Research
  • Literature with Immediate Relevance to the Somali Church
  • Models of Contextual Ecclesiology
  • Somali Culture and History
  • 1.3.5 A Model of Contextual Ecclesiology
  • 1.3.6 Outline of the Study
  • 1.4 Summary
  • 2 Approaching Contextual Ecclesiology—Interpretive Frameworks
  • 2.1 A Dialogue of Understanding
  • 2.1.1 Gadamer’s Philosophical Hermeneutics in Relation to Contextual Theology
  • 2.2 Worldviews
  • 2.3 Text and Context
  • 2.4 Interpreting Data
  • 2.4.1 A Theory of Gerd Theissen
  • 2.4.2 Ecclesiological Paradigms
  • 2.4.3 Models in Ecclesiology
  • 2.4.4 The Cultural Outsider and Contextual Theology
  • 2.5 Summary
  • 3 Analyzing Interviews
  • 3.1 Negotiating Oral Sources
  • 3.1.1 Performing Analysis of Transcribed Texts
  • 3.1.2 Theorizing and Research Reliability
  • 3.2 Summary
  • 4 Church between Continuity and Discontinuity—An Historical Outline of the Somali Church
  • 4.1 The Early Years—Scandinavian Protestant Involvement
  • 4.1.1 The First Evangelical Believers
  • 4.1.2 Features of SEM Missionary Approach
  • 4.1.3 Compilation and Membership of the Christian Congregations
  • 4.1.4 The Role of National Evangelists
  • 4.1.5 Congregational Disintegration and Collapse
  • 4.2 Persistence and Congregational Re-establishment—Arrival of North American Missionaries
  • 4.2.1 Church Continuity at Lower Jubba
  • 4.2.2 Numerical Growth
  • 4.2.3 Congregational Development
  • 4.2.4 Church, Mission and Political Change
  • 4.3 Historical Developments—A Summary
  • 5 The Church as Communion
  • 5.1 Division and Conflict
  • 5.1.1 Denominational Differences
  • 5.1.2 Financial Support
  • 5.1.3 Distrust among Expatriate Missionaries
  • 5.1.4 Ethnicity
  • 5.1.5 Group Leadership
  • 5.1.6 Organizational Instability
  • 5.2 Unity and Communion
  • 5.2.1 Cultural Correspondence
  • 5.2.2 Contrast Communities
  • 5.3 Analysis of Unity and Division
  • 5.3.1 Community and Subject in Somali Society
  • 5.3.2 The Christian Community and Social Deprivation
  • 5.3.3 The Christian Community and Structural Pragmatism
  • 5.3.4 Christian Denominations, Situational Loyalty, Institutional Instability, and the Development of “Unitary Christian Languages”
  • 5.3.5 Synthesizing the Findings—The Subject in Communion
  • 5.4 Communion Ecclesiology
  • 5.4.1 A Theological Dimension
  • 5.4.2 A Sociological Dimension
  • 5.4.3 Communion Ecclesiology in the Somali Context
  • 6 The Suffering Church
  • 6.1 Multifarious Experiences of Religious Persecution
  • 6.1.1 Cultural Ostracism and Marginalization
  • 6.1.2 Accusations, Oral Threats and Physical Abuse
  • 6.1.3 Community Pressure on Family and Children
  • Persecution as Logical Consequence in the Pauline Literature
  • Persecution as Imitatio in Luke-Acts
  • 6.1.4 Loss of Rights and Opportunities
  • Evasion as a Response Strategy to Persecution
  • The Legitimacy of Christian Seclusion and Concealment
  • 6.1.5 Religiously Motivated Homicides
  • 6.1.6 The Complexity of Circumstances—Some Qualifications
  • 6.2 Agents of Persecution
  • 6.3 Summary
  • 6.4 Discernible Consequences of Persecution
  • 6.4.1 The Dynamics of Center and Periphery in Somali Culture and the Impact on Somali Christian Representation
  • 6.4.2 Cultural Pragmatism and Christian Persecution
  • 6.5 Summary
  • 6.6 Towards a Contextual Ecclesiology of Persecution
  • 6.6.1 The Two Sides of Pentecost
  • 6.6.2 Persecution and Church Growth
  • 6.6.3 Persecution—a State of Normalcy for the Church?
  • 6.6.4 Perseverance in Persecution
  • 6.7 Conclusion
  • 7 Disciples of Ciise Masiix
  • 7.1 Discipleship as Spiritual Growth
  • 7.2 Discipleship as Oral Witness
  • 7.3 Discipleship as Diakonia
  • 7.4 Summary
  • 7.5 Culturally Authentic Patterns of Spiritual Formation
  • 7.6 Culturally Authentic Patterns of Interpersonal Support
  • 7.7 Towards a Contextual Ecclesiology of Discipleship
  • 7.7.1 Disciples of Ciise Masiix
  • 7.7.2 Spiritual Formation through Imitation
  • 7.7.3 Discipleship as Witness through Proclamation and Charitable Commitments
  • 7.8 Summary
  • 8 “We are the Church”—Unity in Diversity
  • 8.1 Communion Ecclesiology and Ecumenism
  • 8.2 The Local Congregation and the Church
  • 8.2.1 The Theological Perspective
  • 8.2.2 The Contextual Perspective
  • 8.2.3 A Way Forward
  • 9 Summary and Concluding Remarks: The Church as the Reconciled Community of Suffering Disciples
  • 9.1 Ecclesiological Theory
  • 9.2 The Model Summarized
  • 9.3 Indications of Contextual Response Strategies
  • 9.4 Contribution and Novelty
  • Appendix
  • Appendix A: Approximate Limits of Somali-Inhabited Area and Ethnic Groups
  • Appendix B: Informants’ Biographical Data
  • Appendix C: Interview Guide
  • Appendix D: Map of Sem Involvement in Jubba, 1898—1935
  • Appendix E: Map of SMM and SIM Involvement in Somalia, 1953—1974
  • Appendix F: Archive Material
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series Index

