It was in primary school Class 2 in Kenya. Agan Zebedee, the teacher, introduced us to English Language. We were excited. Learning a foreign language was something wonderful.
As Mr. Agan introduced the English alphabet, we realised there were new letters we hadn't met before—our local language didn't have them. They included: Q, V, X and Z.
We loved the sound of "V" and "Z". If we were to speak any English, it had to be punctuated and seasoned with as many Vs and Zs as possible. To achieve this, we forced them into places they didn't belong. We greatly admired anyone speaking English with lots of Vs and Zs. It wasn't surprising, therefore, to hear some of us say, "You vetter vring my vookz thiz avternoon" (You better bring my books this afternoon). We substituted any letter that sounded close—however distant it was—with Vs and Zs.
Soon after we had learnt the English alphabet, the teacher introduced us to some alliterations and tongue-twisters. It was interesting. We got a perfect opportunity to try our pleasant-sounding letters. A classmate, Ateto Abidha, was especially sold into the business of substituting Bs, with Vs and Ss with Zs.
At the beginning of every English lesson, Mr. Agan would start:
"Bita bought a bit of butter, a bit of butter which Bita bought, was bitter".
He would then pick on some of us, one at a time, to recite the same. Whenever it was Ateto's turn, he would say:
"Vita vot a vit ov vatta, a vit ov vatta which Vita vot waz vitter!"
Wow! That was pleasant to our ears. We greatly admired Ateto's 'way of speaking English.'
The teacher, however, would reject Ateto's recitation. When Mr. Agan reprimanded him for saying his own things, we wondered what was wrong with the teacher.
According to us, Ateto outshone the teacher himself. Why wasn't he accepting that some of his pupils were already so gifted despite their age?
If it was about English, we were preoccupied with the sounding of things, not their meanings. We, therefore, didn't understand at all what "Bita bought a bit of butter" meant. The teacher never explained it to us, and we never bothered to ask. Meanwhile, he made us recite it throughout the year. Mr. Agan insisted that it had to be recited his way. In his absence, we recited it our own way. It stuck permanently. Personally, I made a song out of it.
One day, I was then in boarding secondary school, I had just had a good lunch. As I was walking from the dining hall back to class, I found myself "singing". I wasn't conscious of what I was singing for a while until it struck me. I realised the "song" was a familiar old song but something was strange about it, though. There was something new about it—it was the meaning.
I finally understood what "Bita bought a bit of butter" meant—in fact, it was the meaning that called my attention to what I was singing. I whispered to myself, 'No wonder the teacher wouldn't have us substitute the letters!' To be sure, I tried Ateto's version. It was utter meaningless.
Ateto's version was pleasant but not intelligible. If it was in a church setting, it could have passed for tongue-speaking.
The root of our problem with "Bita bought a bit of butter" was not inability to recite it the teacher's way, it was, rather, a combination of lack of understanding of its meaning and our determination to say it our own way since it sounded better that way.
When I got saved, the Lord reminded me about this experience and made me learn some lessons:
1. The Lord is the Teacher.
2. The Teacher knows better.
3. We may not understand initially but at the appointed time, we'll understand. When the times comes, we may not even struggle to understand.
4. It takes growth to understand. We may need to move from one realm to another before we understand. I had to move from primary to secondary school to understand.
5. Some things sound pleasant to our ears but aren't necessarily intelligible spiritually. Things are not necessarily authentic by virtue of their pleasant sound. The only thing that stands, even if it doesn't tickle our ears, is the Teacher's version.
6. If we quit in Primary, we wouldn't tell what we would have discovered in Secondary School. Those who quit in primary didn't have a chance to learn what "Bita bought a bit of butter" meant.
Author's additional note:
People ask: If God is good, why does He allow suffering? Why do we sometimes pray and plead on behalf of our loved ones only to see them die? etc. How do we sing God is faithful after He has "failed" to yield to our version of the sweet-sounding gospel of wealth, health, comfort? Etc.
The Teacher knows better! We'll understand this when we move to the next realm. Meanwhile, in the face of all paradoxes and contradictions, I'll sing of His faithfulness and all His attributes—and wait. I'll surely understand what I've been singing all these years.
Will you sing with me, and wait? Even if you don't understand at the moment, don't quit—soon it will make sense. You will then comment with contentment: "No wonder the Teacher wouldn't allow us have it our way!"
2007 by Daniel Owino Ogweno.
Ogweno is the author of THE SECRET WEAPON AGAINST TERRORISM, VIRTUE THAT COUNTS and A LIFE OF AN ENTHUSIASTIC WORSHIP, among others. http://danielogweno.blogspot.com
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