Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Things We Discuss In Class

By Anthony:

I figured it was time to update all of you on some of the good class discussions I've had with students since this new semester started in January.  These are from the three classes I'm teaching: Homiletics (preaching), Church History 2 (mostly the Reformation), and Development (poverty alleviation), as well as the discussion group I lead on spiritual growth once a week.  Also, I always give the students a 5 minute break in the middle of each 2 hour class session to walk around outside, go the bathroom, etc.  Sometimes I join them and we get talking.  Strangely, some of best discussions happen while standing around outside.  They can be quiet in the classroom, and then completely open up with their opinions, struggles, and questions when outside.  Because of this, sometimes I let the 5 minute break turn into a 30 minute break!

Some of the interesting class discussions:

- I learned that for most of the students, Sara and I are the first Western missionaries they have ever met.  This is shocking to me because when we came, the students didn't act like it was a new thing to see us.  And we see missionaries all over around Kenya so it's strange to think they haven't interacted with other missionaries.  It's a bit overwhelming or disconcerting when you realize that the students are basing their perceptions of missionaries, or Americans, on their interaction just with the two of us.  Most of the students are continually asking us to find them an American wife or husband.  When we ask why, they say that they like how Americans act, but then we try to help them realize that Americans are very diverse and they do not all act the same way we do.  But they don't believe us, and they keep insisting they must have a mzungu wife!  Then we learned that some of them want a mzungu wife because they think that is a ticket to riches.  Sigh.  We hope they are joking!

- We've had some discussions about titles for pastors and Jesus' warnings against titles in Matthew 23.  Yet in the Anglican Church there is an abundance of titles.  I'm not against church positions and using titles in a small way.  To me, there is a difference between having a title to differentiate our different tasks in ministry, and insisting on people using your title for your honor and glory.  In our discussion, we agreed while Jesus warns against titles, it's hard to even keep track of all the titles in the Anglican Church:  Archbishop, bishop, lay leader, archdeacon, deacon, doctor, honorary, provost, suffragan bishop, canon, reverend, right reverend, the most right reverend, vicar, etc.  The students said there is a problem that a lot of church leaders want titles for power and prestige.

- In Church History, we had a great discussion about the Reformation, about the corruption, the pride, the greed, and the sexual immortality present in the church and priests of the Roman Catholic Church of that time.  It led to a practical discussion about the Anglican Church of Kenya.  They saw that many of the same problems are here, albeit to a lesser extent.  We discussed whether the reforms could be made from within, or would a new church be necessary.  They are hoping that change is possible from within the Church first, which I also advised them to try to do.

Teaching class outside for fun:

- In Development class, I found out that almost all of their churches have no Benevolence ministry to give anything to the poor, and most of the students themselves have never given anything to a poor person or to help the poor.  At least this is what they told me.  It was quite a shock.

- Over lunch with some students one day, I received an excellent compliment.  They said they noticed how Sara and I do our cooking together, washing of our clothes together outside, and they really appreciate it.  They want to have marriages like ours where the husband and wife do work together and try to serve one another.  They said, "that is the way to have a happy marriage, we want to do it the same way you are." In the culture, as in Uganda, women and men have very divided work roles, and often the women do way more work while the men sit around.  So it's awesome that these students want to make change.

- We had a very honest and blunt discussion about pornography during one class period.  It came up because we were talking about how true born again Christians will still sin, but they won't live in sin, they will repent and confess and keep on fighting against sin.  One student asked a very important question about how to think about a Christian who keeps trying to fight pornography but keeps failing.  It led into a good discussion about the nature of addiction and the need to get real help from others when fighting this sin.  I encouraged them to come talk to me privately if they are struggling and I could help them and not tell anyone else.  But so far no one has come.  I'm sure many of the students are struggling with pornography on their smartphones, but it's hard to admit it when you need help!

