Thursday, May 18, 2017

More Discussions with Students

By Anthony:

First some exciting fruits of my development class!  One of the assignments the students had to do was to create benevolence policies for their church (or future church).  Most of their churches don't have any kind of benevolence ministry at all.  But many of the students went back to their churches over the holiday and tried to convince their leaders to start a benevolence ministry.  This is not an easy thing.  With all of the hierarchy and authority in the Anglican church, and with these students being only students and not church leaders yet, it was quite intimidating for them to approach their leaders and tell them what they should do.  But at least one student was successful!  His home church will now start a benevolence ministry, complete with careful plans and policies, particularly in order to care for the elderly in the church and the community.

Here are some more interesting class discussions.  Some of the things the students do or believe may surprise you.  Keep in mind, as I've written these posts about class discussions, I've been sharing things I think you will find interesting or surprising.  So I don't usually share all of the normal good things that they do and believe.  They are generally good students, with right beliefs, and they love God.

In the spiritual formation session I lead once a week, we talked about different character traits and made action plans to address things that we each need to change.  Some of the students said they need more self control, mainly controlling how they spend their time.  You know how students complain and whine so much when they get assignments?  I had been under the impression that they were quite busy, but now I know the truth.  Some of the students admitted that they spend 6 hours or even "uncountable" hours a day on their smartphones and watching television.  So some of them made action plans to reduce to only 3 hours of recreation like this per day.  Other students made action plans to begin saying "no" more frequently, especially to making commitments they know that they cannot keep.  In African culture, you usually say "yes" to not hurt people's feelings, even if you know you will hurt their feelings later by not following through.  To me, this is obviously not good, and the students thought so as well.  So they are going to try to be more honest.  Other students are working on dealing with their procrastination, being more punctual, or not being too concerned with physical appearance.

In another one of these spiritual formation sessions, we talked of the need for pastors to love God's Word and read it daily.  I learned that only one of the students had read the whole Bible during his lifetime.  Each student made an action plan to begin to read the Bible daily.  Some are going to try for 1 or 2 chapters a day, while others are going to begin with at least a few verses a day.

Again, in another session, we had a discussion about bearing each other's burdens, and confessing our sins to trusted people.  This was a super depressing discussion for me.  It seems that in this Kenyan culture where corruption abounds, everyone has learned to not truly trust anyone else.  Aside from about 4 students, all the others there said that they do not trust a single person, and don't confess to anyone but God.  Disturbingly, they said you can't even trust your spouse and be open with them about your struggles (some of them are married already and said this).  The big fear is gossip.  If you tell someone your struggle, "they will finish you," in their words.  They will use it against you and tell others.  The friends I've had over my lifetime, who I could share my deepest struggles with, have been priceless gifts from God to me.  I can't imagine life without them.  My heart hurts for these students and what they are missing in friendships and marriages that have no trust.  I encouraged them to try to begin building trust with at least one person, little by little.  Pray for them that God will give them the courage to try, and to keep confidentiality themselves.

Me and the second year students:

As I taught about corruption in the Church during the Reformation period in Church History 2, I learned how corruption sometimes still happens in the church here today.  They explained to me, for one example, that when students are sent to Bible college, upon graduation it is expected that they give a gift to their bishop for helping to support them to go to school.  These are very tiny gifts just to show appreciation, but if the student gives a gift about 10 times the normal amount, it is a clear signal to the bishop that they want a particular prominent church position, which a corrupt bishop would then give to them.

In Church History, I also taught about the Reformation in England, and the beginning of the Anglican Church.  We discussed the Puritans, who were Anglicans but wanted further reform in the Church.  The students told me they are like the Puritans.  They want to remain Anglicans, but they see a lot of need for reform in the Anglican Church of Kenya.  They have committed to going home and trying to bring about change, even if it means they will be insulted or go through suffering.

Discussing reform led to a discussion about the Anglican liturgy (the order of worship in a church service).  I actually really appreciate the Anglican liturgy, with its creeds and thoughtful prayers, though I would like to have more variety from week to week.  But the students find it very boring and don't appreciate it.  They are so tired of it.  I get the feeling that perhaps most pastors and Christians in the Anglican Church of Kenya feel the same way, yet instead of trying to change it to be how they want it, it seems like everyone is trapped in the tradition.  Please understand, I am not criticizing how they do things in the Anglican Church.  I am simply observing, and listening to what the students tell me.

It is very common for Christians here, (of any kind), to introduce themselves as being "born again."  This sounds really great, but as I've listened and tried to understand what they mean by that, it is different from what you might expect.  I asked the students what it meant to be "born again" and none of them mentioned the new birth, regeneration, having a new heart, or justification by faith.  Instead, it meant for them that you are someone who trusts in Christ, but who also actually tries to obey Christ.  If you are a Christian, it just means you believe in Jesus, but you might not really follow him or obey him.  If you are "born again" it means you have a personal relationship with Jesus and actually try to do what he says.  From talking to them, I think we sort of do the same thing in the US, but we say that there are "true Christians" and people who call themselves "Christians."  But I wish they would recapture the real rich meaning of what it means to be born again.  In Kenya, pretty much everyone says they are either a Christian or Muslim, whether or not they go to church, whether or not they have a relationship with Jesus, so being born again is a way to differentiate those with real true relationships to Jesus and those without.  But what is disturbing is that the students say many of the people in their churches, and even some pastors, are not "born again" and do not want to be "born again" or call themselves that.  I'm still trying to figure out exactly what that means...

I've had multiple discussions in classes now where I learned that students thought Jesus sinned at times.  They say, "but Jesus wasn't sinless, he got angry sometimes!"  Beside the major theological problems of thinking that Jesus sinned, it surprised me to hear them think that anger is always sinful.  I explained that throughout the Bible God gets angry at sin, and that in actuality I believe you can be sinning if you don't get angry at certain times.  For example we are supposed to get angry when we see injustice, and try to make change, instead of ignoring it.  But it is sin if we get angry for the wrong reasons or if we do sinful things while being angry.

In another class, we talked about how Jesus treated public sinners and tax collectors.  Unfortunately the students feel that in the current church environment, to spend time with drunkards, homosexuals, or other people viewed as "sinners" in society, would cause them to be heavily criticized by other Christians, and suspected of those sins themselves.  But I think I convinced them to do what is right regardless of what others think.

Me with a random assortment of students during a discussion outside of class:


  1. Bless you, Anthony, for all the time you have invested in students at this critical time in their lives, helping them figure out what they believe.

  2. Thank you! I wonder how much of my success in teaching is due to the faithful prayers of our parents :)

  3. Glad you are helping them understand Jesus and what it means to be a disciple.

  4. I so appreciate the time you take to write thoughtful posts like this one.