← viii | ix → Acknowledgments

During the work with this book I have become indebted to a number of people. First and foremost, my understanding of the challenges of the Somali church has developed in an ongoing dialogue with my informants and this book would not have been possible without their contribution. I would like to thank the Somali Christian informants in particular who have often shared painful experiences from their life stories with me. It is my profoundest desire that this book may be of benefit to the future church among the Somali population in the Horn of Africa, and that the church accordingly may profit from the stories of these informants.

I am most grateful to Fjellhaug International University College, whose management initially challenged me to start working on this book. The institution has further provided the necessary grants throughout the research process. Several colleagues have also offered valuable feedback at various stages of developing the manuscript and I remain indebted to all of you. A special thanks to Melissa Grindheim who has proofread the entire manuscript.

Professor Thor Strandenæs at the School of Mission and Theology has been my very patient supervisor. He has good-naturedly guided me through every step of the research process and made sure the dissertation developed from process to product. Without his wisdom, encouragement and guidance this thesis would not have materialized.

I am also grateful to Maps.com and Lunde Forlag who have granted me permission to use their material free of charge.

Last but not least, I must give loving thanks to my wonderful family. Katrine, Marianne, Ole Martin, Kristian and Ingunn, you have been very tolerant during many evenings, weekends and holydays. Thanks to all of you!

Abdi Welli Ahmed was a mature and bold Somali Christian from the northeastern part of Kenya. On the 7th of February 2013 he was shot to death while driving a car in his home town. I dedicate this book to Abdi and the many other Somali Christians who continue to suffer for their faith. “‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). ← ix | x →

← x | 1 → 1 Introduction

1.1 Field of Inquiry

Does a church which numbers less than a thousand people deserve a comprehensive investigation documented by a doctoral dissertation? And if so, why? The history of the church among the Somali population in the Horn of Africa inevitably sparks inquisitiveness from a research perspective. On the one hand, Western mission agencies, having been involved in this area for more than a hundred years, have seen very limited church growth. Many congregations have been established, but they have often dissolved within a few years’ time. However, many smaller congregations exist, but the limited numbers of congregants have been highly mobile and individual members have often been roaming around among these smaller groups. This has resulted in a church context which is characteristically unstable and in flux. Adding to this picture is the fact that those Somalis who have turned to the church often have been subjected to stark persecution from the Muslim majority. This has led to a substantial backsliding from the church, and the question arises: are there cultural or religious features integral to this context which makes it particularly resistant to church growth? If so, to what extent has the church been able to respond to such challenges? In other words, one may ask whether the ecclesiological self-perception of the members has influenced the church’s opportunities for local consolidation and development.

