Wow! I am exhausted. I have just finished the first semester of Bible College. Ending with 8 two hour exams in one week. (That’s been a test of endurance I can tell you!). It has been a blast. It is also why my blog has been a bit quiet of late. Study and assignments has taken up most of my time. Trying to fit all that into the daily challenges of life in Bangalore has not been easy. It has meant my time for reading and writing has been squeezed out. However, I am now on holiday until January. Time to catch up on all things.
Daily Life at College
For now, I’d like to give you a glimpse into life at Bible College in Bangalore. Obviously I have nothing to compare it to so I have no idea how it contrasts to other Bible Colleges. I am also a Day student and not a boarder. The boarders have a set daily schedule they have to adhere to from 5am (yes that’s right, 5am!) until 10pm. Their lives are literally mapped out for them whilst they are at Bible College. By comparison the handful of Day students have it easy.
This has been an amazing journey. I still can’t believe I am at Bible College. It is great and I am really enjoying it. I am learning so much and despite being there from 9:30am to 1pm Monday to Friday I feel as though I don’t have enough time to study. It’s amazing what you learn when you start studying again.
Finding the college at first was difficult. It is in a residential area on the ground floor of a three storey multipurpose building. It is unmarked. There are no signs directing you to the college and no signs outside the college to alert people what the building is used for. I have no idea why this is as I have not asked but I do wonder if it is for safety and security reasons. This is a very nationalistic Hindu country and attacks on Christians are not rare.
The college itself is very basic. The desks are old and falling apart and our chairs are a variety of plastic garden chairs. The space is one large L shaped room, two classrooms and a book warehouse with a sink and kitchen table. The one toilet is outside around the corner. (More on that later.)
The L shaped room is used as a music area and the main area is used for daily morning meetings. The meetings are held from 8:30am and consist of praise and worship followed by one of the students delivering a sermon, in English, on a portion of the Bible. A safe place to practice for those going into the ministry.
After the morning meeting the chairs are moved into the classrooms and tables arranged in rows. We share desks, two to each desk. There’s not a lot of space. There is a white board on the wall. The windows at the rear of the classrooms have bars on them (usual in Bangalore). The classroom door has a lock on each side. (Can you see where I am going with this?) I was quite alarmed when every teacher entering the classroom locked the door behind them. Nobody else seemed alarmed. I was at the back of the classroom near the windows. My exit route was locked. I requested the door be kept open at all times. It took a few days before everyone got used to having the door open.
I open the windows and switch on the fan every morning to circulate the air. We keep the window open throughout class and whilst it is noisy (even in a residential area the noise is incredible), it is worth it to circulate the air and avoid a stuffy classroom. One of the teachers once closed the door and asked for the windows to be shut because of the noise.The small classroom quickly became hot and stuffy and we were all falling asleep in the heat. A quick break and reopening windows for the entire session afterwards solved that problem.
There were no fire exit signs, no first aid box or signs and no fire extinguishers. Considering one of the rooms was a storage area and full of books, I found this to be an incredible oversight. The safety of the students just didn’t appear to have been considered (although I am sure it had). I ordered and placed all the above in college. No one said anything directly to me but I could see that they were bemused. That’s not quite true, one lady student laughed at me thinking I was ridiculous. I ignored it.
The next thing I did was buy a welcome mat, washing up liquid and hand soap. They were drinking out of cups that were being rinsed under a cold tap before being reused. I also started supplying biscuits to go with chai (tea) at the morning break. This was a very welcome addition.
Right, toilet facilities. When I first arrived (late in the term due to holidaying in the UK), I was directed to the ladies boarding house for the toilet. It was about 100 yards away from the college, we needed a key and one of the boarding ladies to accompany us there. Now it doesn’t take a genius to work out that with Bangalore Belly being a feature of my life that this was a very dangerous arrangement for me. The risk of having “an accident” was high and very unwelcome. The risk of total humiliation in front of my fellow students was not appealing. Nevertheless, I complied with this arrangement for weeks. I also supplied the ladies boarding house with hand soap and a towel as there wasn’t any. I was also told not to use toilet tissue as it wouldn’t flush. The crux came when I needed the loo and I had to wait for one of the boarding ladies to exit the wet room as she was having a shower (I use that word in its widest sense). As she stepped out into the bedroom, wrapped in a towel, I thought enough was enough.
I asked the class ‘Captain’ (elected student representative) where the men went to the toilet and was told that there wasn’t a toilet available for ladies on site and I had to use the boarding house. After pressing her, I was told there was a toilet on site for the men but it wasn’t suitable for the ladies. I asked why and wasn’t given an answer. The class Captain said she would have to as the college director whether I could use the men’s toilet. The incredibility of the situation was lost on her.
I asked one of my male classmates to direct me to the loo they use. It was outside around the corner at the back of the college. It had a functioning toilet and a tap, bucket, a hose / douche but no sink. The floor was a lake but it was perfectly usable. I was dumbfounded as to why I wasn’t allowed to use it.
