Thursday, May 21, 2015

We’ve gotten a pretty regular routine for starting the day by now. I’m usually up earlier than everybody else—they’re college students, so that’s not hard—and somebody will make some breakfast—today Michaela makes French toast—or else everybody just scrounges something for himself.

There’s nothing on the schedule—besides lunch—until the 4 pm VBS today; that sounds like an easy schedule, but as you’ll see, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Several of the kids—Gershon, Michaela, Emily, and Charity—go over to the Seidus’ house to help with lunch prep and meet Ivy’s friend from Hong Kong. Jess starts reading the Qu’ran. Sarah, Jessica, and Amber want to go into town, so I’m happy to hike along. We’ll buy a few light groceries, so I take my backpack.

At the police station we come to the soda stand where we bought drinks the other day. A couple of the girls noticed that the owner’s calculation was wrong, in our favor, and I want to stop by and return the 2 cedis she undercharged us. I view these kinds of things as divine opportunities, so the whole thing is really better than if she’d given us the right change.

I explain that we owe her 2 cedis, and she argues. She remembers the transaction—even the specific bills I gave her—and she’s sure it was right. But eventually Amber explains it clearly, and she realizes that we’re right. She agrees to take the money. My smallest bill is a 5-cedi note. I tell her the rest of the money will be a tip. “Do you understand ‘tip’?” She shakes her head no. “In my country, when someone serves us food and does a very good job, we give them a little extra. We call that a tip.” “Ah,” she nods vigorously. “This will be your tip.” She takes it with a smile. I ask her her name. “Lamin.” “Well, thank you, Lamin. We will buy some more drinks when we come back from town.”

I should say here, as I’ve explained to the team, that I develop an instant accent every time I arrive in Africa. I slow my speech down and get rid of contractions and slang. I pronounce a lot of words as they do—“brothah,” for example. I mimic their speech patterns. I’d like to think this helps them understand me; I know I have a terrible time understanding them. To the uninitiated it may sound like talking down—short, simple sentences, for example—but as I say, it reflects the speech patterns of African culture where English is a second language. I think it indicates respect as well as possibly easing the communication.

As we pass the Vodaphone booth where I got the SIM the other day, I smile at the lady, tell her the SIM is working well, and give her the “thumbs up.” Then it occurs to me that the symbol for “OK” is different in different cultures, and I’m not sure what it is here. I’ll have to ask Timothy if I’ve just done something horrible. Cross-cultural work is constantly interesting.

We stop at an ATM. It works fine for me; then the one next to it takes Amber’s card and won’t give it back. Then mine completes a transaction for Sarah on the screen but never actually gives her any money. A bunch of Ghanaians in line with us have similar troubles. We get a bank employee out there; he recovers Amber’s card and assures Sarah that no transaction occurred on her account. Of course, it’s in his best interest to say that; I advise Sarah to check her account online to make sure that’s the case.

Then to market. We wander around, absorbing the invigorating colors and smells and sounds. Eventually we end up back at Akila’s fabric booth, where Sarah straightens out an earlier problem. We also pop in to a similar booth right next door, where Sarah (an Apparels, Textiles, & Design major) finds some complex fabric she’d like. Asks the attendant how much. 650 cedis a yard. $162.50. Yeah, right. Sarah’s not intimidated. “That’s your nasala price. What’s your real price?” Eventually she gets him down to 20 cedis a yard, which is a little high for an average fabric price in the States, but this is unusual stuff. Good for her.

We stop by a sort of grocery store—it’s about the size of my living room, so crowded with merchandise that all you can do is step inside the front door and ask the employees to get what you want. We pick up some evaporated milk to turn into milk by adding water. (Your only other choice here is powdered milk, and we’re just not ready for that, plain, at least.) Some napkins, some Milo (chocolate milk powder), a dozen eggs. As we’re headed back home, I get a text from the rest of the crew saying we need laundry detergent. There’s a brand here called Omo, which we find in a booth along the way. And one of the girls with me says we ought to get some oil so the eggs don’t stick to the pan every morning, and I add a bottle of Frytol.

A stop by Lamin’s booth to get a soda, and then back up the gnarly-tree road to home. I’m not being a surfer dude; the trees really are gnarly. Literally. The locals cut the bark off to make tea and to chew on, and the trees grow these—carbuncles, I guess you’d call them—as a sort of scar tissue. Gnarly.

Back at the house, lunch has arrived, some Chinese cooking from Ivy’s expert hands, and an actual green-leaf salad. I believe this may be the first salad I’ve eaten in Africa, outside of South Africa and a really fancy hotel in Zimbabwe. Greens need to be washed, either with a sanitizing solution like potassium permanganate, or with drinking water. Most people think that’s just too much trouble. So the salad is a real treat.

After lunch we get a little online work done and finish preparing for VBS.

How did it go? I thought you’d ask. 401 kids. The bus is so crowded that it’s still full after we let more than half the kids off. Michaela tells the older kids the story of Saul’s conversion, and Charity tells the story of Mephibosheth to the younger ones. Her interpreter doesn’t know the story, so he has quite a time with pronouncing the name.

001 (3) 004 (3)

I spend most of the game time talking with David, a teacher in the school and the choir director at church. He’s gotten an associate’s degree in IT here at Wa Polytechnic, and he teaches computer classes at the Christian school. He’s bright, joyful, energetic; he loves music and is excited about the chance to work with music in the church. He’s in some ways typical of many of the young African Christians here. By God’s grace, the church in Africa has a bright future if the Lord tarries.

We arrive back at home tired and hungry. That light schedule you mentioned earlier? If I weren’t here, I’d be tempted to think that way as well. But the heat drains you, and those 3 hours with 400 kids (counting the bus rides each way, with about 100 kids on the bus) is a real challenge. I’m exhausted, and I didn’t do hardly anything. (Leadership skills, you know.)

Ivy brings some beef stew and rice and a potato salad, and for the first time this trip, we eradicate the entire spread. I guess I can stop telling her to lower the portion sizes.

Devotions is tired but grateful. We sing, we share, we listen to the Word. This is what God’s people have always done when tired, or challenged, and even when not. It’s refreshing. Sarah shares the story of a Muslim girl she’s befriended at VBS. The girl understands the difference between Islam and Christianity, most especially the deity of Christ and the uselessness of works for salvation. She has become a Christian here at the school. She will need prayer as she represents Christ in her Muslim home. Pray for her. God knows her name.

I take a minute at the end of devotions to give an award. I’ve decided that the Africa team is long overdue to have a Donny Award. Donny Jacobs was a member of my first Africa team in 2007. The son of 2 members of the education faculty at BJU, Donny majored in nursing and became, by all accounts, an excellent and compassionate nurse. In 2012 he died due to a medical error. I’ve decided to honor his memory with an informal and irregular recognition of behavior that demonstrates Christ-like compassion in simple ways. Tonight I give the first Donny Award to Jess, who thought to give the night watchman a Coke the other night as we stood on the front porch watching the rain. Simple. Thoughtful. Unforced. Good work.

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Dan Olinger

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

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