|Goma is an curious city. It sits at the north-most end of Lake Kivu, a 120-mile long lake. People wanting to travel from Bukavu (on the southern tip of the lake) to Goma need only hop on any number of ferries that will float them up the lake. Tickets range fro $10 to $30, depending on how crammed you want to be. The $10 tickets feature standing-room-only passage, where American passengers unused to up-close and personal travel accommodations immediately wish they were in a sardine can instead.
Several years ago, the volcano just north of Goma erupted, sending lava streaming down almost every street in Goma. The lava flow formed 3 main forks as it worked its way through the city streets, and multi-story buildings that survived the disaster in their front yards basically shut off their first floor and started using their 2nd floor as a first floor. The citizens ran for the highest hill in the area and prayed nothing worse would happen while they watched lava flow past them and into Lake Kivu. The hill they escaped to sits almost in front of the school for the deaf, so we got to hear interesting stories about how there were tens of thousands of people on the hill, sweating in the rising heat and smoke, praying that they wouldn’t die. Pretty frightening.
After checking a few hotels, we finally settled on the Amazon House, a $30/night facility that had a lovely courtyard and private bathrooms. The 3-gallon bucket in the bathtub was to compensate for the fact that the toilets didn’t flush, and if you notified the staff, they’d bring a bucket of hot water each morning. The beds were little more than sheets and a blanket covering a foam mattresses on a wooden bed frame. The morning staff started bright and early, playing loud music while they worked. The evening staff was louder. At least they had a lovely courtyard and cabana.
During the middle of the week, we moved to a missionary’s home. They were on furlough, and it was quite a treat to stay in their home. Hot water from the faucets! Flush-able toilets! Stove! A dinner table. Even a well-maintained courtyard! Almost like heaven! We didn’t even mind that the washer and dryer didn’t work and the electricity was less-than reliable. The fact that their Internet service was reasonably speedy more than made up for it!
Although we were told to expect 50 participants, we had over 60, 20 of whom were in the evangelist class. With almost 20 more people than last year’s conference, I thought it was a pretty impressive turnout! The attendees came in from Gisenyi, Butembo, Bukavu, Uvira, Rutshuru, and Kigali (in the neighboring country of Rwanda). Hats off to Luanda for the planning that pulled in the people from new cities.
I really enjoyed the teaching sessions, and everyone did a pretty good job. We all have different teaching styles, and that’s a good thing, because the audience had a fairly wide range of language skills. Average education was probably somewhere around 8th-12th grade (in Congo terms - In the US, this would probably translate more to about 6th – 9th). There was a delegation 3 guys from Rutshuru that I just could not understand for the life of me. Their signs were fairly different than mine, and I can only assume they also had a hard time understanding me. That might explain their blank looks the first few days. I felt badly for them. They made some comments about the deaf school in their area being sub-par. I got the impression that they didn’t really know many of the rest of the attendees, but by the last day of the conference, everyone was getting along very well.
The best part of the conference is always the Q&A. That’s where the nuts and bolts finally make good connection and things come together. It’s easy for rabbit trails to pop up, but since these are issues on their minds, I don’t mind fielding the questions. I always made a big point of saying that any time I would tell them something, if I didn’t give them a reference for where that idea came from, they should question me and hold my feet to the fire. Same for any other teacher any other place. There are too many false teachers and bad interpreters in the world, so as listeners, we should always be skeptical of any new teaching we hear. While that made sense to them, it was also obvious that they weren’t frequently challenged to be Bereans. Not good. Because I don’t possess an encyclopedia-like brain (like some of my spiritual mentors do), I had to keep my laptop at the pulpit, looking up verses in my digital Bible, The Word (an excellent, free digital Bible - download a free copy at www.TheWord.net).
Their questions ran the gamut and then some:
Remember - all those questions have to be answered with Scripture, and explained in light of those Scripture passages! Fun times!!
At one particularly interesting juncture, a visiting school director (he only attended 2 of the sessions) invited himself up to the front the room to answer a question posed by one of the attendees. He explained that the mind of God is too mysterious for us to understand, that we should mind our places and shouldn’t insult Him with our inquiries. After thanking everyone, he went and sat down. From the back of the class, a hand shot up: “Where in the Bible do you find that answer?!”
I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. It was an important question to ask, but in fairness, I had to explain to the visiting director that I had been impressing this on their minds all week long: all answers have to have references, and answers without references should be held suspect. Unused to the notion, he looked a little surprised as he started flipping through his Bible. Since I’m not a cruel guy (not usually, anyway ), I wrote out Isaiah 55:8-9 on the board and explained it - and then explained that v6-7 precede v8-9, and where God gives answers, we need to not only be aware of them, but also be obedient to them, so we need to hold both ideas in careful tension. About 15 minutes later, the director brought Deut 29:29 to my attention, so I added it to the board. It was a good lesson all the way around.
The Evangelist Class was a special treat. I brought extras of the ~30 pages of handouts and worksheets, but that wasn’t enough. And it certainly didn’t help that despite my planning and Yves Besso’s translation work (he’s the director of our school in Chad), 4 of the attendees didn’t know French. I wasn’t expecting that. They’ll be getting emails of the English versions of the handouts.
If there’s a good way to do long-distance discipleship with deaf people, I’d love to know how. In the mean time, the best I can think of is to give worksheets on the topics in question, and give them several weeks to work through the material, and we can work out various questions and issues via e-mail. Nowhere as good as being there, but since ‘being there’ isn’t an option at this time, this unhappy solution will have to do for now. Pray that things change in this regard.
The last day of the week-long conference finally came around, and as usual, it was quite bitter sweet. The days had been long, and we were tired, but I hate goodbyes and the deaf are such an endearing bunch with their questions and passion for God’s Word. It’s hard to leave an environment where people are so aggressive about their Spiritual starvation.
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