Now, those who know me will know that I would see that as a challenge, and indeed I did. I started using the toilet. The men were bemused at first but got used to me queuing for the loo with them. I also upgraded the facilities with some easy and obvious additions. I bought a plastic three tiered veg tray stand and placed it in the toilet with hand soap, soap dish and antibacterial gel. I placed a towel on the hook and bought (a much needed) air freshener. (I wash and change the towel weekly). I also supplied mosquito spray and toilet roll. I placed a loo block in the cistern. The toilet was transformed. I now use it all the time. The other ladies still will not use it.
So, enough about the facilities, what have I been studying for the last few months? The syllabus has been interesting and varied. The subjects covered in the first semester were as follows:
Minister’s Foundation – we studied a book called ‘Code of Honour’ which contained some basic guidelines about what to do and what not to do in ministry. It covered personal life, family, people, conduct, preaching, anointing, results, fellowship, money, women and fame. Yes, fame. Apparently in India this is a thing. Who knew!
Old Testament Survey – literally a gallop overview of the whole of the Old Testament in one semester. Learning about history, authors, themes, purpose etc of each book. It was a good grounding in the background to each book of the Old Testament. I did feel it was rushed though and the sheer volume of information was daunting in an exam scenario.
Praise and Worship – and the difference between the two. I found this to be the most difficult topic. I am not musically talented or gifted in any way and whilst I enjoy singing, the right note or key is an aspirational thing for me. Thankfully there was no ‘practical’ side to this. We did learn about what the worship team does mid week, about auditions and the probation period. They really have no idea how fortunate they are to have so many gifted and talented musicians and singers within the church. It’s normal to them. Rather unlike the small churches in the UK who scramble around to find anybody with the slightest musical talent to beg them to play. (Don’t take that personally, it’s not about you!).
The Holy Spirit – The person of the Holy Spirit, work of the Holy Spirit throughout the Bible, baptism of the Holy Spirit, gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Trinity etc. This was a real education and fascinating.
Who we are in Christ – understanding our union with Christ. This class was taught by Pastor Kenny who is a gifted speaker and frequently went off topic to tell us about events to illustrate points. It was very interesting.
Faith – literally everything to do with our faith and what helps and hinders faith. Very useful.
Prayer and Intercession – I found this the most enjoyable subject and was taught by Kala who is also a gifted teacher as well as an amazing prayer warrior. It really has transformed the way I pray and my prayer life. Don’t know how to pray? Start with the Lord’s Prayer folks. It’s a great way to start praying if you never have.
Soul Winning – pretty much lessons on how not to be a dick! Nobody likes a Bible Basher after all. That’s not the way to do it. There were some interesting insights into the biblical foundations of evangelism as well as some basic principles.
We had exams in all of these subjects which completed the first semester. January sees the start of a whole new bunch of subjects which, I am sure, will prove equally fascinating.
This is the diary I kept when I took my first set of mid term exams in September:
Day One I’ve just sat the first exam in literally decades. It was weird going into the classroom, with the desks laid out in rows and our names on the desks. First year students were sat next to second year students so that there was no temptation to copy. At the start of the exam the teacher handed out the double sided question papers and people immediately started to look at them and write on them before some of us had even received a copy of the paper. The teacher then waited a few minutes before giving out blank pieces of paper and telling everyone NOT to write on the question paper and write all the answer on the plain sheet, and no one was to start yet. A little late for that announcement!
When he said we could start there was frantic writing all around me, whilst I read through section A of the paper and turned over to section B, where I found some questions I thought I could answer. Section C was memory verses (I knew one of the eight listed – oh dear) and section D was a true or false section; so a 50/50 chance of getting them right. We were half way through the exam before I realised the time. As we were only given one piece of paper to write on I had to keep asking for more. Some students had finished 45 mins into the exam and stood up, walked to the front and handed in their paper before walking out. That was a distraction for me as in the UK people generally sit till the end of the exam and they certainly don’t get up and walk to the front – you have to raise your hand and wait for the invigilator to collect your paper.
Time up and people kept on writing. We were asked to hand in our papers at the front. As we did so some were still writing. Eventually the last lady handed in her paper. I was disorientated. This would never have happened in the U.K. In exam halls everyone has to put their pens down and wait for all papers to be collected by the invigilators and wait to be dismissed by them. It was really strange.
Final exam week
Exam week two, just completed, was pretty similar but with the exam being two hours long a lot more people got up and left early when they had finished their papers. For some exams there were only one or two individuals sat writing exams at the end whilst the rest of us enjoyed a cup of tea and biscuits. One exam, the second years finished early whilst the first years were still writing away, so they brought us all tea and biscuits to our desks. It was very welcome. Can you imagine that in a UK exam hall?!
The final exam saw the end of term. We are now on a break until January. Students have returned to their villages across India, back to their families for Christmas. I have given each of the first year students an Advent Calendar (imported from the UK) together with an explanation of what it is and how to use it. They had never heard of them. I hope they all enjoy the countdown to Christmas, Our Saviour’s birth, as much as we do.
Now, time to start preparing for Christmas.