Sunday, May 17, 2015

I wake up at 4:30 to the early morning call for prayer, or adhan, from the muezzin at a nearby mosque. They use a PA system so that all Muslims in the neighborhood (Catholics would call it a parish) can hear it; but of course the sound does not discriminate by religion. I roll over on my good ear—having a deaf ear is actually an advantage, you know—and sleep until 6:30; all is quiet in the house.

The water in the pipes is fed by gravity from a large black plastic tank on the roof. A pump keeps the tank full, and the black color maximizes the effect of solar heating. In the same way that a city water tower serves as a pressure backup in times of high demand, this arrangement gives fairly decent water pressure even when multiple sinks and showers are in use. One interesting side phenomenon is that the first shower of the morning, which uses the water already in the pipes, is relatively cold; the warm water from the tank arrives just in time for the second user. But in this heat, most of us prefer a cold shower. So the first one up gets the benefit.

I know the crew is not adapted to the time change yet; it’s still 2 to 3 hours earlier in their body clocks. So I can’t trust them to wake up on their own. I decide I’ll starting rousting people at 7:30 for the 9 am departure. I hear the first stirrings at 7, so that’s a good sign.

Ernie Pyle said that dawn is the most beautiful part of the day, if you have the nerve to get up and see it. There are the songbirds, the low, fresh angle of the sunlight, an occasional dog barking or a car honking, but mostly just a sense of expectant peace. It’s a good time to read your Bible and prepare spiritually and mentally for the day.

Most of the crew emerges on their own. Those who have arranged for shower slots take them, and most eat breakfast. We have lots of leftovers, including the dry cereal I bought in Accra, so there are plenty of options. Our gluten-free person stirs some strawberry jam into a bowl of rice, and there you have a new breakfast cereal: unpuffed rice, or perhaps rice not-at-all-krispies.

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We take a photo of everyone all dressed up for church, then walk over to the Seidus’ house and fill Timothy’s and Ivy’s cars. When we arrive at church, there’s an adult Sunday school class in Waali about to start, and other classes in various classrooms of the Christian school building. (More on the school later.) Timothy recommends the young peoples’ class, which is in English. One of the young men, David Issahaku, takes us over to it. We’re more than half the class when we arrive, but the room eventually fills up, leaving us in the minority. I remember the teacher from last time; he’s big, and direct, asking a lot of questions and speaking with vitality and authority. The lesson is on overcoming selfishness. There are a number of questions from the Waala students, and he answers them well.

The service begins around 11 with singing.

I have a long-term love affair with African singing. It has a depth of feeling, a quality of passion that I don’t find anywhere else. The songs of believers are moving all around the world, but African singing particularly resonates with me. The choir, made up of the young people, marches in singing an opening anthem, a plea for God to speak, and then the congregation begins to sing. I’m on the platform with Timothy, and I find myself unable to sing at all; I just bow my head and weep and listen. What glorious music; what a glorious culture.

The team is scattered across the room, as planned, and the children help them find the songs in the books (they use 3, in 2 languages). Then there are announcements—there’s a lot going on in this church; providentially, while we’re here we’ll get to witness both a baptismal service and a wedding. Timothy’s brother John is getting married on the 30th. During the announcements, Timothy says we’ll be taking a group to a nearby elephant park on the 30th. As he works through the details, someone reminds him that his brother is getting married that day, and the whole place breaks up. A busy church; maybe too busy.

Timothy has asked me to preach both services each of the 3 Sundays we’re here, plus one Wednesday night. I’m happy to do it; he a busy man, and I’m happy to give him any relief I can. I preach a geographical sermon this morning, on Mount Moriah, primarily focused on 1Chron 21 but also noting the sacrifice of Isaac in Gen 22 and of course the crucifixion of Christ. Timothy interprets; I ask him afterwards if he thinks the congregation understood it, and he says yes. That’s a relief; it was a fairly complex structure, and preaching cross-culturally is fraught with potential for missed communication. Having Timothy as an interpreter is almost certainly the primary reason, humanly speaking, for any success. You live and die by your interpreter; it’s not just a matter of his repeating what you said in different words.

Afterwards the whole congregation shakes hands with the whole team. It’s a joy to see all the faces, many of whom remember when the team was here 2 years ago.

