Saturday, November 8, 2008

Top 10 Influential Classes at Wheaton

Theology Letterman Style

This is a little break from NEGST, but it is something I've been thinking about as I process my Wheaton experience. I appreciate many of these classes at Wheaton much more now in light of the classes here at NEGST, and noticing differences in how I think about and approach things.

*Note: Ranking anything is a tricky and not always useful enterprise, especially when people are involved. The following should not be considered a list of the best classes I’m had, although that does inevitably play a role in my consideration. The numbering system is also somewhat arbitrary, and not hard and fast by any means. However, in considering my intellectual development, the following classes were highly formative for me, and have permanently affected how I think and study. Thus I believe the list is constructive. It is most useful to those still attending Wheaton, and for anyone else it may not be nearly as interesting.*

1) New Testament Criticism – Dr. Burge

This class made theology seem real and so addictively fascinating. When I was reading about the battle raging for the integrity of the Bible, the dating of Galatians, and the rigorous methods employed to respond to attacks on the biblical text, it was so exciting for me. Generally it seems the more that is expected from me in a class, the more I learn, and this was certainly true in this class—one of the most intensive classes I’ve ever taken. Through dealing with form criticism and working to defend the gospel accounts as legitimate portrayals of the historical life of Christ I felt like I actually grasped—at least on a basic level—the dynamics of criticism and how to enter the conversation.

2) Old Testament Cultural Environment – Dr. Hill

This was a relatively short class taken during my last semester, but it really challenged so much of what I believe about the Bible, and how I’ve always thought it was written. Looking at the similarities between various flood and creation accounts was illuminating in showing the cultural and literary effect upon the Bible. Dr. Walton’s book on the cultural world of the Old Testament painted a vivid picture of the culture and worldview that characterizes those writing the OT, and so many of his insights were new and revolutionary in my understanding of the text.

3) History of Philosophy – Dr. Benson, Dr. Talbot and Dr. Borden

Reputedly the 2nd (behind organic chemistry) most difficult class at Wheaton (it’s not), this class spans an entire year and is the essential foundation of the philosophy major at Wheaton. This class certainly had one of the highest ratios of information I had never heard before to information I already knew. Discussing and working through these issues was so thought provoking and difficult, and these issues have strongly defined how I have interacted with almost every class ever since. Some concepts that really stand out are Plato’s notion of recollection, Locke’s blank slate, Kant’s concept of the neumena and the phenomena, Kant’s categories of understanding information, the transcendental turn, and various postmodern ideas about knowledge and language. This class was an excellent compliment to Historical and Systematic theology, which I took concurrently to the two halves of this class.

4) Hermeneutics - Dr. Schultz

This was my second Bible class at Wheaton (during my freshman year) and set the stage for many of my later techniques for studying the Bible, finding resources, doing research, and using the library. Fairly difficult and extremely crammed because we were doing a semester’s worth of work in a quad (it has since been expanded into a semester class), I found the lectures, exercises, and final exegesis paper all very helpful. Definitely this was a class I enjoyed.

5) Senior Seminar: Global Christianity – Dr. Treier and Dr. Cohick

Another class with a very high percentage of new content, this was one of the most interesting and unique classes I have taken. This is one of the few classes in which I would check the clock with dismay because time was running out and I found the discussions so fascinating. I wish theology from all over the world was integrated into all theology classes at Wheaton and not tacked onto the end in one class. I learned a great deal from the considerable reading for this class. The concerns in theology in Africa, Asia and South America are so different and have much to teach us in the West. Our discussions in this class were great and I feel that we were able to interact and meaningfully engage the content we were reading. Student presentations at the end explored many issues I would have never been able to consider otherwise. Researching the nature of deliverance ministry and demonology in Ghana was a new project for me, and quite pertinent given that I was already planning on going to Africa for seminary.

6) Theology of John Calvin – Dr. Spencer

Most of this class went way over my head, and I felt very much out of league, but still I gained a basic knowledge of John Calvin, and also some important principles for studying theology. The amount of reading assigned for this class was absolutely overwhelming, the most I have ever had for any class. Two things stand out that have shaped how I consider theology ever since: the principle of “foils” and that of accommodation. The idea of foils is fairly straightforward despite its strange sounding name; all that it means is that often when approaching an idea there are two extremes on both side, and the correct way lies between the two. Often when I have come upon a problem this idea has shaped my initial response. First, I determine the extremes, and then I attempt to determine a mediating answer. This does not fit all issues but has been very helpful for me. The second principle gained from this class is one that Calvin emphasized through his theology: accommodation. In revelation God has accommodated Himself to us, which is in many ways an incredible thought, and this has far-reaching implications for biblical interpretation and application.

