Wednesday, May 20, 2015

And in the morning I learn that they stayed up talking and planning until about 11. Just what I expected.

I’m up at 7; that’s plenty early enough to get the run of the bathroom that the 5 of us in the back of the house share. We’ve already had our first hardware failure of the trip; somebody broke the flush handle on the toilet. I’ve already told Abraham, who’s responsible for the house, about it, but since we can flush by just pulling the little lever inside the tank, I’ve told him he doesn’t need to get it repaired for us.

Amber’s up when I get out of the shower and head up to the chapel to post yesterday’s blog account. By the time I get back, everybody’s up and doing what they do. Sarah is preparing for the Bible story at VBS this afternoon and asks for help finding a particular military story from the Old Testament; I can’t place it either, even with Logos and BibleWorks installed and running. It has to do with a battle in which the Lord tells Israel not to fight, but send the singers out front, and He’ll deliver them. I can’t find anything in the “singers” passages, and the “mulberry trees” story isn’t it (2S 5:23-24), nor is the one about the water channels that the enemy thinks are blood (2K 3). I’m stumped. I ought to be better than this. Some time later she tells me she’s found it, in 2Chr 20. I really should have been more useful on that one; I moved too quickly past it when I was scanning the “singers” passages.

We’ve resupplied our water—bought a dozen bags of sachets last night. Each bag is about the size of a hotel pillow—perhaps as much as 5 gallons of water. I figure that’s about how much we drink in a day, which would work out to about half a gallon apiece, which sounds about right. We’ve put a lot more thought into our water here than any of you readers will think reasonable. The main issue is that cold water is really encouraging, so we put a great deal of science into getting our water as cold as possible, as efficiently as possible. We have a chest freezer, and at first we just put all the sachets in there. But then we came to the point where all our drinking water was frozen, and we could only drink it as fast as it melted, which is way too slow when you’re thirsty. Gershon tried splitting one side seam of a frozen sachet to create a pocket of ice, into which he would pour liquid water for cooling, and then carefully pour it out into a bottle. He reminded me of a mad scientist working on some sort of still. But that tended to be messy—sachets are completely unmanageable once you’ve opened them. I keep a half-filled bottle in the freezer and then pour in a room-temperature sachet when I want to drink some. A quick shake, and you have cold water. After you drink what you want, you put the bottle back into the freezer for next time. Works pretty well.

Gershon and I do a load of laundry in the morning. Men’s laundry is much more efficient, of course, because you don’t have to separate the whites and darks. (I threw that in for the Moms.) Abraham has put up some drying line for us in one of the extra rooms that has louvers on 2 walls for a pretty good breeze.

I should explain why we hang our stuff inside. Last time here we were told that there’s some sort of fly that lays its eggs in wet laundry hanging on the line. The eggs go dormant when the clothing is dry, and then when you put your underwear on, the body heat and moisture hatch the eggs, and the little worms crawl out with generally disgusting results. The preventative is to either iron all your dried clothes with a very hot iron to kill the eggs, or hang them inside a protected area, such as a house with screened windows.

I’ve gotten mixed info on that whole phenomenon this time, but I figure using the outdoor lines is not worth the risk. So we hang our stuff indoors.

Late morning things are a little slow, so I figure it’s time to teach the crew the Official Team Game, Signs. Only one other person knows it, but they all pick it up quickly, and this first session is a positive experience for everyone. We’ll see if it catches on with them.

Leftovers for lunch, as we’ve arranged with Ivy. We polish off a large bowl of spaghetti, some rice and beans for GF, and a pile of fried plantains.

After lunch the Games committee works on planning for VBS at 4. There’s a lot to consider: with the sheer number of children, and the cultural tendency toward chaos, lots of otherwise good games really won’t work. For example, all of your relays focus on a very few players who are actually participating, while everyone else just watches and waits their turn. Not a good idea. They come up with Sharks and Minnows as a good possibility, and I know from past teams that they’re right. I enjoy listening to them arrive at conclusions on their own that we know will be good ones.