The church among the ethnic Somali population in the Horn of Africa constitutes a culturally marginalized and persecuted minority. Ancient images, reflecting the historical process of a merger of religious and political animosity, are still prevalent in the context. Professor Said S. Samatar describes this tension accordingly: “Somali Islam is a frontier Islam, hemmed in on all sides by pagan and Christian interlopers. Characteristically, frontier Islam is bellicose, xenophobic and profoundly suspicious of alien influences.”1 Christian Somalis, although few and scattered, thus carry with them an inherent tension pertaining to cultural and religious representation. Through several decades Christian Somalis have asked themselves the fundamental question: Is it really possible to be Christian and Somali at the same time? According to the Islam-influenced traditional Somali myth of genealogy, the blood of the Prophet Mohammed flows in their veins. In light of this fact, does not the very concept of “Somali Christian” then represent a contradiction of terms?2 As the Christian church among Somalis ← 1 | 2 → continues to exist within this sphere of tension, the question of whether it is contextually relevant accordingly constitutes a burning issue. The number of ethnic Somali Christians has never been great, and the presence of various mission agencies continues to wield a substantial influence on the church. Also the number of mission agencies involved has seen an increase during recent years. Although these agencies to some extent may pay due attention to challenges of contextualization, the inherent theological patterns and frames of understanding continue to carry the imprint of Western mindsets.

As already indicated above, the way in which Somali Christians have conceived of the church, and related to it, may be one of the reasons why the number of Christians has remained rather small. This fact prompts a question: Is it possible that by developing Somali contextual patterns and understandings of concepts which are constitutive to the Christian message, one may assist the Somali church in overcoming its seeming unconnectedness with Somali culture? My thesis is that a development in this regard is possible, and it should consequently be pursued further. Is it possible to interpret the church in a manner that is experienced as culturally relevant for the Somalis, and through such a process to create a certain distance from the inherent foreignness which Christianity and Western mission agencies represent? I thus intend to further explore the theme of contextual theology in this setting, by suggesting the outlines of a contextually relevant ecclesiological model for the Somali church. In order to establish the cultural context of the Somali church, I shall base my study on a combination of qualitative interviews and relevant literature studies. Here the analysis of interviews serves a primary role in identifying prevalent challenges which I intend to address. My main research question is: “How can ecclesia be interpreted in a theologically coherent and contextually relevant manner among the Christian Somali population in the Horn of Africa?” I attempt to answer this main research question by employing a set of sub-questions. These sub-questions will also identify the subject to be dealt with in each of the main chapters (Ch. 5–8) of the thesis. In my introductory chapter I will present in further detail the manner in which I seek to answer the main research question. That includes such issues as relevance and objectives of the study, a thorough presentation of the problem to be confronted, as well as an introduction to the methodology which will be employed. Before embarking on the main chapters of the thesis (Ch. 5–8), which contain interview reporting and analysis, I include a brief history of the Somali church (Ch. 4). I shall start by explaining how I will apply some of the basic terminology utilized in the thesis.

1.1.1 Applied Terminology

The concept of coherence finds its roots in the Latin equivalent, cohaerere, which means to be consistent or to be connected. The term is most commonly employed when referring to the interaction of various parts and a totality, emphasizing that the ← 2 | 3 → parts within a particular field are interconnected and jointly form a logical unity. Coherence may further be qualified by its opposite, the negative term, incoherence, which emphasizes a lack of inner consistency.3 I have accordingly used the term in this study to emphasize that the various parts of the ecclesiological model are logically and theologically interconnected and that they do not represent inner contradiction or inconsistency.4 This further indicates that the study is hermeneutical, implying a dialogical process between the various parts that will be introduced, and the ecclesiological model as a whole.5 The feature of theological coherence will be evaluated against a comparative analysis of various ecclesiological models which have been presented by Avery M. Dulles’ Models of the Church.6