7) Historical Theology – Dr. Lauber

My favorite thing about this class was the textbook, which read like a novel to me: I would read it just for fun. Learning about the early church and the debates over the nature of God and theology was at times confusing but essential for a genuine understanding of the church. This is one of the classes that led me to choose history over philosophy as a double major, even though it’s not even a history class, technically. This is the class where the study group that would help sustain me most of the way through the theology major started. This was also my introduction to Dr. Lauber, who became one of my favorite profs and has written several key recommendations for me.

8) Doctrine of Scripture – Dr. Spencer

I have come to very much appreciate Dr. Spencer’s style for doing a class: reading the best authorities on a subject and wrestling through the stances they take. Elaborating a solid theology of the scriptures as the Word of God is difficult, and I am much more aware of the various disagreements and tricky areas. This is probably the main class that I actually understood some of what Barth was saying, which I consider an accomplishment!

9) Systematic Theology – Dr. Treier

One of the most fundamental and notorious classes of the Bible/theology major at Wheaton, I did not learn as much from this class as I expected but I did still learn quite a bit. The most helpful exercise was the assignment due at the end: writing your own confession of faith. Having to take a stance upon many issues of which I am still not sure of a position was helpful and thought provoking. Many of the topics treated in the class overlapped with the content of historical theology, which I took first, but it was a good repetition. I still get confused with several of the heresies…

10) The Bible as Literature – Dr. Ryken

This class stands out as one of the most memorable and time consuming classes of my Wheaton career. Anyone who has taken this class, or any class with Dr. Ryken, will immediate understand—the pig of progress, dress up day, optimum day, use of “technology”—but for those who have not it is impossible to adequately describe. The time I spent on this class drained much of the time that would have gone to systematic theology instead, largely explaining my disappointment with that class. This class was an excellent survey of the literary approach to interpreting the Bible, and Dr. Ryken is one of its pioneers and leading proponents. When I was taking hermeneutics at NEGST, and he was listed under literary approaches, I was able to question certain aspects of how the subject was presented, since I had an in-depth exposure to this methodology.

Honorable Mention: Intro to Christian Education with Dr. Root, Theological Ethics with Dr. Lauber, Theories of Origin with basically the entire science department, and History of Christianity in North America with Dr. Long

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

An Ideal Day

So a basic day at NEGST looks something like this: I get up before 8, often not very much before 8, and go to class, which for me start at 8 Monday through Friday. At ten, we have a break for chapel Tues, Wed, and Thur, which goes from 10-10:45. Then we have tea. On Monday, we have an adviser group meeting at 10, called Field Ministries, but it really doesn't have much--if anything-- to do with the field or with ministry. On Friday, we have grace groups, a small group that you are assigned to that includes staff, faculty, and students. Different members take turns leading, and its quite a good mix of people. I enjoy my group, its always interesting and there are usually refreshments as well.
I have class from 8 - 1 pretty much every day, although one class was moved from Wed to Friday afternoon, so I have class from 8 - 4 on Friday. At 1 I head back to the housing compound for lunch, and then I have a quiet time, read, do homework, things like that. At 4 I often head over to IT to work there for an hour from 4-5, and I do whatever project is at hand. At around 6 there is a group that plays football in the field behind Q, where I live, so I go out and join them sometimes. I'm really bad but it is a lot more fun than running by myself. If its been a sunny day then I can take a hot shower, since the solar panels on the other end of my building work, so I use the bathroom on that side. Its really great, but it means rainy or cloudy days are doubly unfortunate.
At 7 I go to eat dinner. After that, I go back to my room and do more homework or relax or something like that. At 8:30 M-Thur there is a Hebrew study group that meets, so I decided if I want to have any chance in Hebrew it is very helpful to attend that group. Then I head back and I tend to go to bed earlier here than in America, generally around 11 or so, sometimes I do stay later and read or finish up work but not often past midnight.
So that's a general day. I've never done all of those things in one day, but we'll see if it happens: that would be my ideal day at NEGST. Oh, and to celebrate Obama's victory in style, Kenya declared tomorrow a national holiday. That's right, because America elected Obama, the entire nation of Kenya will have the day off. And we won't have class, and all the offices and the library will be closed. I'm thinking American-Kenyan relations won't be the biggest issue facing Obama over the next few years...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The First Few Pictures

This is the entrance to the student housing compound. You can see a bit of the parking lot. Married students live on the lower two floors, and singles live on the top floor. Each building has a letter, from around H to T. I live in Q. As you go in, you would take a right and my building would be straight ahead.
This is the local supermarket, only a few kilometers down the road. The store is called Nakumatt, and the area or suburb is Karen. It is a very nice store with just about everything you would need. The groceries are on the bottom floor, and the household items such as mattresses, plates, appliances, and books are on the second floor. They even carry a number of American brands, but those are much more expensive.
Here's a picture of Emmanuel and myself. This is at the meeting of the Anointed Learning Institute, after I preached on the Jesus' words from the cross about being forsaken. This is at a hotel in Nairobi; they rent out a room for the afternoon for their meeting.

