Friday, May 24, 2013

This is the last weekday of the last full week that the Tanzania squad will be in Wa. We arrived 2 weeks ago today. Many of the students have commented on our odd relationship with time; we’re all surprised at how quickly the time is passing, yet because of all we’ve experienced and learned in the meantime we feel as if we’ve been here significantly longer than 2 weeks. We all agree that both senses are what we’re experiencing, yet we all also agree that that sounds crazy. So apparently Africa makes you nuts. 🙂

Keri and Ellie have breakfast duty this morning; it’s simple, toast and PB&J. Timothy tells me that the standard Ghanaian breakfast is a slice of bread and a cup of tea, so we’re doing fine. I’ve noted that we’re not as busy here as we expected to be—it’s a truism that in developing countries you make your plans and nothing turns out as you’ve planned for—and I ask the kids how they feel about that. They note a number of things: first, the heat changes how productive you’re able to be; second, it’s better to be a little underscheduled while you’re going through the disorientation of culture shock; third, we’re working more than just the 2 hours that VBS runs, since we’re preparing games, stories, Bible lessons, and materials; fourth, the time spent interacting with the college students, and Pastor Timothy’s kids, is ministry just as certainly as any religious service; and finally, experiencing life on the field is educational, preparing both those who plan to be missionaries and those who aren’t for a realistic expectation of life on the field. I’m glad to hear all this from them; it indicates the depth of their understanding, and it also manifests a calm and rational response to the unexpected. They’re not complainers.

During that conversation, Catherine comments that on her morning runs she’s noticed a lot of trash around the compound, and maybe we can pick it up. Some of it’s littering, I suspect—I see really good folks casually throw an empty plastic water sachet out the window here—but I think a lot of it comes from the trash pits, where we throw the trash in preparation for burning. Some wind comes up, and you have instant litter.

A while later I look across the property and see half a dozen team members cleaning the place up. Good for them.

I spend the morning putting the finishing touches on tonight’s midterm exam. It’s shorter than I expected, but it covers the material well, and I think it will reflect accurately the students’ grasp of the concepts. We’ll see when the grading’s done. J

If I’m going to print these out, I’ll need more paper and almost certainly more toner; but it occurs to me that it might be cheaper to use a copying service, since there are 27 students. When Mama J comes around, I ask, and she agrees; someone can drop the job off at a kiosk to save some expense. As it turns out, Timothy will do that when he’s out in town this afternoon for other reasons. I run through my Official Teacher’s Backup Plan System and decide that in the worst case, I can project the test on the screen, 5 questions at a time, and just wait until all the students are done with each section.

Backup plans are worth it. I can recall occasions when I’ve presented workshops at educational conventions, especially during the infancy of the computer age, and had four or five levels of backup: 1) a presentation on the laptop in Powerpoint; 2) presentation on a thumb drive (or floppy disk, in the old days); 3) presentation online (or attached to an email to myself, in the old days); 4) printouts of the Powerpoint in my luggage; and 5) transparencies of the whole thing for an overhead projector, in case the computer failed. I’ve never burned through every backup in a single trip, but we obsessive folks like to be prepared.

Joy and Angel fix sandwiches for lunch—tuna from our supply of cans, and sloppy joes from the leftover ground beef. There’s plenty for everybody. Simon comes by to confer with Will; they’re going over to a school for Will to preach this afternoon, so he won’t be going to the VBS. He is involved in the planned skit of “The King and I” for VBS, but he expects to be there in time for that. (Simon later tells me that there was a scheduling mixup, and Will wasn’t able to preach; he’ll go back next Tuesday.)

Matthew has asked if he can come by and talk at 3, just after the team leaves for VBS. He’s a faculty member here, a graduate of CABC in Zambia, where he was one of my students when I was there with the previous team in 2010. He’s quiet and unassuming, but he was a good student, and I’m confident that he’s a good teacher here. We settle down in the living room for a talk.

He’s greatly interested in pursuing a master’s degree. That’s good news; it will significantly increase the overall qualifications of the faculty, and that’s an important next step now that the school is a Bible college and not just a Bible institute. CABC is offering master’s degrees, in association with Piedmont International University, and several schools, including BJU, offer either whole master’s degrees or most of one online. We talk about several options. This will be an act of faith, a financially challenging effort whichever option he chooses. We pray for the Lord to make his way plain.

Then he asks if I’d like to see cloth being made for tribal smocks, the kind given to me by the church at Lawra. Of course I would. We walk across the campus, past the chapel and the volleyball court, to his faculty housing, where his wife has a loom set up in the front yard. She’s weaving brightly striped, heavy material, about a foot wide. It’s a standard manual loom mechanism, in miniature. I meet their daughter as well, but like many small children in Africa, she’s a little intimidated by the nasala.

It’s occurred to me that taking my cold shower in the heat of the day might feel pretty good. There’s time for one before class, with the house empty. That was a good idea.

Timothy brings the duplicated tests by before class, and we’re off to see how the students do. They all finish it in less than an hour, and though I don’t have them grade it in class, I do run through the answers, and they seem to handle the experience well. I look forward to seeing the grade distribution.

There’s one question on the test that I intentionally designed to test higher order thinking skills, just to see how they’d do. I explain the difference between memorizing and regurgitating answers, and figuring the answer out by logical extensions of various kinds. I note that life has a way of asking you questions that you haven’t memorized the answers to, and I encourage them to develop the skills of synthesizing and creating new applications from what they already know. They seem to understand and appreciate what I’m saying. We’ll see.

After the test we talk about spiritual gifts, and the discussion is lively. My presentation of that subject typically attempts to sort out from the standard folklore on the subject those things that the Bible actually says, and it’s a useful exercise to work through the differences.

When I arrive back at the house after class, the kids have fired up the TV—first time—and are watching a DVD of Fireproof. We watch it together; the girls cry, and the guys fall asleep. (Just kidding, but you were kind of expecting that, weren’t you?) During the movie Keri distributes some no-bake cookies that she and Joy made this afternoon. Considering that we don’t have any butter, they turned out great.

After devotions I run through the plan for the weekend, which I got while talking with Timothy this afternoon. We’ll need to be ready for an 8 am departure to a church retreat, and we’ll need 4 or 5 kids to be ready to preach or teach. The weekend will be busier than the average weekday. We set breakfast for 7:15, and I head off to bed. The kids, of course, aren’t nearly ready for that. Deaf ear up. 🙂

Sometime during the night, the 220, and thus the refrigeration and most of the fans, goes (?) out. As you might expect by now, we take it all in stride.

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Dan Olinger

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

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