Thursday, April 19, 2007


Four months after we arrived in Serti I started teaching at the Bible school located next to the church. I was not just the teacher – I was the Director!
Imagine this: students go to school here for three years. Most of them can hardly read, and know nothing about the Bible. After three years they are sent into villages to plant churches.

(Most of us don’t realize, here in the rich, well-educated West, that by far the most church leaders in the world have not enjoyed good theological training. In my cynical moments I think: high quality theological education has not really helped our culture remain Christian, has it? But that’s another topic.)

My colleague was Yakubu Mai Tadi (Jacob the Joyful). He was 10 years older than me and had been a teacher there for some time. He was a very friendly man, and we got along well. I think that he faced enormous pressures from family and tribe because he was one of the few with a fixed income.
I tell you that to tell you this:
In the summer of 1979 the Nigerian government decided to change the bills in Nigeria in order to do something about corruption. Before the end of t
he year everyone was to turn in his or her old money and exchange it for new money.
There were no banks in the district around us. People had to drive 100 miles to the nearest bank to change their money. It was very costly for poor people.
We decided to help the people in our district. They could give their money to us, we would exchange it. I didn’t have enough money on hand to provide for the whole district, so I developed a system of receipts. I took the old money in, wrote a receipt with 2 copies, and people could come back later with the receipt and pick up their money. It worked perfectly. Hundreds of people came with old, shrivelled money that had been in mattresses, underwear, and probably many other unmentionable places. I tried not to think about that as I counted the money.

In October we went on furlough. I was not able to finish the job. My replacement was a young pilot with his family, who would live in our house to learn the language. I explained everything to him, and left things in good hands.
When I came back six months later, he told me that everything had worked fine. No problem, as Nigerians say. I was pleased.

After a month or so I noticed that people from villages in the bush were coming to me asking for their money. When I asked for their receipt, they couldn’t show one. It was then impossible for me to give them money. But I found that strange and difficult, because it was obvious that these people had spent money to come long distances, and were really disappointed when they went away empty handed.
But there was nothing I could do, and after a while people stopped coming.

Months later I was going somewhere in the car with the pastor with whom I worked. I don’t know exactly how we got on the topic, but he informed me that people in the surrounding villages – that we were trying to reach with the gospel – were angry at me because I had cheated them. They really thought I was a crook.
Finally I heard how things had gone. Yakubu, my colleague, had gone to the bush villages and offered to help the people there by collecting their receipts, picking up the money and returning it to the people. The advantages were that people could save travel expenses, and, because Yakubu knew the Bature (white man), it would be a simple process.
By now you have guessed it: Yakubu turned in the receipts all at once to my (inexperienced) colleague, and never returned to the villages with the money. When he was called on the carpet, he insinuated that I was the problem.
I honestly do not remember what happened be
tween me and Yakubu after that event. My mind draws a blank. As far as I remember, he stayed on as teacher in that school, and as elder in the church.
Since that time, whenever I have been the recipient of criticism that is not accurate, I think to myself: been there, done that.

This is a picture of the first class at the Bible School that I taught. Nigerians don’t laugh on pictures. I wasn’t laughing much during those years either, so that was not hard for me. Yakubu is sitting left of me next to the young lady.

(Note: this is the fifth in a series of blogs around the 30-year anniversary of our departure for Nigeria. The blogs can be found under the label "Anniversary". Click here for the first one.)

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