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Trips

Togo April 2017, ESBTAO School

Lome, Togo April 7-22, 2017

We are collaborating with the Ecole Supérieure Baptiste de Théologie de L'Afrique de l’Ouest (ESBTAO), translated West African Baptist Advanced School of Theology. They are an African led seminary training students for pastoral ministry, missionary service, teaching in Bible Institutes, and assisting Bible translation projects throughout Western Africa. Courses: OT Wisdom Literature NT Exegesis: Gospel of Mark

Follow along as teachers in the field offer their experiences as they share theological training with local church leaders.

Apr  21st,  2017Satan in Togo

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      Mawenah raised his hand and said, “This passage teaches us that Satan can come among believers.” I was a little puzzled. We had just read the passage in Job 1 where Satan and YHWH discuss the case of Job. I had asked the class what observations they could make about the role of Satan from these verses. Wrongly guessing at the intent of Mawenah’s question, I gave an unhelpful answer about the meaning of “the sons of God” gathering before YHWH (Job 1:6). During the break Koffi came to talk to me. “You see,” he explained, “there is a debate in our context about whether Satan has power over the life of believers. Many people here associate Satan with sorcerers, witchcraft, and demon possessions. They believe that Satan is trying to kill you with magic all the time, and so people in the churches are anxious to know whether the power of Christ can protect them from such things or whether Satan can still kill them even if they are a Christian. This is a big debate.” So this is where Mawenah’s question was headed—if Satan can afflict Job then that means that Satan can “come among believers,” i.e., afflict them.

     Whew. It doesn’t matter where you teach, the passages about Satan will raise lots of questions, but these questions were a little different from the ones I was ready for. I decided to spend a bit more time the next day trying to think through the role of Satan in the life of believers. We started by clearly describing Satan’s role in the Old Testament. Satan is not a name, but a title. In Hebrew he is actually called the satan, and “satan” simply means “accuser” or “adversary.” If YHWH is the judge then the satan is like the prosecuting attorney. He is the opponent of God’s people who brings whatever charges he can against them to see what will stick (see Zechariah 3:1–5) and incites them to sin (see 1 Chron 21:1). Second, as a result of this we see that everything the satan does is under the authority of YHWH. The satan is a part of his heavenly court and his actions are limited by YHWH (Job 1:6, 12; 2:6). Nevertheless, the satan can certainly afflict believers—Job obviously, but also Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness and Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” are attributed to the satan/the devil.

    My point in all of this is that the work of Satan is under the authority of God for his glory and for the growth of the church. Without adversity we would not grow. Without trials and temptations we would never be refined (Rom 5:3–5; Jas 1:2–4). In this way we can see that in God’s design, Satan plays a thankless but necessary role in testing believers to refine them and prove their faithfulness. There is no justice without a good prosecution.

    The students seemed to be blown away by the idea that the role of Satan could be understood to have a positive aspect in God’s plan. They found this deeply encouraging, especially when they could see clearly the limits of Satan’s power over believers. So yes—Satan can “come among believers,” but this is very different than saying that Satan “has power over believers.” I will not deny for a moment that there are evil spiritual forces in the world, but we are not at the mercy of some Voodoo sorcerer. In fact, we can boldly proclaim the empty power of such things because on the cross Jesus triumphed over all spiritual evil. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col 1:13).

Alex Kirk
International Trainer, TLI
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Apr  20th,  2017The Bible: Our Common Language

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Our teaching is complete here at ESBTAO in Togo. Tomorrow (Friday) is the final exam, and then we head to the airport for the long trip home. While the students are presumably studying ferociously, we enjoyed a long dinner and conversation with Director Allaboe this evening.

 

Despite what often feels like a slow pace to the class, it is quite incredible to look back at the ground we have covered. Despite working through a translator and cultural differences, we have discussed many exegetical principles, theological motifs, and passages from Mark in detail. We have discussed the nature of pastoral ministry to the suffering, how to prepare a sermon, and eschatology. The breadth of the class has indeed been great (partially by my purpose, and partially because of their questions).

