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.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Teaching challenges

By Anthony:

One teaching challenge - people forgetting to put their name on an assignment!

Teaching is not always easy, and sometimes it's not the student's fault nor my fault.  Here are some challenges that I faced this last term, especially with the students who were at Berea for their first semester.  Thankfully, despite the challenge, the students worked hard to learn with good attitudes.

1. Language issues constantly slowed the teaching down.  The students came from a variety of areas in the country, each with their own local languages, though most of them speak Kikuyu.  They know Swahili but not as well as they know their tribal languages.  They know English but some students really struggle with it despite it being a requirement for coming to this college.  And I don't know Swahili well enough to help translate much during class (though I'm trying).

I have great compassion for the students, because even after the countless hours I've put into Swahili, it is still hard for me to understand people speaking in Swahili.  But sometimes I felt like I was teaching English classes.  Here are some words the new students had no idea about: martyr, abortion, incest, atheism, ignorance, cannibalism, treason, monk, monastery, celibate, persecution, heresy.  Those aren't the easiest English words for sure, but when you have 30 words like this per class period it slows things down.

2. Sometimes in class discussions, the students did not make clear whether they believed something or if they were just making a comment to hear my reaction.  At times, I've thought students were rejecting the faith based on what they were saying in class.  But then later, I would find out they were just saying what they hear people say in the community, and don't really believe those things themselves.  They are saying them for the sake of learning.  So possibly, I've blogged about some things students have said that might not even be things they really believe.  Things got better after I told them to tell me whether it is their own question or a question that they hear from others.

Me teaching the 2nd years:

3. The students, especially the first year students, lack biblical knowledge.  It was really hard to add church history or theology to their knowledge, when there was very little biblical knowledge to build on.  None of the first years have read the whole Bible.  None of the first years have read the whole New Testament.  My most knowledgeable first year student had read most of Luke, some of Matthew, and some of John.  Not one of them had been reading their Bible every day, but I think that changed with my encouragements.  And honestly, they were very eager to learn, which is all a teacher could ask for.

Some examples of biblical concepts the students didn't know: Who Pontias Pilate is, what is a Jew, what is a Gentile, doctrine of Providence, the Holy of Holies, Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Greeks, Samaritans, Priscilla and Aquila, Herod, the difference between "the Church" and a local church, and who Jesus said would be the rock of the Church.  I taught them early church history, so it was hard to find points of connection with things they already knew.

Not only with biblical knowledge, but some of the students were sheltered in general.  It's probably due to poor primary and secondary education, but none of my first year students could name any countries in North Africa besides Egypt, and they really struggled even to name all the countries bordering Kenya.  They also did not seem to know where Asia referred to.  I don't say this so that you will look down on them.  It's not their fault.  I just want you to know how much teaching is needed in East Africa.

4. The students had so many good questions!  This makes teaching a delight actually, but when they had so many good questions it made it really hard to get through the syllabus.  The last term we just finished was especially hard because of Kenya's re-election; Sara and I had to leave the country twice (for the election and the re-election) which caused us to miss a lot of classes.  Sometimes their questions were about tangential issues but they were still critically important because they are the practical things they are thinking about such as curses, dowry, and drinking alcohol.  I'll write more about these discussions in another post.

2nd years in discussion:

5. We found that students quickly forgot things we taught them, or at least they seemed to.  We got the same questions over and over from the same groups of students but in different courses.  Or Sara would cover one difficult question in her class, but then they would also ask me the same question in my class.  That was a bit frustrating, but we also know that it takes most people, including us, several times to hear something before we really get it to stick, transform our lives, and let it inform our other beliefs and actions.

Pray for the students that they would continue to learn a lot and grow in Christ through their other semesters at Berea without us.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Student Garden

By Sara:

Despite all of the frustrations with voracious sheep eating the practical class garden, and to my complete amazement, the maize managed to revive itself.  The students were really excited to see how well it grew while they were on holiday and actually wondered if I had put extra fertilizer on it (besides the manure they used when planting).  But no, it was only fertilized the once with manure.

This maize possibly looks better than the maize of the same variety planted nearby because we weeded around it early, mulched some of it, and intercropped other parts with beans.

We recently went out and tied the maize leaves around a bunch of the cobs to keep birds from peeling them open and eating the maize. 

It was also an opportunity for the students to each pick a cob to eat, boiled (but don't imagine corn on the cob because it's not sweet corn).  They were pretty excited about the maize and had lots of fun taking pictures. 

I'm not sure if I'm being baptized in this picture or what:

Practical Bee Class

By Sara:

At the end of last term, I took a survey of the students to see what kinds of practical skills they would be interested in learning about.  If the skills were something I am knowledgeable about and they fit into my practical class plans, I added them into the curriculum.

One skill the students were interested in was bee keeping.  I couldn't take them all out to look at bees without bee suits (just imagine that disaster), but I borrowed some equipment to show them and teach them about in class.  They had lots of good questions, like about how to get bees to move into a hive, how to know when honey is ready to be harvested, and about the differences between types of hives. 

Now, the bee suits I borrowed aren't the best quality, but they at least gave the students enough of the idea of the importance of making sure there are no holes where the zippers end, tucking their pants into their socks, and making sure their nose doesn't touch the net in front of their face.

It was not difficult finding volunteers to try the suits on and all the students immediately whipped out their phones to take pictures of these guys: