earthen vessels, East Africa, and the gospel
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Challenges in Training Teachers

Since Bible Institute enrollment is growing and we continue adding new courses, there is a need to spread out the teaching load. Tanzanian pastors are stepping up to bear that load. Indeed the best reason to involve them is our desire to see Tanzanians discipling Tanzanians. While they are making tremendous progress, the effort has uncovered some challenges we didn’t anticipate.

Learning Curve for Bible Teachers

There is, after all, a steep learning curve for anyone who endeavors to teach Scripture. In this case, a teacher is being asked to stand in front of a group of people for hours at a time and help others understand what Scripture says about their lives. In my first full day of teaching in Swahili, the students scraped me off the ground at the end of the day. While our co-teachers don’t suffer from language barriers, they come up against other obstacles in the learning curve.

The best teachers are able to gauge whether or not the students are getting it. But the common pedagogical model throughout most of Africa is rote memorization: the students get it when they can spit the given answer back to the teacher. Life, of course, doesn’t always give us questions in the form we get in the classroom. We are trying something different, but that means the co-teachers are being asked to do something that they’ve never seen anywhere else.

Mind The Literacy Gap

This year each of the four first-year courses has involved teaching students and teaching teachers. We’re translating the teacher’s notes for the co-teachers and giving them time to prepare. Many of their questions to us about those notes are seeking clarification about classroom activities. But many others are about something most of us take for granted: punctuation.

Do you remember when you learned how to make an outline and what indentation means? Or when you learned how to use headings, ellipses, and tables? What about footnotes and parentheses? Do you still remember what makes a good paragraph?

It shouldn’t surprise us that our friends haven’t learned and nor do they use many of these literary conventions. They are certainly able to form an argument, but they have no need to outline it. Unlike builders, shop owners, and other skilled workers, subsistence farmers like the pastors we serve have little need to use lists and tables.

How Did Jesus and Paul Do It?

It’s been pointed out before when the power goes out or the internet fails, that Jesus didn’t need electricity, cars, internet and many other things we can’t live without. Likewise, His disciples didn’t use outlines or footnotes. Yet, as uneducated fishermen, they managed to turn the world upside down.

There is no doubt that God is able to do great things through these pastors as they are. The question we are still asking ourselves is, how much literacy do they need in order to be effective Bible teachers?

This month we teach the first class to a new group of institute students. The pastors will be taking the greatest portion of teaching thus far. Some of us will be called students, but all of us will be learning.

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