 

The more that I get to know the students, the more impressed I am, and the more honored I am to be a part of their lives, albeit for a few short weeks. We have students from at least three countries, who have left family and security behind, who plan to be pastors and missionaries and church planters, even in Muslim-majority parts of Africa. It is easy to see their sharp intellects by their comments in class, but in the conversations during breaks and after class is when I have made friendships. Today, for example, we spoke to a student who speaks four languages (French, English, Ewe, Kabye, his tribal language), and wants to plant churches in northern Togo in a nominally Muslim region. He is a fairly quiet student in class, but I saw a tremendous strength to his character.

 

We eat three times a day at the Allaboes' house, and there is often another visitor(s). Our conversations around the table at meals have been fascinating. Through them, I have learned an incredible amount about many things--the status of the church and theological education in francophone West Africa, for one, not to mention the insights into central African politics. Director and Madame Allaboe obviously understand West Africa, but he has spent a lot of time in the West for studies, so he has a unique ability to share his insights regarding the differences and similarities between the West and Africa, what works and what doesn't, and how to best move forward.

 

Yet, in the midst of the cultural avalanche, we are here to teach the Bible, and the students are here to learn the Bible. In many respects, it's our common language. I have prepared for months, and still wound up re-working most of the first week. Each day means several hours of prep, followed by three hours of teaching. The prayer and hope and goal is not mere information transfer. We want to see a wave of young pastors who fall in love with God, who treasure and understand His Word, and who are compelled by His Spirit to serve Him by serving His church. To that end I pray, that a deeper understanding of Scripture, and the Gospels in particular, would be the seeds of a powerful movement of churches in West Africa.
Kevin Sheahan

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Apr  20th,  2017Reading Proverbs in Togo

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We have come to the end of our first week teaching. For me, I must admit, that things got off to a poor start and I can’t even tell you why. Chalk it up to a bad frame of mind, translation issues, spiritual warfare—I don’t know. But at the end of day one and going into day two, I was discouraged. Was I going to enjoy these two weeks at all? Were the students going to get anything out of it? Would we be able to cover half of the material that I hoped?

By God’s grace, the week turned a corner on Tuesday. After really wrestling over how to explain a number of key concepts things seemed to start to fall into place. Then on Wednesday, Pastor Happy (that’s his name) arrived to take over from David who was exhausted by the attempt to interpret both for me and for my colleague Kevin (6 hours of interpreting across a 10-hour day). By the end of the day we had found our groove—conceptually and linguistically.

We’ve done a lot of good work this week. I am teaching a course that is dear to my heart—the wisdom literature of the Old Testament (Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes). Monday and Tuesday were background on Wisdom—definitions, origins, theology, and biblical context. Wednesday we began Proverbs and covered authorship, audience, date, structure, and content. On Thursday we focused on how to interpret biblical Hebrew poetry with a focus on examples and forms in Proverbs. Today we talked about the prosperity gospel and the need to interpret the promises of Proverbs properly so we don’t distort the Biblical message and run aground in our faith. We concluded by thinking about how Lady Wisdom is a type of Christ that points us to “the one greater than Solomon” (Matt 12:42) in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3).

I am not sure if there have been any earth-shattering moments, but there have been so many small victories. Good conversations, excellent questions, moments of confusion and clarity, moments of laughter and gravity. I especially enjoyed seeing the students run with the concept of parallelism in Hebrew poetry and listening to them wrestle over the right interpretation of Prov 26:4–5 (which elicited some bursts of laughter when we read it aloud). What a gift.

I am truly honored by the students’ attention when I am a privileged white guy who doesn’t even speak their language. I am honored by the students’ patience when I have to try to figure out how to communicate concepts through interpretation and culture. I am honored by the students’ incisive questions, which show that they are working hard to understand exactly what I mean and what I am trying to teach them. This week was a good week. May we all grow through wisdom to be mature in Christ (Col 1:28).

Job and Ecclesiastes next week...

Alex Kirk
International Trainer with TLI
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Show Comments   |   Leave a Comment  |  Tags:  togo, proverbs, wisdom literature, prosperity gospel, distorting biblical message, faith, wisdom, job, ecclesiastes

Apr  11th,  2017Day One in the Books

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After arriving Saturday evening, and spending Sunday at church, resting, and preparing, today (Monday) was the first day of ten classes. I was scheduled to teach from 8:00-11:30, with a break from 10:00-10:30. Alex's class meets from 3:00-6:00.

