Our task was mainly to train about 90 pastors. I taught biblical interpretation over four days. I began by discussing the importance of interpreting Scripture and explaining the process. Then I provided some general principles for interpretation (like paying attention to context). In the final two days I taught on interpreting specific genres of Scripture: Gospels, Letters, Parables, Law, Poetry, and Wisdom. All of this teaching was through a translator.
It can be very difficult to know if what you are teaching (in any context) is being understood by the students, but especially in a different culture and all the more when someone else is translating your words. There’s always a doubt about the accuracy of the translation (though I believe my translator did an excellent job). Finally, you never know if your illustrations make any sense in a radically different context.
As my teaching time ended, I was a little down. I just didn’t know if they understood what I was trying to communicate. On the last day we had a celebratory ceremony for the week. It included a time when the pastors would stand up and explain what they had learned during the week. While several of the pastors explained that they now understood the importance of paying close attention to context, two comments stood out. One pastor said that he had a seminary degree but never learned anything about interpreting Scripture. He was very excited to put in to practice what he had learned. Another pastor said that he had always chosen “random” verses and preached on them. Now he realized that he needs to pay attention to the context of the verses and he wanted to try preaching through books instead of selecting random verses. This was encouraging, indeed!
The location of the training was at an orphanage. While I was told that I might be asked to speak in local churches without very much warning, I had no idea that “not much warning” meant virtually ZERO warning. I was in my room on Tuesday afternoon, having finished teaching for the day. Then I heard a knock on the door. I was asked to preach to the 300 orphans. I said “Sure! When?” The man answered, “Right now.” So in two minutes I was dressed and walked outside. They immediately walked me to the open area where the orphans were singing songs. So with about a two minute notice, I preached on Ephesians 2:1–10 and the gospel, focusing on the power of God in making us alive and how that changes us at our core.
Two days later I heard the children singing songs again, so I peeked around the corner to watch them. I was spotted! One of the ministry leaders came over and asked me to deliver a message again. While I was shocked, I had prepared myself better this time. I spoke to the children on anxiety and sadness from Philippians 4:4–8. Their precious faces lit up every time I made eye contact with them. They were so adorable.
We took two trips to a local village. On the first trip (Wednesday night) we went to a nursing home/orphanage. About 30 elderly were there, along with about 20 children. I had assumed we were just going to visit. I was sitting in the front (with Tom) and the ministry leader was talking to the group. Then he looked at me and said, “Would you like to share something with them?” I took this as an invitation to preach, so I said, “Tom can go first!” Tom was fully prepared for these situations, while I was scrambling in my head to come up with something. The Lord blessed our time there, though the power did go out about 2 minutes into my message. On Friday afternoon we went back to the village to take a few pictures. While I thought it was clearly communicated that it was going to be a quick trip to get some pictures and then return to prepare for our trip home, I was mistaken again. Again we were asked to share . . . (to be continued).