16 September 2011

Teaching in South Africa, part 1

So I woke up yesterday morning and found myself in South Africa, on the other side of the world, in the southern hemisphere, in Pretoria (Tshwane), to be exact. What a whirlwind of activity - combined with long hours on a plane - that brought me here!

On 31 August, Rev. Dr. Al Collver, Assistant to LCMS President Matthew Harrison, called me up and asked if I would be willing to travel to South Africa and teach a class on Luther's Catechisms at Lutheran Theological Seminary Tshwane, the seminary of the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa. A matter of church relations necessitated them finding teacher different from the one originally scheduled for this class. After some initial praying, pondering, and planning, a unanimous blessing given by the Board of Elders at my congregation, and gracious support from many members at Hope, St. Louis, the decision was made. Yes, I would be happy to travel to South Africa to teach one of my beloved and "specialty" topics: Luther's Catechisms.

Flag of South Africa
Time for departure came on Tuesday, 13 September. My dear wife had to drop me off at the airport early, so that she could get to work at a decent time. I lounged at the airport, sipped some Starbucks, went through TSA security check (nope, no full-body scans or pat downs), and then traveled to Atlanta. Once there, I had to journey all the way across the Hartfield Airport, pretty much from one corner of the rectangle diagonally to the opposite corner. But since I had plenty of time - and plenty of hours of sitting yet to come - the walk would do me good. Finally, between 7:30 and 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, the international flight ensued. It would take sixteen hours ... including sitting in a middle seat, watching a few movies, enduring an aching backside, and getting precious little sleep ... and then I would arrive in Johannesburg, South Africa, at about 5:15 p.m. (local time) on Wednesday, 14 September (Holy Cross Day).

After the usual passport, collection of checked bag, and customs routines, I finally made my way to the new Gautrain, a high speed rail, for the final leg to Pretoria. That train is quite a nice ride, even if it did mean more sitting and traveling. The seminary student assigned to pick me up was there in Hatfield (in Pretoria), with a fellow student, and then we took the short drive to the guest house at Lutheran Theological Seminary.

Segoe Guest House
The LTS provides nice accommodations in the Segoe Guest House, and it's fabulous to have two other American guests here as well--Ginger and Zeal, LCMS missionaries en route to service elsewhere, but for a few weeks serving here at LTS, assisting the secretary with various odd jobs.

After a night of restful sleep (the SA climate and cool nights must be agreeing with me as we head into Spring here), I began teaching on Thursday, 15 September. The class of seven students (two more to join later) proves to be very interested in learning God's Word and, specifically, how to teach the Catechism when they reach their future congregations. Now if they can just get their American teacher to pronounce their names correctly!

LHF Hall (Classroom)
On the first day of class, we began with rehearsing the Catechism itself--the texts of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer. Then we read together the little editor's introduction to Luther's Catechisms in Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. The students enjoyed learning the roots and meanings of words such as catechism, catechumen, and catechesis. We also learned and discussed why Luther kept and rearranged the three parts of Christian teaching--the Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer--and thus cleared the Catechism of much medieval clutter. And, finally, we discovered together Luther's great pedagogical insights for teaching the Catechism: first, pick a text and stick with it; second, teach the meaning, again with a fixed text; and third, bring in the Large Catechism for deeper meaning and applying the Catechism to various needs. Not only was I pleased with a first full day of class sessions, but the greatest delight came in hearing one student say, "I think I understand the Catechism better now." And we've only just begun!

St. Timothy Church
The worship life at LTS is a great blessing for the community. Each week day Matins is prayed together at 10:00 a.m. and Vespers at 6:00 p.m. Students lead the liturgy, and pastors/professors preach the sermon. It is truly an amazing thing to behold--African brothers and sisters eagerly singing and praying God's Word, a la Lutheran Service Book, and thus showing the great catholicity of the Church's worship and hearing the Gospel boldly and clearly proclaimed.

The Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Weber, Bishop of LCSA and Rector of LTS, preached at Vespers on 15 September. After the service the good bishop invited me to his home for a delicious dinner, cooked by his gracious wife Angelika, and some great conversation. After returning to the guest house at about 9:00 p.m., my first full day in South Africa was complete.

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