This weekend we've been immersed in the latter culture. In RVA tradition, the Junior class puts on an annual "Banquet", the main social event of the year, when the boys spiff up in suits and escort the girls in their beautiful dresses. It's the equivalent of the prom in an historically conservative fundamentalist no-dancing missionary tradition. The kids have been planning and fundraising all year, but this is the major push weekend prior to Friday's production. It is an impressive effort, with a theme kept secret from the rest of the school, but which always involves construction of an elaborate dinner-theatre type set, murals, painting, atmosphere, lighting, a drama, music, table settings, costumes, etc. All in a place that is strictly DIY: do it yourself, make it from scratch. So the parents of the Junior class are invited to come on campus while the rest of the school clears out for midterm, and WORK. Scott has been hammering and drilling and sweeping; I have been ironing and glueing and folding and cutting. And Caleb has been photoshopping on his computer while covering as DJ for music to keep the atmosphere pumped up. The class is well organized and I think the whole thing is going to be as spectacular as every other year. One of the faculty sponsors told us on the first evening: our purpose is to glorify God and to get to know each other, because those priorities last for eternity, but Banquet is only for one evening. Amen.
I'm thankful to be here for this time, to immerse and understand a little more fully this culture. It is an incredibly valuable one, a place of sacrifice and honor and idealism which has been turning out generations of well-educated and dedicated young people, from dozens of countries around the world. It is also a place that is rule-oriented and cliquish at times, and just being inside it helps me understand the places that are hard for my kids. Many of the parents I've met have amazing life stories, decades of Africa experience, long connections with the school . . . but we also clearly sense that we're now the new people, unproven and unknown, here in this cross-roads of mission stations and nationalities. I've been reading the history of the school which has been insightful as we go along, The School in the Clouds by Phil Dow. I think he gives a balanced picture of respect for the place RVA has played in the development of East Africa and even the emergence from colonialism, while being realistic about the challenges the school continues to face. I feel the same awesome respect for the century of perseverance, and yet a yearning for what could be here in the future.
Meanwhile it is good for the names I've heard from Luke and Caleb over the last few years to now take on faces and personality, good to see a class gel around the hard work and play of creating this celebration, good to interact with a wide cross-section of our missional peers, parents in their 40's and 50's who like us have taken the road less traveled, good to wear jeans and speak English. Tomorrow we'll be back to the more African culture of sick babies and tuberculous men and bright young doctors and straining to understand Swahili. And I guess that our life here will continue to be a weaving of the lower (hospital and other ministries) and upper (school) station cultures. Hoping we can find a good balance and fit in all around.