This is the 1st year football team that triumphed over the continuing students! It was a lot of fun, probably one of my best memories so far. You can't see me very well because of the trophy. We actually had enough players to play a real game, full field, with a referee and jerseys and everything. Most games since then have not been as well attended, but this was the kickoff of the season.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Kenyan Food

I am a very big fan of food, and I do not consider myself very picky. I enjoy Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, French, Italian, Greek, American, Mexican, and Ethiopian food to name a few. However, I do not like Kenyan food. It is simply not very good. I have never been to Britain, but I have always heard that British food is some of the worst ethnic cuisine in the world. Unfortunately, Kenya has been dubbed the “Britain of Africa” in regards to food. French food is generally highly regarded, and areas of Africa with more French influence such as West Africa has much better food. I don’t know that the French caused this, but it is interesting how it worked out. Someone said that Kenya is so fertile, almost any food can be grown here, but somehow all the recipes have been left in West Africa.

Earlier I talked about my initial dilemma in hiring someone, but this has long since been resolved. I found (or rather was placed in) a group of four other single guys to eat with, and we hired a lady named Jane to cook, do laundry, and clean for us. She cooks lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. We are on our own Sundays and national holidays. I paid 2500 shillings for the first month, around $35. Rather a good deal. It ended up being a little short, so we each paid 3000 shillings for the next month ($42), which is still a good deal. Now this does not buy American meals, i.e. meals with meat, every day. We have meat probably twice or three times a week. This is problematic for me, because my basic standards for a meal is that there is rice (or potatoes, spaghetti, etc), meat, and some kind of a vegetable (although that is more negotiable). The meat is a very important part of this formula.

The most common Kenyan meal is ugali with spinach. Ugali is made from maize flour, and looks just like mashed potatoes. It is a little more gritty though, and is comparable to a very firm, non-watery version of cream of wheat. It has a generally bland flavor, but is quite dense and almost impossible to eat on its own. I dislike it, but people here love it. When I asked Emmanuel what his favorite food was, he said ugali. Ugali!! I can’t help but feel that he is missing out on some good food. One time when I was at a restaurant, I saw these guys ordering ugali, and I was thinking you probably have ugali every single day, and you come to a restaurant when you can order almost everything, and you order ugali. Incredible. I’ve heard that for Kenyans who move away to somewhere like America that one of the more difficult things for them is missing ugali. I guess it’s all what you’re used to.

The other guys in my group are really great, and very understanding of my situation, and they told Jane that ugali should always be complimented with something like spaghetti, so I don’t actually have ugali very much. Generally we have rice, boiled potatoes, or spaghetti, with some kind of vegetable stew. Sometimes it has beef as well, sometimes its made of peas, carrots, things like that.

What really gets me through is the dinner invitation. This wonderful thing is when a family asks me to come over for dinner, and I always accept. This food has always included meat, and is very good. About once a week for lunch I go to the Tamu Café, which is affiliated with the guest house, and is quite good and rather reasonable, about 150-200 shillings for a meal (2-3 dollars). Being here I feel like that’s a lot, and if I ever spend more, like 500 for a meal (7 dollars) I feel like I’m being super extravagant, and I feel guilty. In the US that really isn’t much at all, but here it feels like so much more.

To clarify about what I said earlier about food being expensive here, anything imported or American is expensive. Peanut butter can be 5 or 6 dollars for a jar. Cereal is also expensive. Meat is very expensive, maybe 8 or 10 dollars for a package of chicken I would expect to cost 4 or 5. Now if you don’t shop at the store, but at the market, things are cheaper (especially if you’re not white). Vegetables and flour, the basic essentials here, are rather cheap. But in the US, if you were to live off cakes baked from flour along with spinach, it would be pretty cheap too.

This ended up being rather long, so one of these times I will try to be shorter. And pictures are coming as well! I had trouble uploading them last time, but I’ll keep trying.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

My Attempt at Contextualization for Kibera

This morning I preached in a church in Kibera, thanks to an invitation by Evangelist Emmanuel. It was fairly small, about 10 people. I chose to preach on 1 Peter 2:1-12, and to illustrate it I decided to modify the story of the three little pigs to an African context. This is what I came up with:

(Note: This is not exactly the sermon I actually preached. I didn't quote either the passage from Isaiah or from Mark, and I made up a lot of other things along the way, like about sheep and sin and sacrifices and things like that. I didn't use any fancy terms like "unadulterated," which came from a Bible dictionary, either. Having a translator really does change the dynamics of what you're saying and how you say it.)


