Teaching in Unity

We arrive by bus, a team of ferengis, coming in the luxury of an automobile down the dusty, rutted road.  Students wave to us as we pass, their tattered uniforms falling off their shoulders, their school notebooks tied up in string, dangling along behind them.  Farmers look up from their dry fields as they hear the vehicle passing.  They pause in the tedious work of sowing their seeds by hand - seed by seed, row by row.   

The first day, the students line up at the gates in an elaborate welcome for us.  We park outside the compound, on a hilltop overlooking Lake Shala.  The hills are seven shades of gray; no trees on the ridge tops, just rocky ledges rolling in the distance.  The sun is just up over the hills and it already feels stronger than the rays that gently kiss our cheeks back home.  It will be hot today, and the kids will be thirsty, but at least they are here: safe in this place, where sturdy classrooms and committed teachers wait for them every day.  We walk in through two long rows of students singing and clapping in welcome.  They are so beautiful.  Their smiles range from exuberant to shy, but they are all genuine and gracious. 

We visit Roggie for five days in a row.  We are there all day, every day, and we can’t get enough. By the end of the week we’ll have to gently tug our hands from theirs and hide our tears behind big smiles and warm hugs.   Pastor Mattheows will have to come get us from the crowd of families that has escorted us to the bus, one by one, and tell us it is time to go.  But the first day, we are still a bit timid.  We smile big and shake hands and try to connect with the 400 that have so eagerly awaited our arrival. 

Monday is a blur of activity.  In typical American fashion, we have such an agenda to accomplish:  Heidi teaches the Bible lesson (over and over again to every classroom), we deliver letters to every student from their sponsor family, coax 400 smiles for the photos for the sponsorship program, and make two small crafts.  The afternoon is spent in our first of many meetings with the teachers.  We pray together, sing together, and discuss how the morning went.  Our progress is slow, as we often need double translation to ensure that we are really hearing each other.  We move from English to Amharic (the national language) to Orimifa (the local language), and back and forth, languages swirling together in laughter and joy.  

Tuesday through Friday, we fall into a rhythm, and spend our mornings teaching the Bible lesson and doing crafts, and the afternoons in meetings planning for the next day.  We teach Genesis 1 -3, with the HOPE School teachers leading the lessons in all the classes by day 3.  This simple fact is an answered prayer – that the teachers would feel prepared and supported to teach the Bible in this government run school in a mostly Muslim community.  Many people prayed long and hard for our team – the whole team of us, Americans and Ethiopians – to work together in unity in the spirit of Christ.  God was faithful in unifying us.  We spent hours in small groups talking about examples and illustrations to use for the Bible lessons, collaborating on the best ways to present the information, and discussing four strategies to increase student collaboration and authentic learning in the classrooms 

Originally, I had questioned our choice of Genesis as our main focus (really? God creating the Heavens and the earth?  when are we going to talk about Jesus?), but it was God given.  It was the right topic for those students at that time, and such a good reminder that God always works through His word, and that it never returns to Him empty.  By the end of the week, there were students reading passages from Genesis aloud in the grade 5 and 6 classrooms, students praying to begin the Bible studies, and over 40 of them raising their hand to invite Jesus into their lives when Pastor offered them the chance on Friday.  

On our last afternoon in the village, all the Bible lessons had been taught, all the soccer balls had been shared, all the students had black-red-white-green-yellow bracelets on their wrists, and we had all played as many silly non-verbal games as we could possibly think of.  It was time for the coffee ceremony.  In Ethiopian culture, the coffee ceremony is the pinnacle of honor and celebration.  Early in the morning, the cooks were roasting the coffee beans over their small wood fires, stirring the beans in a flat metal disk balanced over the flames.  After the roasting, the beans for hundreds of cups of coffee were ground by hand, three times.  In a hollowed out tree branch, another smaller branch was pounded over and over until the beans were ground into small bits.  In the small shack where the cooks work, the fragrance was intoxicating.       

The families from the village started to gather in the school yard as we finished up with lunch.  They lingered under the branches of the trees and in the slim shade of coolness provided from the overhang of the buildings’ corrugated roofs.  As the choir lined up for their performance, the women settled into the chairs lined up in front of the office building, the children on the ground, and the men standing in the back. The women were so eager to have their pictures taken.  They surprised Trevor with their giggles and their persistence to have their photo taken again and again as he circulated through the crowd.

Over the week we were all surprised by many things – the warmth of the community, the wonderful food prepared for us every day, the children begging us for “Highlands” (our empty water bottles), and the unity we shared with the HOPE staff.  But most importantly, we were surprised by how God showed up in that place.  He was there before us, and will be working in the lives of the people there long after we leave, but He also met us there.  We were welcomed into the homes and hearts of the people of Roggie village, because God made a place for us there. 

As we left the school, we chose to walk through the village and down to the well that had been built a few years ago.  It was a parade of laughter and hand holding, quick visits to family homes, hugs for the children too young to attend school yet, and prayers over us by some of women elders.  It was a quick glimpse of what heaven might be like – people coming together from all different corners of the world, happy to be in His presence, thankful for each moment with precious friends, and worship spilling from our hearts just as the water flowed from the well that first day.    

Isaiah 55 speaks of the mountains and the hills leading the parade of thanksgiving before the Lord - leading the way as evidence of God.  The hills that surround Roggie will continue to roll on, but they will be followed in the parade by the teachers there who love Him, and the students who make the impossible choice to turn aside from their Muslim upbringing and follow Christ.  I’m so glad I got to join in that parade, even if just for a few short days.  Thank you Lord. 

Isaiah 55 6: 13
Seek God while He's here to be found,
   pray to Him while He's close at hand.
Let the wicked abandon their way of life
   and the evil their way of thinking.
Let them come back to God, who is merciful,
   come back to our God, who is lavish with forgiveness.

"I don't think the way you think.
   The way you work isn't the way I work,
For as the sky soars high above earth,
   so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
   and the way I think is beyond the way you think.
Just as rain and snow descend from the skies
   and don't go back until they've watered the earth,
Doing their work of making things grow and blossom,
   producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry,
So will the words that come out of my mouth
   not come back empty-handed.
They'll do the work I sent them to do,
   they'll complete the assignment I gave them.

"So you'll go out in joy,
   you'll be led into a whole and complete life.
The mountains and hills will lead the parade,
   bursting with song.
All the trees of the forest will join the procession,
   exuberant with applause.
No more thistles, but giant sequoias,
   no more thornbushes, but stately pines—
Monuments to me, to God,
   living and lasting evidence of God."

(Caption for photo if we can get one from Stacey) 
FYI for all you teachers out there… 
We introduced four basic strategies to the staff at HOPE School in Roggie:  Think-Pair-Share; Inside/Outside Circle, Numbered Heads Together, and Expert Group Jigsaw.  Here, students work in their expert groups reading Genesis Chapter 1.