Friday, May 22, 2015

We’re beginning to get into the routine, both in terms of lifestyle and in terms of schedule. We’re adapting to the practices and protocols that keep us healthy, and they begin to become just part of the way we’re used to doing things. That doesn’t mean that someone might not mindlessly brush his teeth with tap water, or do something else that makes him sick, but in general we feel more comfortable living in this different way.

We’re also settling in to the schedule. I think everybody’s over jet lag—this is about the normal day for that to happen for a 4-hour time shift—and so they get up at reasonable times, get their morning routines done, and then spend the rest of the morning profitably—reading, walking up to the chapel to get some online activity, or dropping in on the Seidus to see if they need any help with anything. There’s usually something they can do. So this morning follows the pattern.

Well, almost. Last night we lost power to the ceiling fan in the girls’ back bedroom, and to the outlet Gershon and I use to power our portable fans. Sleeping without the fans is a real challenge in this heat, so the girls move their mattresses out onto the kitchen floor under a working ceiling fan, and Gershon sleeps in the living room recliner under another one. (I just sleep in my bed; I’m older, wiser, and less sensitive to trivial environmental concerns than these young pups.) So in the early morning we have to maneuver around a few extra bodies in the communal area.

I’m also seeing friendships develop. To some extent they follow rooming lines: Amber and Sarah are roomies, as are Jess and Jessica. Michaela, Charity, and Emily share the room in the back of the house (and so, yes, they slept on the kitchen floor last night; I told ‘em not to worry about the SNAKES). Gershon, unfortunately, is stuck with me. The rooming situation will change in each location. In TZ all the girls will be in a single bunkroom, and in Cape Town there will be 2 to a room. And Gershon, unfortunately, will always be stuck with me. For the girls, at least, I expect the friendships to become more varied as we progress.

Timothy brings by some bananas and some Fan Ice (yippee!) this morning. While he’s here, I ask about the circuit problem. He checks the 3 electricity meters on the side of the house and finds that one has no time left. Abraham will take some money to town to remedy that.

Which brings us to a significant difference between the 2 economies (the one we’re used to, and the one we’re living in). As far as I’ve observed, there’s virtually no billing here, or in TZ, or even in South Africa. You don’t use the utility—power, or phone service, or internet access—and then receive a bill and pay for it. My assumption is that the default rate would be impossibly high. You pay for everything in advance, as Americans with bad credit do on certain kinds of cell-phone plans or credit cards (which actually amount to debit cards). You can watch the meter on the side of your house, anticipate when you’ll run out of electricity, and pay it before it runs out, but in practice most people just go until they’re out and then go down and pay so the service will be restored.

And that brings us to a more foundational cultural difference. A great part of Africa, and indeed the rest of the world, lives by subsistence. They go to market in the morning, get that day’s food, and try to make enough money that day so that tomorrow morning they can do the same. Most people have no savings account or any sense of long-term financial planning; they live day to day.

That is sometimes true of the relatively poor in the USA, but most Americans would find such a lifestyle extremely frustrating or even frightening. For many here, though, that’s just how they live their lives. It’s normal, and they’ve never really considered that there might be an alternative.

The girls offer their help to Ivy, who turns out to need it. The Bible college graduation is tomorrow morning, and lots of family are coming in for it. As the president of the college—in effect, the tribal chief—Timothy is responsible to provide housing. In addition to the chapel, they’re going to use one of the houses on the compound, and they need it cleaned up; so several of the girls spend the morning taking care of that.

Ivy brings lunch of pepper steak with rice and garlic bread, and Boaz, the son of her friend from Hong Kong, joins us. He’s about 10. So does Rhoda, one of Timothy and Ivy’s might-as-well-be-adopted “daughters.” I remember her from the 2013 trip.

After lunch Abraham comes by to make sure the power is on, and it is. Fans tonight. And nobody on the kitchen floor. That’s good. The temptation of Fan Ice in the freezer might be too much for ‘em.

