My primary responsibility while in Alaba, Ethiopia was to teach a class for church leaders. The class was held for three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon for five days.
Several different types of church leaders were represented in the class – men and women; paid and non-paid; city and village; established and non-established; evangelists, pastors, and elders. (In Alaba, an “established” church has a building and is recognized by the local government as an official organization.)
In order to attend the teaching sessions and to receive money for lunch each day, the attendees had to pre-register, read 1 Corinthians twice (the book that I taught during the session), and memorize 1 Corinthians 2:1-10. I like this passage because Paul reminds his readers (and us) about the important of the wisdom of God. In fact, living according to the wisdom of God became the theme of my teaching sessions.
At the beginning of each morning and afternoon session, three of the students would recite the memory passage. As they recited, others would follow along in their Bibles. If someone stumbled on a word, the entire group would say the word quietly. These leaders had no trouble memorizing 1 Corinthians 2:1-10, and they had no trouble understanding the importance of relying on the wisdom of God instead of human wisdom. I think this was important for them to think about, because education is very important in their culture. At times it seemed they put too much emphasis on formal education, especially when it comes to leading the church and teaching Scriptures.
Throughout the week, we stressed living according to the wisdom of God in different situations, and how the wisdom of God often looked different than the wisdom of the world. I encouraged these church leaders to teaching and live according to the wisdom of God. But I also reminded them that any believer can live and teach according to the wisdom of God because every believer is indwelled by the Spirit of God. Thus, I hope these leaders will take this back to other Christians in the church in Alaba.
Also, I would begin each morning session with a short lesson on church leadership. Each lesson would begin with a passage of Scripture (Acts 20:28, Hebrews 13:7, 1 Peter 5:1-3, etc.). We would talk about the importance of caring for God’s people as opposed to being busy with administrative or organizational work. We would also talk about the importance of serving and living as an example for others to imitate.
In the middle of each morning and afternoon session, we would have a coffee (buna) break. The entire class would be served coffee (mixed with butter and salt), tea, and kolo (roasted grain). During the breaks we would stand or sit around and talk with one another. While I wish I was able to communicate better with them, this was some of the best times of the teaching sessions for me. This is where they would usually talk about the lessons we had been learning and would put them in their own cultural context.
If I could change anything about these sessions, I would have begun with a more interactive format. I had originally planned to teach using dialog or discussion, but I ended up changing to a mostly lecture format. (I chickened out, to be honest, because they were accustomed to lecture teaching.)
While some topics in 1 Corinthians were difficult to teach because I did not know their culture or customs very well, one part of 1 Corinthians was easier to teach. When the Christians prayed in this area, they all said “Amen” at certain points based on what the person said. For example, whenever someone said, “Thank you for…” everyone would respond “Amen.” Thus, it was very easy to teach the importance of interpreting tongues (understanding what another is saying) and especially Paul’s illustration in 1 Corinthians 14:16.
This was a great teaching and learning opportunity for me. While I learned from the students, I think I would have learned more if I had made the teaching more interactive. (I did change some things later when I taught a group of teenagers.)
By the way, we were in Ethiopia during the rainy season. It rained almost every day that we were there, and often rained all day. Of course, this also meant that the temperatures were mild (well, mild for us but extremely cold for them). The video below shows the rain and mud. But, at the end of the video, you’ll see part of my class as they are gathering one morning.