Sunday, June 9, 2013

Since this is our second Sunday, we know the drill for church. Drop by the girls’ house, grab a quick bite, and arrive at the 8 am service about 10 after or so. They have some music playing, very loudly, through the PA system, powered by a small generator running quietly outside. The music is Swahili, but the style can only be described as country & western; I joke with Jon that it’s country & eastern (Africa). After 2 or 3 numbers, they turn the PA system off and Ferdinand steps to the pulpit to start the service. It runs pretty much the same as last week—all Swahili, with singing, greeting visitors, testimonies, choir, sermon, offering. This week the pastor preaches. I can’t say much about his content—Swahili, remember?—but his delivery is polished and powerful. His strong voice fills the place, in contrast with most of the other men who handle announcements and such.

After the service they do a greeting line outside, something they didn’t do last week. Everybody forms a line that passes by itself, so that everyone shakes hands with everyone else. Everybody younger than I am says “Shikamoo,” to which I reply, “Marahaba”; I do the reverse to everyone older than I am. I wonder what to do with the women; is it an insult for me to imply that a woman is older than I am? With the great respect they show age in this culture, I assume it would be a compliment, so I “Shikamoo” everyone I even think might be older than I, and nobody acts offended.

Chai after church—gruel and a hard-boiled egg. It’s actually quite refreshing. Then time for a quick nap and a little study before lunch in Dan & Jana’s covered porch area. Ham sandwiches and green salad and Jana’s potato salad. The cold cuts are a nice treat; you don’t see them much here.

After lunch, at Beth’s suggestion, we decide it’s time to teach Jana and her two older kids how to play Signs. She plays quite well, especially considering she’s expecting and is holding an active baby on her lap. Her kids really get excited about being included. They’re not exactly poker faces, but the person in the middle of the circle consistently–too consistently–fails to notice when they have the sign, and they have a great time playing.

Soon it’s mid afternoon, time for The New Thing for today, something we’ve frankly been very apprehensive about: home visits. We’re formed into 3 groups of 3, and we’re to visit 3 church members in their homes. That’s all fine, but the problem is that none of the church members speaks or understands any English at all, and , well, you know how our Swahili is. What will we do for 2 hours?

Joslyn, Keri, and I are going to the most distant house, so we leave first, around 3. To my utter relief, Beth has a couple of the girls from Tumaini go with us. Ah! They can translate, at least some. The five of us walk down the dusty road for about half an hour and arrive at Mama Margret’s house. She’s a strong lady—as most of the women around here are—who sings in the choir and has been coming to the Shadi church for many years. She welcomes us and brings out some plastic chairs; we sit in a shady part of the front yard and watch her slice sweet potatoes. She explains that she’ll put them up on the roof to dry.

Beth had told us that people here are just happy to have you visit; you don’t have to talk all the time, and long silences are fine. Well, that’s a relief, because there are some long ones. I show her pictures of my wife and kids, and Joslyn and I pass the phrase book back and forth, trying to find something appropriate to say. Joslyn finds “I have health insurance!” but that doesn’t seem to fit the situation.

After an hour or so she invites us inside, where we sit in the small living room, just big enough for 2 love seats. We comment on the pictures on the wall, and then I start teasing her very shy daughter, also named Margret, who’s 7 and in Standard 1. Mama brings out some papers, one of which is a math worksheet with a “90%” at the top. We interact a bit about that, and it’s easy to see Mama’s pride in her daughter.

Soon she serves us supper, a plate of rice and a bottle of soda. We eat together, enjoying the food. And then, almost before we realize it, it’s time to go. With lots of “Asante”s, we head down the road toward Tumaini.

We’re the first ones back, and as the other groups arrive, we hear their stories. Will, Catherine, and Katie visit a former village drunk who got saved several years ago and is now a deacon. He’s a real people person; they claim that they talked non-stop for 2 hours. Now that’s a trick, what with the language barrier. Jon, Angel, and Abbie visit the choir director, and they spend a lot of time singing. So the visits are all different, but they’re all educational and enjoyable. So much for apprehension.

By the time Jon’s group gets back—their supper took a long time to cook, and they’re really, really late—it’s time for devotions in the children’s houses, but Beth sees that we’re pretty peaked, and she gives us the night off. Ferdinand, who usually does devotions, will just step in for us. Thanks.

While we’re waiting for the last group, several of us play a few hands of Rook. I’m partners with Catherine, and it turns out we’re both experienced players, while Will is partnered with Keri, who’s never played before. Initially it looks pretty bloody, with Catherine and me skunking Will and Keri, but eventually they come back and make a game of it. In fact, they shoot the sun on us on one hand, and they’re within a trick of doing it two times in a row when we realize that Keri reneged a couple of hands back, when she failed to play the Rook when trump was led. Honest mistake. Quick learner.

We share our stories during devotions and spend some time praising God for His working and for all we’re learning, which is a lot. The singing is better than usual, even though we’re tired.

After devotions a few of us do some last-minute fine tuning for class tomorrow, and 4 of us—Jon, Catherine, Abbie, and Keri—play Ticket to Ride. It’s a board game about trains, and since it involves geography, I like it, even though I lose spectacularly.

Last day before the formal tutoring, which is the reason we’re here. Here we go.

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Dan Olinger

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

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