Thursday, May 16, 2013

Today we start another VBS, but that’s not until 3 p.m. The day begins with Catherine and Auria taking orders for custom-made omelets: cheese, onions, ground beef, two eggs or three. That’s a nice touch. Everybody says they’re great. We’ve got two kinds of cheese that we brought up from Accra: mixed orange and yellow, shredded, and Parmesan, grated. One of the shredded cheeses has the distinct flavor of Roquefort, but I don’t see any of the typical blue mold in it. But man, is it good on an omelet. Never thought of that before.

With our new acquisition of laundry detergent, we’re all in a laundry mood; both machines are humming away. There’s a little wrinkle on laundry here: the Putzi fly likes to lay its eggs in wet laundry. The eggs are dormant when the laundry dries, and then when you put the clothes on, the eggs hatch, and the larvae burrow into your skin. That’s bad in any article of clothing, I suppose, but the thought of that happening in our, um, underwear gives us the shivers. There are 3 solutions: use a machine dryer, which is not an option for us; line dry the clothes inside the screened areas of the house, where the flies don’t have access; or iron everything off the outside lines, with a hot iron, very slowly, to kill the eggs. The guys’ house has a clothesline already installed on the screened front porch, and the girls rig up a clothesline in an empty bedroom. That gets us most of the way—as you might imagine, it completely solves the underwear threat—but there’s still the matter of sheets and bath towels, for which there really isn’t room on the inside lines. So we do a lot of ironing. Even Robert.

The other big project for the day is peanut butter.

PB&J sandwiches are a simple solution for meals in a place with health threats and limited foodstuffs. We picked up several jars of jelly in Accra, but I had noticed that the commercial peanut butter is made from unroasted nuts, which can give a lot of people problems. So Timothy told us that Mama J could make some roasted for us. Today’s the day.

By the time we get involved, the nuts are already shelled and ready to be roasted. That happens in a cast iron pot, over a coal fire. You have to stir them pretty much all the time, so they don’t burn. I envision something like a cement mixer to simplify the job, but I suppose that’s not worth it for non-commercial applications. So, taking turns, we stir. And stir. And stir. Mama’s domestic helper does most of it, I suspect because she thinks we’ll burn the things.

When the nuts—they call them “ground nuts,” because they grow in the ground, not on trees like “real” nuts—are fully roasted, you pull ’em off the fire just in time and let them cool enough so you can handle them. Then you remove the skins by rubbing the nuts between your palms to loosen them (that’s the biblical “threshing”) and then tossing the nuts in the air until the lighter skins blow away (the biblical “winnowing”).


Then you mash ’em in what is essentially a mortar and pestle until they assume the paste-like form we all know and love. (Mama has a blender left behind by a missionary who retired, so we don’t go completely authentic.) The process can take most of a day from beginning to end.

Lunch is Mama’s leftovers, as usual, and then we prepare for our second VBS. What worked well? What not so well? What other things can we try? How can we enrich the kids’ experience?

We’re ready to go at 2:30, but the bus isn’t back from an earlier excursion, so we gather in our circle of chairs in the living room and all fall asleep. When Simon comes to get us, Keri’s the only one awake, and they have to rescue us from the arms of Morpheus.

The village is in the general direction of Gbacha, about the same distance (Google maps link). It’s smaller, more isolated, and there are fewer kids around. Simon tells me that there’s no resistance in this village as there was in Gbacha; we’re just building good will and encouraging the kids to go to the church, which has already been constructed and is holding regular services.

The setup is the same—games on the football field, and singing, stories and verses in the building. Joy and Abbie are the storytellers today, and during the Q&A session afterward, the kids seem to have gotten the main ideas from the interpreter. I’m glad that our team members are getting the experience of speaking through an interpreter; it’s a useful skill, and it helps you get more comfortable in other kinds of speaking situations as well.


We’re tired on the ride back. This is the only thing we’ve done today, but we don’t feel like it. It’s encouraging to find Mama’s supper waiting for us: rice cooked, and chicken braised in palm nut soup. We’re not suffering. Frozen watermelon for dessert. And we’ve now got 3 tubs of homemade peanut butter, which is  still hot this evening, runnier than what we’re used to, and it’s fabulous. We’re inventing uses for it: how about dipping bananas in it? how about frozen brownies with vanilla ice cream and hot peanut butter? how about …

Devotions after supper, and then the team has a lively discussion about ideas for improving tomorrow’s VBS, while I write the journal.

They’re doing well. Everybody’s healthy, we’re avoiding the common health mistakes (so far), we’re eating well, we’re happy, we’re excited. I’ve told them that an 8-week trip is long enough for the adrenaline to wear off—that’s why we do it. Eventually they’ll get really tired, as well as tired of each other, and they’ll be in a position where any successes will be obviously the Lord’s doing. That’s when the real learning happens.

In the meantime, this is a hoot.

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Dan Olinger

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

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