Teaching and Learning Simultaneously

A few years back I found myself working on an interesting project, African Vision of Hope was starting the creation of a tech lab on the ground in Lusaka Zambia. Multiple teams and trips had laid the ground work of starting a functioning lab for the purpose of bringing technology education to the staff and students.

For my trip in August of 2015, I was coming into a maturing project and for my starting point it sounded straight forward enough. Generous donations of usable computers had been reloaded with Windows 7 and Microsoft Office, put into a shipping container, journeyed for 3 months, were unpacked and awaiting my teams arrival to assemble. While I was on the ground I was also to begin training on basic computer skills and Microsoft Office skills such as Excel. I was pumped and excited and approaching the entire situation with nearly 20 years of a “First World” IT experience.

My first dose of “First World IT experience” meets “Third world reality” came as I was to teach an Excel basics class. It was  scheduled for a couple of hours during the first Sunday afternoon we were on the ground. The invite was extended for about 15 of the staff  from the school in Lusaka.

In the months leading up to the trip I  had prepared, had a teaching plan (complete outline), and from a technology standpoint I  was to present using the projector attached to my laptop and I had a couple of computers that would be used  for shared training stations as we got to the lab portion of the two hour class.

What I had not prepared for was the known rolling blackouts to be in place during the time I was scheduled to do my class. I can still remember saying from my naive brain – the blackouts are only through the night hours and done by morning – this isn’t right – why is the power not coming back on – it’s 2 in the afternoon?  So all of my preparing and preparations were now reduced to the reality that I was going to be teaching from my fully charged laptop.

I knew it would be tight, but I thought we could figure out a way to pass the laptop around and somehow 15 people could just “snuggle” up real close together – this could happen. As we got closer to the starting time of the class I was getting smacked with another reality I wasn’t prepared for. Zambians are very sweet people that are hungry to learn, if someone is teaching, this becomes and event. They will come walking from all over to have the opportunity to learn.  What was planned for 15 students looked a lot more like 65 students.  People just kept walking in, and if you looked outside, here they came just more and more walking towards the building.  Honestly with my one 13″ Mac book Pro and all these students,  I felt for a brief second what it must have been like for the  little boy in the bible as he brought his lunch to Jesus via the disciples… “this is for everyone?”

Twenty years of teaching and training do prepare you to be on your toes, so quickly I changed gears – we were going to teach Excel basics in a manner I would have never dreamed – with no power and no computer – yes this was going to go well.

I found a whiteboard in the room – it was a mobile unit – on rollers. To be honest the “white” part of the board was long gone and to be generous it was a gray board at best – but it was all I had. Then I realized it truly was “all I had” – no markers – well no “useable” markers – just one blue one with a smushed down top that was 99% dry. I was dead in the water. I dug and searched and I found a Sharpie – it was like mana from heaven.  Ten sheets of white paper, some masking tape, and 3 minutes later we had a Zambian style white board,  serving as a fountain from which the abounding springs of Excel wisdom would pour fourth onto some dry, tech thirsty students. Cue the music, part the clouds, and shine down the rays from heaven here.

I can remember kicking things off with this eager set of students – introductions first – smiles back from the crowd, knowing 15 of the students were staff of the school I asked “how many of you have used Excel before”, no hands, wow that is a little surprising to my First World brain, second question “how many of you have heard of Excel”, zip,  I am now 0-2 in the count, third question, “how many of you use a computer or have access to a computer”, hands from the crowd begin to raise, one, two, three…. not as in it went any higher than that – that was it. I had a class of at least 65 people and I hadn’t asked how many of you “have” a computer – how many of you “have access” to a computer. Three have access to a computer, zero here today have heard of or knows what Excel is, I was thinking to myself – your truly 0-3, take a seat – “next batter please”.

I won’t step you through the entire next hour and a half, but I will tell you there was a brief  conversation that wen’t something like this… God – “yes Ward” – ‘you know how I have those recurring dreams where I am back to playing football, but I don’t know the plays and we are starting the game, or I am walking into a class where we are testing but I don’t know the material’… “yes Ward”… ‘ok – well see those are dreams and this is reality that is quickly going worse…’

I saw God work in so many ways in that next 90 minutes. If I had spent a thousand hours planning and prepping  I could have never came up with the teaching aids He provided. We had only been in Lusaka for a few hours but images of what we had been seeing as we drove through the streets began to pop into my head.

I didn’t teach Excel in the manner approved by Microsoft, but rather in terms and visuals that they could understand, the columns of the house, the rows of their gardens, the blocks from construction of their walls. Excel Theory 101 took on a whole new meaning.  God began to open my mind and my eyes and although I may have been teaching, I was really there as a student learning so many things.

Working in the way and timing of God, the power came back on with less than 15 minutes left in the class. To move from our make shift white board to seeing Excel on the screen demonstrated was never more beautiful than that day, seeing it through their eyes.

I have been blessed to teach an Excel class each time I return, hopefully it will always be a part of what I get to teach. During my return trips I have also been blessed to be able to teach in a functioning technology center – no its not “First World” functional but it is “first class functional in a Third World”,  and honestly to have an appreciation for exactly what that means,  I count it among the highest blessings.

As I was teaching that day Proverbs 3:5-6 was on my heart. I came prepared with an agenda and a plan, God had other plans. I am so thankful for His plans and His timing. How many times have we come to what we felt was the end of our three strike rule and gone and sat down, when the reality is God is saying – “you’re just warming up – Forget what You know and Trust Me.”  But God – this is not how this day is supposed to go… “do not lean on your own understanding.” But God how am I supposed to get the glory of being this skilled teacher with the tech gadgets? “in all your ways acknowledge him”, yes I get that God – I do acknowledge you – you gave me this ability – thank you… And we behave as if that what acknowledgement God is asking for.  I don’t know about you, but I am so thankful for a Heavenly Father that loves me enough to correct me and for the Holy Spirit that is daily making my paths straight. I am thankful for a God that is concerned about my heart condition and willing to travel me 8500 miles around the globe to break my pride and dependence on myself. He truly loves us and what a blessing it is along this journey when we die to self in everything we do and trust Him with all of our heart.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.



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