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Outside the building, I find some planned relief. One of the main forms of packaging for pure water here is in plastic sachets (the locals call them “SATCH ets”) about 3 inches square. We like to freeze them and use them both as cold packs and as a source of refreshingly cold water. You just bite off one corner and suck the thing dry. I had taken one out of the freezer this morning and left it on the plastic floor mat in the car. I figured it would melt down to mostly water during the service, and with propitious timing, the ice may now have shrunk to just a little piece, leaving the whole thing as just ice-cold water. And any condensation that might have formed on the outside during the process would be taken care of by the plastic floor mat.

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Worked like a charm. I bite off a corner and start to enjoy the cold goodness, while holding my Bible and tucked-in sermon notes. Just then one of the girls from the choir approaches me with a smile, says “Thank you,” and hands me something cold in a plastic bag. I can’t really handle it well under the circumstances, so I thank her with a smile and hand the thing to Jess inside the car, asking her to open it and tell me what it is. She rummages around as I’m getting seated in the front and says, in a shocked voice, “It’s a Guinness!” And sure enough, it is. A Guinness Malta, a non-alcoholic soft drink flavored with malt and hops. I’ve had it in Mexico, and while it wasn’t my favorite soft drink, it was tolerable, and this one is cold. Timothy tells me the young people often do that for him after he preaches. So I add it to the core-temp-lowering mechanism, and we all have a good laugh.

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After church there’s a baptismal service; about a dozen are ready for this step. The church uses a lake a few kilometers away, not far from where Timothy’s brother John is planting a church in what they call the Water Village. We drive over to the site and clamber down to the shore of the lake. Each candidate gives a brief testimony and is then baptized. As each one comes out of the water, the others sing a Waali song. The first is the one the 2013 team sang at Mama J’s funeral (“Jesus is always with you”), and here I go again. One of the men, pictured below, was converted from animism; essentially he was an idol worshiper. The Kingdom moves along.

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But the service reminds us that as different as this culture is from our own, some things in Christianity are culturally transcendent. We feel right at home watching these brothers and sisters enter the water, and nobody has to explain any of it to us.

On the way home I get the wi-fi password from Timothy, and that will let us get caught up on communication after lunch.

… which is rice and meat, I believe goat, though Ivy doesn’t mention its provenance. [She tells us later it was beef. But it was very dry and spicy, almost jerky, but not quite.] After the dishes are done—the group has set up a rotation for meal cleanup—most of us walk over to the chapel to get logged on and caught up. I get the blog updated through Saturday, which is a relief; it’s been 3 days since any word got out.

The afternoon passes quickly, and soon it’s time for a quick supper and church. Ivy and her daughters bring over a bucket of hamburgers—now that’s a surprise—with toast for the buns. Minced beef (as the Brits call it) is relatively expensive here, so this is a treat. With sliced tomatoes and shredded cabbage instead of lettuce. We buzz through them like nobody’s business.

When we arrive at church, the service has already started—we stopped to pick somebody up, and they weren’t there, and we gave up after Timothy looked around for a while—but nobody seems concerned that we weren’t there. Apparently one advantage of the casual approach to time is that nobody’s afraid to start without you. As in America on a Sunday night, it’s a smaller crowd, but still a good representation, and the singing is boisterous. I preach on the vicarious atonement, as a follow-on to this morning’s message. There’s good response. We fellowship after the service, both inside the building and spilling out onto the front porch and yard. (When I say “yard,” think dirt, not grass.)

Soon it’s time to head home. Since the service started at 7 (and we were almost 30 minutes late), it’s well after 9:30 when we get back. We sit around the table, snacking and talking, and it’s obvious that the team has gelled, as they always do about this time. The density of shared new experiences in these first days tends to draw people together; they share an intense experience that others don’t.

Around 10:30 I notice how late it is, and we gather for team devotions. Nobody seems tired; I know they are, but they’re energized by the day’s experiences, including for many the first chance to communicate with home. We sing and share testimonies, and then I extend the previous thoughts on team unity by talking about the importance of conscience from 1Cor 8. I use music as the case study, but this principle applies to pretty much everything we do. With our different backgrounds, we have different levels of conscience. I tell them that I expect 1) that no one will violate his conscience; if something makes him uncomfortable, he should a) not do it, and b) let me know, so I’m aware of it; and 2) that we all will respect the differences with others’ consciences—they’re part of the rich variety that God has brought to the team. Those with freer consciences are not necessarily “worldly,” and those with more restricted ones are not necessarily “legalistic.” We will find a way to work together, to get the work done, with the team God has given us, and with respect for all the things that make us more varied and thus more flexible and effective. It’s an important concept in biblical teamwork.

It’s well after 11 when we wrap up the prayer time, and folks head off to bed. A good day.

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Dan Olinger

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

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