Pilgrim Thoughts on Immigration

My last name is Kilmartin. That means the forebears on my father’s side come from Ireland (a fact of which I am proud). My Dad’s father immigrated to the country early in the last century, and, being a good Catholic, married a French Canadian woman whose family had been in the country for many years before that. But she too, of course, came from a family that had arrived from France at one point.Imm pic

My mother’s Mom was born in Canada, but her family was from Germany. So was my mother’s Dad, who came from Germany/Ukraine via Siberia right after the Great War and the 1918 influenza just about wiped out his family.

So, while I was born here in the country, I have a great respect for immigrants, and my own feeling is that this country has been built by immigrants – whether they came from the Old Country by boat or plane through Halifax in the last century or so, or across the Bering Strait in the last few millennia.

There is a major hue and cry in the country today about the immigration issue, and since some of it has to do with religious freedom and values I thought I would comment on it here. Also, I would like to outline my point of view because while, as my daughter says, it is not that original, it is getting more and more difficult to articulate.

I for one welcome all immigrants who come here legally and by due process. It matters not to me whether they are Christian, Muslim, atheist, Buddhist, or what have you. I take it for granted that they will wish to bring as much of their culture with them into the country – that is what my grandparents did, after all. Take their language – Grandpa John spoke English (with a brogue), Granny Kilmartin spoke French and English with an accent; my mother’s parents both spoke German, but WW 2 meant they did not pass that on to their children. It would have been great to grow up bi-lingual, with either French or German as my second language, but I did not have the opportunity. I would not want to take that away from anyone else.imm pic 2

Some are fearful that our country will be overtaken by people with values that are foreign to them, that we will have something like Sharia law before too long if we allow too many Muslims in, for instance. I don’t worry too much about that. If a person legally comes into the country and wishes to advocate for some new custom or practise of law, they ought to be free to do that. That is what our country is all about, after all.

Here is the thing, though – and this is what I fear we are losing at present. If I do not agree that Sharia law is a wonderful thing (and I do not think that it is), then I too ought to be free to speak my mind and rationally explain why I feel it may not be the best system of law for our country – without being tagged as some kind of villain in the process. Then, when all sides of the debate have been heard in the Public Square, let the people decide through their elected representatives. To me, this is what a liberal democracy is all about.imm pic 3

The difficulty, of course, is this last part is getting squeezed out of us; somehow we have lost the ability to be able to talk with one another, and to debate the merit of one idea against another. Perhaps because we are a pluralist society, it is very hard to make a point against Project X without it being labelled hate speech, or as some kind of bigotry or phobia. We have lost our sense of nuance, and as a result we have also lost our sense of civility towards those we might disagree with.

I speak as a Christian pilgrim (cf. Heb 11.13 and 1 Pet 2.11 in the KJV) – someone who knows that this country is not my final home; I am only passing through here – literally. I am on my way to other countries in order to bring my Christian perspective to bear on people who already have their own set of values and religious principles. I am going by invitation, but the fact remains – I am going there to put my religion out into the Public Square, just as Paul did in Athens on Mars Hill, and see if there are any takers.

Here in Canada, and over where I am going, I am confident that the mystery/religion that has been revealed through the Lord Jesus Christ will be strong enough to stand whatever tests it comes up against. For Christians especially the issue is not so much what kinds of ideology we come up against – whether they be secular humanism or fundamentalist Islam – but of our being faithful to live according to what we have been entrusted with.

Haruna’s Blessing

Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10.28-30, NIV)

I was asked a little while ago what aspect of the gospel I thought was the key to people coming to Christ in Nigeria. I had to think about it a bit, but I believe it is the fact that when people come into the Kingdom of God they are born into a family, a Christ-community that is ready to welcome them.

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Haruna was a young Muslim boy, tending the flocks for his father. But his father beat and abused him, so his aunt sent him away to Islamic school to study the Quran. During his studies he came across the idea of compassion and, not finding any real-life examples in the people around him to study, he determined to find a Christian church, since he thought he might be able to observe compassion among them.

He came to Gembu and went to First Baptist, just a little ways up the hill from our house. In this church of about 1000 people the ushers recognized he was new, and a deacon sat with Haruna and explained the good news about Jesus to him. Haruna became a Christian man, and was accepted into the community. Not only that, but he came to

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our house and adopted us, and so we all gained family members in the process.

When I became a Christian at the age of 21 I felt like a bit of a black sheep in my own family, but I was welcomed into the Mennonite church I became a part of, and discovered the fellowship of saints for the first time there. Our family was only in Nigeria for a year the last time we actually lived there, but I can attest to the truthfulness of Jesus’ promise; we also received 100-fold of homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, and so on.IMG_4732

So as we look forward to leaving North America and heading to Cameroon and Nigeria, I know the miracle of the internet will alleviate part of our sadness, but the promise of Jesus will no doubt prove to be the biggest blessing we will receive there, as we gain – in this present age – one hundred fold of anything we might have left behind.

