June 3, 2009

3 June 2009

I (Stephanie) have been so immersed in work at the Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology (NEGST) that I looked up and suddenly it was June. Somehow all of May passed me by without writing to you—my apologies! Bill says I must have been really immersed in the class prep I was doing at home this past Saturday, because when he got back from grocery shopping he discovered banana peels on the floor by our bedroom window and realized that monkeys had come in the house while he was gone and stolen the ripe bananas from the kitchen counter and I didn’t even notice.

I’m teaching two courses for NEGST this term, both of them on Greek exegesis, one focusing on Ephesians and the other on Greek narrative (we’re doing Synoptic Gospels and a bit of the Septuagint as well). The narrative course is part of NEGST’s extension program and meets two nights a week at the Anglican cathedral in Nairobi’s city centre. This means traveling a hour through rush hour traffic every Tuesday and Friday night, teaching for three hours to tired people who often arrive late from work, then another 30- to 45-minute ride to reach home by about 9:30. As you can probably tell, my enthusiasm for this commute is minimal! But I do realize that bringing theological education to where God’s people actually are is important, so I’m taking a turn teaching in this program. My extension students include a high court judge, a missionary from Singapore, a retired engineer, several pastors, and a mother of very young children (she brings the new baby to class with her). Meanwhile, in my on-campus course I’ve had the same group of ten second-year-Greek students for three terms in a row, and I must say I’m feeling a good deal of satisfaction at how much their Greek skills have improved. I think a couple of them could do PhD work at this point, and five or six more will be able to use Greek quite effectively in preaching and teaching. The other two just basically struggle with Greek, but I concede that that’s no real reflection on their calling to ministry!

After teaching three heavy courses last term, Bill’s appreciating having just one this term, even if it is four hours of Systematic Theology every Monday morning. The focus of this term’s theology curriculum is ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) and eschatology (the end times). Bill enjoys the opportunity to challenge students’ preconceived ideas on such controversial topics as forms of church leadership, the sacraments, women in ministry, the ‘last days’, etc. It’s true that most of our African students (like most of us elsewhere) have never asked themselves why they believe certain things or how those beliefs and assumptions match up with the biblical texts and the global history of Christian interpretation of those texts. Fortunately we have quite bright students at NEGST and they say they’re actually grateful for the challenge to think through these issues for themselves. Bill’s also appreciated having some extra time this term to do some reading and writing of his own, and he’s been busy organizing the logistics for our upcoming furlough (see below).

Because I’ve been so busy at NEGST recently, I’ve been somewhat ignoring my other job as accreditation officer for the Accrediting Council for Theological Education in Africa (ACTEA). Since I did big projects for ACTEA in Nigeria in February and in Ethiopia and Kenya in March, I haven’t needed to do any traveling in April or May, so it’s been a good time to catch up with things here. But now the pendulum is swinging again, and I need to make short trips this month to Zimbabwe (7-10 June) and Zambia (15-17 June). Fortunately I do like to travel. I haven’t yet become too blasée to relish the idea that next Monday I’ll be in Zimbabwe, the following Monday I’ll be in Zambia, the following Monday in the UK, and the Monday after that in the US of A—love it! I’ve never been to Zimbabwe, so I’m especially interested to see that situation first-hand.

            Then on 22 June, Bill and I will finish our first academic year in Kenya and board a plane for our biannual ‘home assignment’ (furlough). We’ll spend a week in Cambridge visiting friends and our supporting church there, and then head to the US for July and August. Can’t wait to see you all! It’s been two years since Bill’s traveled ‘out of Africa’, as last summer he was here supervising our move from Ethiopia to Kenya while I was in the US with Linnea (now 20) and Caroline (18)—so I think he’s more than ready for a change of scenery. Once we reach the States, we’ll spend the first week or two helping Bill’s mom move from Ohio to a new house in Georgia, and then we’ll hit the road, driving up and down the mid-Atlantic coast to see as many of our supporters as possible and say ‘thank you’ for making it possible for us to be here teaching in Africa. We’ll finish with a couple of weeks’ holiday in South Carolina with Bill’s parents, before taking Linnea and Caroline (currently spending the summer with the grandparents in SC) back to the University of Virginia. Bill will hover nearby for another week to see that the girls are each well settled into their new off-campus accommodations, while I return to Africa a bit earlier in time to attend an ACTEA meeting in the Ivory Coast. Here’s our tentative schedule—let us know where we can meet up with you:

