Sunday, May 12, 2013

We sleep in. I get up at 7, and nobody’s moving. Good. I think we’re conquering the sleep debt problem and preparing for effective, strong service and maybe even good health too.

Abbie 140

Everybody’s ready to leave for church at 8:45. We climb on the Times Academy bus (that’s the name of the Christian school associated with the church) and drive the few miles through downtown Wa to the church. It’s a large concrete building (pretty much everything of quality here is concrete) that can seat probably 400 or so. There’s a beautiful, nicely landscaped complex that includes the 2-story Christian school. Simon (see-MONE), one of the students at the college, takes the team to the English-speaking youth class, while I go with Pastor Timothy to the adult Waale class in the sanctuary. Philip, one of the deacons, teaches the class, and Timothy and I sit in the back corner so he can translate for me without our being a disturbance. The lesson is about diligence in serving Christ.

Abbie 121

After class I learn that the team did some impromptu teaching; Joy and Abbie stepped out of the youth class into a children’s class, where the teacher was late. So they taught several songs, and Joy taught a lesson on the 7 days of creation. I had told them to be ready to be called on—this is Africa—and they were, and they were. (Did you follow that?) Good kids.

The church service was not that different from the one you probably attended, except that the choir marched in in procession, singing, and everything was bilingual. We knew most of the songs, and for the ones in Waale we just sang in English. The choir is entirely composed of young people; Timothy tells me that the older folks are not confident in their singing, and they’re bringing up the next generation to be different. They do a good job.

The various elements of the service—music, announcements, offering, etc.—are handled by different people. Timothy has several deacons, and it appears that he is training leadership well. One of the deacons interprets for me during the sermon, and does well as far as I can tell. Before the sermon I introduce the team one by one, and afterward they line us up across the front of the sanctuary, and the whole congregation comes by to shake our hands. That’s a lot of shaking.

Then about half the attendees leave, and the rest stay for the Lord’s supper, something that we didn’t know was coming. During the break I have an opportunity to tell most of the team that I intend to take the elements, even though there’s some risk involved, because this is a visual sign of the unity of Christ’s body, and that is important enough to take a relatively minor health risk. Since we’ve all just shaken hands with everybody there, and we don’t use hand sanitizer in public as a courtesy (what would you think if somebody used hand sanitizer right after shaking your hand?), I suggest that they take the bread with their left hand and handle it as little as possible while waiting.

I don’t check with the team individually afterward, but I think everyone participates. The bread is half a snack cracker; the liquid appears to be diluted grape drink. It tastes fine; I’m confident that the canned product is safe, and I assume that the diluting agent is filtered water, because Timothy knows we have to be careful, and he doesn’t act concerned.

I don’t mean to sound obsessive, but I figure the parents will want to know the details.

After church we head back to the house and decide to set up the water filtering system, since we’re close to polishing off the water sachets (they call ’em SATCH-ets) that have been our primary source of drinking water since we arrived. I figure it makes more sense to use the available filters than to keep paying for water. One is a commercial water filter, which looks a lot like those 50-cup coffee percolators you see at church fellowships. You put a gallon of water in the top half, and it filters down to the bottom, where there’s a spigot. The other one is homemade from a couple of plastic buckets, and it’s a surprisingly rigorous system. You fill one of the buckets with water and put it on the counter; it contains a filter unit attached to a plastic hose. You place the other end of the hose in the other bucket on the floor, and start the siphon. The only way water can get into the lower bucket is to go through the filter. Pretty soon both systems are silently and steadily generating drinking water for us.

Mrs. Seidu brings us lunch. She really, really wants to cook for us; I’ve explained to her that we want to serve her, not be served. I joked that our problem here is that we love each other too much; no one wants to let the other side work. But she notes that we are working in ministry activities and might not have time to do all our cooking, and she wants to help us with that. We compromise; we handle breakfast and lunch, and she’ll supply supper as well as lunch and supper on Sundays. I ask her to remember that she is not under any obligation to do any of this. She agrees, and we both go away happy.

So lunch is rice and beans with a slightly spicy tomato-based sauce and beef chunks. It’s tasty, and we eat it all. As usual, Robert and Jordan have extra. Those boys are furnaces; their metabolisms are astonishing.