Prep work done for VBS, we have some time on our hands, and a discussion about working in Africa breaks out. There are a number of issues common to work in developing countries. Many Americans in such places are struck first with the abject poverty they see, and second with the need to do something to help alleviate that. While there are needs, I’ve generally found that Americans typically do not assess the situation well. First, in many cases the people they see are not in fact poor. They have less than we do, certainly, but they have enough to eat and drink, and to wear, and they have shelter. Most of the folks we’re working with I would not call poor. They would certainly not be better off if they had a bigger house, or richer food, or lots of huge plastic toys for their children to play with. They have enough by the standards of their culture, and there’s no reason our culture ought to be an overriding standard—in fact, a case can be made that the materialistic fascination of our culture would not be an improvement in any way.

Second, even when we come across people that are poor, our initial instinct—giving them money—may not actually be helpful. This is a complex issue, one that I can’t go into in depth here; but for those interested in a deeper discussion of these issues, I can recommend a couple of books: Toxic Charity and When Helping Hurts.

That said, we need to be careful not to slingshot back in the opposite direction and discount the importance of mercy. Jesus was repeatedly moved with compassion when he saw need—hunger, poverty, disease, death. When he saw hungry people, He fed them; when He saw sick people, He healed them. We don’t have any record of His giving money to poor people, but He commented that He was poor Himself. In any case, we can’t be stern and process-driven when we see human need. But we should help with real needs, in ways that are truly helpful, not just do things instinctively that make us feel better but may not make any real difference.

It’s a difficult road to walk. We’re quite dependent on advice from our colleagues here, who know the culture and the needs. We don’t give things to people without the approval of the folks we’re working with.

VBS is similar to yesterday’s but longer, and I think more well run. We’re getting better at this. Again, there’s a crowd when we drive up; again Simon, Gershon, Jess, Sarah, and I take the older kids while the rest work with Gideon and the younger kids. Sarah tells the story of Jehoshaphat’s army (you know, the one I was no help in finding), and Amber tells the story of Elijah and the ravens to the younger kids. There are some distractions—we’re going to need to work some on discipline, but most get the story, and the time is clearly worthwhile.

Gershon’s really good at working the games. When our group arrives on the field after the story, the younger ones have already been there for a while, and Gershon gets to work getting games underway. Before it’s over, we have a bunch of Awana games taking place in a 30-foot square in the front of the lot, with all sides of the square crowded with interested players; a football game in the middle; Sharks and Minnows just to the left of center; and two different games of Duck, Duck, Goose with the littler ones behind the church building. A number of the church’s young people have showed up to help with games—probably 8 or 10 in all—and they clearly make the difference between success and failure. Timothy’s busy with the school today, so he’s not there at all until the very end. Allen, my American buddy from last night, shows up again and roughhouses with the boys for the whole time—he must be exhausted when it’s all over. He has a knack for entertaining, sort of a Charlie Chaplin impersonation that they love.

012 017 013 015 024 030 036 037 041 043

Before we leave, we line all the kids up and count them. 380. I get tired just hearing the number. We promise them a small gift tomorrow night—I don’t know what it is yet, but I assume Timothy does.

Back to the house, where we pretty much clean up the leftovers for supper. It’s good to have that under control again. Ivy’s said that a friend of hers who’s also from Hong Kong will come by tomorrow morning, and they’ll cook a special Chinese lunch for us. Gershon just about comes out of his shoes with excitement. He asks if he can come by while they’re preparing it and talk. I don’t blame him. The heart language is always the best.

I run by the house to give Timothy money for a month’s internet access. Did I mention that the students here at the college pay for the access out of their own pockets? Then everybody on the compound uses it. When I heard that last time (2013), I paid for a month’s worth of access, to take a little of the burden off of them. Seemed the right thing to do, in that we use a lot of their bandwidth during the 3 weeks we’re here. So I do that again this time.

Good singing and testimonies in devotions. The team is growing here, embracing new ideas and refining old ones, relating what they’re learning to biblical philosophy. It’s a pleasure to watch.


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Dan Olinger

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

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