Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Terrific Teaching Tidbits

By Anthony:

This is my last post about my time teaching at Berea Christian College.  This post is just a collection of fun teaching stories, random events, and interesting class discussions.

I was teaching about creeds one day, and was asking which creeds the students knew. They got the Apostle's Creed, and then the Nicene Creed, and then one student said something that sounded like "Athanasian Creed," but on more careful listening was actually - "Assassin's Creed."  For those of you who don't know, this is a video game!  I'm not sure if the student knows it is a video game or he just heard that phrase somewhere.

One of the most exciting things that happened during our last semester was that I had a chance to preach a sermon completely in Swahili.  It took hard work and a lot of help from Sara to prepare it.  We also had our Swahili private tutor check it over to make sure it was correct.  And in the end, I had to be glued to my notes while preaching.  It went really well.  Some students said that if they could not see me, it might have been a Kenyan preaching.  They understood me clearly.  I was able to do this again a few months later.  Here is a video Sara took from that first time, and then some videos of the second time.  I stumbled here and there, but you have to start somewhere.  Enjoy

This last term, every Tuesday morning, I took all the Berea students together through manual one of Timothy Leadership Training about pastoral care.  We did not make it through the whole manual but it was good.  The best part was when we discussed visiting others in Christ's name, and each student chose a college staff person or teacher to go and visit.  They thanked them, encouraged them (some even with Scripture), and prayed for them.

In one class we had a discussion about the practice in the Old Testament of redeeming the firstborn child (see Exodus 13:11-16 and Numbers 18:15).  I was surprised to hear that in some Anglican churches, they still follow this practice.  People bring their firstborn child to church, and give an offering of money to redeem that child back from God.  They do not view it as saving the child, but rather as a way of showing thanksgiving to God for the child (though one snarky student said that they do it just as a way to get money for the churches).  I did not criticize them for doing this ritual, but instead offered my opinion.  I explained that we are all redeemed in Christ.  Jesus is the firstborn of the new family of God of which we are a part, and he has fulfilled the requirements of the firstborn for us.

The students continually tried to get a rise out of me by calling the Bible a white man's book or calling Christianity a white man's religion.  Even if they were just having fun, I never failed to remind them that not only was the Bible not written by Europeans, but many of the people who put the books of New Testament together were North African Christians, and that North Africa had most of the important theologians of the early church.  Further, there is a long history of Christianity in both Sudan and Ethiopia.

We had a long discussion about curses, and whether Christians today need to be afraid of them.  Not all of the students fear them, but some of them do.  They particularly worry that if they go against certain cultural practices and traditions, that they will inherit curses.  They want to follow Christ over culture but they are afraid that if they break tradition that relatives and other people will put curses on them.  They said even many bishops believe that these curses are real and powerful.  They said they've seen so many cases of people experiencing the curses so they know it is a real danger.  I'm not sure I totally convinced all of them, but I explained that bad things happen to all of us all the time, so what they see as curses might just be problems we experience on a regular basis in this broken world.

I also explained that curses do not have power on their own, but I believe if something is happening to someone because of a curse, then it is either power coming from God or from Satan.  They seemed to agree with this, but then wondered if God was the one making the curse happen.  I explained why I don't think God would do that, and also that we do not need to fear Satan's power because of Christ.  But it is a topic that challenges me.  What about the curses we see in the Bible?  For example, look at how Elisha called down a curse on people who insulted him and they were killed.  Would God work through a curse we speak today?  As Western Christians we too easily dismiss the power of people's words.  But perhaps God honors our blessings and curses of people more directly than we tend to think?  It's something I need to study more.

I never missed a chance to teach against the prosperity gospel.  I have found that many of the students did not actually believe the prosperity gospel.  They don't truly think people will be healed every time.  But what may be even more disturbing is that a few of them and some other preachers will still promise healing during church services to the congregation - "Trust in Christ and your sins will be forgiven and you will be healed from all your diseases right now."  They said people won't want to listen to you if you can't promise solutions for them.  They want to give people hope.  Thankfully, I don't think any of the Berea students will ever preach like this again.  I have thoroughly convinced them of the errors of the prosperity gospel and the need to preach honestly regardless of whether it attracts people or not.

When teaching about Gnosticism, an ancient heresy in the time of the early church, I explained that the Gnostics valued secret knowledge in order to gain salvation.  I asked whether Christians in Kenya ever try to guard knowledge of salvation as a secret.  I received a very clear "no."  But then I asked whether Christians in Kenya ever try to guard any knowledge as a secret and I found out that it is really common to guard knowledge that can be used to make money.  So some people refrain from sharing good ideas with their neighbors and keep their skilled knowledge to themselves.  One of my students said she does this also.  Thankfully all of the other students disagreed with her and tried to convince her this was not loving but selfish.  They mentioned to her how Sara freely taught all of them so many different good skills like baking, and agricultural methods, instead of guarding that teaching or charging for it.  And they want to follow Sara's example.

When discussing sin one day, I found out that a lot of my male students really were confused about what to think about lust.  Some of these poor male students were thinking that just seeing a beautiful woman was sinful lust.  They were quite relieved when I said it is not wrong to notice beauty, but wrong to then purposefully dwell on thoughts of that woman or mentally undress her, etc.  They were feeling guilty for being in town and having a immodestly dressed woman walk past them.  It was nice to give them some relief, though we also discussed how to fight against lust.

Teaching these students was very fun most of the time, despite some frustrations and challenges.  I will miss them.  I will miss most of all the vigorous class discussions and ping pong.  It's hard to move, but some of these students we will still get to see as we keep coming back to Kenya periodically to give trainings.

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