An Interview with John Azumah
by Dave Hoffman
Inside-Out Evangelical Conference
Long Beach, California
Aug 15, 2008
John Azumah is the first Langham writer sponsored by the Langham Literature program to publish under the Hippo Books press. While in California speaking at the 2008 Inside-Out Conference held by Presbyterian Global Fellowship, John talked with Dave Hoffman, vice president of John Stott Ministries, about his new book, My Neighbour’s Faith: Islam Explained for Christians.
Dave: I want to ask you a little about this book, My Neighbour’s Faith. How did you first get connected with Langham Literature?
John: Well, it all came about via Lausanne. I have been connected with Lausanne for some time, and I was the International Deputy Director for Anglophone Africa. Chris Wright happened to be the one in Lausanne in charge of theology and we got to meet. But before this I had known of Chris Wright through his writings and having met him at some conferences. I admire and respect Chris a lot, and so Chris invited me to be part of the first Langham regional council for West Africa held at Akrofi-Christaller. That was back in 2005. We had a wonderful meeting and at this event I met Pieter Kwant, director of Langham Literature. I told Pieter, I have been working on a manuscript, but have not been able to find a publisher that is interested. Pieter said he would take a look at it, so I sent him a draft. He said, it looks great and we would like to process it. He shared the whole idea of Hippo and launching this African series as a way of Langham encouraging African writers to produce quality work. He knows that one of the challenges in Africa for first-time writers is to get publishers.
So Pieter got this manuscript and gave it to Isobel Stevenson in Canada. Isobel was working to train an African editor, Angela Addy from Akrofi-Christaller in Ghana, as there were not many African editors before this. This editor was sent to work with Isobel and my book happened to be the very first book.
Dave: So this is the first book that Angela Addy edited.
Dave: Tell me a little bit about Hippo Books. You mentioned that it was a way to encourage African writers and first-time writers especially, but tell me what you think Hippo Books is going to do for the continent of Africa? Not only for the writers, but for the readers as well.
John: I think it is going to have a very important impact on the church in Africa and African scholarship. The church in Africa and African scholarship are facing a very serious problem of really having materials produces by African scholars themselves. We rely on western writers, western literature and western scholarship. That is not bad except that we are not able to feed ourselves with what our academic and spiritual minds and souls are yearning for, which is something local, something indigenous, something African. And so we have always had to go through the western academic route and that hasn’t always been very healthy. It is mostly because it is just too difficult for African writers to get the time to write. They are too busy with bread-and-butter issues, they are working under very challenging situations and so they are thinking about where the next meal is going to come from, where the next money is going to come from to pay their child’s school fees and other issues that don’t allow them the time to write. And when they do get the time to put something down on paper, it is very difficult to get a good publisher to take it up. You end up getting it published in very cheap circles and the end product is not good.
Dave: I understand that another issue was due to not having African editors and having to rely on western editors which took some of the African-ness out of the manuscript as well.
John: Exactly, and again, that is part of the challenge. You need to get something that is written by Africans, edited by Africans and read by Africans. And that is what Hippo has come to provide. I think it is an excellent idea. I was happy to go with Hippo, and I am going to write another book.
Dave: What is the next book going to be about?
John: I am still figuring it out. But it will be about approaching people of other faiths from an African biblical perspective. That is what I am going to write on.
Dave: So this book, My Neighbour’s Faith, is more about understanding Islam, and the next book will be about how to approach people of other faiths.
John: Yes, from a biblical perspective. I am hoping to get a writer’s grant from Langham. It took some time to get this last book organized and it was quite good that Akrofi-Christaller allowed me to take this time. A grant will make it much easier to make time to write something like this.
Dave: Because of Hippo, how many books do you think might be written over the next few years by African writers?
John: We are going to be having a Langham meeting in West Africa in October and I think with this now out, it will be a huge inspiration to the African scholars that will be meeting there. And I really think we are going to get a good number of books. I don’t want to put a figure on it, but Hippo is really here to stay and not just with Langham’s involvement, but because Langham has these kinds of forums that bring these scholars together for meetings, conferences and consultations. Once these writers know that they will be guaranteed to have a good publisher and that the product will be of this quality, they will be even more inspired.
Dave: Let me switch gears a little and ask you about the regional council for West Africa. What do you see as the benefit for Langham having these regional council meetings? Not just to Langham, but to your local area as well.
John: I think the benefit is actually mutual. Langham gets the chance to listen to the people on the ground and to really get applicants locally processed and therefore are guaranteed to get the right type of candidates processed and funded for their studies. Langham also gets to hear what are the real issues that the church is faced with on the ground. If Langham is going to support people in their studies and to write, they are going to need to know what the issues are that challenge the church in our region. For us as African scholars and the African church, I think it’s that many times people just provide funding and when you are done with the studies or projects you don’t hear much from the organization. What Langham is doing for us in Africa is that we get to know who are the Langham scholars in Africa. We get to know the areas of expertise of these people and we get to network with each other so we can grow on each other’s strengths. Langham provides this platform for us to share amongst ourselves which otherwise would not have happened. This is about real partnership, and Langham is really charting a new and exciting path in this kind of engagement with the African church. We are very excited about it.
Dave: I am excited to read your book and to hear you speak here tomorrow. Thank you for your time today and I will be looking forward to seeing your next book.