The past five days I engaged the primary purpose for my visit to Kenya, namely to teach THE GOSPEL OF JOHN in the Global Field Evangelism Bible School. For thirty hours this week I walked forty-two students through the entire GOSPEL.
The class was composed of men and women varying in age from nineteen to sixty-three. They are church planters, veteran pastors, young evangelists, youth workers and even a few new believers. They represent several African tribes.
Most come from western Kenya, but one pastor traveled more than four hundred miles from the Mount Kenya area. Two came from Tanzania. One from Uganda.
Most are poor–some living in breath-takingly difficult economic circumstances. As the week concluded, half were still struggling to pay the US $12.50 school registration fee.
But they all came with a serious desire to study the Bible and to get to know Jesus better. As students go, these folks are bright, inquisitive, responsive and quick to learn.
The stated course objectives were three:
- Offer an academic introduction and overview of the GOSPEL OF JOHN,
- Introduce the students to the JESUS WHO IS, and
- Provide an environment in which each one might have a fresh, deeper EXPERIENCE with the resurrected JESUS WHO IS.
The study of an entire book of the Bible is a departure from “sound bite teaching” so common in many Kenyan churches and—well–in many America churches, too.
Engaging an entire GOSPEL provides the opportunity to grasp the continuity of what God did in Christ, to see a clearer picture of the JESUS WHO IS and to more accurately understand the one and only apostolic Gospel that flows from him.
I must confess the task was daunting.
The fourth quarter just past is my profession’s busiest season of the year. My travel and work schedule provided little uninterrupted time for study from mid-September until I got on the airplane December 28th.
But finding study time was less the issue than determining how to compress a thirty-eight year personal relationship with JOHN and his GOSPEL into 15 English-teaching hours (30 with Swahili translation). In the end, what do you leave out?
And even beyond that challenge was that of discerning how to teach and conduct the class in such a manner that Jesus would have complete freedom to walk among the students while I taught: speaking to them by his Spirit–touching their hearts—healing their wounds—lifting their vision.
Could I teach this class in such a way that spiritual transformation would give life to academic information and result in a new degree of spiritual formation?
The week began in the midst of a major cultural distraction.
The school year in Africa runs January to December. So as the week began, everyone with children was preoccupied with the annual opening of school.
That is no small preoccupation. The logistics of preschool through high school in Kenya resemble those of sending a child off to university in America.
Parents scramble to find an adequate school for each of their children. They must first find a school willing to accept an application for their child, then slog through a laborious, time-consuming admission process. Most parents apply to multiple schools for each child hoping one available seat will be there on the first day of school.
And then there are the school fees.
Public and private schools in Kenya are not free. They charge tuition and fees like colleges in America. Most high schools are boarding schools (a reflection of British educational culture) and consequently quite expensive.
Some parents—especially those with three, four or more school-aged children–were faced this week with mandatory annual school fees equal to or greater than their annual family income! If I had had a spare $50,000 I could have easily dispersed that amount in short order to help with school fees.
So we started the class amidst the annual educational crisis, but as the week progressed, the students’ focus gradually shifted from family survival to spiritual and ministry formation.
Language is always a challenge.
Most in the class speak fluently their tribal language as primary,
then Swahili as a second language, then English as their school language.
Those who could pay the school fees through high school are very comfortable in English—those who made it through Standard 7 handle basic conversational English well enough—those without much formal education depend almost totally on interpretation.
Our class was blessed with several excellent interpreters. The daily six-hour teaching blitz tended to wear them out, so they translated in shifts.
I enjoy teaching with good translators. I’m able to fashion each statement while the
preceding one is being translated, and for bi-lingual students the double presentation of each thought has a strong re-enforcing effect.
We began with JOHN’S purpose—answer two questions:
- WHO is the real JESUS? and
- WHY does the correct answer to that question MATTER?
I’ll slip you the answers up front.
- The GOSPEL OF JOHN was written “…so that you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God…” and
- That in believing “…you may have LIFE in his name.” (20:31) Authentic GOD-Life now and forever.
But simply providing someone with the answers to the two questions does not guarantee that this revolutionary truth will sink into their heart—sink into their heart to produce the eternal transformation so necessary for a soul to move from Death to Life.
No, there must be a fuller introduction to the JESUS WHO IS and an opportunity for the
Spirit of Jesus to accomplish his unique, super-natural work within the thoughts, spirit and heart of each person.
So we plunged into our study.