Sunday, May 29, 2016

Our last Sunday in Wa. With the normal preaching rotation, Timothy comes to the Wa RBC church today, and I’ll preach at Faith. It seems odd having just one Sunday at FFBC; it’s the only church previous teams have worked with. We all climb into Ivy’s car and head over. We step into the youth Sunday school class, which is taught by Robert, one of the older students from my block class. Jojo waits outside for Gabriel; he’s going to ride out to Gabriel’s village on the back of the motorbike and preach in his church.

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The class is on the character required for Christian service. The teacher asks a lot of questions, but as in America, there are just a few students who answer them. Kids are the same the world over.

After class we move across the patio into the sanctuary. The power’s out, so there are no fans or PA system or electronic keyboard. But that’s fine with me; I love to hear the Africans sing without the keyboard drowning them out. I’ve noticed that in much of Africa, they think that if you have a PA system you should use all of it; they just crank all the knobs as far as they’ll go. So I enjoy power outages, which allow me to hear the voices and harmonies of the Africans themselves. There’s nothing like it.

Jonathan and Lora have prepared special music with David. He’s taught them a Waali song. Lora sings the first verse as a solo, and you can tell that the congregation is not expecting Waali; the place comes to full attention, and the man on the platform next to me leans over and whispers in my ear, “That’s my language!” After the first verse the congregation applauds and hoots, then stops to listen to the other verses. Following tradition, several come up and place offering money at the trio’s feet, and some press coins into the singers’ foreheads, where they stick for a moment and then drop to the floor. (I later ask Jonathan if he’s ever been smacked in the head before when doing special music.) The joy in the room is palpable. They call a person’s native tongue his “heart language” for a reason. By going to the extra effort of learning 3 verses and a chorus in Waali, these kids have ministered to this body in way that they couldn’t have otherwise. It’s really a beautiful thing to watch.

I preach on the supremacy of Christ, from Colossians 1. They interpret, of course; Timothy tells me that they interpret every Sunday, since there are people in the church who don’t speak Waali. Preaching through an interpreter is an interesting exercise; you begin to develop a kind of a rhythm, similar to the cadences of the African-American preacher; and the breaks for the interpreter give you time to formulate your next chunk. It’s odd at first, but eventually you get used to it. I sometimes think I prefer it.

After church there’s a greeting line, in which everyone gets into a line that doubles back on itself, so everyone shakes hands with everyone else. It’s a good tradition, giving everyone a chance to greet everyone else in the service. And if you remember to wash your hands before lunch, it’s all good.

Ivy announces that we’re going out for lunch. We drive about 4 km south of town on the road we came in on, to a resort called Blue Hill, a gated compound with a hotel and restaurant. It’s a very impressive looking place, the nicest place I’ve seen in Wa. We settle into the restaurant. The service is slow, but it reflects the thinking here; mealtime is for fellowship, to be enjoyed slowly. The people you’re with are more important than the next item on your to-do list. Eventually we all order. Bethany, Jonathan, and Sarah order roast guinea fowl; Rachael orders beef fried rice; Lora orders chicken and noodles; Jojo orders spicy chicken bowl; and I order sizzling octopus. (Think fajitas.) They serve the food when it’s ready, so the fowl people are done before my octopus arrives, but it certainly makes a splashy entrance. We all select our drinks from the cooler over at the side of the room; most of us get a soda called Alvaro, either pear or passion fruit, but Jonathan gets a box of guava juice, and Bethany gets a similar box of mixed fruit juice.

Jojo likes spicy. He takes a bite of his chicken and says, “This isn’t spicy at all.” That surprises me; they like spice around here. His disappointment is clear. A few minutes later, he says, “Whoa! The spice is on the bottom!” He stirs up the bowl as tears run down his cheeks. Happy again.

The meal comes to 450 cedis. Less than $120 for 7 people. That’s a very fancy meal for here, but I consider it a bargain.

As I mentioned yesterday, the Owens are up from Accra for Kathy Bristol’s retirement ceremony. While they were here, Ezra presented with malaria, and it’s a pretty hard case, so they have decided to stay in Wa for a few days, and they’ve checked in here at Blue Hill. Ryan happens by as we’re eating, so we chat a while, and a few minutes after he goes back to the room, Joy comes by with the two smaller kids. We have a nice conversation while The Crew entertains, or is entertained by, the little ones. We hope they’ll be back at the guest house in Accra by the time we get there on Thursday. You have to live flexibly here.

Arriving back at the house, several of us succumb to the call of Morpheus. (It is Sunday afternoon, after all.) Mid-afternoon Carloss comes by to say good-bye; now that his last class (mine) is over, he’s heading back to Ethiopia. Off to the bus terminal, to Accra, and to the airport. Travel mercies, my friend.

We would normally eat supper before the 7 pm church service, and Ivy brings supper by the house, but we’re all still too full to eat anything, so we decide to postpone supper until after church. Back to Faith, where we sing, then hear reports from the village church pastors on how their services went this morning. Jojo speaks for Gabriel’s church, since he was the preacher this morning. Then testimonies from the congregation, and another trio from David, Jonathan, and Lora, this time “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.” As they’re singing, the moderator, who’s sitting on the platform next to me, sees a bee on the back of Jonathan’s neck, gets up, walks over behind the trio, and smacks the bee. So Jonathan gets smacked again on the head while doing special music. It’s a strange day.

I preach a truncated sermon on the image of God.

During the announcements afterward, Timothy (he’s here tonight because they’re having a praise service, with no sermon, over at Wa RBC) leans over and asks if the team would like motorbike rides. I laugh; he’s remembering what happened last year. I tell him they’ve ridden a fair amount this trip but wouldn’t turn down another opportunity.

He gets up and begins speaking in Waali. The Crew doesn’t know what’s going on, of course, but the congregation starts to laugh, and several young men jump to their feet. Volunteers to give The Crew a ride home.

With the significance of motorbikes as a means of transportation here, churches will normally have 40 or 50 of them in the parking lot and only 2 or 3 cars. Most Americans would think the building is a biker bar rather than a church.  So we shakes hands all around to close the service and flow out onto the porch, where the team members—all of them, including the men—start finding their rides. Lights come on, engines fire up, and one by one the bikes pull out of the parking lot and head toward home.

I should say that drivers are very careful here, much more careful than back in the States. I have no concerns about any of the young men giving rides.

When Timothy and I pull up to the house in his (air-conditioned) car, the first thing I do is count. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Everyone’s here. And everyone had a great time.

Supper. Simon and Prince join us. Seems odd that Carloss isn’t here anymore.

In a side development, Rachael has been taking lessons in NT Greek from Prince. He gave her a quiz tonight. It would be a FERPA violation for me to tell you how she did.

For devotions I talk about disengagement, as we move from one culture to another, especially about following up with relationships formed here. It’s very common, when immersed in one situation, to raise expectations from new friends about how much connection there will be down the road, and then to let those things slide when you make new friends as you’re immersed in another new situation. Africa doesn’t need more American visitors who make or imply promises and then don’t keep them.

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Dan Olinger

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

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