Saturday, May 23, 2015

Graduation Day. I’m up at 6, take an early shower and get out of everybody else’s way. I walk up to the chapel, and since it’s full of people who slept there last night, I sit on the front porch to get the blog post up for the day.

Then there’s devotions back at the house, and a final run-through of the sermon notes to ensure that I have my thoughts organized for the graduation sermon. Eventually everyone’s ready, and we climb aboard the bus to go to the commencement service. Last year it was in a large Quonset-type structure here on the compound, but because of the possibility of rain Timothy has decided to move it to the church building.

As we disembark and head into the already-crowded church, I have a moment of panic. I’ve forgotten my Bible. And my sermon notes. And there’s no time to go back and get them.

Rookie mistake.

Well. That was dumb. Guess we’re going to have to do it without notes. I have my iPod, with Bible software, and it’s freshly charged. So we’ll ask the Lord, who takes care of fools and children, to use His Word from the mouth of an unworthy servant. If God can speak through Balaam’s, um, donkey, He can speak through me.

The procession gathers on the front porch. I see that pretty much everybody has his regalia on wrong. The mortarboards are the worst offenders; several want to wear the thing as a square rather than a diamond, and others have the skullcap fully sideways. It looks ridiculous. Others have their hoods on upside down. Nobody has the little string on the back right. We get everybody straightened out as the processional starts: “Send the Light.” There’s a missional focus here; these men are not being honored so much as sent out into battle, commissioned. We march in somberly, the choir to the regular choir loft at the right front, the students and graduates to the balancing section at left front, and the faculty and speaker (yours truly) to the platform.

The service is full of rejoicing. There are congregational songs in Waali and English, choir songs, songs from the college students, songs from a men’s choir. The latter group does a commissioning song—“Use Them, Lord”—to the tune of “Kumbaya.” The tune has become trite in the States, but the harmonies and passion of this 8-man ensemble is deeply moving.

I’m scheduled for the middle of the service. I place my tiny iPod on the pulpit and press on. God gives grace, and the people seem to respond to the word. Seated a few rows back on my right are four men in the skullcaps that indicate that they are Muslim. The passage, Col 1, contains an explicit declaration of the deity of Christ, as well as the statement that He is Creator of, and head over, all principalities and powers, a statement that has significant implications for dealing with African Traditional Religion, or animism (think witch doctors). Let the chips fall where they may.

After the sermon, each of the 3 graduates—2 with BA’s, 1 older pastor with a diploma in theology—gives his testimony in English, and it is then translated into Waali. Timothy confers the degree on each graduate individually and presents him with his diploma. There are gifts given to each graduate, a commissioning prayer, some announcements, a closing prayer, and the recessional.

The whole thing takes 3 hours, for 3 students. BJU graduated over 600 students this year in just 2 hours. No more complaining.

We spill out into the sunshine in the yard, taking photos, congratulating the graduates, fellowshipping with one another. Timothy says he’d like to take the team out to a restaurant for lunch. I’ve never eaten in a restaurant in Wa before; this should be interesting.

He drops us off at Mummy’s Kitchen (that’s a reference to motherhood, not Egyptian burial practices) and says he’ll be back after he drops everybody else off. (Yes, the president of the college is driving the school bus.) This is a nice place, clean, very much up to American standards. We take a long table in the back and order. Four of us get guinea fowl, either fried or boiled; 3 get fish—one of them with head still on—and 2 get chicken. All meals served with a generous portion of rice, either steamed or fried. And all delicious. I can speak personally for the fried guinea fowl dark meat—darker than chicken, and drier, but extremely tasty. Each meal comes to about 4 bucks. And it’s served in 5 minutes. I’m not kidding.

Timothy returns—boy, am I glad for that, because I don’t know where we are—pays the bills, and we all head home. As we’re leaving the restaurant, he tells us that Gabriel and Janet have lost their baby.

Gloom. Then thoughtfulness. Then resignation: God knows what He is doing. Then compassion: they will need grace. And peace. Then prayer.

