I write this as I sit in the mission house after my first day of teaching at Christ the King Lutheran Seminary in Uruk Uso, Nigeria. By mission house, I mean the home built for the American missionaries our church body used to send here to work among the Nigerians sharing the Gospel. That started 78 years ago.
But that’s not possible anymore. Now, we only visit, on rotation. And instead of working door-to-door and person-to-person, we are training the next generation of Nigerian pastors to hold to the truth of all the Scriptures. So here I am. The weather isn’t too bad. It’s the rainy season, so the temperature hasn’t gotten much higher than the mid-80s, although it has been thick. There is no air conditioning, and the fans can run only when the power is on (the generator runs three hours each day from 7–10 p.m.), but it certainly isn’t oppressive. We just have to remember to plug in all the electronics we brought on the trip while the generator runs, hoping the charge lasts until the next evening.
Our students don’t have to worry about such things. My partner gave them all new pens as he began his lesson today, and you would have thought they were opening up new iPads. The simple things bring the greatest joys.
There are 12 students in the seminary, all currently serving a congregation as "evangelists," here to continue their training and hone their craft, with the goal of being ordained as official pastors. The elderly Nigerian pastor who teaches when we are not here also sits in to make sure we are teaching the truth. Thank God for that passion to hold onto the Word!
The seminary day began for me when I heard the 4:15 a.m. bell from the nearby church, a call to a prayer service they hold on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to get their day started right. I wonder how many of my members in Covington would show up — no matter how many times I rang a bell.
Anyway, we then noticed the students taking care of their various tasks, including sweeping the dirt exercise track in front of the buildings with palm branches. It’s amazing how clean they made the dirt look. We showed up for breakfast in the dining room of the mission house and then headed over to the classroom. The day started with chapel, a prayer and then a rousing rendition of "Rock of Ages."
There were only 15 people in the room, but they blasted it — all singing at the top of their lungs. God’s name was certainly praised. Who cares that they were using hymnals published in 1941 (they looked like they were proabably original copies)? Who cares that that English is, at best, a second language for all of them? Who cares that the room looked like it came out of "Little House on the Prairie"? There were 12 student desks, which means a couple of the students had to share a seat built for one. They didn’t seem to mind. A blackboard (no, not a smartboard or whiteboard — real chalk and a sack of sand for an eraser), and whatever books we brought for them. And they loved it.
After chapel, I was up. I taught the introduction to the Augsburg Confession and its Defense (The Apology), as a way to cover the basic doctrines of what God’s Word teaches. The Augsburg Confession is a confession of what Lutherans believe because it is what God’s Word says. It was written in response to false teachings that were going on in the church of the day — and so clearly distinguishes between truth and error, constantly going back to Scripture for proof. We teach it to help train our future pastors to recognize the dangers of false teachings and to make sure they are able to clearly confess what they believe and why. Class went pretty well. I had given them all reading material and an assignment for the first day, and I think just about all of them had completed the work. We had some great discussion, and I think they got it. They loved the pictures our Sunday School students sent to them and are excited about learning. Following my class, my partner taught his course, and the teaching day came to a close.
We have to end before the mid-afternoon heat gets too unbearable, and so the students have some time to prepare their main meal of the day. There are chickens and a garden here on campus. We’ll gather again in evenings for more informal talks — answering whatever questions they may have.
I marveled on Sunday that they were happy to be at church for five or six hours and didn’t consider it a burden to get up at 4:15 a.m. for the prayer service. That same hunger for the Word showed itself here. When I asked for a volunteer to read a Bible passage, they were fighting for the honor.
I’m looking forward to three more weeks of this. I’ll keep you posted. And if you want to see pictures of any of this, make sure you are at Abiding Grace for Bible study hour on Sept. 29 at 9:15 a.m. In the meantime, remember what it’s all about — the passage that is written in chalk all over the seminary room walls: "Preach the Gospel!"
That’s what it’s all about. That’s why I’m here … that more and more people come to know and understand that God loves them so much that he sent His Son Jesus to be their substitute, their Savior, their peace.
God’s blessings to you from Nigeria!
The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 8 and 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at abidinggrace.com.