The term relevant has been intertwined with contextualization terminology since the latter came into general use during the 1970’s. The concept of contextualization still lacks a widely embraced definition, but the various understandings of the term all include a perspective of contextual relevancy. Other interrelated terms that have often been employed, such as meaningful, understandable and reflective,7 emphasize a theology particularly conditioned by the inclusion of an emic perspective.8 I concur with Birger Hjørland who defines the concept of relevancy like this, “[…] relevance is not primarily a psychological concept, but a concept in the theory of knowledge (epistemology), a paradigm, something generally accepted in a community.”9 Relevancy in this project will correspond to generally accepted “cultural knowledge” in the context which my project addresses—the Somali culture. The concept of contextual relevancy will further be evaluated against various sociological theories of religion (see 2.5).10

The key concept of contextual relevancy situates this study within the growing field of contextual theology. Considering the dearth of existing written material pertaining to the Somali church, it has become mandatory for me to opt for an empirical approach. This approach reflects the conviction that a study such as the present one would not represent any degree of contextual relevance unless the voice of Christian Somalis could be heard. Their past and present ecclesiological experiences, as well as their reflections on such experiences, thus constitute the unit of analysis in this study. ← 3 | 4 → Since my focus has been to access the interviewees’ personal reflections, perspectives and experiences, I have opted for doing individual, semi-structured interviews.11

The worldwide Christian church has gone through a radical transformation during the last decades, and Christianity is at present emerging in new forms.12 At the beginning of the 20th century, it was by its numerical distribution deemed a Western religion. Christianity had for centuries been enculturated in a European context and about eighty percent of global church members were located in the Western world. A hundred years later the picture had changed dramatically. At the beginning of the 21st century the majority of Christian believers were living outside of Europe and North America.13 Consequently, if one regards the pure statistics, Christianity can no longer be considered a Western religion. Although global structure and agency are still endorsing Western theological dominance, Christianity is for the first time in modern history evolving globally and the church is slowly losing its European forms. More and more powerful national or indigenous Christian movements in non-Western contexts continue to develop their contextual characteristics, and appear increasingly culturally autonomous.14 In the wake of these growing Christian movements, the awareness of a need for contextualizing theology has risen during the past decade. Their very existence has provided us with more relevant material as to forms of contextual theology. Nevertheless, the emphasis on the need for contextualizing ecclesiology is proportionally underestimated. By introducing the concept of ecclesia into the main research question, I emphasize that the present study particularly focuses on contextual ecclesiology. I maintain that the claim made by Charles Van Engen more than two decades ago is still relevant today:

Around the world one of the most neglected areas of missiological research has been ecclesiology. Rather than finding new avenues for creatively contextualizing the congregation so that it might represent the gospel, we have exported church polities, church forms, church structures, and church traditions, superimposing them on all the cultures we have encountered. Although we have become conscious of the relationship ← 4 | 5 → of gospel and culture, we have yet to understand how drastically we must rethink that relationship.15

As part of this global transition, particularly in the wake of Vatican II (1962–1965), the ecclesiological pendulum has swung from sustaining traditional hierarchical models of church to a renewed emphasis on egalitarian, participative and more flexible interpretations of the same.16

By researching contextual ecclesiology in the Somali context, the study further belongs within the growing number of scholarly projects focusing on Christian churches in Africa. During the second symposium at Sangana, Kenya in 1990, leading African theologians presented a call to the African church, enquiring: “How can the Church be truly African and truly Christian?”17 My study represents a limited attempt to answer this question, and presents an ecclesiological response to challenges inherent to the Somali society. The proposed ecclesiological model further pursues the challenge which Stephen B. Bevans presents as the nature of all contextual theology, namely that of combining the experiences of the past (scripture and tradition) with the experiences of the present (context).18 In this study, the latter is defined as the need for the church to be contextually relevant and authentically Somali today. The project is accordingly a part of the global response to “move from the level of mere prolegomena to that of actual theologizing”19 in an African context. By this I do not suggest that the notion of African should be regarded as a uniform and monolithic entity. On the contrary, the African context is highly composite and Somali culture in particular carries distinct characteristics contrasted to what is often labeled “Tropical Africa.”20

