Sunday, June 14, 2015

The alarm rooster goes off at 6:30, and I emerge from our front door to overcast skies and evidence that it rained last night. Didn’t hear a thing.

Because of the clouds, the environment is a little darker than it usually is this time of morning, but I manage to get the shave and shower done without injuring myself. As I emerge from the bath house, the rain has started again, a very light but steady precip that settles the dust and imparts a certain freshness to life. I drop by the girls’ house at 7:45, and the bad news is that someone’s cold has apparently started circulating to the others; several are coughing and congested. Since this coming week will be the most intense of the whole trip, with 3 tutoring sessions scheduled every day, we’ll have to see how it goes. We can cut the schedule if that seems wise. Perhaps today’s light schedule will help some.

We can hear the canned music from the church building; time to head over for the service. We walk across the compound, surrounded by children skipping along beside us or holding our hands. We arrive at the church building, still mostly empty, and take our seats, girls on the left, boys on the right. With the earlier rain, which has now stopped, we expect people to arrive later than usual, but Maiwe, who is presiding this morning, starts before 8:15, which is earlier than we expect. There’s opening prayer and then some choruses in Swahili (everything’s in Swahili), then Bible reading, then more prayer, then testimonies. We get the gist of what’s going on, but of course the details are beyond us. After the testimonies the choir gets up to sing. They use canned music, which is the tradition here and in other churches in the area. There are 3 or 4 soloists, occasionally backed up by the choir, but the primary job of the choir is to dance. They use minimalist movements, nothing suggestive or objectionable. It’s a full and enjoyable experience, though for my taste I’d prefer just African drum accompaniment to the dancing and those rich, full voices and harmonies. I get the feeling that they underestimate the beauty of their own voices.

The musical section ends with a prayer for understanding of the preaching to follow, which the whole congregation sings. The words are simple and repetitious enough that we can follow along pretty well.

Ferdinand is the preacher today; Pastor Samson has the day off. He preaches from Jonah 1, about Jonah’s assumption that the “other” people were too bad to be saved. He admonishes the congregation to reach out to those around them, including the despicable. I don’t know any of this at the time, of course, since he’s preaching in Swahili. A boy sitting next to me points me to the passage, but Beth fills me in on the details of the sermon later.

After the sermon is the offering. Everyone goes forward and places his offering in a box on the table at the front; we’re careful to use the right hand. Each team member puts in 1,000 shillings, or about 50 cents. Since the Shadi church is on the Bible institute compound, it gets far more international visitors than the other churches in the fellowship, and we don’t want to incite hard feelings by loading them up with our offerings. The missionaries here are working very hard to keep this work as indigenous as possible throughout its development, and their judgment is that an infusion of massive amounts of American cash would do much more harm than good. So we give our tiny offerings and leave it at that.

I suppose you pastors at home should expect some make-up offerings when the team members get home.

After the offering there are some announcements, and then we’re dismissed. We greet one another in the aisles and work our way outside, where we stand and fellowship for several minutes. Eventually the Shadi people work their way out the compound gate and down the dirt road to home, and we walk with the children back to the kibanda and Tumaini.

And chai, which is mandazi and tea. Then free time until lunch at 1; some play with the children, some sit and talk about what they saw in church, and some—especially those with colds coming on—head for the guest house and a nap.

Lunch is rice and beans, and a chunk of watermelon. As usual, we eat in the kibanda, sitting on the low wall and watching the children eat and play.

Shortly after lunch we stage for our afternoon home visits. We’re getting a closer look at local culture by dropping in on some folks in the village. Ordinarily you wouldn’t make an appointment; you would just drop in. That’s what’s expected. But they’ve arranged with a family or two in the church, and we’ll drop in on a few more. Maiwe explains to me that if you make an appointment, they’ll feel obligated to feed you; and so the poorer folks won’t feel that obligation, we’ll just drop in.

Michaela, Charity, and Gershon set off with one of the Tumaini girls to act as interpreter; Jess, Emily, and Amber go with one of the boys; and to my delight, Jessica, Sarah, and I go with Maiwe. It’s like having a professional cross-cultural guide the whole time. We cross the street and arrive quickly at the home of one of the oldest men in the church, who didn’t come this morning because he was having trouble with a chronic respiratory problem. He’s sitting in the small living room of his mud-brick home; we engage in the traditional greetings, and I’m glad to have a chance to “Shikamoo” somebody—I’m usually older than the people I meet. He’s having his lunch prepared, so he offers us some roasted white sweet potato, which we peel by hand and eat. Maiwe says it would be offensive not to eat, and we’ve washed our hands, so this should be fine.

He and Maiwe carry on a lengthy conversation about his health difficulties, with Maiwe including us with an occasional aside in English. Eventually he says it’s time to leave, so we stand and exchange good-byes and thank-yous. When he stands, he’s quite bowed, but he’s pleasant and cordial as he invites us to return again.

Then a half mile or so along a path back to the main part of the village. There Maiwe introduces us to an old friend, Fortunatus, who’s about 40, married with 7 children. We sit in his front yard, and he engages us all in a lengthy examination of our facility with Swahili. He asks us where we’re from; when we got here; what the girls are studying; what our families are like, what time my watch says; and on and on. I feel bad for Maiwe; he’s taught us all this stuff, and we’re not doing very well. Which, I suppose, is the point of the exercise. He asks about the university we’re from, and I explain that it’s a Protestant school. He’s Catholic; until recently he worked as a cook at SAUT.

We have a pleasant conversation, and then he walks us up the path to the main road into the village. We says our good-byes and take some pictures, which I promise to email to Maiwe so Fortu can get them.

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Then through the village, past the dispensary building where voter registration is going on, and greeting everyone we see with the formulae we’ve been taught. They seem to enjoy the fact that we’re trying, and they also enjoy when the wazungu miss their lines.

Back at Tumaini, several of the returned team members are watching the choir rehearse beside the church building. I head to my room and take a nap.

Supper is rice bowls a la Rachelle, with rice, chicken, salsa, and ranch dressing all combined to taste just exactly like home. It’s amazing how she does that, especially when we put our own bowls together ourselves.

From supper we head to house devotions; our first with the new group for the week, so my group of Michaela and Amber rotates from the boys to the girls. We’ll repeat the devotionals we shared with the boys last week, so I start with Jesus as the Good Shepherd in John 10. The girls are a lot like the boys, at least in this environment; they start out shy, but they’ll sing when you give them a chance.

Back to Dan & Jana’s house, where we spend an hour singing. This isn’t planned, but we end up trying a lot of songs that only a few know, so the singing isn’t all that robust tonight, but time spent learning new songs is well invested, so I’m sure it’ll pay off down the road.

Then an hour of web time, and home and to bed. When I leave the girls’ house, several folks are working on taking out Kyla’s braids. I remind them that they have a full day tomorrow, but I leave it up to them to be adults.

Real adults, you know, have long ago lost the thrill of staying up late. Good night.

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Dan Olinger

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

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