Thursday, July 27, 2017

Teaching Old Testament

By Sara:

You may remember that I was teaching a class on the books of the Old Testament during the past school term.  The term is over, students have gone home for the holiday, and grades are marked, but there's still opportunity to share with you about the class.

I really enjoy teaching about the Old Testament.  I have always loved reading the Old Testament, so I like being able to help the students appreciate it as God's word too, since many of them don't have lots of knowledge of the Old Testament or an understanding of why it is still important for Christians.

With this Books of the Old Testament class, we had to cover all 39 books in one semester, so I sometimes felt like I had to rush through it.  However, we did still have good discussions about serious questions the students had, which came up as we studied the Old Testament.  Maybe they were just trying to get off topic, like all students :) but they kept asking such good challenging questions that I finally started leaving an extra ten minutes at the end of class for us to discuss the tangential questions they asked during class or any other things they wanted to discuss.

I think that the biggest issue and question that the students kept asking about was how God allows righteous people, or Christians specifically, to suffer.  We spent a lot of time on this when we looked at the book of Job, but some other times it came up were: when we covered Genesis (Joseph getting sold into slavery and then thrown into prison for doing the right thing), Daniel (Daniel getting thrown into the lions' den because he refused to stop worshiping God publicly, his friends refusing to bow down to an idol whether God saved them from the fiery furnace or not), and Jeremiah (who was put into a cistern, mistreated, and continually mocked for speaking God's word to people).

The students know from experience that Christians do suffer, but it was hard for them to know how they could respond to suffering people in their churches, especially when so many people have the view that God will fix all of your problems as long as you have enough faith.  It was helpful for them to look at examples from the Old Testament of people like Jeremiah who didn't really have a happy ending to his story.  Or Joseph who went through years and years of suffering for God's ultimate good purpose, even though he didn't know what that purpose was until much later.

The issue of being saved by God's grace, rather than through works came up a lot also (mostly in the end-of-class discussions).  One of the students explained that he believes that God saves us by our faith, not through our works, but he wondered how he could teach that to his church.  He was afraid that if he told people in the church that they were saved by grace, they would just go out and do whatever they wanted instead of trying to do what was right.  To face this topic, we talked about how even in the Old Testament, people were saved by grace and then because of their salvation, they tried to obey God out of gratitude for what God had done for them.  For example, Abraham had faith and it was counted as righteousness.  God saved him even before Abraham demonstrated his faith by being willing to offer Isaac as a sacrifice or do the other things that God commanded him to do.  If we really are saved, we won't be asking what we can get away with doing under God's grace.  Like Romans 6:15 says, "shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!"

I hope that these discussions gave the students more ideas for how they can address difficult issues in their churches.  I'm thankful that they have made the effort of coming to Berea in order to get better theological and biblical understanding and I pray that they will continue to grow in their relationship with God as they learn and serve him.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Preparing for a Road Trip in Africa

We recently went to a really helpful security and safety training with our World Renew colleagues. We learned a lot on various issues ranging from cyber security, to personal safety, to what to do in times of instability in a country. But I want to share with you just one thing, and that is what we learned about preparing for long road trips in Africa. This was not completely new to us. We knew and practiced most of these things already, but it was a good refresher.

I thought it would be interesting for you to learn all of the things we have to think about, do, and pack when we travel somewhere. You’ll be able to see how tiring it is to be a person who travels a lot here. And hopefully some of you will worry about us less knowing how well prepared we are for trips. 

But it’s important to point out that the checklists below would apply mainly to traveling to far away remote areas, not normal trips like driving to Nairobi for a meeting. We were preparing to do trainings in Turkana, Kenya this July, and we would have had to follow this checklist below. But because of the elections coming up in Kenya, people are busy and it was not the best time for people to come to a training.