← 5 | 6 → 1.2 Relevance and Objectives

1.2.1 Background

Missionaries representing the Swedish Evangelical Mission (SEM) arrived at the coastal city of Kismaayo in Southern Somalia on the 10th of March 1898. Carl Cederqvist, an experienced missionary to Africa, was commissioned to establish an SEM base there. The southernmost Somali-inhabited area was at the time part of British East Africa. Cederqvist’s main objective was to reach the Borana Oromo tribe, located in the southern part of Abyssinia, some seven to eight hundred kilometers further north. While Cederqvist was searching for an opportunity to follow the Jubba River upstream towards the Borana Oromo, Kismaayo developed into a new independent SEM mission field.21 This, then, was the first cautious interaction of Protestant missions with the Muslim population of Somalia. Presently, however, Christianity is still generally considered an alien religion among Somalis in the Horn of Africa. Despite more than a hundred years of various Protestant mission involvements, Christian fellowships consisting of ethnic Somali believers are rare. Many such groups have been established during the last century and they have often subsisted for a period of time. Efforts have also been made to stabilize them. Yet, at present no group of evangelical Christian Somalis has existed with any degree of continuity for more than approximately ten to fifteen years. For a variety of reasons the pattern has most often been that groups have disintegrated within a few years of their establishment. Integral elements of their common fate have been such recurring factors as political unrest, individual and group mobility, cultural pressure, religious persecution, internal group conflicts and separation. After a period of time mission agencies have often joined a few local believers and attempted to gather the remnants of disintegrated groups to re-establish smaller fellowships. However, the growth of such groups has continued to be slow, both numerically and spiritually. Presumably the present number of evangelical Christian Somalis in the Horn of Africa does not exceed a few hundred.22

← 6 | 7 → 1.2.2 Objectives of the Study

The story of the Christian church among the Somali is a story of unnamed struggles and sufferings. Informants have on many occasions given me access to their painful experiences, anticipations and fears, and they have shared with me a glimpse of the challenges they are facing as Christians. This study aspires to provide Somali Christians an arena for sharing some of their experiences and difficulties which have become embedded features of their faith stories. Is it possible that the struggles they have endured may shed light on their contemporary challenges? I believe it is. And further, may their experience of such struggles become a stepping stone for a stronger and more vital future church? Again I believe it may. The present study analyzes past and contemporary ecclesiological experiences. Through this process it seeks to bring reflection on the particular challenges faced by the church in this context a step further.

The Somali area has been subject to Muslim influence since the early years of Islamic development,23 and the Somali population consequently represents a thoroughly Islamized culture. This inheritance is, however, amalgamated with fundamental and distinct Somali cultural traits, such as a clan based segmentary lineage system, nomadism and a highly egalitarian social structure. As such, a study of the Somali context carries the potential to illuminate a variety of ecclesiological challenges in need of further attention. The highly Muslim-influenced context, merged with an age-old distinct Somali culture, constitutes an inherent call for a renewed ecclesiological reflection. The purpose of such a reflection is to contribute to the development of a local Somali theology. Hopefully its outcome will assist the future church among Somalis to be relevant and a true witness of Jesus Christ and the gospel.24 The Christian communities among the Somali have been able to integrate the church into the culture and context of the East African Somali communities to a limited extent. Accordingly, there exists an embedded need to make the church fully Somali, that is authentically Somali Christian. A successful transmission and integration of faith presupposes that “those standing ← 7 | 8 → outside that faith are able to identify with the church communities embodying and transmitting it.”25 This study consequently has grown out from more than a mere academic ambition. If this project may contribute to a stronger identification for Somali believers with the Christian faith, it will be more than worth the time and effort taken to complete it.