I’ve asked Mrs. Seidu to give the team meals that are Ghanaian rather than American; I want her to share her skills with the team, and I want them to have an African experience, not one of those fake African safaris with big tents, fine china, and linen tablecloths.

After lunch—it’s Sunday afternoon, you know—I disappear for a nap. I can hear the team further bonding, telling stories, laughing, enjoying one another. They are really coming together well. When I come out, an unspecified length of time later, Joy and Keri are over helping Mrs. Seidu get supper ready, some of the guys are relaxing at their house, and about half the team is playing games with the pastor’s kids in the living room.

I’ve encouraged the team to be aware that they have ministry opportunities everywhere, not just at specified ministry activities like VBS’s. The Christian workers—national pastors, teachers, and other church leaders, and missionaries, and the children of all of these—need encouragement and an enriched circle of friends. I’m glad to see them taking that to heart.

Mrs. Seidu has asked us to call her Mama J (for Janet), and that sounds good to us. She brings the supper that Joy and Keri prepared under her careful supervision: pasta with a spicy tomato and vegetable sauce, and fried chicken. Pretty much all of the girls are planning to learn some local dishes under her tutelage. That will be good for the team, of course, but I think it will be enjoyable for Mama to interact with these girls.

Back onto the bus for the 7 p.m. church service. We pick up a few parishioners along the way, and when we arrive, the call to prayer is going out from the mosque across the street. Through the open front door we can see a dozen or so men bowing on their prayer mats, foreheads to the ground, facing Mecca. Sunday isn’t their holy day, of course; this is just their fifth and final call to prayer on an ordinary day.

When we enter the building, the team nearly outnumbers the rest of the congregation. But as is typical here—and in many other places—many more people are late than are on time. As the small group sings “Send the Light,” the echo of the call to prayer provides a stark contrast. By the end of the service, the team is about 20 percent of the congregation. All of the team members are spread out across the sanctuary, surrounded by children. Pastor Timothy holds a more interactive lesson on Sunday evenings, and he helps the congregation review the morning message (they get it right!) and then provides a well-thought-out and well-presented discussion on what love looks like in practice.

After the service pretty much everyone stays for quite some time, talking, fellowshipping, learning, laughing. The children take the team members’ cameras and shoot endless series of photos. We finally have to encourage the team to leave, because the parishioners who rode with us need to get home.

Abbie 147

It’s almost 10 p.m. when we arrive at the house. We drink a lot of our newly plentiful water, have a quick meeting about policies (such as which water pitcher is used for pouring unsafe water into the top of the filter, and which is used for receiving the filtered water from the bottom—a little detail, but a lot rides on everyone getting it right), and I ask if they want to have devotions or get to bed. They all want to have devotions. It’s a good time of singing and sharing observations from our first Sunday in Africa.

I spend a little time with the guys, laying out the preaching schedule for the rest of our time here. Pastor Timothy wants all the guys to go out each Sunday and preach in the village churches. None of them are ministerial students, but all of them want to preach, even though they’re nervous from inexperience. If things go as expected, each of them will preach in at least 2 different village church plants and once in the Wednesday night prayer meeting at Faith Baptist, the home church that we attended today.

My favorite time of day. The cold shower. It’s hot here—not as hot as we’d been led to believe (110-120), but in the 90s and usually sunny. The big factor for us is that none of the places we’re working has air conditioning, and we Americans are really used to it. We do have AC units in some of the bedrooms here at the houses, but I’ve encouraged the team to try to get along without them as much as possible. So we just sweat all the time. You learn to be friends in spite of it. That means that even though we have hot water available, none of us wants to use it much. Turning on the cold spigot and feeling the relief from the heat is a great way to end the day.

So, do you want to see where we are? View in Google Maps.

The girls’ house is at lower left; the Seidus’ house is at upper center; the boys’ house is at lower right; and just northeast of the boys’ house, with the dark roof, is the chapel and primary Bible-college classroom building. Just off the screen to the right (east) is the dormitory complex.

Talk to you tomorrow.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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