To begin, I would like to tell you a story I heard in America when I was a child. That story is about three little pigs and a wolf, but since I’m in Kenya it will be about 3 little goats and a lion. Here in Kenya you have lions, in America we do not. Yesterday I was able to see some lions, which was very exciting. Here’s the story:
There lived three little goats who were brothers, and they each went out and build a little house. The first goat was not very clever, and he wanted his house made very quickly, so he just made his house of grass. The second goat was thinking that grass is very weak, but he did not want to take a long time either, so he made it of sticks. The third goat was very clever, and he took many weeks to make his house, but he made it out of stone.
Now there was a lion that lived by the goats, and one day he was very hungry. He went out hunting, and he came to the first goat’s house. He said, “Come out because I want to eat you!” The goat said “No, go away!” The lion said “Well then I will break down your house and eat you!” The goat’s house was only grass, and the lion broke it down easily and ate the goat.
This goat was very little, and the lion was still hungry. So he went to the next house and said “Come out I want to eat you!” The goat said, “No, go away!” The house was only made of sticks, and the lion broke it down and ate the goat. But this goat was little as well, and the lion still wanted some more. So he came to the third house made of stone. He said, “Come out because I want to eat you!” The goat said “No, go away!” The lion rushed at the house and tried to break it down, but the stone was strong, and he could not break though. The lion was angry, and he looked all over the house to find another way inside. But all the windows were barred, and he couldn’t find another way. Finally he noticed the chimney. He crawled up onto the roof, and then slipped into the chimney and went down. However, the goat was boiling milk for chai, and he had a big pot of milk boiling over the fire at the bottom of the chimney. The lion fell into the pot and died, and instead of tea the goat had lion stew that night.

Today I’m preaching on 1 Peter 2:1-13. I’m going to talk more about this story later, but first I’m going to read the passage.

1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture:

"Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame."

7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

"The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,"

8 and "A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense."

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. ESV

Peter was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, and he was one of the top leaders of the early church. He wrote this letter from the city of Babylon, and addressed it to all the elect scattered from Israel. In the Old Testament we read that the Assyrians and the Babylonians captured Israel, and they took them as captives all over the world. Peter was writing to these Jews that were foreigners in a strange country. This letter was written to encourage the believers who were going though persecution, many of them were being killed for being a Christian. It is a very hopeful letter and tells them to continue to trust in God.

I. In verse one, we are called to give up five different things: malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander.
Peter is giving us a list of evil things that we must avoid. The best way to avoid something evil is to replace it with something good. In Galatians Paul tells us the fruits of the Spirit that will help to drive out these other things from our lives:
Gal 5:22-24
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. ESV

II. Milk is how we grow up to salvation.
a. What is milk?
"Pure" milk meant that it had not been mixed with anything else; the term is used in business documents for sales of unadulterated foods, foods that have not been mixed with anything else. Have you ever had bad milk? Bad milk is not good for you; we must have the right milk!! I know some of you have had babies, and you know how they love to have their milk. What happens when they don’t get milk? They aren’t happy, are they? And they will not grow without milk.
i. Prayer
ii. Reading the Bible
iii. Ministry

b. Reaching out to others is essential to growth in Christ. You have not learned something until you teach it to someone else.
There are hundreds of thousands of people that live here in Kibera, and I know many of them have not been born again. They do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and they do not know the love of God. I encourage all of you to find someone this week who does not believe in Jesus and tell them what He is doing in your life, and how great He is. Tell them how they can accept Christ and follow Him with their lives.

c. First you must have experienced that God is good!!
Do all of us here believe that God is good? If we do not, then all the milk in the world will not allow you to grow. First we must believe that God is truly good, and that He will always love you and never forsake you. In Psalm 16:11 David is saying that “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right are pleasures forevermore.” It does not always seem that God is good. Many times it seems God has forgotten us. However, God is faithful, and His promises are true. He will always work things out in the end.

III. Stones
a. Nature of stones
In our story earlier we saw that stones are strong, they are defense against the devil. Peter later says that the devil is like a roaring lion seeking who he may devour. What kind of a house are you living in? Is it one of grass or of stone? Are you living off the milk that will make you grow and that will destroy the devil when he attacks you?! Just as we must have the right milk to grow, we also must live in the right house.

b. We are living stones ourselves!
If there is one thing I know about stones, it is that they are dead. They are not alive. They are heavy, they are strong, and they are dead. But Peter says we are living stones! We ourselves are stones that make a spiritual house for God. We were dead in sins and evil, but God has made us alive. He has made us strong and powerful. He lives within us, and together we make up the body of Christ. We offer spiritual sacrifices just like the Israelites in the OT offered animal sacrifices. These sacrifices are prayers and praises, our abilities, our time with God and helping other people.

c. Cornerstones and Stones of Stumbling
Peter is quoting from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is saying in 28:14-17:

Isa 28:14-16

14 Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers, who rule this people in Jerusalem!
15 Because you have said, "We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we have an agreement, when the overwhelming whip passes through it will not come to us, for we have made lies our refuge, and in falsehood we have taken shelter"; 16 therefore thus says the Lord God, "Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: 'Whoever believes will not be in haste.' ESV

Peter is also quoting what Jesus said in Mark 12:10-11.
10 Have you not read this Scripture: "'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 11 this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?" ESV
A cornerstone is the most important stone in a building. Jesus is our cornerstone, and everything we do must be built on Him.