Back at the house around 3. I’m exhausted and lie down for a nap. I wake up at 4 to a lot of noise in the front room. I wander out to find the girls meeting with a lady—turns out to be a seamstress whom Ivy has arranged with to sew dresses for the girls from the fabric they’ve bought from Akila. There are patterns everywhere, and girls being measured.

I know when I’m outside my element. Up to the chapel to add some photos to this morning’s hurried blog post and get some online time.

The church’s girls are interested in meeting again with our girls tonight. That’s a good sign. There’s no reason for any guys to be there, but I’m not inclined to send them off by themselves, so I ride along with Timothy and Aquila and them. The church girls have prepared a local beverage—sort of a ginger tea—and serve it to our girls and then bring some out to the front porch, where the guys are hanging out. We can hear lots of laughter from in there. Bonding. Good.

Timothy and I get a chance for a good long talk about how the work here is going. He’s very busy, and to some extent there are cultural obstacles to relieving that load. But he says that the biggest help would be a principal for the school. Their last principal retired when he got too old for the demands of the job (he was already retired from his job in the public educational system), and he’s never been replaced.

Any principals out there looking for work? 600 students, mostly Muslim, using a largely British educational system in both English and Waali. But a lack of Waali should not be a disqualification; there are workarounds for that. Come on. It’ll be fun.

Aquila comes back from whatever he’s been doing, and Simon shows up, and Timothy goes to take care of some business. Lots of conversation with the two young pastors about cultural issues and doing ministry. These are good men, well trained, wise for their years, committed to the work. It’s a good conversation.

We ask the girls if they’re done. They’re not. Eventually, after nearly 2 hours together, they come out onto the porch, laughing in bunches and acting like old friends.

Back at the house we have devotions, praying especially for grace and peace for Gabriel and Janet.

It’s a tiring day but another effective one. God has been gracious, as He always is.

As I’m writing the blog, another rainstorm begins. I step out onto the porch, standing in the darkness, enjoying the cooling breeze. Suddenly, I sense something and look down. There at my feet is Brita, the Seidus’ dog.

Brita’s quite a story. He’s (yes, he’s a he) apparently been abused; he snaps at anyone who tries to pet him. Last time (2013) we all spoke nicely to him but otherwise just kept at a distance. Then one afternoon we had our only rainstorm of the trip. I was sitting on the front porch, and here came Brita, quaking with fear, and climbed under my legs for protection. I petted him, with no negative response, and we became friends for the rest of that stay.

This year Brita has stayed closer to home and has shown no sign that he recognizes me. So now he’s at my feet, quaking again. I sit down, and he climbs under my legs as he did before. I’m tempted to pet him, but I think I’ll take my time; I’m really not interested in going home with some exotic African dog disease.

I ask him if he wants to come into the house; he goes to the door. In we go. I tell the team that this is Brita; I’ve told them about him already, and I remind them to let him approach them on his terms. Gershon reaches down to pet him; Brita snaps at him and growls. I go back to my desk to work on the blog, and he lies quietly at my feet.


I wonder if he remembers me, or if this is all just coincidence.

When the storm quiets down, I go to the door and open it, and he goes outside with me and over to the night watchman, who’s sitting on the porch. He pets him like crazy. They’re old friends.

Soon the storm picks up again, and he’s at the door. Someone lets him in, and in a few minutes Gershon announces triumphantly, “He’s hiding under my bed.”

A shelter in the time of storm.

It’s after 11, so we all head for bed, but the storm increases in intensity. The noise of the rain on the metal roof gets louder; at times it sounds like hail. Since we have all the louvered windows open, there’s a stiff breeze throughout the house. Brita starts in Jess and Jessica’s room up front, but I wake up at 1 am to find him under my bed. At 2 the storm abates, and the quiet wakes me up. I ask Brita if he’d like to go back outside, and he follows me to the door and willingly goes outside when I hold it open.


A tormented soul in the dark of night. Perhaps we can have some fellowship, and he can have some comfort, in the days ahead.

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Dan Olinger

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

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