Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Reflections on NEGST

As I am about to graduate from the Nairobi Evangelical School of Theology (recently chartered to become Africa International University, but it will always be NEGST to me), there are so many thoughts that fill my head. It’s hard to even imagine how I was when I first arrived at the airport that August evening in 2008. Each year I’ve been here seems like a whole different experience, mostly due to the various friend groups I’ve had since I’ve been here. An exercise I did after my undergrad was to think over the best, most meaningful or impactful classes I’ve had, and list them out, so for my graduate studies here goes:

1) Contextualization (Rasmussen)
I took this class my very first term, and it’s still the most meaningful class I’ve taken. In a number of aspects, it set the stage for the rest of my education here. The most crucial insight I gained from this class is integrating it with classes I took on scripture and OT cultural backgrounds in my undergrad, and realizing that the Bible itself is a cultural document. After taking this class, I look at ministry, church history, evangelism and exegesis in terms of contextualization, and that has helped in all my other classes here.

2) Power Encounter (Kim)
In many ways I don’t think I really understood the power of the gospel until I took this class. Forgiveness is the key to removing the bitterness in your life, and helps to remove all the garbage that can feed demonic presence in your life. The gospel really is power, and transforms everything in you. And this encounter isn’t some dramatic showdown, but is really a “truth encounter” as the reality of the gospel message is put into action in your life.

3) Matthew (Wood)
To sum up this class in one word: justice. Or maybe dikaiosune. Dr. Chester Wood is one of the heroes of NEGST, and it was an honor to have a class with him. I have never traced the topic of justice through the Bible, or seen what a major theme it is in Matthew, but after taking this class I see it all over. And I learned a lot about using scholarly sources, and exploring some of the more confusing stories in the life of Jesus.

4) Greek 4-6 (S. Black)
For the first time, I really felt like I was able to read and apply Greek. And I also learned a ton about how to write, formulate an argument, and compose an exegesis paper. Textual criticism, word studies, the Septuagint, sentence diagramming, syntactical analysis…so many topics were covered in these classes. Almost everything I know about exegesis I learned here.

5) Contemporary Theology (B. Black)
This class was a great opportunity to get back into what I was more used to from my undergrad, some good old (or rather new) Western theology. I love the seminar style, and got to read a number of theologians I had never read before, such as Moltmann, Niebuhr, Tillich, Rahner and others. My final project was on Miroslav Volf, and it was quite interesting.

6) Hebrew 5 (Mercer)
As far as the most skills and knowledge learned during the briefest time, this class would probably be number one. All the Hebrew reference grammars, how to determine the function of a genitive, a Hebrew word study, how to use Bible words, how to make sense of grammatical concepts...this class continued to build on similar concepts learned in Greek but applied them in rather different to Hebrew. I very strongly doubt I will ever be a Hebrew scholar, but at least my ability progressed in this class.

7) African Christian Theology (Stinton)
I didn’t take this class until my senior year, and there were a number of logistical challenges, such as the fact that I was the only student in the class for a while, but nonetheless I appreciated the chance to read more of John Mbiti and consider the implications of narrative theology. For doing seminary in Africa, I really didn’t read all that much African theology, and I’m glad at least this class allowed me to conduct a survey of the more relevant topics.

8) Church Ministry and Mission (B. Black)
Ecclesiology is a difficult subject, to say the least, and this class is probably the one with the most unresolved questions in my mind. I appreciated the visits to other church traditions, learning more about the Catholic and the Orthodox, and thinking through my own views on the organization and structure of the church. Ordination, women in ministry, the gifts of the Holy Spirit…so many highly relevant topics were covered in this course.

9) Daniel (Evans)
This is a bit early to make an assessment, since we are only one week into the class, but so far I am really impressed and looking forward to the rest of the term. There is a lot in Daniel that I don’t understand, and a lot of the reading I have already done has been really helpful in explaining the historical background and the toughest exegetical questions in the book. The paper topics look very good, so I look forward to delving into them and going through the rest of the course.

10) Cultural World of the Bible (Mercer)
This class was more helpful than I expected, and while there are still many cultural elements in the Bible I do not understand, there are many that make a lot more sense now. For example, the temple at the time of Christ—I did not realize it was that big! Tracing the journeys of Paul was helpful, and the reading for this class was quite good.

Honorable Mention: Hermeneutics (Nyende), Sociology of Language (Gibson)

Most of what I have learned at NEGST, however, took place outside of the classroom. I will always remember those who welcomed me when I first came to Kenya, here alone without knowing anyone within 8,000 miles. Taco night—ah the discussions until late in the evening, NEGST policies, classes, theology, politics, culture, being a mzungu in Kenya, and of course heresies. I love have the experience of living in student house, hanging out with my friends, talking, and finding out a bit of what its like in other parts of Africa and the world. I bet there has never been another student at NEGST who has spent as much time as I have walking from house to house and around the fourplex after midnight.

As far as experiences at NEGST, the most meaningful experience for me overall was being on student council. I loved working with the two distinct teams over the two years I served on student council, one as secretary and the next as treasurer. Being on Senate, the deliberative body composed of the faculty heads of departments, IT director, finance, library, etc., was a fascinating look at the inside story of the way NEGST operates. I especially learned about cross-cultural communication, diplomacy, how to structure a message for difference audiences (again, contextualization), and how to deal with really hard situations, such as when like so many babies on campus were dying. And some random things that you wouldn’t expect from graduate theological studies—numerous discussions of asbestos, the fluoride content of water, implications of multiple venues for the production of food on campus, GPA policy, scholarship procedures, needs of extension students, dairy farming and how to run a Tuck Shop.

Being involved in various churches here also gave me some meaningful ministry experience. Being an “associate pastor” at the Life in Christ Outreach Ministries church in Kibera gave me an entirely different perspective on the prosperity gospel. Suddenly theology had distinct relational implications, it wasn’t just an argument in a paper. Until 2010, I had never really done much as far as youth ministry, but for the last sixteen months that’s what I’ve been doing at Nairobi Chapel, and while a lot of it still isn’t entirely natural for me, it’s gotten quite a bit better.

I enjoyed being in the e-group with Esayas and the Nairobi Chapel guys, especially going through plug-in with them. I won’t soon forget that. And my African adventures—taking the bus straight through to Kigali, wandering into DRC, white water rafting on the Nile in Uganda, exploring Mwanza, camping in Abmoseli, slaughtering a sheep in Naivasha, reaching the bottom of the crater of Longonot, driving overnight in a motorbike to Mombasa, swimming for a few hours and then back, overnight again to arrive in time for a full day of class (well only 2 hours late for systematic theology)… Good times.

1 comment:

Søren Dalsgaard said...

Wow, emotions coming up. Great to read about your three years. Sometimes when I start thinking, I just miss Kenya so, so much. Am trying to recall some of the things, people and places from our time in Nairobi, but the images of places and people slowly fade into a distant reality. Though trying to hold on to it, the hard facts is that I'm slowly losing more and more of the feel of Nairobi. So painful :-(