Peter also talks about a stone of stumbling and offence. If a stone is in the middle of the road, it can trip you up. Stones can make a matatu ride very bumpy! The gospel can also be like a stone, and some people are thinking about God and going towards Him and then they come to the gospel and fall right down. Jesus offended many people, and eventually was killed, but just like a stone he did not waver and He stood firm.

IV. God has chosen us!!

Peter says that those who have been rejected of men have been chosen by God. Has anyone here been rejected by man? I have been rejected before. If you have been rejected, know that God has chosen you!! Hallelujah. God is good. We are chosen, royal and holy. Did you know you are chosen, royal, and holy? We are a race, a priesthood, a nation, and a people for God’s own possession. When God has redeemed us, we are no longer our own, but we belong to God. We are all these things for the purpose of proclaiming the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. That is what God’s church of living stones is for. We all stand together to form a strong building that must hold against the attacks of Satan and reach out to others with this message of God’s light.

V. We must be pure and honorable.

Peter was writing to people that lived far from home in strange countries, facing danger and persecution. We may not live in a strange country and have the same persecution, but we are all strangers on this world, and must remember that we belong to God’s kingdom, which is not of this world. Remember the list of the fruits of the Spirit I read earlier. These are the fruits that help us to fight against our passions and desires. This is a war against our soul.

Why is this war important? Peter says that we must keep our conduct honorable, so that when people think we are evil, they see our good deeds and glorify God instead. There are many people watching you, and our lives are important. Let us serve God in the power of His Spirit.


Review story and the nature of stones. God has chosen us and put all of us in the place we are in so we can serve Him there. You are all here for a reason, and God has work for you here. Tell your friends about how strong God is, and how must better it is to live in his light than in darkness. You are a royal priesthood and a holy nation. You form God’s house in Kibera. He will protect you against evil and against the plots of the enemy. His Spirit will keep you strong.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Ministry Update

Doing ministry has been an ongoing question and challenge since I've arrived in Kenya.  I'm not here only to study; I'm here to prepare for ministry.  And doing ministry is obviously one of the best ways to prepare and apply what I’m learning.  One of the best ways to do ministry is through the church, but as I have not settled upon a church that is not yet an option.  However, this past week, some ministry opportunities opened up here for me.

 Contacts are very helpful in any field, and ministry is no exception.  Thank you to Rob Welch for sending contacts my way!!  I’ve already met several Kenyan pastors through him, and received more invitations to come and preach than I will able to do.  This story starts in a cybercafé in Nairobi.  Evangelist Emmanuel ( sat down at a computer, and the website that has been left on the screen was For His Glory Ministries, Rob’s ministry’s website, which incidentally I also assisted in updating while I was working for Rob (an evangelist based in St. Louis who does crusades all over the world,  Emmanuel said he kept coming back to this website, and he was very impressed and excited by it, and eventually worked up the courage to email Rob and ask him to come out and do a crusade here in Nairobi.  Rob forwarded this to me, and I emailed Emmanuel and we had lunch here at NEGST.  A week ago I went to visit his church as well, which was an awesome experience.  It was very Pentecostal, and the first service was definitely a lot stronger on the message than the second service, which seemed more like an extended pep rally, but it was real and African.  Most of the churches I've visited near the school have been very American and not as authentic in my opinion.  So this was a welcome change. 

After church I went to his house for lunch, and this was definitely one of the poorest areas I’ve seen yet.  There was sewage running along the road and garbage everywhere.  Finally we came to his house, and he had a tiny kitchen, a squat toilet with a curtain in the corner, a couch, and a bedroom.  The roof was bare sheet metal.  He had a month old son, Dennis, and Emmanuel said I was the first mazungu (white person) that the baby had ever seen. 

In addition to his own ministry, Emmanuel also leads a school for pastors called the Anointed Learning Institute.  They operate mainly by correspondence, and meet once a month at a hotel in Nairobi to turn in assignments and hear a message.  Emmanuel asked me to come and preach/teach for them this past Saturday, two days ago.  About 15-20 pastors were able to come, and they all wanted to visit their church and preach.  I feel it went well, assuming they were able to follow my English, which I will have to keep working on as I adjust to ministry here.  Sometimes English feels like a different language here, and accents and speaking style can make communication difficult both ways.  I talked about how to study the Bible and the significance of Jesus’ words at the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me [hint: I don’t think He was actually forsaken]?”  That was exciting, and it did wear me out.  Next week I’ll be going to a church in Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa, to preach.  That will be a little different setting that I’ve been in before, and I’m not sure what I should say!  Any suggestions are appreciated.

 I hope to be working with Evangelist Emmanuel into the future, and if I can form something like a Nairobi Evangelist Team (moving from CET to NET) that would be great.  I’m very impressed with him and his ministry: he’s passionate, humble and honest.  I really hope he is able find more support and ways to bring his goals to fruition.  He has many dreams, and would like to be able to come to America and study some day.  I've glad I was able to meet him.

