Thursday, May 19, 2016

I lie in bed, mostly out of sheer laziness, until what seems to be obscenely late. I check the time. 7 am. Welp, guess I might as well get up.

The house is quiet, and as dark as it can be in daylight, but there’s evidence that someone has been stirring. There’s hot water in the coffeepot and some devotional materials on the kitchen table. My guess is Sarah; she seems to be the earliest riser among the crew.

Time to start on the day’s standard hygiene procedures. They’re a little more complicated than back home, primarily because the tap water is not potable. So you start with a trip to the fridge, where you pull your water bottle out of the freezer—after a night in there, it’s solid, but if you had any sense the night before, you made sure it was only half full—and open a satchet to refill it. That’s the water you’ll use for anything that involves your mouth.

In the bathroom—the preferred word in this former British colony is toilet, and I note that among Americans the word is mildly distasteful—you use the bottled water to brush and floss your teeth. The easiest health mistake to make here is to rinse your brush under the faucet. You can do that without even realizing it, and that will mean that you spend some time with your face in the toilet (there’s that awful word again). The tap water here is from a well on the compound, and it’s plentiful—that’s relatively rare in developing Africa—but it can still hurt you. After a shave, you climb into the shower, which has pretty good pressure—the girls’ shower, not so much, and I’ve now told them that they’re welcome to use ours—and concentrate on keeping your mouth and eyes closed while the water’s in your face. There’s both hot and cold water, but I don’t think any of us use any hot water; even with the temps generally depressed this year, it’s hot enough that a cold shower feels very good.

So. All clean and ready for the day, and no major mindless health risks taken so far.

There’s a little washing machine in the house—about 2 feet tall, 12 to 18 inches square—that you can put a small load of clothes in, turn the output knob away from “Drain,” put water into by twisting the spigot on the water line, watch it until it’s properly full, turn off the water, add soap and clothes, twist a knob to start the agitator, wait for a while, stop the agitator, move the output knob to “Drain,” then do the whole process again without soap to have a rinse cycle, then wring out all the clothes (there’s no “Spin,”), then hang them up to dry.

I’m sorry. That sentence was just awful.

About drying. I was told on the first visit here that there’s a fly around that like to lay its eggs in wet laundry hanging on the line. The eggs are dormant as long as the clothes are dry. But when you, say, put on your underwear, the body heat and moisture hatch the eggs, and little worms come out and burrow down into your skin. There are two preventatives: iron all your clothes with a hot iron to kill the eggs, or hang your clothes inside or in some other screened location.

I’ve noticed that the ladies on the compound hang their clothes outside. I’ve gotten conflicting info on the fly story, so I don’t know whether they’re ironing their laundry or the whole thing is just a huge misunderstanding. But we don’t feel like taking the chance, so we hang our laundry inside.

8 am—4 am back home. Still nobody stirring. Time to head over to the chapel, connect to wifi, and upload yesterday’s blog entry. I mindlessly let the screen door slam behind me on the way out. Drat. That was thoughtless. There’s a motorbike parked by the shop next to the house—Abraham is here working somewhere. It’s a bright, sunny day, with a few scattered clouds. May get pretty hot later, but it’s quite pleasant at this early stage.

I arrive at the chapel and find Sarah and Jojo sitting on the front porch, using the wifi. If there’s anything that’ll get a college kid out of bed in the morning, it’s an internet connection.

I need to put together an instruction sheet for the major project I’m having the students do in the block course. I’ve given a final exam in the past courses here, but I’m not happy with the process; what happens is they try to memorize the PowerPoints, and in order to make the test achievable I end up with a lot of factual recall questions. For their long-term learning, that’s completely unacceptable. Pretty much all of them have cell phones, and the penetration of smartphones into this market is steadily increasing. They can Google facts. I want them to show that they can do the work of exegesis. So this year I’ve decided to give them a list of interpretational problems in the Gospels (e.g. When did Jesus cleanse the Temple?) and let them choose one to research and write about. But I want to give them a list of clear and explicit step-by-step instructions as well as a sample that I’ve done (mine, obviously, is on a problem I’m not letting them write about).

After the initial planning I head through the mango grove over to the library to survey the sources they’ll have available. When I arrive, I find Jojo and Lora continuing their painting alongside a couple of the college students. Good.

The library is a room in the triad of long buildings used for dorms, offices, storage, and whatever else the college needs. It’s very well supplied; the school has existed for nearly 50 years, and contributions from individuals and churches over those years have left them with a good supply of commentaries, systematic theologies, biblical theologies, biblical introductions, and the other standard tools of biblical scholarship. Unfortunately, over years of use and reshelving, the individual book commentaries have gotten pretty much randomized, and finding the commentaries on Matthew in the room’s low light is a project for my dimming eyesight. But I find half a dozen good ones and put together a sample paper, with references, on the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. I’m careful to use precise reference form to combat the plagiarism problem that constantly crops up.

In years of teaching overseas I’ve learned that cultural differences make scholarship challenging. In many cultures that are tribally focused, or community focused, rather than individualistic like the USA, it’s expected that everyone will help everyone else. Showing someone your answer on a test is just being kind; using an author’s words without citation is just sharing. So we have to carefully lay out the process for using someone else’s material.