So here is a checklist of things to do:

  • While planning the trip, check media, news, and security organizations for information on the present situation of the place. Call the people in the place you are going to visit to find out the situation there.
  • Get permission from the organization’s security team before making final plans. Be prepared that the situation could change abruptly and you might have to cancel the trip.
  • Get the vehicle serviced and tires pumped up with air before the journey.
  • Make sure you have your phones and computers backed up completely a day or two before the journey.
  • Make sure the program Prey is installed on phones and computers in case they get stolen.
  • Book hotels in advance or find out if there is a safe place to stay. Make sure there is a place for secure parking of your vehicle.
  • Notify colleagues and family of the journey. But don’t post it on social media because you don’t want everyone to know where you are, and that you are not home.
  • Leave 2-3 hours earlier than is necessary, so in case of delays you still don’t have to drive at night. Plan to arrive at your destination by 4:00 or 5:00. This ensures you arrive before dark which is around 6:30pm.
  • Dress in a culturally appropriate way. Sara and I have found it helps to wear semi-traditional African attire as it seems to make police officers and other officials happy and friendly. We also plan to have me wear a clerical collar while traveling as many people respect pastors a lot.
  • Arrange for police escort if going through an insecure area. We've only had to do that once.
  • Make sure you can get along with all the people going on the trip in the vehicle. You need to work together as a team in some potentially tough situations. Make sure to also agree on the agenda so that you don’t have too many stops or delays, but enough stops to rest.
  • If at all possible, always take someone in the vehicle who knows the route and the local area.
  • Appoint a leader in the vehicle. This person will make any tough decisions. This person will be the spokesperson for police checks and other stops on the road.
  • As the travel progresses, monitor the radio and call people regularly on the phone to make sure the security situation isn’t changing in the place you are going to.
  • Rotate drivers because of fatigue.
  • On rest breaks in safe areas, stop and inspect the vehicle periodically, especially the tires.
  • One person has to be on alert for awareness, someone who is not already driving. This person watches the surroundings carefully and will be aware of any changing or unsafe situation. The driver has to remain focused on the potholes and goats in the road and crazy taxi drivers. The person who is alert should not be on their smartphone, but only watching the surroundings.
  • Make sure you have short simple answers for all of the police checks about who you are and what you will be doing.
  • During the journey, don’t pick up random people you don’t know. This one is hard for me because I think of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, but it is safer not to take that risk.
  • Have a plan B for travel, in case you have to change routes, or the road is impassible, or there were many delays.
  • If there are delays or changes, be willing to drop your original plans. Don’t be “too busy to be safe.” If you have to spend another night somewhere, do so.
  • Communicate to your colleagues by phone as the journey progresses, and finally notify them of arrival. Make sure to notify of arrival a couple minutes before stopping the vehicle. That way you can enjoy the people welcoming you and are not rudely talking on the phone while they are trying to greet you.

Checklist of things to pack (besides the normal things):

  • Extra food, non-perishables, like biscuits, crackers, etc.
  • Enough drinking water for the entire trip for all the passengers, but also a couple other people to be safe. We also bring our Sawyer water bottles with internal filters.
  • Spare tire, and if going to a far away place with bad roads, also a second spare tire.
  • The law requires traffic triangles and a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit in the vehicle.
  • A jerry can of water, in case you need it to clean the windscreen or if the engine overheats.
  • Additional cell phone that is not a smartphone, one with a long lasting battery. If you are really serious you can also have an additional type of communication device like a VHF radio.
  • Print a paper map in case your phones die or get stolen.
  • For hotel rooms, take a big tough suitcase that you can lock to keep valuables in, when you are not in the room. But better not to bring valuables in the first place.
  • Flashlights (we use hand crank rechargeable ones).
  • Phone numbers for police, insurance, other contacts.
  • Extra mosquito net in case where you are going doesn’t have one.
  • Battery packs that can recharge phones and computers, etc.
  • Steering wheel lock.
  • Portable electric pump for car tires.
  • Photocopies of passport and licenses (best not to hand the original to the police during checks) but take licenses and passports with you in case they are necessary.
  • Malaria test kits, malaria medications, and antibiotics in case you get sick.
  • Jack for the vehicle.
  • We also take a GPS that works quite well in East Africa, though all the rural roads are not necessarily on it.
  • Extra emergency money, both in local currency, and in US dollars.
  • Pack a quick run bag – in case you need to get away quickly, packed with the essential items.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

July Prayer Letter

You can now download our latest update - July Prayer Letter. Thank you for your faithful prayers for us!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Baking in Baringo

By Sara:

This is part two of our stories from three days in the town of Mogotio, in Baringo county.  Anthony shared about his TLT group in this post. Now, here are some stories from my trainings on baking that were going on at the same time.