- We had a great discussion in Homiletics about political sermons.  In this culture, it is extremely common for churches to acknowledge politicians in church and let them speak to the church if they happen to attend a church service.  We discussed how it is favoritism in a way since they don't let other visitors speak, and also how dangerous it is to have a church appearing to support one political party.  In addition, sometimes pastors are asked to preach at political functions, and some of the students have already done so.  The danger there is that instead of preaching the Word of God, you might preach that people should vote for a certain person.  I am not an expert on all the complicated issues concerning the Church and politics.  There are hard decisions to make.  You have to be apolitical often in terms of supporting one candidate over another, but at the same time, also be willing to speak out on the issues.  When I encouraged them to be careful about mixing up their church with politics, they asked a very fair question - "but shouldn't we preach about corruption and speak out against the specific abuses happening in our community?"  I think our country, the USA, is struggling with many of the same issues right now.  How do we speak about abortion, immigrants, poverty, homosexuality, racism, and refugees without becoming too political, or too attached to a political party?  We become ineffectual and even guilty when we fail to speak out the truth on the important issues of our day.  Yet we want the Church to be a place that welcomes people of any political party.  Tough things to sort out.  We had a long discussion about such things.

- We had a fun activity in Development class.  I wanted them to realize that in doing community development you need to hear the voices of the voiceless, to get opinions from a wide variety of people in a community since they all have different wisdom and knowledge to share about the assets and needs of their community.  I divided up the older students into 1 group, and the younger students into a 2nd group.  I told them to imagine there was a gift of $2000 for Berea College, and they should discuss and write down what they thought the money should be used for.  I was happy to see that the answers were very divergent, illustrating well the point I was trying to make.  The older students wanted to use the money to pay salaries that haven't been paid yet for staff, and to increase the security at the school, and help some needy students with school fees.  The younger students wanted to give cash to each regular student (but not the modular students), and then use the rest of the money on a party!  With age comes wisdom and maturity it seems :)

- Also in Development class, we had a discussion about how to overcome corruption in Kenya.  I showed them these two videos below which explain that an audit of the government showed that only 1% of the government's money is spent according to the law (the rest is "eaten" through corruption, or used on good things but not the things it was intended for).  And also they give the statistic that on average, each citizen in Nairobi gives 16 bribes per month.  The two videos are below.  I was highly disappointed by their reaction.  Some of the students immediately said the videos were political and that they were "all lies."  They just dismissed it.  They know corruption is a huge problem in Kenya, but there is so much tribalism that often, people don't want to admit that leaders who share their tribe might be corrupt.  Unfortunately we've noticed tribalism among the students as well, as those from minority tribes are not treated as well sometimes.  This leads me to remind you that the election is coming up in Kenya this August.  Pray for peace and that there would not be violence again this time as there was violence in 2007.  Pray for Kenya, especially for an end to corruption!  Very little development can happen in such a corrupt place, and the students tell me the corruption is coming into the church as well.

If you can't open the video directly, here is the link:

And the link for the second video:

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Baringo Village Visit

By Sara:

We have an epic blog post for you that is just packed with pictures and all kinds of fun experiences!  We traveled to an area in Baringo to visit one of our students, Philip, and his church.  We went there on Saturday, got great tours of his parents' home and farm, and spent the night with them before going to church on Sunday.   They've trained a beautiful bougainvillea plant to be a shade where they can sit outside:

The barn where they store grass and feed for their animals (the grass on the outside is to protect the inside from rain blowing in):

The kitchen (the chickens know where food can be found...):

This is the family's mango-loving cow.  They said that they have to keep it away from the mango trees or it will eat all of them before the family can get any!

Philip has his own plot on his parents' land.  This is the grass-thatched house he has (which he built and decorated himself, by the way):

And in case you thought that a grass-thatched house means people are living in a primitive way, take note of the computers inside of Philips!  He studied IT before he came to the Bible college, so he's got some of the tools of the trade in his house.