23-28 June        Cambridge, UK (St Andrew the Great C of E)
1-8 July             Cleveland, OH Athens, GA
11-12 July         Anderson, SC (Central Presbyterian Church)
16 July              Richmond, VA (luncheon @Third Presbyterian Church)
17-26 July         Virginia Beach, VA (Kempsville Pres Ch, 19 July; Grace Covenant Pres Ch, 26 July)
30 July-2 Aug    Reading, PA (First Presbyterian Church)
5-18 Aug           Hilton Head, SC (First Presbyterian Church)
21-23 Aug         Charlottesville, VA

            And finally, Bill and I would like to report that we had a glorious safari and beach holiday over the Easter break just before this term began—one of the wonderful perks of living in Kenya! Before spending the rest of week at the Indian Ocean coast south of Mombasa, we had several days at Tsavo National Park, which I think is the largest animal reserve in the world. It’s certainly big anyway. It’s about the size of Wales (or New Jersey), more than twice as big as Yellowstone. And it has LOTS of elephants. We have an old family joke, “Oh, look, it’s a wildebeest,” which reflects the fact that although we were quite excited about seeing our first wildebeest (in 1984) our ten thousandth wildebeest (about two hours later) made somewhat less of an impact. Well, Bill and I have just about decided that Tsavo elephants are the new wildebeest. We were camping in and exploring just one segment of the park, and one afternoon we drove for more than three hours and about 125 km/75 miles before we saw another human being, but we saw scores and scores of elephants. An amazing glimpse of God’s creation. I’ll include some photos below.

So that’s our news, and here is a quick summary of our prayer requests:
  • Thanksgiving for the completion of our first year in Kenya teaching biblical studies, systematic theology and church history at the Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology (NEGST)—it’s been wonderful!
  • Prayer for Stephanie’s travel to Zimbabwe (7-10 June) and Zambia (15-17 June) as part of her work as accreditation officer for the Accrediting Council for Theological Education in Africa (ACTEA).
  • Prayer for the travel and logistics involved in our upcoming ‘home assignment’ in the UK and US, 22 June-end of August—we hope to see many of you.
  • Prayer for Linnea (20) and Caroline (18) spending the summer with Bill’s parents in South Carolina and working at summer jobs there. And praise that Caroline was able to get her driver’s license in Virginia before heading to SC for the summer.
Looking forward to seeing many of you in the next few months!


for Bill, Linnea and Caroline Black

Here’s my NEGST extension class that meets on Tuesday & Friday nights at the Anglican cathedral

Our monthly NEGST Ladies Fellowship in May, bringing together women students, student & faculty wives, and staff. It was the East Africans’ (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania) turn to host

East African snacks: matoke (plantain in peanut sauce), arrowroot slices, mandazi (fried bread)

Fortuna (from Bourkina Fasso) has done a fantastic job as our chairwoman this year

Here’s our youngest attendee (with his mum):

Camping in Tsavo National Park during our Easter break

Bill pondering the view from the tent

Tsavo is known for its elephants

But there are other animals, too. This was a close encounter of the “omigosh-it’s-a-lion!” sort.

Beautiful Tsavo

We’re grateful for the good year Linnea and Caroline have had at the University of Virginia. Here’s Linnea with the two young Somali refugees she’s been mentoring as part of UVA’s student volunteer services. (She’ll be a director of this mentoring program next year.)

Caroline (far right) demonstrates the limitless versatility of missionary kids—African adventurer to Virginia belle!