Commenting on A Student Abroad: Zach Tanner
By: Tiffany Kriss
Student, Mid-Atlantic Christian University
Zachary (Zach) Tanner, a senior at Mid-Atlantic Christian University (MACU), traveled to Ghana, Africa this summer to fulfill his internship requirements for his major, General Ministry. Zach was in Ghana from May 21st until July 31tst. Beyond merely fulfilling educational requirements, Zach wanted to have an “adventure” as well as to visit friends he had made at MACU, specifically Attah and Jessica Osebrah. Zach met Attah about three years ago at a camp, and Zach decided he wanted to visit Attah and his family in Africa one day. Attah told him he could visit anytime he wanted, so Zach decided to do his internship in Ghana, because he figured, “I could kill two birds with one stone.” Attah and his family are currently missionaries in Ghana and Attah was Zach’s field mentor for the summer, while Dr. Robert Reese was his internship mentor.
While in Ghana, Zach had three primary responsibilities. His first responsibility was to help in the gym, specifically to physically train men. While he spent three days per week in the gym, Zach did not spend as much time in this endeavor as he thought he would, because he often found himself doing many other things.
Zach’s second responsibility was to help the school's Program of Accelerated Education (PACE). PACE, originally developed in Texas, was adapted for the educational environment in Ghana. The basis of this program is that all the students have their own cubicle, and have an individualized folder that has various courses of varying levels in it, of which the students fulfill the requirements to move on to the next folder. Being that the students go through these folders at an individualized pace, they do not have teachers, but they have supervisors. Zach was a supervisor. If the students do not receive at least a ninety percent on their exams from the folder, they fail and the supervisor rips up their folder. There are three levels used in Ghana, and they are, as described by Zach, daycare (up to age 5 or 6), middle phase (transitional phase), and school (around age 11 or 13). Zach helped with the middle phase.
Zach’s third responsibility was to participate in assembly, which is what we would refer to as church, but they do not call it church because, calling the gathering of believers together ‘church,’ can lead to the wrong mentality about “going” instead of “being.” The assembly met on Sunday mornings for about three hours, and did things such as Sunday school, fellowship time, Bible reading, memory work, singing, the Lord’s Supper, and a program called exponential growth. The exponential growth program was comprised of discussions about the witnessing done during the week or any good moments that were had therein.
Beyond doing his primary tasks, Zach also did whatever needed doing throughout the week. Some of these tasks included renovating a kitchen, cleaning out a storage room and painting it, clearing an area of grass behind a building so that a recreational area could be built, and going to town on a regular basis. Going to town with Attah was one of Zach’s favorite things that he did, specifically seeing all the people and experiencing life in town. The prices in the market were not a set price, so Zach got to experience haggling as they went to town to buy things for school and for the gym. An interesting thing that Zach noted was that the people selling things in the market assume that a white person will have money, and if people are wearing glasses, they are considered rich, because they could afford glasses.
Zach learned many things from this internship, many of which we can learn from. Being disciplined, specifically in a spiritual nature is, according to Zach, “a big thing I learned this summer…Staying top of your own spiritual life…I guess we think we can get by without a devotional life.” He then sang a little song he learned over the summer, which goes…
“Read your Bible
Pray every day (3x)
And you’ll grow, grow, grow.”
“Don’t read your Bible,
Forget to pray (3x),
And you’ll shrink, shrink, shrink.”
Zach said that he sees the American church as verbally acknowledging the first part of the song--reading and praying leads to spiritual growth--but he does not see the American church emphasizing the second part of the song--without Bible reading and prayer, we will in fact spiritually shrink. Alongside the focus on spiritual discipline, Zach saw more of an emphasis placed on ministry being a life effort, rather than a specific task. He noted that oftentimes, American Christians seem to categorize ministry into just another block of our day, but it should be a part of our whole lives, as he experienced this summer.
An amusing story that Zach told was that Attah once asked him to lead a Vacation Bible School (VBS) in a local town, Kumasi. Zach thought he was kidding, and did not think much of it. However, Attah was not kidding and when they arrived at Kumasi, Zach had to lead the VBS. Zach experienced much of this type of thing over the summer, and as he was telling the VBS story, I asked/this interviewer asked, “How did you know what’s expected of you?” to which he replied, “Exactly!”
Zach had to learn to take each day, and opportunity, as it came along, and to restructure some of his thinking since we have a habit of seeing a task and approaching it from only one angle. Zach learned to just do what he saw needed to be done, while learning not to approach every situation from the same specific way.
Zach’s least favorite part of his experience was being so far away from home. However, he just did as much work as possible to help him overcome his homesickness. His favorite part was called family night. Family night occurred every Friday, and families from the assembly would get together, and watch a movie and eat dinner. Zach enjoyed this time of fellowship and fun.
Picture: “We went to Bolgatonga and basically, we were visiting another school. A local told me about Paga, which is basically a pond area that crocodiles are in. It is a tourist spot. There are guys who work there, you have to pay an entrance fee, tourist’s fee, camera fee and bait fee. They grab this (guinea fowl) by the wings and wave it over the water. (The) biggest croc comes up to you and then he just plops down and he looks right at the guinea fowl and then once you’re satisfied with your pictures, they feed it…These crocodiles are so docile (that children play by the water’s edge).”