I spend some time after lunch polishing the graduation sermon for tomorrow. I want to challenge these (mostly) young pastors to focus on the most important things, and to be distrustful of their own self-sufficiency, so I’m planning to preach on “Christ Alone” from Col 1. I’m not up to the subject, of course—no one is—but I hope to set the passage out in such a way that it can speak for itself. Then there are 2 sermons in church Sunday, and a college block class starting Monday night, so there’s plenty of final prep to do.

We have a bit of a mix-up on who’s driving the bus to VBS today, so we don’t get there until 4:30. But when we do, everything goes berserk.

Turns out that they’re using the sanctuary for a rehearsal for tomorrow’s graduation of the Bible college. So that’s not available. There’s no room on the campus of similar size.

So we go with 3 groups of kids instead of 2. The older kids move from their normal room upstairs to a large classroom. The smaller kids move from the sanctuary to the courtyard. And the middle kids set up shop in the older kids’ previous room. Gershon, who was planning the story for the older kids, does that. Emily, who was planning the story for the younger kids, does that. And Sarah volunteers to do an impromptu story for the middle kids. I guess that high school speech stuff was a good idea. I’m with Gershon and Amber with the older kids in a classroom that’s incredibly hot. We sing, go over the memory verses, and he tells the story of Philip and the Ethiopian. Then I tell it again, under the pretense of asking questions about it. There is no interpreter. Drat; I’ve been wanting to see what happens when an English-to-Waali interpreter comes face to face with Gershon’s Chinese accent.

We realize we can’t release our kids through the courtyard until Emily’s done down there, so we keep looking out the window to see if it’s clear. When it is, we turn everybody loose for games. That seems relatively easy compared to the story time.

One of the kids slides into place during “Duck, Duck, Goose” and scrapes up her knee. As it happens, on the bus ride out I was snooping around in the first aid kit that the folks from Pennsylvania had left on the bus, so I knew what was in it. I had noticed there was no antiseptic, but there were a number of gauze pads and strips and some tape, as well as a rescue breather. Gabriel runs home to get some “spirits,” or disinfectant, while the victim washes the dirt off the wound. I tell her this wound is technically a “superficial dermal abrasion,” but she doesn’t feel like it when she wipes it down with “spirits.” I wrap it with a gauze strip, and she’s good to go.

When we have a moment, Gabriel takes me aside. He’s an old friend from our 2013 trip. He was dating Janet, another college-age girl from the church, at the time, and they were married shortly later. A year ago she miscarried at 7 months; she’s now at 7 months again, and this morning Gabriel took her to the hospital. They waited all day, never able to see a doctor. But the hospital admitted her. Gabriel dropped by the church to share the news, and he’s headed back with some food for Janet and himself shortly.

This is hard news. There in the church courtyard, Gabriel and I pray together, asking the Father to spare the life of this child and to uphold this young couple in a time of fear. We will see what the Father’s pleasure is.

The VBS is wrapping up. We do a count: 559. We have 436 packages of crackers, and Timothy ran out at the last minute to buy about 100 pieces of candy. We give it all away. Gershon sees 2 boys fighting over crackers; as he’s meditating on that, a little boy comes up to him and offers him one of his. There’s a broad road and there’s a narrow road; we lay out the gospel, and the Father sorts them out.

026 (2) 030 (2)

When we arrive home, I call a team prayer meeting for Janet and Gabriel and run up to the chapel to send word to the 2013 team. Within seconds, 2 team members from the States confirm that they are praying. The internet is a remarkable thing.

Supper is tasty—fried chicken, bean stew, plantains—and portioned just right. We decide to celebrate the completion of our first and largest VBS with Fan Ice. It’s served in individual plastic portions; you cut off the end of the rectangle and push the ice cream out a bite at a time. It’s the best vanilla ice cream I’ve ever had in my life.

Michaela and I do the dishes; then we meet for team devotions. We pray for Gabriel and Janet, of course, and for the many other things that are on our hearts. We finish to the sounds of another rainstorm outside, reminded of God’s abundant and timely care for his creation. Whatever He does will be right.

No wi-fi tonight; the chapel is full of people visiting from out of town for graduation, sleeping on thin mattresses on the floor. I suppose we could stand outside the building and get the wi-fi there, but that would be a little weird, especially since it’s raining.

Avatar photo

Dan Olinger

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

Related Posts