Friday, June 19, 2015

I open the front door of our room to an overcast, gray sky and a delightfully cool temperature. As I brush my teeth and shave at the outdoor concrete sink at the bath house, the children come by in the process of doing their morning chores and greet me, as usual, with “Good morning,  Doctah Dan!” They are hunkering in their hoodies, moving quickly to create some heat. I return to the room in the incipient rain to find Gershon standing on the porch with Nala, the mama dog, who is shivering and looking miserable. I’m in a t-shirt, absolutely reveling in the refreshing, cool break from the heat—even though it’s generally noticeably cooler here than it was in Wa—and these poor creatures are suffering from the cold.

All creation groans in birth-pangs, eagerly anticipating deliverance from bondage to decay and the freedom of the glory of the offspring of God.

The rain picks up as I settle into my bunk for personal devotions. In my little cocoon of mosquito net, with the peaceful sound of the rain all around in the dim morning light and the glow of my laptop screen, and the absolutely perfect temperature, it’s hard to believe that the world is an evil place, in need of redemption. But there are reminders here, in the culture, in the children, in the social systems, and yes, back home, in the city in my state where thousands of Americans go to enjoy the beauty of the earth, that in many ways, to the very depth of its being, everything—everything—is broken.

I turn to my scheduled reading this morning: Luke 2.8-21. I meet a small group of shepherds, doing their job in the darkness of another early morning. Suddenly, they’re terrified at what they take to be a hostile presence. But messages from God, though sometimes frightening, are always good news to God’s people in the long run.

”I am bringing you good news of great joy which shall have to do with all peoples, because today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, has been born to you.” And as if to demonstrate that the very armies of Almighty God are endorsing—and enforcing—these words, a military host proclaims in a rhythmic couplet,

“Glory in the highest to God,

And on earth peace among men of good will.”

The answer lies not in our stars, or in our plans, or in our raging against the dying of the light, or even in our good intentions. The answer lies in the tiny swaddled hands of an infant, lying in, of all places, a feeding trough.

And so God is at work, directing, ordaining, nudging, moving, compelling, to restore what is broken, in His own time, in His own way, and for His own glory, to the perfect order in which He originally made it, and better yet. And remarkably, He calls us, still broken as we are, to join Him in the yoke and to be a part of the restoring work He is doing, one soul at a time, one child at a time, one new life at a time, with guaranteed success in everything that really matters.

What a privilege this is! And how incomparably small are the inconveniences, the frustrations, the alleged sacrifices!

O Church, arise, and put your armor on; hear the call of Christ, your Captain!

The rain continues until after our 9 am session begins, and the children are late getting themselves together because of it. But the morning sessions go well. It’s especially good to have the sick one better and back in the saddle, and the whole team functioning as one again.

After the second session, Sarah, who is not typically a ranter, goes all Gershon on us.

“I ask them, ‘3 x 9.’ ‘99!’ ‘84!’ ‘12!’ ‘2!’” [She mimics banging her head against a wall.] Emily comes in with her own story. “I ask them, ‘So do you understand?’ ‘Yes!’ ‘So, what’s a lizard?’ ‘Bird!’”

And so we continue to beat back the forces of ignorance.

Beth and Rachelle put together a pizza buffet for lunch, and a very impressive one, including options for our GF member. During lunch we talk about stuff we need to get together.

This is a particularly busy time, for 3 reasons.

First, Standards 4 and 7, with 23 children, come back from Crush this afternoon. Welcoming them back and reintegrating them into the campus won’t be a problem at all; but reorganizing the tutoring structure to include a 70% increase in the number of students, and 2 more “grades,” will be essentially starting from scratch. Every tutor’s student load will increase, of course, and there will be more levels to teach. We’re going to have tutoring sessions for only 2 days next week, but we still have to do the planning and rethinking for those 2 days.

Second, we’ve decided to devote the last 3 days of the week to “camp,” with teams, competitions, scoring, cheers, songs, and all the other stuff that goes along with that. And that’s a lot to plan for.

And finally, that bit of business I took care of a week ago, that I said I would tell you about later.

Here in western Tanzania we’re just a 2-hour drive from one of the top four safari locations in the world, Serengeti National Park. (If you’re interested, the other 3 are Kenya’s Maasai Mara and Amboseli, and South Africa’s Kruger. Which you think is best depends on what country you’re from.) Well, it’s just crazy to be this close and not go see it. I’ve taken the 2 previous TZ teams in, and this year’s budget will allow us to do it again. I’ve been very happy with a tour company I’ve dealt with in Mwanza, and Beth and I went to see them and set the whole thing up as noted last week. They give us a good price, and they are kind enough to let us fill any empty seats in the supplied vehicles with children from the orphanage—in fact, they even pay the park entry fee for those children. So we’ll have 2 vehicles, seating 8 and 6, respectively, and thus with room for 5 in addition to the 9 team members. All of Standard 7 and all but 2 of Standard 6 have gone with us over the last 2 years, so we’ll take the last 2 from Standard 6 and then 2 from Standard 5 plus a Tumaini staff child. I’m really pleased that this is a way for a few Tanzanians to see the remarkable treasure that their country boasts; the likelihood that any of them would visit it on their own is quite slim.

So. We need to get some food together for lunch in the park. As I write, Amber is preparing to make a ton of chapati chips; we’ll make 2 PBJ sandwiches for everybody on the trip; Beth will pop a couple of large bags of popcorn; and we’ll bring along a few bunches of genuine, tree-ripened Tanzanian ndisi (bananas).

So everyone gets busy doing something until the final tutoring session of the day and then picks up again afterwards. As that’s proceeding, we hear the bus come on campus with the students from Crush, and all the other children run to welcome them home. I know them from previous years, but this team has never met them before, and vice versa, so we try to do some introductions amidst the chaos of unpacking. We also learn that there was a bedbug infestation, so all the bedding needs to be laundered before tonight.

With all the excitement, supper is a little late, and the kids get some extra game time in. Gershon has already made friends with the Standard 7 boys, due mainly to his football skills.

House devotions are full now, and the singing sounds better, not just because the numbers are higher, but because the kids seem to be at home with all the missing ones having returned. They’re out of sorts when they’re not all together.

After team devotions we have some final prep for Serengeti—some instructions from me, and some last-minute food prep. We set up a PBJ sandwich-making assembly line that turns out 32 sandwiches in short order, and we boil a bunch of eggs. All that will keep body and soul together for the day tomorrow.

Well. Early morning. See you then. Bring your binoculars.

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Dan Olinger

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

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