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Standing with the BWST Class of 2021 at the start of their fourth semester

Spring Semester 2019 is in the Books!


On May 24, the United Methodist University Bishop Wenner School of Theology (BWST) completed its fourth semester in existence.  Our students sat exams in six subjects, including Church Administration and Value Based Leadership, History of Christianity in Africa, Church Ministry in Education, and Systematic Theology II. I arrived midway through our first semester in the fall of 2017 and have been lecturing since the start of our second semester in February 2018.


Homiletics Class

This semester I taught Homiletics (The Art of Preaching).  It was both very challenging and very rewarding.  I learned how to isolate the core of what I’ve learned in my 10 years as preacher as to what makes preaching successful.  My simple rules for preaching are pretty easy: 
  1. Give them meat
  2. Don’t be boring! 
I both started and ended the semester convinced that following these two rules will make you a successful preacher.  However, once you get down to the details, it gets a lot more involved.  

It was confirmed to me that no matter how much theory you teach, the best way to learn how to preach is by doing it. Thus, each of my students were given three opportunities to preach.  I even sat through a set of 5-minutes sermons that I didn’t understand at all as the students were required to preach in a language other than English!  There were sermons preached in the local tribal ethnic languages of Kono, Temne, Mende, Krio, and French.  Over the course of three sermons preached, I was so so proud to watch each of them step up to the plate, claim their own pastoral voice, and often really succeed.  They worked hard this semester.  And for me, it is a real pleasure to teach what I love so much.

 

Why This Matters

The dream of the UMU is to provide education that is steeped in the values of excellence, integrity, and service.  When corruption so often rules the day and our students live in a society where it is often hard to catch a vision of a better world for all, modeling principled leadership that strives toward these three values is truly Kingdom-building work.  There is more suffering in Sierra Leone than any people should have to endure due to lack of jobs and low wages.  This place needs people who can not only catch the vision of enough for all, but can also dream new dreams and communicate those dreams well.  We’re playing the long game here with the hope, the dream, the expectation that when we teach important things with excellence, integrity, and service, our students will follow that example and lead in the same spirit.  We’re growing a new generation of leaders so that tomorrow will be better than today.  

For me, my conviction this semester was that if my students can preach effectively, by the power of God’s spirit, new life will follow.  God’s word creates.  It speaks new life into existence.  When we work hard and allow that word to be spoken well through us as vessels, the world changes.  This is the redeeming and restoring God that we follow.  And in this way teaching good preaching is an investment in the restoration of Sierra Leone.

What Does a Chicken Say?


Did you know that in Sierra Leone, the roosters don’t say cocka-doodle-doo?  They say “Coco-rio-ko”.  The first time that I learned that what the animals “say” is language and culture specific, I was learning Spanish in high school.  In real life, the animals all sound the same.  But our ears hear the sound in our own language.  In Spanish, a rooster says “kiri-kiri-ki”.  And in Salone, “Cocorioko”.  It works best if you tilt your head back, belt it long and loud, and hold out the last “ko”: “Coco-rio-kooooooh, coco-rio-kooooooh”.

I learned this a few weeks ago when I visited a friend’s new restaurant in Freetown.  My friend Benny works for an investment firm in the UK that is working to help strengthen the private sector here in Sierra Leone.  They recently invested in a chicken farm and then invested in the opening of a restaurant called Chicken Town.  When you go in there, it feels like a mix between home and Salone.  It makes a point to really celebrate Sierra Leone’s rich culture.  This mural of the rooster’s crow takes up the whole wall!

A Student’s New Outlook

One of the most rich and gratifying elements in my work is watching my students see in new ways because of the things they are learning.  Each of my students grow in different ways, but it has been a special pleasure to watch Tamba Kaingbanja transforming into such a strong leader.  

Tamba is from a little village in the Kono District of Sierra Leone where the Kono tribal ethnic group comes from. To get to his village, you have to drive the six hours from Freetown east to Koidu Town, and then from there it takes about an hour and half to drive the twelve miles into the bush to get to his village. The roads aren’t so great out that way. Tamba makes this trip in reverse to get to Freetown for studies at the UMU and once again to get back to see his wife and small daughter when he can.  

Currently, Tamba is on study leave for his degree work at BWST. But when he’s not on leave, he is the Head Teacher (Principal) of his village school. It took me no time to realize that he is a very capable, intelligent, thoughtful person of faith. He’s a creative that speaks four languages. He is a free-thinking person who questions the status quo and dreams that his young daughter will be bishop some day. The other students call him The Philosopher.

At the end of every semester, the BW School of Theology holds a program in which academic papers are presented on a particular subject. Part of the fundamental aim of the University is to increase and amplify indigenous scholarship in Sierra Leone. Last December at the end of the Fall Semester, three of our lecturers (including myself) presented papers on the topic of Christ in Culture. This study of intercultural theology began on the first day with Models of Contextual Theology presented by our Vice Chancellor Rev. Dr. George Carew. The next day, I presented on the topic of Incarnation and the Body of Christ. And finally we closed with the topic Jesus the Supra-Ancestor wherein Rev. Dr. Joseph Moiba contextualized Christ within the West African understanding of respect and connect with those who have gone before.

My paper taught on the incarnational nature of Christ—that God through Christ incarnates into culture, time, space, and language. Historically speaking Christ incarnated in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Since that time, Christ incarnates in all places, all languages, all times through the culturally-embedded individuals that make up the Body of Christ. During the presentation, I focused particularly on how the authentic faith expressions of Sierra Leoneans have authority because Christ is here already incarnate in them…through their own culture and language. 

During our discussion after the presentation, Tamba raised his hand and said words that I will never forget. Let me paraphrase. He said, “I always thought that my people couldn’t do what other people could do. That we were somehow lesser. But now I feel like I can go home and encourage my people to worship the Kono way. I want them to write songs in Kono and use our instruments and say our prayers in Kono. Because God blesses and receives that too.”

One of the legacies of colonialism as I see it is the erosion of the confidence of colonized people. They were taught to not trust the wisdom and capacity of their own people. What I sometimes see now is a sort of crisis of confidence, this idea that they are not capable of facing their own challenges without the help of outsiders. Tamba Kaingbanja is part of all our efforts to create a new legacy going forward. It is a legacy that honors what came before, a legacy that equips and empowers leaders to trust their own God-given intelligence and resilience, a legacy that dreams of a new future in which Sierra Leoneans know their worth and lead with integrity in Jesus’ name.

We Need Your Help!!

You can make that legacy of a brighter future a reality in the life of a Sierra Leonean.  What I love about the Body of Christ is that even from across the world, we step up for each other.  By giving to the Missionary Katie Meek Education Fund, you can be a part of creating that new future for Sierra Leone.
 

P.S...

Last April, Tamba and his wife Grace named their daughter after me.  Her name is "Reverend Katherine Meek Kaingbanja".  You can read that story here.
Rev. Katie Meek
Missionary, Global Ministries
United Methodist Congregational Development & Educational Coordinator
Freetown, Sierra Leone
Advance #3022393 (Bio)

 
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