Monday, May 16, 2016

No alarm rooster this morning; I wonder if he overslept, or if perhaps someone’s breakfast plate has a little more protein today.

Timothy has suggested that we drop by the Christian school during their morning break from 9.45 to 10 am. That will be a good opportunity to see what’s going on there, but it’s a hard deadline—not Africa time—so we’ll need to be ready to leave by 9.30.

Sarah and Rachael are up before 8 and cooking breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast. The eggs here have much lighter-colored yolks than we’re used to—I’m not sure why—with the result that the scrambled eggs look, well, white. But they taste the same.

The rest of the crew tumbles out individually at various times. Both bathrooms are in use as everyone gets his act together for the day. When Timothy comes by at 9.35—yeah, I know, that’s already showing a measure of grace—we’re not quite ready, and I end up shooing everybody out the door and into the car. By the time we arrive at Times Baptist Academy, morning break is in full swing, and the sea of students surrounds the car and surges over each of us as we emerge. Hands grab for us, voices cry “Pikchah! Pikchah!” and we wield our cameras like weapons. Timothy rescues us by calling the students to the gazebo to get a photo taken. They quickly assemble in the shade, and we take photos as fast as we can. Soon it’s time for them to go back to class, and we set about recovering our wits.


TBS has about 600 students from K4 to junior high. They’re adding a grade per year as their oldest students age. In this heavily Muslim region, 60% of their students come from Muslim homes where the parents have agreed that the school will teach Christianity to their children. And there’s a waiting list, because the product in terms of academic accomplishment and especially personal character is the best available in Wa. They charge tuition varying from $80 per year for K4 to $140 per year for junior high, and they’re raising tuition every year to find the price point that yields maximum revenue at full enrollment. With about 30 students in each class, their revenue allows them to pay their teachers well, so there’s a waiting list for faculty positions as well. Although their teachers generally do not have the graduate-level educational qualifications that American teachers commonly have, or even the qualifications of their Ghanaian public-school peers, their students handily outperform the public-system students.

We go around to each classroom, greeting them and interacting with them about what they’re learning, from the alphabet and numbers in K4 to science and grammar in junior high. We introduce ourselves and invite them to the VBS that starts on campus tomorrow at 4. All the students say they’ll come—and pretty much all of them will, if last year’s experience is any guide, and they’ll bring their friends as well.

In one classroom I ask them which of my friends from last year they remember, and 2 students immediately mention Charity and Michaela. Others, especially the boys, remember playing football with Gershon. Tip o’ the hat to you, folks; they still remember you.

When we’ve visited all the K4 through lower primary classes in the main building next to the church, Timothy drives us the few minutes to the new campus just to the west, which is still being constructed but is already housing the older students. It’s named for his late wife, Janet, and is already beautiful, even unfinished. Seeing her name on the front of the building brings back tender memories.

By the time we finish the tour, it’s almost noon. We had considered having Timothy drop us off at the city market and walking home, but that will need to be another day; Mary is planning on feeding us lunch at noon. We arrive to the smell of fried chicken and rice and make quick work of it. I tell you, this idea of hiring a professional cook for one meal a day is not going to get any complaints from us.

During lunch the power goes out, and we quickly realize that since the electric meters are dark, it’s not a house problem; power is not coming in from the city. I check with Abraham, our maintenance manager, and he confirms that it’s a city problem and that it’s not uncommon. Will power be back on before my class starts tonight at 5.30? Oh, yes. I suggest that everyone turn on their bedroom fans and take a nap; that way they’ll know when the power is back. My fan comes on around 2.30; I get up, and the house is empty. All my nestlings have wandered off. Well, that didn’t take long. I hope they’re, you know, OK and everything.

I decide to drop by the chapel to see whether the internet access is up yet—we haven’t had any since we arrived on Saturday morning—and on the way meet Jojo, who says everyone’s up there practicing some music. Did anybody check the wifi? Yep. Is it up? Nope. Well, that saves me a trip. Time to get some studying done for my block class on the Gospels, which starts tonight.

We’ve decided that we’ll have supper at 6, after my class starts, since they’ll typically be coming back from the VBSes after that time. We did that last year, and I had no problem eating after I come back at 8.30. So I leave for class at 5.15 and find, to my surprise, several students already waiting in the chapel. Last year nobody showed up for the 5.30 class until 5.45, and the majority of students hadn’t assembled until after 6. A lot of people will tell you that you can’t change that; many developing societies think of time by the sun, not the clock, and if they arrive at the appropriate section of the day (in this case, around sundown), then that’s good enough. I decided I was going to try to fight that by appealing to self-interest. I told them then that  if they paid for 10 mangoes at the shop, and the shopkeeper gave them only 8, they would have been cheated—and they agreed. All right, then. You have paid tuition for 30 hours of instruction, and I will not cheat you by giving you only 20 or 25. So I will begin when most of you are here, and I will teach for exactly 3 hours from that time. If you are here at 6, we will go until 9. If you are here at 6.30, we will go until 9.30. The choice is entirely yours.

The next night many of them were early, and we started at 5.30.