Finally, through engaging the particular context and initiating a dialogue with Somali Christian informants, the study seeks to develop an interpretative model of ecclesia that may not only be embraced and experienced as contextually relevant to evangelical Christian Somalis, but may also represent theological coherence. My research is thus aspiring to develop a theory in a field only explored to a very limited degree.

1.3 Approaching the Problem

A research project inevitably carries an internal logic which constitutes the research design. The different parts that are presented have been chosen and included for a particular reason, and each part has a decisive role to play in the overall composition. In a study such as this, the challenge of merging the different parts into an integrated and uniform composition is apparent. The project, being interdisciplinary, is composed of such multifarious components as church history, ethnography, empirical research and contextual ecclesiology, all of which have relevance to the church’s missiological reflection. Therefore, a continuous dilemma has remained throughout the research process. How much emphasis should be put on the different components of the study? How much time and effort should be spent on delving into secondary discussions in the different fields of study which carry some relevance to the project? How much time should be spent on methodological considerations in these different fields? Most scholars in the field of mission theology have, of course, been struggling with similar questions for decades. In the end, this exhausting dilemma has perhaps too often found its solutions in the inherent time limitation, rather than through considering the need for a strict balance in each project. In this thesis I have prioritized the empirical component as well as the more cognitive ecclesiological deliberations. Inferences with regard to, for instance, mission methodology are thus treated secondarily.

1.3.1 Accessing the Context

I first arrived in the northeastern part of Africa with my family in 1999. Subsequent to a few months of language study in the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, our luggage was loaded on a small truck to be dispatched to the southernmost part of the country. Some days later most of our belongings arrived at the designated destination, ← 8 | 9 → and a new life began for a small Scandinavian family. Seconded by the Norwegian Lutheran Mission (NLM) to the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), we had been appointed to settle in a dusty little town located approximately 100 kilometers north of the Kenyan border. The town carried the somewhat ambiguous appellation of “Mega,” a name that, according to local inhabitants, had been given by the Italians during the occupation of 1936–1942. Despite mustering a very friendly population and picturesque surroundings, there was not much grandeur to the town.

During our stay in Mega (1999–2002), we became involved in various activities, ranging from congregational development and teaching at the local bible school to small scale development and relief projects. Most of our involvement at the time was directed towards the ethnic Borana Oromo population. It was, however, during these first years in southern Ethiopia that my particular awareness of the ethnic Somali population started to grow. A substantial part of the mission work area surrounding Mega was inhabited by different Somali affiliated clans. It had been difficult for the church to establish a presence among these groups, and despite more than fifty years of missionary presence in the area they apparently remained untouched by Christianity. My involvement with the Somali population, however, altered dramatically in 2003, as my family and I were reassigned and moved to Neghelle, some 200 kilometers further east, where I was appointed to coordinate the EECMY involvement with the Somali population in a large area.

I remained intimately engaged with the Somali context, based in Ethiopia, for the succeeding six years, interrupted only by a period of assignment in Norway (2005– 2006). The main fieldwork to this study, however, was carried out during the years 2007 and 2008. At the time I was serving as a national adviser for the EECMY Somali involvement and had my base in the church’s Central Office in Addis Ababa. During these years I travelled extensively in the wider Somali-inhabited area in the Horn of Africa, and most of the interviews were conducted during this time. Of particular importance was the opportunity to participate in regional, ecumenically inclusive forums with a specific focus on the Somali context. These assemblages represented an extensive body of knowledge and experience with regard to the contemporary development of the church among the Somali population. As both expatriate missionaries and Somali Christians from all over the region were participants, it was possible to develop a panoramic view of contemporary involvement. Equally important was the opportunity to establish trust and relationships with other individuals, which in turn led to identification of, and access to, many of the informants I was able to interview.

So despite the embedded sensitivity of the issues I investigated, and the private character of some of my questions, it was rarely a problem to develop trust and rapport with the informants. Either they already had some knowledge of who I was or I was introduced to them by other members of the community, whom they trusted. I was never turned away when asking for permission to do an interview. Selecting my informants accordingly was an ongoing process for a few years, as I was advised in various ← 9 | 10 → ways which individuals I ought to approach. Written material, friends, co-workers and my first informants contributed towards identifying other experienced individuals to be approached.

