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.