“There is always something new to learn from the Bible”

Here I am with the clergy of the Diocese of Aweil at the end of a two-day clergy conference I led last week.

That’s right. Me. I taught 50-odd priests about the Bible for two days.

At first glance, it might seem odd that a seminarian would be teaching clergy. But many clergy here are not well educated. (One of my classmates at Yale was flabbergasted to learn that a person could be ordained a priest in parts of the Anglican Communion without an M.Div. Welcome to Aweil.) As a result, they are hungry to be taught. It really is amazing, actually, just how eager they are. It’s a helpful reminder to me – and one I won’t soon forget – that my education is a true privilege and not something I should take for granted.

I structured my teaching by asking the questions, “What is the church?” and “What kind of leaders does the church need?” Obviously, there was a lot more meat to those bones but if you want to hear the content of the teaching, well, you’ll just have to invite me to your clergy conference…

Everything I did was Biblically-grounded. In fact, my teaching was basically two days of Biblical exposition. (I’ve written before about why this is important in Africa.) At the end of the first day, one priest, who has been ordained 22 years, came up to me and said, “Thank you. You have reminded me that there is always something new to learn from the Bible.”

In my living and traveling through Africa – and other parts of the developing world – I am always asking myself what my role is in response to what I see. What can I give? This is not an easy question to answer. As I’ve found in the past, giving stuff and giving money are not ideal solutions. For various reasons, they make me uncomfortable and are of questionable effectiveness.

But I have been thinking again and again this summer that sharing knowledge is one thing I can give without any serious qualms or doubts. People here want it – desperately – and I have it to give. So it was a delight to spend the time with the clergy of Aweil, though more than a little exhausting. Teaching for two straight days really takes it out of you!

The real question I have at the end of this conference is this: where is everyone else? There are clergy across Africa who are desperate for learning. Where are the people with education to help them out? Where are the Americans, Canadians, British, etc. who are willing to help our brothers and sisters in Christ out? Why do the clergy of Aweil have to be taught by an inexperienced seminarian and not, say, a cathedral dean or the rector of a cardinal parish with years of preaching and teaching under their belt? I met Bishop Moses Deng of Wau and within 32 seconds of meeting me – I mean that almost literally – he wanted to know when I could come back and teach his clergy as a first step in starting a Bible school.

My teaching was not in any way “conservative” or Biblically fundamentalist, which, according to some stereotypes, is all Africans know. Nor did our differences on some questions of sexuality pose any kind of obstacle. My teaching was the sort of thing you hear in mainline denominations in the U.S. – and people ate it up. Is the African church “conservative” because it’s an accurate reflection of where they are as a church? Or because that’s who their foreign influences are?

Not for the first time on my summer travels, I found myself lamenting the mainline Christian retreat from the world church. It is at our own peril.

As every good teacher knows, hand motions are key. I was glad my translator got in on the act as well.

6 thoughts on ““There is always something new to learn from the Bible”

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