Blurbs about Afua Kuma, the book, and Kirby. The Surprising African Jesus: the lost prayers and praises of Afua Kuma, translated & edited by Jon P Kirby, transcribed by Joseph Kwakye (Wipf & Stock Publishers, www.wipfandstock.com $22 paperback, $35 hardback) (Amazon, Ingram, Kindle).
Fr Jon P Kirby, SVD recorded her praises in the late 1970s and published them in English as Jesus of the Deep Forest in 1981. Jon worked in Ghana for 36 years as a missionary-anthropologist, at first in rural Catholic mission stations and later as the founder/director of Tamale Institute of Cross-Cultural Studies in Tamale, N. Ghana. He has degrees in symbolic theology (MA), ministry (MDiv), and anthropology (PhD - Cantab). He is also a certified practitioner of psychodrama and uses the related bibliodrama and “culture-drama” to foster interculturality. He has been a visiting scholar at the University of Cambridge UK, Boston University, and Catholic Theological Union, and has held the chair of Mission and Cross-Cultural Studies at Washington Theological Union. He is the author or editor of 25 books including: God, Shrines and Problem-Solving (1986), and The Power and the Glory: Popular Religion in Northern Ghana (2013), and The Surprising African Jesus (2022), which offers a new collection of Afua Kuma’s praises in a poetic English format for readers in the Global North.
“Afua Kuma’s praises will surprise, even shock, you as they confirm and enliven your faith. Unmoved by church prayers, and yearning for something more, Afua had a dream. An angel opened her mouth to praise the Lord from her heart, and she awoke to find herself praying in ways that no one had ever heard before. I first met Afua at the far end of a Ghanaian hospital ward surrounded by astounded doctors and nurses, and visitors, who had left the bedsides of family members, all captivated by her praises. Her listeners are assailed by God’s glory in the rivers, seas, and forests, villages, farms, and compounds that make up their world. Her Jesus is the hearth preparing our food and the hunter who brings home hunks of hippo. His bulldozer drags the produce from His farm, somewhere between the sun and the moon, to feed his hungry children. He is the chief’s golden regalia, his musketeers, drummers, and horn-blowers. His arm is a canon that blasts the soul-eating Bomote and roasts the devil on a charcoal grill. He has anointed his priests to lift us out of the mud. Thousands of Ghanaians on student campuses, in cities and villages have been enthralled by her praises. Now her praises reach out to distant shores inviting all to feel the glory that is all around us. In Afua’s world everything glorifies Jesus. Her words are as simple and profound as life itself.”
Jon P Kirby SVD, author of Surprising African Jesus.
“Quintessential Afua Kuma!
You cannot help but feel the praise and worship of Jesus rising in your heart as you read Afua Kuma’s words aloud to yourself! The irresistible pull of her royal praise-poetry is the ability to heighten and expand your imagination of a Man who is more powerful than anything you know, but equally gentle as the morning dew on soft grass. Afua Kuma’s Jesus plants His crops in a great rushing river, harvests His farm and uses the produce to feed the widows and the hungry. He conquers wild beasts that threaten His own; walks through the dense and threatening Sakyi fog, assuring His people not to fear. Simply, Afua Kuma’s Jesus is unbreakable, unstoppable, and unshakable, inviting all who want to come to Him and enjoy His endless largess! Father Jon Kirby and his companions deserve gratitude for giving to the Church, to Africa and the world at large a treasure trove worth exploring for its theological depth and its great potential for deepening cross-cultural learning and appreciation of other cultures in their apprehension of spiritual truth; the truth that is Jesus. For Afua Kuma, whose imagery of Jesus cuts across Western manufactured canons and earth moving machinery and that of wild rivers and Kwaforomoah Takyi, the laughing Chimpanzee of the African forests, there is nothing of praiseworthiness in any culture that cannot be used to describe her Jesus! Come along with Afua Kuma. You will not have any regrets.”
Angela Dwamena-Aboagye, PhD, Lawyer, Theologian and Counsellor, Ghana, July 2021
“This is a fascinating collection of supplications, praises, and prayers that rings eloquently and hauntingly with enchanting images, symbolisms, and the natural worldview of Africa. The earthy and ecological renditions serve as a reminder of the rich soil of Africa in religious cosmology in which Christianity continues to nourish its Christology, pneumatology, and spirituality. . . . But the context of Afua Kuma offers valuable resources for appreciating Christianity’s long march to inculturation in Africa.”
Agbonkhanmenghe Orobator, SJ, author of Religion and Faith in Africa.
“The Surprising African Jesus is a real treasure. Afua Kuma’s prayers are powerful, sometimes violent, but at other times deeply heartfelt, tender, and beautiful. I couldn’t help thinking , as I was reading them, that they make up a genuine African psalter. . . . Readers can only be grateful for Jon’s beautiful, rhythmic translation, but especially for Afua’s vivid African imagination and shining faith.”
Stephen Bevans, SVD, Catholic Theological Union, emeritus
“Afua Kuma’s prayers will endorse for African Christians the ongoing effort to find Jesus in their own environments and to not be ashamed to converse with him in their own languages, born of their own observations and experiences along the path of life. For the rest of the (Christian) world, the value lies in empathy understood as ‘fellow feeling’ and expanded wisdom.”
LAURENTI MAGESA, Jesuit School of Theology, Hekima University College, Kenya.
By Jon Kirby, SVD.