Several of this year’s students were part of last year’s class, and it seems they remember. 🙂

So we start just after 5.30 with an introduction and exhortation from Timothy, and we’re underway. I spend the first hour with introductory matters, such as personal testimony, cultural issues, course schedule, and course policies, including plagiarism. (That was a big problem last time.) I encourage them to ask questions anytime they have them; I’m concerned that my accent, idioms, or speaking speed might interfere with their comprehension, and I want them to feel free to interrupt. But as the class goes on I notice that they prefer to ask their questions in private, during the breaks. I suspect that peer pressure is the culprit; we might have a chance to address that contextually during the course.

After the first break we get to our first material, on the macrostructure of Scripture. I use a map of Ghana to show how important it is to see the “big picture” before we get to the details. What role do the Gospels play in the larger story that the Bible is telling? Where is “You are here” on the map of the Bible? I plan an hour for this material, but to no one’s surprise, it takes longer.

During the second break I ask about the wifi situation, and the students tell me the modem is blown. I have no way of knowing whether that’s true, but if it is, then I’m probably going to have to intervene. The college students share the monthly access bills, but they don’t have the money to buy a new modem (about $30), even among them. If I can determine that that’s the problem, I’ll be happy to buy them the hardware and get the system going again. In the past we’ve simply paid for the access for the month we’ve been here, as a gift to the college students, and as a recognition that we’ve been using their bandwidth. I’ll talk with Timothy at my first opportunity—but with his schedule I don’t know when that will be. I’m sensitive about asking for his time for anything that isn’t worth interrupting him for.

After the second break we finish up a few minutes of the earlier material and proceed to the second introductory issue, the geography of the Gospels. Here I begin reaping grace from my friend and colleague Kevin Oberlin. (I’ve mentioned him before.) Timothy and I didn’t decide that I would be teaching on the Gospels until just two weeks ago, and a serious complicating factor is that because I’ve never taught a course on the subject, I had no existing pedagogical materials to work with. And at the end of the school year, with final exams, final grades, end-of-year program and division reports, and other preparation work for Africa, I really didn’t have time to develop a new course, even a 2-week one (it includes, after all, 30 hours of instruction, the equivalent of well over half a semester of work at the standard pace). Kevin has taught the course multiple times at BJU, and when I emailed him for assistance, he kindly sent me all his PowerPoints and lecture notes. From that point it’s pretty easy to put the rest of the course together. And he did it from Singapore, or Germany, or wherever he is these days. Thanks, friend.

We wrap up on time at 8.30, and I talk with the students for a few minutes before they roar off on their motorbikes. One of them offers to carry my laptop back to the house for me, and we walk together through the compound. When I arrive back at the house, the crew is watching a DVD—they’ve figured out how to get it working, which is pretty much part of kids’ DNA these days. I grab some leftover supper out of the fridge—rice and a tomato-based sauce—and we talk for a while before firing up devotions. We’re learning to sing together—both Jonathan and Lora are music majors and sing very well (Jonathan won the men’s voice award this year at BJU), and while we notice that we tend to drag, we do sound pretty good, in my non-professional opinion. I open the floor for comments, observations, and things learned. They all agree that they wish they were busier. (We tagged today as a day of rest for them after the long trip and active weekend of services.) I’m glad to hear that; that means 1) that they’re recovered from the trip, and 2) that they’re not a bunch of lazy bums. 🙂

I take the opportunity to talk to them about intentional priorities: just as Paul prioritized the preaching of the gospel over another good and necessary thing, baptism (1Cor 1.17), they need to set personal priorities and goals and take the initiative to pursue them. What’s an important personal goal, based on the Scripture? How can you use a little extra time at the moment to pursue it? They offer suggestions—we can spend more time and do more thinking in our personal devotional studies; we can get to know one another and the nationals here on the compound by spending more time together; we can read some of the really good books that are on the bookshelves here.

The kids are all right.

We close our time together with a round of prayer, and as we’re wrapping up I get a sudden wave of nausea. I quickly rule out the possibility that I’m just sick to death of these kids already, and run back over my food choices and activities for the day. I’ve been careful about washing my hands; I’ve eaten what everyone else has eaten. I ask how they’re feeling; they all feel fine. Well, sometimes you’re just never certain what the culprit is. The nausea lasts all night and clears up about mid-morning the next day. This is my first time being sick in Africa, other than one cold a year or two ago, and I must confess that I don’t like it much.

Let me take this opportunity to talk about how we’ll deal with health issues here. First, out of respect for personal privacy, I’m not going to say that so-and-so is sick. For purposes of prayer support, I may observe that we have a couple of sick people, but I won’t identify individual persons, and I usually won’t give any diagnoses. I’ll notify the affected parents if the issue is something significant—e.g. malaria—but I won’t make contact for routine things like brief bouts with nausea. It’s routine for people to get some constipation going (or not going, as the case may be) with significant travel, and other conditions crop up routinely as well. No sense worrying people over those things. So if you’re a parent, and I mention that there’s some sickness, 1) it probably doesn’t involve your kid, and 2) if it were anything to be concerned about, I would already have contacted you privately.

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Dan Olinger

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

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