Class is rarely boring. The students and I have some very interesting conversations and sometimes they surprise me.
--Perhaps the most surprising discussion was learning that most of the students believe that God is almighty and answers prayer, and yet he cannot do things today like raising the dead, or regrowing a leg of someone who doesn't have one. Of course, I don't think such things happen often. But I believe God can do whatever he wants. I think by the end of the discussion, they had come to a better understanding and could now say, "God can do those things, but that doesn't mean he always will every time."
--Another surprising topic was the issue of forgiveness. To the students, if you forgive someone, then there should be no consequences for the person's actions. So they would say it's basically impossible to forgive a criminal who did something wrong, if the criminal still goes to prison. We ended up talking about this for about an hour. For them, if a professor caught a student cheating, they should forgive them as a Christian, which means that there would be no consequences. They compared it to how our punishment is completely taken away for our sins in Christ. I assured them that if I caught them cheating, I would forgive them even though it would be difficult, because they would have hurt me and our relationship through the action, but that there would still be consequences through the institution - failure of the exam. It took them some time to be convinced as it seemed unchristian to them. But then we talked about how Christians can still be judges, soldiers, and policemen, and how you differentiate between what you are doing personally, and what you are doing on behalf of the state or institution. That helped them a bit, but some are still really struggling with it. It got even more complicated when we looked at God's forgiveness, at how our punishment is fully taken away in Jesus, yet we still experience God's discipline (Heb. 12). And we can experience the natural consequences of our sins like bad health from addiction, or losing trust in a relationship, etc.
--The biggest and most important topic that we keep discussing is "justification by faith" not by works. I'm not even teaching Systematic Theology this term. But it has come up in every one of my classes, covering all 3 years of students here. It's startling how many students had no idea about this doctrine. To me, if you remove this doctrine, you are removing your need for a Savior. Then salvation is really you saving yourself. I've actually had students say in class that when we get to judgment day, as born again Christians, that God will weigh our deeds in baskets, and if we have done more good deeds than bad deeds than we go to Heaven. In these cases, they mention nothing about Jesus taking our place, taking our punishment, and giving us his righteousness. But the good news is that the students are understanding what I'm teaching and are becoming passionate about it. When I see the light bulb turn on in a student's mind as he or she understands this wonderful beautiful truth of the Gospel for the first time, it fills me with joy and reminds me why my work is so important. Since teaching these students about justification, some of them have already gone out and preached in churches about it. May the good news of the true Gospel spread!
(This video shows a new ping pong game we invented for large groups of people, similar to "Lightning" in basketball. As people get out, you end up having to run faster and faster. By the end, if you are in the last two people, you actually have to hit the ball to yourself, which means running really fast!)
--We had a difficult discussion in Development class the other day, at least it was difficult for me. The students said, "We have perceived that the whites are really not generous compared to Africans." When I responded to this I choked up with tears, because I was thinking about the vast amount of aid that is given both by governments and individual caring people to Kenya and other African countries every year. It is especially hard for me that they seem to ignore the work of NGOs in their communities. However, I know it partly is based on a misunderstanding. Whenever Sara and I (and most missionaries) give, we give mostly to organizations, and if we give to individuals, we give in secret. And since so many people commonly ask for help, we have to say "no" to most of them.
It's hard for the students to put themselves in our shoes. They don't understand what it's like to have so many people asking for things constantly just because of the color of our skin. I was hurt by the comment because we do give very generously and I think of families in the US who sacrifice vacations and other things in their lifestyle in order to give to organizations like World Renew and help these communities in Africa. I'm realizing that part of the problem is that giving is done more publicly in East Africa, and the reason is often not sinful pride as you might guess, but it is actually a way to show love and care and strengthen relationships and community. So if missionaries always only give in secret, then that aspect of relationship building is missing, and also people perceive us as misers. I'm wondering now if there needs to be a balance - on the one hand, doing what Jesus said about giving in secret, not out of pride, but on the other hand, giving publicly sometimes so that people know that we care and we can strengthen the relationships.
(A more complicated version of the lightning ping pong game using two tables)
--Also in the Development class, we talked about the importance of education for the development of a nation. Unfortunately, education by itself does not accomplish that much. Both Uganda and Kenya have massive unemployment with a well educated population. There is need for more industry and more jobs. So many people get university degrees but then go back to there family's home to do subsistence farming. There is a 40% unemployment rate in Kenya. And check out this depressing article from Uganda - 87% of graduates cannot find jobs.
--Another development topic we discussed was the debt of countries like Kenya to other rich nations. You can read more about this online, but much of the debt poor countries owe has become unpayable, meaning that there is absolutely no way to pay it off with the current financial standing of these countries and the huge amounts of interest. It's a complicated controversial topic in development circles. Some of the debt money was originally given to corrupt dictators who used the money for themselves, and now it's a later generation of the common poor people who are supposed to pay off the debt of their country. Some people want to have the debts forgiven, which has been done in some cases and has helped in many cases. Some people don't think the debts should be forgiven, because then it encourages other countries to stop paying their loan payments. In some cases, debts have been forgiven, and then new debts issued right after which does not seem wise. I actually think the best suggestion I've heard is from one of my students. He advocated that the loan amounts could be slightly reduced, to make it more possible to pay them back. And that instead of forgiving the whole loan, just remove the interest, and ensure the principal is paid back.