But that hut is mostly for storage because he built a more permanent house next to it:

Here is part of the inside:

A random picture of one of the containers the family uses for storing water:

Some of the cows in the pen where they stay at night.  The one looking at you is the one that eats mangoes:

Baringo is a pretty dry area of the country, so they have to be really conscious about storing up water for the dry season, especially since they have various animals.  Now, it's the dry season, so they are working on digging a new pit that will collect water when it rains so they have enough when it's dry.  Look how tiny Anthony is!

Here's a ditch that runs into the water storage pit- rainwater will be directed by this into the pit.

And this is the second pit they have that still has some water.  But it's drying up pretty quickly, so they're waiting anxiously for the rain to come!

Every time the family has visitors, they have the visitors plant a tree.  Their land is actually very distinctive from the neighbors because they have so many trees all over!  Anthony's tree:

Since they love farming so much, I brought seeds from some of the plants in my garden to share:

Philip used a really long stick to pick a white sapote fruit for me to taste:

Philip and his dad are really experienced beekeepers.  I was a little nervous getting so close to this hive, but Philip assured me that we would be fine.

How do you get over a fence if you aren't near the gate?

They have so many banana trees, as well as mango trees.  They have to be fenced off so goats, sheep, and cows don't get into them, though:

A really cool new experience we had was tasting honey from stingless bees.  They're really tiny insects, from a different genus (Meliponini) than honey bees, and Philip and his dad had found them somewhere, put them into a tiny gourd, and hung the gourd from the house.  As time went on, more of them came and they keep adding more gourds for the little bees.  They've got them hanging up all over around all their buildings. 

These bees don't produce a lot of honey, so you don't harvest the honey in the same you do for ordinary bees.  Philip just opened up a gourd for us to taste:


While eating the honey, you end up eating a lot of stuck bees at the same time, but they tasted like honey!

There is some kind of local fruit that Philip sent home with us.  I still haven't figured out what it is, but it apparently can be soaked in hot water and used like tamarind:

Philip's mom made us good food for the whole time we were there.  Saturday evening, she was cleaning millet that the family had grown.


And it was strongly suggested that I help out :)

She also shelled some maize (homegrown of course) in a really clever way that I had never seen before:


Then, we helped to grind the maize and millet into flour with this awesome hand mill they have:


Here's our dinner, which included ugali made from the very flour we ground:

In the evening, Philip put on all his beekeeping garb and cut some wax out of a hive for me.  He uses that padded cap under his bee hat so the bees can't get to his head through the hat:

After a very interesting and busy day, we slept very soundly and woke up ready to go to church.

Before the service, I got a demonstration of a fireless cooker started with the people who were around that early, including many of the youths from the church.  We boiled beans (that had soaked overnight) for ten minutes, then covered the pot and wrapped it in a sheet and put it inside the fireless cooker we made:

I stumbled through as much explanation as I could in Swahili:


We used a big saucepan instead of a basket as the main container, then dry grass as the insulation.

After that, people started arriving for church.  Anthony preached an inspiring message about how the pastor is like a coach who equips the people of the church for ministry.  So everyone should be thinking about the gifts God has given them that they can use to serve him, in the church and in the community:


After the service, Anthony also got a chance to answer questions from the youth:

And then, we had the moment when we unveiled the beans that had been cooking in the fireless cooker for the past 4 hours.

People were impressed at how hot the pot still was:

Then everyone got to taste some fireless cooker beans:

It was a really nice visit and we are thankful for the opportunity we had to learn from Philip's family and enjoy their company.  Here we are with Philip and his parents:

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Nakuru Prison Visit

 By Anthony:

I had the privilege of visiting Nakuru prison this January with a missionary friend from Nakuru, Joel Beauchamp.  I have had always had a passion for prison ministry.  I used to lead jail ministry in Grand Rapids, Michigan with Madison Square Christian Reformed Church.  Actually I have always had a fascination with prison, which explains my huge collection of movies about life in prison.  In my daydreams, I imagine being put in prison during a time of persecution, and leading a simpler life focused on reading the Bible and ministering to others.  Sometimes I think there would be something comforting about having limited options, and less decisions to make.  More things doesn't mean more happiness.  See my old post - The paralysis of too much freedom.  However, I'm sure actually living in prison would be super tough.  But if I ever end up there, I'll just become a teacher and pastor there.

