Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Water has arrived at the guys’ house. That’s refreshing; it makes the shower a little less complicated. Somehow, pouring cold water over your head seems more difficult than stepping under a cold shower. The temperatures here are 10 to 15 degrees cooler than in Ghana, and it’s pleasantly cool when we get up in the morning. So a cold shower is less refreshing, as it was in Ghana, and more, well, cold.

I go by HQ at 8:30. “Hodi.” “Karibu.” Rachael’s up. 2 of the other girls are at Dan & Jana’s house getting final instructions and seeing them off. The children will be fine by themselves for the 2 1-hour sessions this morning, but otherwise they’ll be under our care for the day today, tonight, and tomorrow.

At 9 we jog out onto the playing field to begin combat. 6 American tutors, going to 6 arenas around the compound, taking up arms against ignorance and apathy. To the fray we go. Noble 600. (Yes, I know the number doesn’t make sense in this context. But it’s a literary allusion, so I’m allowed to take liberties with the details.)

From the front porch of the Big House I can see all 6 locations. It takes a few minutes for all the children to get to the right place, but relatively quickly things settle down. I walk around the compound, seeing and hearing what’s going on, and letting the children see that I’m paying attention. Rachelle’s doing the same thing. About halfway through the hour I see Jojo taking the kindergartners on a walk around the football field, counting the number of bushes on the perimeter. Good idea. Soon John has his Standard 5 group observing wildlife behind the children’s houses; one of the girls has caught a dragonfly and is inspecting it closely, though without much cooperation from the dragonfly. There are swarms of them here; they cluster around your feet as you walk. In the mornings they’re close to the ground, and in the evenings they’re swarming about 10 feet over your head. They remind me of quadrotor drones.

Chai time comes with no emergencies. No calls for Mjombe (“uncle,” Ferdinand, who’s the chief disciplinarian; he can sit and listen to a child for as long as it takes, speak to him wisely and graciously, and bring him out of his funk, whatever the cause. He’s a central part of what makes Tumaini successful.). I congratulate the crew on a great start, and we enjoy the mandazi and Fruit Loops tea. At one point I look around to see what everyone’s doing. John’s on one side of the Big House porch, surrounded by a group of boys. Lora’s on the other side, with a group of Tumaini girls debraidificationalizing her. Jojo’s giving several children a percussion lesson on the front steps of the Guest House. Rachael, Bethany, and Sarah are socializing with children in the kibanda. And Lora’s down at Dan & Jana’s, bringing their children up for chai.

I’m asking some of the older boys questions about Swahili grammar and pronunciation, and Silas comes by. He wants to give me a grammar quiz. Shoot. OK, can you give me a 1st-person singular simple present-tense use of the verb “stink”? Ah. He wants me to say, “I stink.” He thinks he can outsmart an old wise man. “Well, I can do that, of course, but I have a problem. I speak only the truth, and that would not be a true statement. Might I use the 2nd person singular instead?” Silas’s eyes light up. He enjoys the verbal combat, and he knows he’s been fairly beaten. Then he explains what just happened for the Tumaini boys who might not have understood the grammatical terminology.

At 11 we turn to our second sessions. Rachelle, who’s administrating the whole tutoring program, has set it up so that each tutor has two different groups of children during the 2 hours. That gives both the students and the tutors a break. This session is initially proceeding smoothly as well.

There are several reasons that things might be less hectic than usual. First, in past years the Crush children have been boarding in town during these tutoring sessions, and the kids tend to be out of sorts when a bunch of their “family” is missing. This year they’re keeping the Crush kids here, primarily because they’ve decided to avoid boarding situations as part of their revised child safety policies.

What’s Crush, you ask? Remember how I noted that each year the Standard 4 and 7 kids, and the Form 1 kids (1st year of secondary) have a standardized test and so get special preparation? That’s what the locals call Crush. Tumaini has hired a crew of professional teachers to handle that group, so they’re still on the compound and mingling normally with the others outside of class times.

Another possible reason for the calm is that on the first day you typically give the kids something they can already do, so they start off with success. Later, as you ramp up the difficulty, there’s more opportunity for frustration and the behavioral problems that come with it.

As the second tutoring session proceeds, it becomes more difficult; many of the children, particularly the boys, start to get obstinate and uncooperative. Beth characterizes them as acting like teen-aged girls. I’m not going to even participate in that discussion. …

While the children are in Bible study time with Abeli (that’s Ferdinand’s assistant) at noon, we talk about what sorts of things happened. One advantage to having each tutor deal with 2 classes is that every time there’s a problem with a student, one of the other tutors has the same student in the other class, and we can share insights. And of course Beth, Rachelle, and Ferdinand are available to give advice and to intervene with the student if necessary. Our kids have good support in this effort.

