Monday, May 20, 2013

Today is a big day. We begin the Great African Hair Project. The African women here traditionally have scores of long braids, consisting mostly of hair extensions. Sometimes they’ll wear the braids down, sometimes gathered up in a ponytail or even a bun. Our girls have decided to git ‘er done. All of ‘em. Well, one really doesn’t like the look, but she wants the experience. I told not to just follow peer pressure, but she’s proceeding.

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Mama J has a relative who’s a professional hairdresser, and she and her crew show up first thing in the morning, ready to work. (It takes a crew because there’s so much braiding to do.) Auria is the first in the chair (a lawn chair out in the front yard, in the shade), then Keri, then Catherine. Catherine cut her hair short for the trip—I had told all the girls to find a hairstyle that allows them to get ready for the day without electrical help—so she needs a lot of extensions. The crew has packets of long hair, of varying colors, which they mix and blend to achieve the color they want. Very interesting to watch them work. When the braiding is done, they soak it in boiling water to relax the hair, and then they’re done. Takes about 4 hours per person. And the whole thing, including extensions and the labor of multiple workers, costs between 10 and 15 bucks. On the down side, the braiding puts considerable pressure on the scalp, and the girls say it hurts. But when has a woman ever let physical pain act as a deterrent to a beauty treatment?

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So that’s the first day; three more scheduled for tomorrow. Oh, and all that fabric the girls got the other day? They’ve chosen dress designs and sent everything off to the tailor. So the distaff side of the team is pretty excited, let me tell you.

dogWhile all this is happening, we have something of a social breakthrough. I’ve mentioned Brita, the dog, who guards the front door, politely gets up when we need to go in or out, and wags her tail whenever she sees us, but who has a very large sense of personal space, and will snarl and snap at you whenever you try to reach toward her. Well, Jon is standing in the front yard watching the hair show and calls hello to Brita. She comes over and puts her paw on his leg. He gingerly pats her on the head, then sits on the porch, where she sidles up to him for some affection. If he stops petting her, she nuzzles him for more. So, friends, Jon has a new girlfriend. And Brita has apparently broken through some of her interpersonal, um, issues.

Wow. Two big stories in one day.

Since my class starts at 5:30, and scheduling for the VBS’s tends to be a little, ah, fluid in the African tradition, I decide to stay home from the VBS so I’ll be sure to be here when everything starts up. The kids set out at 3, except for two of the girls who are in the finishing stages of tonsorial renovation. The place seems pretty quiet without the crew; it’s an odd feeling. I put some finishing touches on the material for the first class, then head up to the chapel early to get some web time in before the students show up.

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The college students have been preparing the chapel for the start of the course; it’s swept out, desks brought in, chairs organized, everything in order. There’s a data projector in there, and when I test it, it works, so I’ll be able to use the laptop for presentation as well as reference. There are outlet adapters that fit virtually every electrical plug ever invented, and since the computer equipment automatically recognizes either 100 or 220, this should be a snap.

The buzz of motorbikes signals the beginning of the students’ arrival. To my surprise, they’re all pretty much on time for the 5:30 start. There are 27 students, roughly 1/3 of them pastors, 1/3 Christian workers in the various churches, and 1/3 college students. Timothy makes some opening remarks and then turns the class over to me. I can tell immediately that these are attentive, thoughtful, serious students, with both questions and answers. The course is a biblical theology of ministry, and the fact that many of these students are already experienced pastors will greatly enrich the experience for everyone; they will have case studies to contribute, and my teaching experience tells me that they’ll ask better-than-average questions because of their time in the field. I’m really looking forward to this.

I spend the first 3-hour session laying out the big picture, God’s plan to call out a people from all peoples for the praise of his name (Rev. 7). We trace the development of that plan through the biblical timeline and then focus on the central role of the church in the current age. If you’re leading a church, it’s easier to reach your goals if you know what those goals are, and they will be determined by the role of the church in the larger plan.

The time goes quickly for me—probably less so for the students—and I dismiss them at 8:30. They have several questions and don’t seem in a hurry to leave, even though it’s long dark and they have to get home on their motorbikes. A few of them have brought laptop computers, and they have questions about the software I’m using and related matters. I’ve chosen to use e-Sword Bible software rather than my usual BibleWorks and Logos, for the simple reason that it’s available as a free download on the internet, and they can get the whole works while they’re there for the class, since there’s internet access at the chapel. A few of them,  I note, are already using it.

Back home a little after 9. The crew has already eaten supper, of course, but they’ve saved me plenty, including a bowl of the strawberry ice cream. Good kids. Now that I’m a chief, of course, it’s de rigeur.

They give me a full report on this afternoon’s VBS at our home church, Faith in Wa. It was a fairly small group—a lot of children apparently forgot about it, but they expect a bigger group tomorrow—but they’re pretty excited about the availability of a Big Ball, which was brought over by the group from Faith Baptist in Taylors in March. During the game time, the kids send the Big Ball flying, and it lands on top of the chain-link fence, which deflates it. When they examine it, they see that this isn’t a simple puncture; it’s a jagged tear, and the Big Ball appears to be out of commission for good. That’s a real disappointment for the kids, of course, but it’s a bigger one for us and the church leadership, since the ministry here had big plans for the ball in future outreach ministry.

We end the day with devotions, as we usually do. The group is tired but happy and grateful for strength, protection, direction, opportunity. This experience is priceless, and we all know it.

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Dan Olinger

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

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