Learning Curves in Botswana

 In All Church of God, Global Strategy

Long lines form outside ATMs in Botswana.

By Tim and Joy Coppess

We have encountered several learning curves in adapting to our new home. Our role in this first year is to build relationships and begin learning the language (Setswana) and culture of Botswana. Since people are drawn to their mother tongue, this focus will help us more effectively carry out our assignment of facilitating discipleship and leadership development.

To learn a new language and culture, one begins as a child does—contextually—by first hearing it spoken, learning individual words, and putting simple phrases together. In early October, we began our language-culture tutoring, but our tutor Fifi worked with us only one week before she moved to another city for a full-time job. Unemployment is high here. Churches have lost leaders who moved away for work or university studies. We have just completed our first week with our new tutor, Oukie (pronounced Oh-uh-key). We are excited to learn and grow in our relationship with her. Botswana is pronounced with a long O. The people of Botswana are called Batswana, with each A pronounced like the A in father.


In September, Joy had allergy-induced asthma, which combined with some dehydration to trigger an irregular heartbeat, so we also learned about being medically evacuated. She is on a preventive inhaler and now has no other health issues. While Joy was hospitalized in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tim had the opportunity to meet and talk with five Muslim seekers about Jesus! Please pray for these men to encounter Jesus.

We discovered “Africa time,” whereby tasks take longer than anticipated to perform. We have ample time to practice patience, an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit! Queues (lines) are common at ATMs and elsewhere. Electricity is pre-paid and can be purchased at a grocery store. Air time and data for cell phones are also prepaid separately. Each store in Maun has its own selection of items for sale. Determining where to buy an item like a zipper can be quite a feat.

We have experimented with new foods and tried to adapt some old recipes using what is available here. We miss Mexican food; tacos with a spicy, Indian flair are just not the same!

Representing the Church of God in cultural events

The cycle of life is worldwide. We participated in the week-long wake and burial services for the father of a church leader. September 30 is Independence Day, and we attended a kgotla or public meeting headed by the local chief. We tried to slip into the back, but were welcomed to join the chief’s extended family. This encounter then led us to participate in an event working to start a meat processing plant in Sehithwa, a very poor village where the Church of God has a small congregation. We pray this business succeeds and for the congregation to grow as it helps people encounter Jesus.

Kgotla on Botwana’s Independence Day.

Learning goes both directions

Some anticipated challenges, like driving on the left side of the road, were quite readily overcome. Other challenges, like staining clothes with iron when washed with well water, have been frustrating. We now hand-wash light-colored clothes with filtered water. Although we have not yet directly taught any discipleship sessions, we were surprised when key church members remarked that they had already learned much from us. What we had taught? We did not realize how closely we were being observed. The culture highly respects both age and titles with the expectation for these to be served. Although both apply to us, and while being culturally sensitive, we wanted to serve rather than expect to be served, because Jesus is our model. Servant leadership and strengthening marriage and interpersonal relationships will be ongoing focal points of future discipleship training.

We bonded with our colleagues at the Africa team meeting in Kenya. Afterwards Joy, Abby Stocksdale, and seventeen Batswana women attended the Women’s Conference in Zambia. Joy stepped out in faith as she preached her first sermon as the Holy Spirit prompted her to fill in for a speaker who could not attend. The conference theme was “Women Arise,” and Joy spoke on “Women Arise by Sitting at the Feet of Jesus.”

Learn more about Tim and Joy Coppess, as well as opportunities to support these Global Strategy missionaries to Botswana, at www.chogglobal.org/team/tjcoppess.

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