A Piece of Work

Last year near the end of my visit to West Africa, I was up in northern Cameroon and a few of my Fulbe friends had come to see me off. We were living near a missionary there, and he had a young intern missionary working with him – and this young intern had a young friend from Ontario, Canada visiting him.

This young Ontarian was in the oil business, working on the rigs in various places. He was a non-stop-talker, always with a funny story, told with great bombast and verve. He was fun to be around, but a little unnerving at the same time, because you never quite knew what he was going to say next. He was, in North American parlance, “a piece of work.IMG_5237

I told this to my friend the Wakili just before he was to meet him. “I will not tell you what ‘a piece of work’ means,” I said, “because I think you will just figure it out when you meet him yourself.” He met him soon enough.

Our young friend came bounding in and proceeded to tell us his latest story. He had been travelling across the country with an oil rig friend, and had been told to avoid the fish when ordering food. They were in a small town and were having no luck with the restaurants there. One after another they were told they had no food available for them (often you need to let them know ahead of time that you are coming).

Finally they came to one restaurant where they were told they had a choice of fish or bush meat. Our young friend knew that fish was out of the question, so he ordered the bush meat. In due time out it came – a monkey’s arm, complete with monkey fist still attached to the end.monkey

Our friend stared at it, nonplussed for just a moment (it is hard to shock him enough to quieten him down), and then figured, “Hey, I’m hungry” and went to it! (This was just a couple of years after the Ebola crisis swept through West Africa and the USA.)

Well, we had a good – albeit nervous – laugh at that story, and when we got back to our rooms I asked the Wakili what he thought. “Yes,” he agreed, laughing. “He is a piece of work.”

Some things don’t need to be translated.

Family Matters

In our travelling of the past little while, we have been fortunate to be able to combine some of our support-raising work with family visitation, and the process of saying good-bye.Mom's Camera 046

This happened this past weekend when we were in Kelowna. My mother lives there, as does one of my sisters, so there was planned a Kilmartin Family Picnic – partly just to get together, but also to commemorate my mother’s 85th birthday. We were able to combine this with sharing about the ministry at Grace Baptist Church, which was really a lot of fun in its own right.

The family event went very well – the weather was really nice, and that day the smoke from northern B.C. was not in evidence. My sister chose a really great site to have it, right by the lake, under a large gazebo, and with enough grass to allow us to play bocce ball and devise a whiffle ball golf obstacle course. The food was marvelous, plentiful, and right up my palate’s alley. Six out of seven siblings were able to be there, which is pretty good for us.

The biggest surprise for me was to see my son Robert walk through the door at my sister’s house the day before the picnic. I had come in on the plane (flying in from eastern Canada), and was expecting Sonya to have beaten me to the airport (thinking that she was flying in from Edmonton). Instead she had driven with Robert, who was coming from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

It was a terrible long drive for Bob, happily broken up by a stay with his sister in Leduc, and then with friends in Lake Louise. The drive back east for him was not so nice, and he was not looking forward to the experience of getting home on his own (after the weekend was done I drove with Sonya south to OK Falls before flying home to Edmonton again). But he did it, he said, because he felt it was a good decision to do so.

Not all of my children share my perspective, but my view of my son Robert is that he has a great heart that is usually in the right place. In this case, it was right again. It was a great sacrifice for him to drive all that way, hours of it alone, in order to be at this family gathering. He felt it was important and worth it, and he was right.

People on their death bed know, and I am coming to find that missionaries heading toward the field know it as well, that there are a lot of things we can foolishly waste our time on, but being with family members for significant events is not one of them.

In the next few weeks we will see Bob again, as we drive to Manitoba to take care of things there – and to see our son, Daniel. Our son John will come west, to Canmore, and our daughter we’ll see this coming week. I cherish these times with our children, and loved the time spend with my extended family.

I hope that in your own life situation you are able to take some time to be with family as well, intentionally making time and space to connect with them in significant ways. Let us not take these people for granted, because they may not always be granted to us.

Bagirmi

When Sonya and I were in Colorado in May for our four weeks of Mission Training we met people from all over the United States, going to all over the world. It really was very cool.

One woman we met there was on her way to Chad, to minister among the Bagirmi people. The Bagirmi are found in Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR); there are over 260,000 of them, and they are classified as an unreached people group.

As we talked about them we noticed some similarities between them and the Fulbe people that Sonya and I will be working among. The Bagirmi are traditionally nomadic, they are cattle herders, they live in the Sahel (that belt of land below the Sahara Desert), and so on.

Now I discover thBagirmi 1at the Bagirmi and the Fulbe do indeed belong to the same people group. The Fulbe are spread out in about fourteen countries across the Sahel, and because of that they are known by very many names – Fulbe, Fulani, Pula, Pular, Fular, Bilkiri, Bororo, Fouta Tooro, and more. In each place they are known to be difficult to reach for Christ, but it is exciting, nevertheless, to know that others like our friend are working with us in the same part of God’s wide field.