Anyway, since Joel does regular prison ministry as his main missionary work here, I jumped at the chance to visit, during the holiday break, just to see what prison ministry is like here in East Africa.  With my schedule at the college, this could only be a one time visit, but perhaps sometime in the future, somewhere in East Africa, I could do prison ministry part-time.

The prison has about 1000-1500 men, besides the women in their separate facility.  Life is hard for them, with limited food to eat, and no soap, toiletries, and things of that nature unless given as gifts by missionaries or local churches.  What is most interesting to me is that the vast majority of the people there have not been declared guilty or innocent yet. They are awaiting court dates and trials.  This means that many of them are actually innocent, and yet they can sit in these prisons for years waiting for a verdict.  Terrible suffering for those who don't deserve it.  Most of Joel's group that he teaches are these men waiting for their verdict.  Yet despite the challenges they are full of the joy of the Lord.  Here is a video of their worship:


I got to witness something very special that day.  They were at a part in their curriculum where they had to speak the truth in love to one another.  They do this every so often.  They each have to identify others in the group that they can say something positive about their spiritual growth, and identify someone to give constructive criticism to.  Iron sharpening iron.  There were other categories as well like work ethic, and how they deal with others in relationships.  They are not allowed to give defenses or say anything, except to accept the encouragement or criticism.

What made this whole session the most beautiful to me was that before each encouragement or criticism, they all would say, "Jacob, I love you my brother." And then Jacob would say, "I love you too."  Then they would say what they would have to say.  Then they exchanged words of love again at the end of their statement.  I could tell with so many of them that they really deeply meant those words of love, and they were criticizing out of a spirit of love to try to help each other grow.  For example, "Michael, you had a court date last week, and you didn't value prayer enough to tell us about it.  Next time you need to tell us so we can pray with you and go to God for help."  Or "David, I noticed you went to chapel to pray and that was the first time I had seen you do that.  You are growing in your walk with God."

These are the types of things that I think are critical to have real fellowship and community in our relationships and in our churches.  Yet unfortunately most of us are content to just make small talk and speak niceties and white lies.  These men are learning skills of love, communication, and spiritual growth, that I would say most Christians around the world are lacking.  They challenged me personally to be more intentional in seeking out constructive criticism, and also being willing to speak the truth in love to others.

Here is Joel teaching:

I was mostly just there to visit and see how things went.  But I had the opportunity to give them some encouragements, and they also encouraged me.  They laid hands on me and prayed for me before I left.  It was such a privilege and joy to have these brothers in Christ care for me like that.  You can pray that God continues to use Joel and this ministry, providing for him, giving him guidance and patience, and pray for these men that they would keep learning and growing in Christ, and that those who are innocent could go free, and those who are guilty would be comforted and make use of their time in prison to more deeply depend on God.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Baking at the Farm

By Sara:

I had the opportunity to teach the people who work at Berea Farm how to steam cakes. As usual, it is a really fun activity!  Also, I discovered that all of these people understand English WAY better than I speak Swahili because they were all copying down the recipes from English and could follow them without translation.  However, it's good for me that they choose to speak to me in Swahili because it forces me to keep practicing!

The fire was super smoky, but we didn't have to sit and watch the cakes cook, just to go check on them or to take them out.

The final product - a maize cake! (cornbread)


As you can see, everyone had a great time.  Baking cakes might not necessarily earn people money, but it certainly fills lives with joy, which is a gift from God.  The next week, I asked if anyone had made any cakes at home.  Three of these ladies said that they had already made several each!