Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

From Nico Kattenberg

Written by Nico Kattenberg
For the past four years the obreros have been following various courses offered by the Presbyterian Seminary. Initially, it was only a two-year program, after which each graduate received a diploma. However, at the end of the two years, it was decided they should continue their studies and take more courses offered by the seminary, even though they technically could not earn a degree in theology. In order for them to be eligible for a degree, they would have to complete their grade nine education. As a result, well over a year ago we began planting the idea with the obreros to continue their ÒsecularÓ education. (I put the word ÒsecularÓ in brackets, because I do not want to give the idea that it is something worldly or of less importance than studying theology. We stressed this with the obreros. We need to do everything to the honour and glory of God. It should not make a difference whether we are taking a math course or a Bible course. Our approach should be that we do our best for the honour and glory of God.)

Initially, only a few were in favour of the idea and had the desire to continue with their ÒsecularÓ education. The rest were a little apprehensive. They were not quite certain whether they wanted to, since for many of them it had been years since they last studied. Also, some of them felt that it was not necessary or important. However, we kept on planting this idea with the men, stressing the importance and value of this kind of education and how it would contribute to them becoming more qualified and better equipped obreros. Eventually, all of them agreed and we decided to begin with their ÒsecularÓ education in February of this year.

At that time, most of the obreros who had completed grade six years earlier began receiving grade seven instruction. Classes are held three full days per month for a total of 10 months per year. In addition, they are given a monthÕs supply of homework. This requires a substantial amount of commitment and discipline on their part. The obreros find the classes quite challenging, especially subjects such as mathematics.

Not all the obreros are at the grade seven level. Two of them are currently in grade nine. As a result, they are not able to study with the rest of the group. Pastor Everts, Alejandro and I teach these obreros separately. Right now we are teaching them three courses: accounting, physics and art. Pastor Everts teaches accounting, Alejandro teaches art, while I teach physics. For Pastor Everts and I this has been quite challenging since we are teaching courses that are at times quite abstract. We quickly realized that the two obreros did not understand some of the basics of mathematics such as division, exponents and fractions. For example, when dealing with fractions you often deal with parts that are smaller than one. This was extremely hard for them to understand and it took me a while to be able to explain it to them. I used concrete examples like taking a cow, cutting it up into various parts, and asking them if I had two quarters whether or not I had two cows or a half. Another principle that was hard for them to understand was that numbers could be negative. For them, 2 - 4 = 0 and not -2. It took a lot of explaining to them to get used to the idea that there are numbers below zero. You can imagine the challenge this poses when doing accounting or working with exponents. To say the least, it has been and will continue to be very challenging for us to teach abstract principles in concrete ways.

As North Americans and Europeans we have been taught to think abstractly. The Mayan people, however, are very concrete thinkers. That is why for them, 2 - 4 = 0 and not -2, because there is nothing smaller than 0. This presents a challenge when teaching math or similar courses, but this also presents a challenge in preaching and teaching the Word of God. There are many parts in the Bible that are abstract to some degree, or at least not written in a concrete way. There are many texts that you cannot interpret literally.

Teaching the obreros has helped me to see the importance of teaching the Bible in a way that the people can grasp and understand. When I came to Guatemala I knew and was told that the people were concrete thinkers, but I never knew to what extent. Teaching the obreros has helped me to understand a little more how the people think, and in this way helps me to teach them the Word of God.

I would like to ask you to remember our obreros in your prayer as they strive to obtain their grade nine education. Often, it can be quite wearisome and frustrating for them. For most it has been many years since they last studied. A good number of them are in their 40's and 50's and so it is a little more difficult for them than for the younger obreros. Pray also that they will become more and more convinced of the importance of their ÒsecularÓ education, and will have the resolve to not only complete their grade nine, but also go on to complete their grade twelve, and thus be able to obtain a degree in theology. Pray also for the missionaries as they are constantly presented with the challenge to preach and teach in a way that the people will understand.

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