First Reactions to Kenya, Part 2

*Note: This post is somewhat outdated, since it was written the first week of September.  The Sunday referenced was August 31st.*

The next day I took the bus into church to Nairobi Chapel, and it was very interesting.  They meet in tents, and the main area is a huge tent with chairs set up on this patio-type area, all cobblestones.  I thought the backdrop of the church was so interesting, it was this painted landscape all along the back of the stage, and it was like the epitome of suburbia.  There were little streaks like you are looking through glass onto a grass lawn, and then there was a swing set and a trampoline, and then a fence and another house behind it.  It looked nothing like houses I’ve seen in Kenya and very much like typical American suburbia, which we always decry in places like Wheaton.  But that’s what they strive towards; they see it as a good thing.  It was really weird.  I really enjoyed the service, the worship seemed so genuine.  It was natural and cheerful and it was great. Then they had a skit that was like the worst type of gender stereotyping, with the guy lounging on this couch they brought onto the stage watching “football” on TV while his wife is cleaning and he orders her around and is a complete stupid jerk and goes through all the tasks that a women should do.  I was a little surprised, but I guess some things are universal.  But then the message was really good, I was impressed.  He talked about gender and he brought out things I had never considered before. He talked about how we (meaning mostly guys, who have generally determined most interpretation) view the word “helper” in the creation account as meaning servant, lower, assistant.  And honestly that kind of how I’ve always seen that when I’ve read through, like it seems to set up women in a subordinate and somewhat demeaning way.  But then he went through all the uses of that word, and 16 of the 20 or so times it’s used, it’s used of God: “The Lord is my helper” type of thing.  And obviously when I read that I don’t think of God as being in any type of subordinate relationship to me in that context.  I may have heard that before, its sounds a little familiar, but hearing it presented that way really did change my perception of that passage, which doesn’t often happen.  Then he went through the commands given to men and women and how they have been distorted, and some of that is more particular to Africa but still interesting.  For example, when the man is told to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, but in African societies it is the women who moves into the compound or place of the man, generally very close to the man’s family.  And how the women is cursed with childbirth and the man is cursed with tilling the soil, but the women are made to work out in the fields as well as go through the pain of childbirth.  This pastor gave the keynote at the last Urbana, and he was a really good speaker and teacher.  I’ve heard his session was amazing and that I really need to hear it. Then we had tea after that, and I really like their tea, I’m so glad we do it so often.  Every day we’ve had a break for tea at 10, and I think that continues into the term, so I am glad of that.

I’ve been shopping three times already, and its quite an experience.  I had to buy a water boiler, because all the water has to be boiled, so that’s a little different.  I bought food, an electric adapter so I can plug things in, cleaner, and a bunch of other miscellaneous things.  I still need a cell phone, mattress, rice cooker, and things like that.  Philip (from The Gambia, which I think is really funny that its so small and they call themselves that, but then we call ourselves The United States, but like The Kenya sounds so dumb) has been one of my best friends, we’ve gone shopping together every time and I bought his things for him since he didn’t have any money.  We’ve had lunch together twice and he came over to eat dinner once too since there was no gas in his kitchen.  When we have breaks for orientation he’ll propose we walk somewhere like the computer lab or he’ll go along with me if I need to turn something in.  I’ve also done quite a bit with Njeri, who is single, which really does help in relating to someone.  She took Philip and me shopping and is a lot of fun.  When we were shopping I saw Philip showing her the latest book by Joel Osteen (Becoming A Better You), and I was thinking, great, I can make fun of American materialism and individuality and selfishness with my African brethren, so I walked over there.  When I got there Philip was saying, yeah this is so good I didn’t have room to pack it but I think its one worth buying and having while I’m here.  Njeri was all in agreement, so I didn’t really say anything, and it struck me both how cynical I am and how unfortunate it is that those are the types of things that represent American Christianity overseas, when most people I know would be somewhat skeptical of a Joel Osteen.  It was a revealing encounter.  The guy who was staying across the hall from me played K-Love for several hours the first two nights, and I’m sure he loves it.  So different from Wheaton culture, and even the whole HNGR social justice element.  One of the standards of NEGST that I had to agree to, in the student handbook, in addition to no drinking, gambling, drugs, was that I would respect the authorities set up by God and not participate or have anything to do with boycotts, strikes, protests, riots, or any of that type of thing.  They have a tendency to get very violent here, so I guess that does make a significant difference. 

