It took me three days to get them to ask questions. I was starting to worry. Dani told me to be patient. Partially, they still did not believe that I wanted to be questioned, and there was some reticence about forming questions in English. This was double-dip new territory for them.
When the dam broke, the flood was positively diluvian.
We talked race, we talked tribe. Yes, they asked about gays. Much more controversially, I took a stand on birth control. A few of the boys argued against it. The girls were eyes and ears wide open. We talked about female ministry and women’s rights. We talked politics - that is serious stuff over there. Election season was in full swing with its concurrent “Isolated grenade attacks.” They talk about grenade attacks like weather. There had been some this summer but they were not considered serious. They have rankings of grenade attacks there. We were having the localized and light variety. But still, talking about politics is dangerous business.
We carefully, but seriously, assessed the problems of corruption, not only in the government but in the Yearly Meeting. We talked about Burundian Quakers in politics and about traveling with guns, and about the Peace testimony. Their assessments were truthful and merciless.
We did all this in the context of studying the Sermon on the Mount, one verse at a time, with concurrent English language instruction. These students know their Bible - better than about 90% of American Christians. Their knowledge is largely oral tradition, just like their academic knowledge. They know their Bible from preaching, and they, like us, have some pretty wacky preachers. One of their greatest outrages is illiterate preachers. They believe that every pastor and evangelist needs college level Biblical education, I do not disagree. We often stumbled upon things that they had been told were in the Bible, which could not be found. For instance, they had been told that Jesus could not read and write. They had been told this by an illiterate preacher, of course. We found one verse in the New Testament that affirmed that Jesus was not a formal, life-long Rabbinical student like the Pharisees, but I assured them, with evidence, that all Jewish boys, then as now, could read and write by their 13th birthday. They were offended on Jesus’ behalf at the slander.
I spent a lot of time putting mortar into another gap. Despite their deep Biblical knowledge, this knowledge was rarely preached as applying to daily life situations. The Bible preached unto repentance and then slowed way back. The Bible also preached righteous living, but this was that tired old list of evangelical do’s and don’ts that didn’t go much past drinking, smoking and sleeping around. If you carefully walk through the Sermon on the Mount, you can’t stop there. We laid out every implication. You can’t lie - ever. (Deeply UN-Burundian culture) Hierarchy is un-Biblical. (Enormously UN-African) Tribes and genders matter not at all. (Contrary to all human experience) etc. etc. etc.
They took it about as well as the Disciples of old. On the third day they screamed “We can’t do it! - It can’t be done!”
I broke our English-only rule, and replied “Et Voila!” And then we all repented and tried to figure out what to do next.