Although Anthony had the same group of people for all three days of the TLT manual, I had a different group of people every day and I covered the same topics each time: baking cakes, making frosting, and making scones/biscuits.  It's always a lot of fun for the participants to discover that they have all the materials available to them for making these at home.  Sometimes I feel sorry for Anthony when he's teaching pastors because, unlike in my baking trainings, they don't get to eat cake at the end of the day!

Here's a picture of me with Rev. John, who helped Anthony organize TLT, and Jane, his wife, who was my co-teacher.  She's become a baking expert through lots of practice since January!  Their family has been eating homemade cakes for breakfast pretty much every day since then (*note that most of what I call cakes here, Americans would call bread: e.g. cornbread, banana bread, etc.).  We really love working with both of them.

It is always interesting to see the different words that are used for the same items when you go from country to country, even when we are all speaking English.  It can get confusing when I try to remember what words I should be using depending on where I am.  Here are some baking words that differ from place to place:

     USA                         Uganda                      Kenya
     Pot               =         Saucepan        =          Sufuria
    Biscuits        =         Pan cakes        =          Scones
    Cookies        =          Biscuits         =          Biscuits
    Frosting        =           Icing             =            Icing
   Cornmeal      =         Posho flour      =       Maize flour
  Shortening     =       Kimbo/TAMU   =       Cooking fat
                                  (brand names)

We began the training by talking about how all the cakes and breads that we can make are gifts from God that give us joy (Psalm 104:14-15), then we started the actual process of learning.  We baked cakes using the same process of steaming that I teach people.  One lady who was trained in baking when we visited in January came back for the second half of this training (I only taught how to make cakes when I was there before).  She said that she has been baking a lot since then and it saves her family money because making homemade cakes (like cornbread and banana bread) is cheaper than buying bread from the store.  In the past, she had been baking by putting a cake pan in a big pot of sand over a fire and putting a lid on top of the big pot and covering that with hot charcoal.  This gives an effect similar to an oven, but wears out the pots pretty quickly.  She said she actually prefers the steaming method because it prevents her pots from wearing out.

Every day, we decided we had to make a maize cake (cornbread) because that is a favorite.  But since the Bishop's wife Dinah, Jane, and I were there every day, we wanted to do some different things too.  So one day we also made coffee cake, another day vanilla "crazy cake" (no eggs or milk), and the third day cassava cake.  Then, after making the cakes, I explained how to make frosting.  A couple people got to decorate a cake each day and we ended up with some lovely looking cakes.  ACK (Anglican Church of Kenya) was the common theme for all of the cake decoration.  The one below also says "cake" on top.

Jane's son always appeared when it was time to taste the cakes!

The last topic for each day was making scones (or as we like to call them in the US, biscuits).  Again, since most people don't have an oven, we used a frying pan, which people commonly have for making chapatti.  You just put the biscuits on there and let them cook a little on one side, then keep flipping them every few minutes until they're browned and cooked through.

Each day we made scones with raisins in them, but to change things up, one day we also made plain biscuits, and another day we made sweet potato biscuits.  As the husband of one of the instructors, Rev. John got to taste some of these things too and said that the sweet potato biscuits were one of the nicest things he had ever tasted.

At the end of the day, I asked the groups if they felt confident that they could go home and use the skills they learned.  (If they didn't, they needed to ask more questions so they could go home confidently).  But most of them felt very knowledgeable about baking and one lady emphatically said: "I'm going home and baking a cake tonight!