            I’m trying to think what else I was going to say.  There is so much going on and so much I’ve been thinking about so its rather overwhelming.  I found that have a café here which is very reasonable by my standards, 170 shillings for a hot meal, less than three dollars, so I think I’ll be doing that fairly often, because dealing with all that cooking and going shopping is such a pain.  But then I feel bad because I’m the typical American that eats meat and all these expensive foods, so I’m not sure what to do.  The other guy on my floor for dinner took some potatoes, chopped them up, boiled them in water, and ate them.  He had nothing else, did not flavor them, or anything.  Just boiled potatoes.  If that’s all you eat that can’t be healthy!!  I’m the only way who has put anything in the fridge at all.  Yesterday an American family invited me over to eat, so that was good.  They have two little kids, and I spend a few hours over there so that was nice.  Ok, so for cleaning clothes the only real option is to hire “house help,” and they get paid a standard rate of 50 shillings an hour.  That’s like 73 cents, per hour!!  I’ve always heard about low wages, but I figured things would be proportionately cheaper, but they’re not here.  I guess if you live in a hut and just grow your own vegetables you could live off that, and probably a lot of them do, but if you go to the store and buy like a radio or anything electric or basic food like rice or canned goods it costs about the same as in America.  I can’t imagine paying someone that little to do that work, it just seems so wrong.  But apparently if you don’t you’re seen as really uppity because you’re not sharing your wealth and hiring someone to do your work.  And most students hire people to clean their rooms and bathrooms I think and cook for them.  I mean, its dirt cheap.  I really think I can do my own cleaning, and it seems such a bother to go out and buy the food and then tell them what you what to be cooked, and then it case it doesn’t come out right or something, it just sounds so difficult.  So for sure I’ll hire someone to clean my clothes because I have no other option, but as far as the other cleaning and cooking I just don’t know, its really weird to me.

The other thing I’ve trying to figure out is what program to concentrate in.  Basically the MDiv is a 9 term program, 3 for 3 years, and there are a lot of designated classes everyone has to take like 90 credits or something.  Then within your program you have 43 credits which differ.  I came in as general studies, which is basically meaningless: I can’t specialize and I can take whatever I want, whenever I want (for the 43).  Or I could take Biblical studies, which basically means I only take Greek and Hebrew beyond the MDiv requirements.  Or I could take Missions Studies, which would have sweet classes like contextualization and evangelism and things like that, which would be arguably more useful and relevant than more Hebrew and Greek.  And since I don’t really enjoy Greek, it would be more enjoyable and interesting to me.  But I feel like if I’m going to a seminary, I’ve got to take Biblical languages beyond just one year of one language, which is the only core requirement.  I want to get good at Greek, to be able to actually read the Bible and not just struggle with it.  If I take more classes than the requirement, which is difficult to get approved, I would have to have above a 3.3, get the permission of the instructor and the program director, then I could do it.  I’m meeting with an advisor tomorrow and hopefully that will help sort things out.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

My First Reactions to Kenya

I started writing this when I had only been here for 24 hours, and even by then I’d already had so many thoughts about being here.  It is so different, its impossible to even describe.  This is definitely the craziest thing I have ever done, by far.  Going to Wheaton was nothing compared to this.  Going to Japan was nothing compared to this.  In a lot of ways it seems just like I expected a 3rd world county to be, dirty and dusty and somewhat scary.  The airport was really interesting, the first impression I got was it was more like a community neighborhood airport than an actual legitimate airport.  It was quite a strong contrast with Amsterdam, which was a really nice airport, one of the most modern airports I’ve ever been in.  Once I got to Amsterdam that was when my trip started to look a lot more diverse and foreign.  Flying KLM was so much nicer than Northwest, foreign airlines are just in an entirely different league than American airlines.  They served good food, I didn’t like all of it but it was actual real food served well, even with warm hand cloths and the whole works.  The entertainment system was ridiculous, it even put Asian airlines to shame based on my few experiences with them.  They had movies, like a lot of movies, TV shows, music, news, sports, games, email as well as the cool flight tracking.  It actually made things a lot more difficult to choose; usually I pick out like one of the four movies available and watch it, but I spent about half an hour just looking through all the options. 

