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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.

Field Notes   Togo April 2017, ESBTAO School

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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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