The actual problem to be confronted in this study materialized through several years of broad interaction with the context. I believe that the longstanding participatory relationship I have shared with individuals belonging to the context has provided me with a possibility to reflect on these challenges in a relevant and informed manner.26

1.3.2 Research Questions

In the course of developing the theme and approach to this problem, I have introduced a set of research questions. The idea of introducing research propositions at an early phase of a study is, for instance, central to a case study approach, but also to some extent to grounded theory. Such research propositions serve as markers of areas that need to be covered during the research.27 A relative awareness of personal situatedness, as well as introduction of theory and propositions from a relatively early stage of the research process, indicate that the project differs from more radical forms of inductive research.28 Such research strategies demonstrate a reservation against introducing any preformed hypothesis to guide the collected evidence. It is my conviction that, although refraining from introducing preformed hypotheses, every researcher inevitably has some presuppositions pertaining to the area of research on which he or she embarks. Such presuppositions will be strengthened or modified through, for example, pre-research literature reviews and further interaction with the research context. The purpose of research propositions is thus to call attention to areas that are anticipated to be of particular importance, and accordingly need to be further explored during the research process. In this study the research questions substitute research propositions, but could be said to constitute a parallel function. The areas highlighted by the research questions developed naturally over the course of time in my continual interaction ← 10 | 11 → with the context and, later on, in a dialectical dialogue with the empirical material and literature studies in various scholarly fields.29 As such, this development may be taken to emphasize the centrality and active participation of the researcher on the research process.30 I was continuously being educated during the course of the study. I further brought my expanded horizon with me to enlighten the research process. This was also the case with regard to the actual interview process, where later interviews were enlightened by the information gained from preceding ones. The areas stressed by the research questions were also part of the process of sequencing and categorizing during the analysis.31 The questions therefore represent areas of particular interest, which have been identified during the study and have been introduced with the purpose of guiding the research in a useful direction. Parallel to this process, my presuppositions were informed by literature studies. The research project may therefore be categorized as an abductive, theory informed study. Through the dialectic interaction between empirical material, analysis and theory, I aspire to answer the main research question by moving from the specific towards an abstract generalization, or hypothesis, represented by a theoretical ecclesiological model.32

The sub-questions are phrased in such a way that answers to them, both individually and collectively, will enable me to answer the main research question (see 1.1). My research sub-questions are as follows:

1) The Somali community is a kinship based society. As will be established in the following, I argue that the expectations of the corporate and those of the autonomous subject, is a matter of tension in Somali culture. Based on this contention, I anticipate that a similar disparity is manifest also with regard to the Christian communities, and accordingly ask the question,

← 11 | 12 → • What ecclesiological lessons can be learned from the past experiences of the dialectic interrelation of “community” and “subject” in Somali Christian fellowships?33

2) Somali Christians have up to the present time experienced widespread and persistent oppression and persecution from the wider Somali community. In recognition of this fact, I ask the question,

• What ecclesiological lessons can be learned from studying Somali Christians’ experiences of suffering and persecution?

3) Membership in the Somali church has often been subject to an apparent lack of continuity. I consequently ask the question,

• What ecclesiological lessons can be learned from studying Somali Christians’ experiences with the process of spiritual formation?

4) Although Protestant Christianity has been present in the Somali context for an extended period of time, the growth of memberships in the Somali congregations has generally remained slow. Realizing this development, as well as a theological interpretation of the church as being missionary by nature, I ask the question,

• What ecclesiological lessons can be learned from studying Somali Christians’ experiences of integrating a Christian witness into their local contexts?

5) I understand diakonia as an integral part of Christian witness, and I thus ask the question,


X, 268
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (May)
Christian contextual theology religious persecution
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 268 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Frank-Ole Thoresen (Author)

Frank-Ole Thoresen is Associate Professor of Missiology at Fjellhaug International University College. He received his PhD in theology from the School of Mission and Theology in Stavanger, Norway. Dr. Thoresen has published widely in various academic journals. He is a former missionary to Ethiopia.


Title: A Reconciled Community of Suffering Disciples
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282 pages