When I first arrived in the airport, I went into the bathroom and it looked more like a basic restroom at a gas station than what you generally find at an airport.  As I went through the airport, I noticed a large number of people, mostly families with little kids, sitting down in big groups all over.  I think they were waiting for visas to go through or something?  This was not by the gates but in the areas leading up to the exit and immigration.  I got in the line to purchase a visa, which was not a line at all but a huge disorderly mass of people, and there were a lot of people, and no one was moving.  It looked like it would take a while, but then this airport guy walked by and was like, there’s another counter over here to get it, and directed us down the hallway.  I went down and was among the first of the group to get there, and it was completely empty, no one in line.  About two minutes after I got there, there were at least 60-70 people behind me, maybe more.  So that sped thing up a lot.  Once I got to the front, I handed the girl the paperwork I had filled out in the plane, folded, and she took it without even looking at it and put it back in this big pile spilling all over the desk.  There were a few things I had questions about on the forms, and I asked her if she could look at it and make sure it was done correctly, and she responded, “No one will ever read it.”  I was like, ok.  I guess if that works for you all I’m fine with it.  She had on a nametag that also had Kenya written on it, and the motto underneath was “Say No to Corruption.”  I found that to be a deeply inspiring sentiment to form the vision of a country.  After I went through that section, there was a huge poster proclaiming “Smile You’re in Kenya,” and that was somewhat more cheering.  Then I collected my bags and went through immigration, and the officer looked at my passport and asked what I was doing there.  I said I was a student studying theology, and he was like, “Theology is good.  You are a good man.”  And he waved me through without asking any other questions.  I then found myself in the section where there are at least 100 people all lined up behind these ropes to meet people holding up their little signs.  I felt very much like a celebrity walking up and down the red carpet, scanning the crowd for anything that said David Bawks or NEGST or something like that.  Unfortunately, none of those signs materialized and I ended up setting my luggage down in these area by all the taxi people, who of course swarmed all over me and I received about 4 offers of a taxi within the next two minutes.  I said there was someone meeting me, but they all seemed rather doubtful about the chances of that and advised if no one showed up in the next five minutes I should really take their taxi instead.  I managed to hold them off, but after a few minutes I began to wonder what I should do.  They were asking me if I had a number, and I found a number for the school but when one of the guys called it no one answered, and I didn’t have a number or even a name of the driver picking me up.  All I was told is that there would be a banner with my name.  After only about 5-10 more minutes, though, this girl and a guy walked up to me and I saw a little sign indicating David Bawks that they were holding, so I met my first friends at NEGST.  We went over to a little restaurant to get a snack and tea, and talked for a while and I explained how I ended up coming to Nairobi.  We were waiting for someone else to come in, Philip from The Gambia, and eventually he made it through the airport and then we headed out.  I thought it was kind of funny that when he said where he was from, the girl who picked us up, Njeri, was like, um, I’m demonstrating my ignorance, but where is that?  So not even Africans know all the countries here.  Apparently there has never been a student from The Gambia who has come to NEGST, at least not that anyone can remember.  We gave him a standing ovation later during orientation.

So then we starting driving to NEGST from the airport, and that was quite an experience.  In a lot of ways I feel like coming to Kenya is like going back in time.  Most of the cars here are from the 80s, there are no washing machines, everything is washed by hands, you hire servants to do pretty much all the household work, the key for my room looks like its from the Middle Ages, and the building where I’m living looks a lot like a medieval keep, or military barracks or something like that.  The vehicle we took from the airport was this old truck, and it was quite a ride back.  The speed limit was posted as 50 (kph), but we definitely hit 120 and a lot of the time cruised at 100, which still isn’t that fast but seemed really fast.  Apparently speeding isn’t their top concern here.  They drive on the left side of the road here, which I didn’t realize, I thought that was only in Britain and Japan.  The roads were really bad, very bumpy, and a lot of the time we were in the middle or on the right because it was smoother and then we would swerve back when we saw other cars coming towards us.  As we were on our way back all of a sudden they said, oh yeah, we have random police checkpoints, and we slowed down and there was this mess of cars going every which way, and I saw these two inch metal spikes down on the road.  There weren’t even any police, just the spikes, staggered across both lanes.  At another checkpoint later, there was a police officer with an assault rifle slung across his shoulder (it looked like an AK-47 but I wasn’t completely sure), but he just stood there on the side of the road and didn’t do anything.  We stopped at a restaurant, and they said they were considering going to another place but that to go any further down this road was too dangerous.  That hasn’t been a general criteria for me in selecting a place to go is considering the relative danger, but I’m been a lot more cautious here than I usually am, and I’m always thinking about people robbing or pick-pocketing me.

Finally we got to NEGST, and I felt like I was entering a military compound because there was a wall with a gate we went through, the guard let us in, and there was wire all along the top of the wall.  Just about all the windows here are barred.  There are cows on campus, so right now through the student association I am the part owner of six cows.  There are clothes hanging up everywhere, little kids playing all over the place, and even gardens planted all around our housing buildings, so it looks a lot like the pictures you see of Africa.  Going into my room was a shock at first, but now that I’ve gotten used to it, I feel kind of bad because its one of the nicest rooms I’ve seen, and I have more furniture than any other room I’ve been in.  My room has a bare cement floor and walls, and the ceiling is rather dirty and stained wood.  The light bulb was blue tinted and about the brightness of a night light, so you could hardly see, and there was no mattress, blankets, or anything.  There was a little wooden frame for a bed, an industrial looking desk, a rather large book case, and a wardrobe unit thing.  There are all made of wood.  Every room I’ve been in has been a different shape and had different furniture, which seems odd since I think they all cost the same.  Perhaps they don’t, but one room I went in had a bed, desk, bookcase, and that was it, and there was a large hole in the roof which leaked and brought in bugs.  That was Philip’s rooms, and he didn’t have a blanket either the first night so he had a much rougher time of it than I did.  Someone gave me a mattress and blanket to use for the first night and so I was all set, but I once I was alone in my room it really struck me how far I had gone and how different this place is.