After months of prep, it's amazing how many little things go through your mind at the last minute. Will there be chalk? A lecture? Blank paper? Do I introduce myself at 8:00 sharp, or will somebody do it? Have they gotten the syllabus? Who is my translator? What will he be like? How much do I tell about myself in the introduction? And then, of course, all of the actual content of the class!

We had breakfast, per usual, at the Allaboes' (thirty yards across a field). I was hoping to eat quickly, then get back to my room to run over my notes again, but breakfast took a bit longer. I barely had gathered my materials into my backpack when the academic dean knocked on our door, with the translator. We went up to the classroom (next door, and upstairs), where a handful of students had already gathered (it was 7:55 or so). I hurriedly unpacked, tried to organize while sort of talking to the dean and translator, mostly in English, while they were saying something, mostly in French. I wasn't really sure what was happening, but all of a sudden the dean tells me, "Merci! Bon chance!" and leaves. I stood up from unpacking my belongings, and fifteen West African students, plus the translator, are staring at me, expecting wisdom and pedagogical skill. From me.

"Bonjour, la classe! Je m'appelle Kevin Sheahan. Je parle francais en peu. Mais, mon ami, David, parle francais tres bien, et anglais!" (Or something like that.)

I introduced myself, gave an overview of the class, and had a short devotional. I prayed, and off we went. The class is titled "New Testament Exegesis," which basically means how to read and study the text properly. The idea is to convey principles, which we will then apply primarily to the gospel of Mark.

Today, I started with a fairly brief compare and contrast of the four gospels, noting particularly that it is one gospel, from four perspectives--each one written with a different audience and purpose in mind. Part of our job, then, is to understand the author's intent. Mark is the most brief, often excluding details. He isn't lazy or uninformed, and we don't need to supplement him with Matthew or Luke. We need to balance studying just Mark, with understanding its place within the entire biblical narrative.

Then we discussed John the Baptist a bit, since Mark begins with him (no birth of Jesus narrative in Mark!). As a bit of a sidebar, I had them read Mt 3:11 and Lk 3:16, where John the Baptist speaks of Jesus baptizing with the Holy Spirit and with fire, symbolizing salvation and judgment. Then, in Mark 1:8, he only mentions the Holy Spirit, not "et le feu." I teased with them a bit that Mark had forgotten "et le feu," and they seemed genuinely concerned. But no, Mark, writing to persecuted Christians in Rome (probably) had a pastoral reason for emphasizing God's promised blessing of the Holy Spirit.

Anyway, they had great questions, and usually quite practical. That was often my favorite part, being able to answer them. Maybe a third of them understand enough English to follow me without a translator, so several asked me questions during breaks, too.

The main exegetical principle of the day was simply: Scripture interprets Scripture. For instance, how Matthew interprets Hosea must be the correct interpretation of Hosea. We looked at Exodus 4:22, Hosea 11:1, and Matthew 2:14-15 as an illustration. Hosea seems to be a historical recap of Exodus, but Matthew interprets it as prophecy. Is Hosea writing about historical Israel of Moses' day, or about Jesus? Answer: both! But we can't guess at a prophet's intent, whereas the New Testament speaks authoritatively.

After class, we had lunch and then I spent a few hours in my room, reviewing the day and thinking about the next. While Alex taught, I used the nearly-empty library to prepare for tomorrow's class. I caught the last twenty minutes of Alex's class, and we went to dinner almost right away. By then, I was so sticky, sweaty, grubby that I took a shower and turned the a/c on in my room. I video-called my wife, read a little, and soon I will try to get some sleep (2, 6, and 5 hours the last three nights).

While I sat in back of Alex's class, I was thinking about how sticky sweaty hot I was, could really go for a cheeseburger, missed my family, and for all intents and purposes was confined to about a 150-yard radius for two weeks. And yet, I felt immensely comfortable and happy and satisfied, being a part of God's work among God's people.
Kevin Sheahan

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