Lunch is at 1—tomato soup, and macaroni and CHEESE, and salad with 3 kinds of dressing. Yikes, they’re spoiling us. With Dan & Jana gone, and us taking care of their kids, lunch is a party: our 7, the Dan & Jana’s 4 kids, the Gasses and their 2, and Beth and Rachelle. We squeeze into Beth’s porch and enjoy the feast. Matt and I talk about what they’re learning on the teaching side as they disciple the believers in the village churches. Like many tribal cultures, this is a story-telling one, and teaching works much better as story than as lecture. They’ve realized that biblical theology is much better suited to the situation than the systematic theology that we typically teach with in the States. So we talk about some resources, and with wifi now available on the compound, I can email him links to Amazon from right at the table. It’s getting so Africa isn’t even deprivational anymore.

We have some time after lunch, which the team uses as the individuals need: get things together for this afternoon or for tomorrow’s tutoring sessions, take a nap, play with the children. At 3:30 Jonathan leads a brief choir practice for the upcoming anniversary celebration, or sherehe. They run through an English hymn, a Swahili hymn, and a patriotic song about Tanzania (I don’t think it’s the national anthem). Jonathan exhorts them to show their pride of country. As believers, we can rejoice in someone else’s pride in his own country even as we rejoice in ours. It’s interesting to watch. Then he closes with a clapping exercise, having different sections clap in slightly different rhythms, so that the result is layered and complex. If it works in the long run, they’ll use it behind one of the songs. It’s a positive ending to a positive time.

We move into the sherehe planning groups. The objective for this first session is pretty simple: get all the children to the correct group, and get them thinking about what they can produce for the celebration. As noted before, we have a couple of groups working on sewing things, another on drawing, a fourth on handcrafts. It’s a pretty open-ended assignment, but our folks have some ideas to suggest to the children.

It’s a slow start. The kids are again uncooperative and even whiny, and Beth is, well, the word I use is “torqued.” After the scheduled session she calls all the children to the kibanda—uses the air horn, which typically is a signal that something big is up—and sends the team into the house. We try to hear what she’s saying, but she’s mostly speaking in Swahili, and while Maiwe is a good teacher, we’re not that good as students, so we can’t catch much. But we can catch the tone of her voice, which communicates a lot, and the few times she lapses into English. Boy, do those kids get a talking to. We’ll see what effect it has.

Supper is rice, beans, and pineapple. We like it; it’s filling, and flavorful, and the fruit finishes it off nicely. Some of the children eat with their hands, but most of us use a spoon with rice; we find that ugali works well with the hands, but rice is a little more difficult. We eat in the kibanda with the children, as usual, and while none of them says anything about the talking-to, it does appear that they’re trying to be good. It’s hard to tell, though, because in these casual social situations they’re routinely chatty and playful; it’s during the teaching times when they get obstinate. We’ve noticed the same tendency on previous teams, so I’m not surprised, and I’m confident that we’ll work through it, as we have in the past.

For house devotions I continue talking about conversion and the changes it makes. I’m hoping that they’ll connect that idea with the behavioral trouble they’ve been having. When I ask for prayer requests, I get the usual, and then one boy says, “Our behavior.” What do you mean by that? “It needs to change.” Yes, we can pray for that.

Afterwards we drop by Beth’s porch for wifi time, and she asks if we all can have a time of prayer together. I can tell that she’s discouraged, and corporate prayer is intended for times like these. So several of us pray, for the children, for Beth and Rachelle, for Ferdinand and Abeli, for the mamas.

This work, like any ministry, is both deeply rewarding and frustrating. When the children come running to you, smiling, and hug you or sidle up to you or laugh with you, you’d think that there’s nothing more joyous. They’re in the image of God, and working with them is deeply satisfying. But they’re also fallen, and sometimes their sinfulness just drives you nuts. In those times I recall the unholy terror I was—how many people (besides me) do you know who were kicked out of their first-grade Sunday school class?—and I think of the days to come when some of these children will be solid Christian adults, serving in churches, ministering in the ways for which God has gifted them—when they’ll come back by Tumaini, look the staff in the eyes, and tell them how much their labors are now appreciated. That day will come, but there are times when it seems a long way off. In the final analysis, of course, we don’t labor for the day when they’ll thank us; we labor out of love for Someone whose opinion is far more significant. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4 are powerful in times like these:

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Two of our girls are staying at Dan & Jana’s house overnight, and the other two are pretty well shot. I announce that we won’t have team devotions tonight—the prayer time will certainly suffice—and everybody heads off to bed.

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Dan Olinger

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

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