Walking back through the orchard to the chapel, I scatter a few guinea fowl kept around for meat, I suppose, and I see the goats munching away over by Timothy’s house. This year they’ve added a flock of goats to the property, and they just go wherever they want within the compound’s walls. Lately our mornings have begun more with an Alarm Goat than an Alarm Rooster—though I’m hearing a rooster now, even as I write.

02b Compound 016 (2)

I notice that one unexpected characteristic of returning multiple times to the same places is that as I move around the compound, I keep bumping into the ghosts of former team members. I recall specific things that occurred with specific people in specific places. This is my sixth team in Africa, and now there are enough alumni to constitute a crowd. They’re doctors, nurses, teachers, missionaries, and other kinds of productive people, making a difference in their corner of the world and still carrying in their hearts pieces of Africa. God is good.

When Mary arrives to prepare our lunch, she gives us the sad news that her mother has died. She’ll be gathering with family over the next few days to engage in the cultural rituals of grieving and burial. But she wants to make our lunch today. She has promised us banku, and she’s diligent. For the next two hours she prepares the cassava root and corn meal into a dough-like substance and lets it ferment—not too much, because she wants our Western palates to accept it. She prepares the okra-based sauce on the gas stove. And while we eat, she cleans up the kitchen before heading home to grieve. We send her with our prayers.

The crew heads out to VBS at the usual time. This is the last day for the VBS at Faith; next we’ll start branching out into some of the surrounding villages. When they arrive, there are a lot more kids than yesterday. Simon and Gabriel are there again to do the interpreting and to facilitate other necessary communication. Our kids are touched by a lot of what they see: some bullying of the smaller children by the bigger (Jonathan, who the biggest of our crew, is pretty effective at rebuking that); a number of children in just underwear, or with a long T-shirt and no underwear; children picking decomposing fruit up off the ground and munching on it. These sorts of things tend to stick in your memory. The children remember well the stories from yesterday—we ask comprehension questions both immediately after the story is told and then again the next day—and many of them are leaning forward to catch every detail that they can, depending on their facility with English. Those whose English is weaker, of course, wait for the interpreter. Sarah notes that Gabriel, who is her interpreter, talks longer with every chunk than she does. I jokingly tell her later that what he’s saying doesn’t have anything to do with what she’s saying. But seriously, Gabriel is extremely competent, a young pastor in whom I have absolute confidence. He’s clarifying what she’s saying for these children in this culture, and whatever he’s saying is exactly what they need to hear.

Timothy has 500 biscuits (cookies) to pass out to the children on this final day. We run out, and about 100 of the children from the school, whom Timothy asks to hold off in case they don’t have enough, end up with no treat. So about 600 children today. That’s larger than last year’s final crowd, and this is a smaller team than we had last year. They feel like it went pretty well, better than the first day, when everything was new to them. This group is adapting well, learning as they go, executing successfully, stepping up to the many challenges.

The kids are all right.

They get back from VBS in time to head out to Thursday night prayer meeting (yep, that’s when they have it) at the Wa church. Jojo’s preaching tonight. During the ride on the way out, he realizes that today’s the 19th—17 months of sobriety. He’s come a long way. What a way to spend an anniversary. God is good.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I finish my class prep and walk up to the chapel a few minutes early to get a little connection time. The students are punctual again; half of them are there at 5.35, and we begin. We finish up the unit on hermeneutics, specifically dealing with problem passages, and I show them the instruction sheet for their research paper, due next Friday, the last day of class. I work through each step of the instructions and each section of the sample paper, and since the sample is on the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, the students want to talk about that subject some. Wasn’t part of the plan, but hey, it’s from the Gospels, so it’s fair game. Then we take a field trip to the library, where I show them where the best commentaries are, pointing out particularly the New International Commentary on the bottom shelf, and for those whose English isn’t quite as strong, the two sets of Tyndale Commentaries over by the entrance. I note that the individual book commentaries are mixed up on the shelves, so they’ll need to look through and find the ones on the Gospels. I suggest that when they’re done, they leave the books on the table in the middle of the room, so that students coming after them won’t have to search for them.

After class I try to connect with family through Facebook video chat. I manage a few seconds with my daughter, who’s in Scotland at the moment and in the same time zone, but the bandwidth isn’t sufficient to support video. Never do get a connection with my wife. We decide we’ll try tomorrow afternoon, when the team is at VBS and I’ll have the bandwidth to myself. 🙂

We have leftovers for supper; we do that every so often because the meals are large, and the leftovers tend to pile up. I get mine when I get back from class, as usual. Some of us play Rummikub while others talk. This group is forming up, getting more unit cohesion by the day. Eventually we all end up in the living room, in the circle where we usually have devotions, and we seamlessly move into that daily ritual and back out again. That’s a good indication of team thinking that’s focused on ministry; we don’t announce that now we’re going to have devotions, the conversation just moves into it. It’s a natural part of the team’s identity.

The talking continues, animatedly, until someone notices that it’s midnight. I’m immediately sleepy and head off to bed. They stay up for a while. I am completely ineffective as a supervisor after that point.

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Dan Olinger

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

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