For more information about the Bagirmi/Fulbe you can click here.

 

Unreachable?

When I was in Buffalo, New York, the pastor I was staying with was a real go-getter, fun to be around, and a bit of a mischievous guy to boot. He took me to play basketball (gasping away the heart attack after the first game, but getting my wind by the time the third came along), and then out to supper with the family – a truly delightful bunch.

As we were driving to his home he told me he had a special surprise in store for me. When we got there I discovered, to my great pleasure, that his family had adopted a 20 year old Nigerian from Abuja for a few months, and we got to spend a good amount of time together.Fulbe 1

My new friend was proud and enthusiastic to be from Africa, and Nigeria in particular. He said when people asked him where he was from (his accent made it clear he was not American), he would pull his shirt over his shoulders to show a tattoo on his back with the outline of Africa on the left side, and that of Nigeria on the right.

What truly surprised me about this young man, however, was his shock at hearing that I knew of, worked with, and was friends with, members of the Fulani tribe (that is the normal, anglicized, version of the name the Fulbe go by in Nigeria). “You can’t be working with them!” he exclaimed. “That is impossible – no one works with the Fulani!”

Fulbe 4He was truly incredulous. He had never heard of Fulbe being Christians, never heard of anyone getting to know any Fulanis or being able to work with them. All he had heard, apparently, were the stories of their tendencies toward violence, their intractability, and imperviousness to the good news of Jesus Christ.

I was able to share with him some of my own experiences. The Fulbe that I know are both Christian and Muslim, but most of them are hospitable, kind, generous, and good-humoured. I love them and enjoy them. They may be an unreached people group (according to the Joshua Project website), but, by the grace of God, they are not unreachable.

The Wonder of Children

Often when I am sharing about the Fulbe ministry in churches the pastors will direct that the children stay in the service (quite often they retire to go to a more child-conducive setting), and, if I am paying attention enough, I try to gear my presentation more towards the younger set. I have found that when you aim at the children, the parents will often get more out of it.

In Gladwin, Michigan, this happened, and I am so glad it did. As I often do at the end of my talk, I showed a picture of seven Fulbe children in a row, standing in front of the Wakili’s parlour in our small hamlet, where Aminu is behind (reading my thesis from school).077 Lamizanatu, Farida, Jamilatu, Maryam, Shuayba, Jama'atu, Sardauna

The Fulbe children were a delight and a wonder. They liked to follow me around as an informal posse. On occasion I have prayed for one or two of them for healing of one sort or another, so we have a special bond that way. One of them, Shuayba, was just about four years old when I first visited the hamlet; she welcomed me by climbing onto my lap and adopting me that first time out (in the picture she is on my son Robert’s lap). For a fellow who loves kids, it was a wonderful introduction to this new people group.IMG_0038

While in the churches I share what God is doing in and among the Fulbe people –some of the stories are amazing, others are heartwarming. I am trusting that all of them glorify God.

As I show the picture in church, I tell the young people to pay special attention, because I have a $10 bill in my wallet, and if they can recite the names of the kids after the service, the $10 is theirs.

I say the names as clearly and slowly as I can: starting from the left, Lamizanatu, Farida, Jamilatu, Maryam, Shuayba, Jama’atu, and Sardauna. I have never been too much in fear of losing my money; the names are hard to say, and no doubt harder for a young person to remember. In fact, no one had ever even tried to claim the money before. Not until Gladwin.

That Sunday morning the first little fellow, maybe five years old, came shyly up to me, his mother coming behind and urging him on, with a fistful of coins. Twenty cents worth. His fortune, no doubt, but now being given, with intense seriousness and quiet joy, for the benefit of people he had only just heard of, but had never met. He felt the need inside of himself, somehow had a sense of his own riches, and gave out of the fullness of God. I was humbled and overcome; I wished I could hug him and talk to him about the big thing he has just done, but he hastened back to his mother.

A second child came up, this one an older girl, and a real delight. She also needed urging from her mother, though she was a little more confident. She had memorized the names, her mother said, and was there to recite them to me to collect the reward. I was very pleased and asked her to repeat them back to me. The first ones were pretty much a wash, but “Sardauna” came out loud and clear – my friend, the Wakili’s son, had made the connection. For his sake I gladly handed over the treasure.10 DOLLARS

Truth is, I would have given it over in any case – just for the pleasure of having a child finally come up and try those really hard names out. The wonder of children. Making friends, one hard name at a time.

Tom, Matt, and Me

There are a couple of films that exemplify for me the fact that for one person to go from ‘here to there’ successfully usually requires a group of people helping them out on their journey.

Tom Hanks shows this in Apollo 13 (a film based on a true story), an account of a shuttle he and two others are flying, which suffers an explosion en route to the moon. Because of the explosion they are forced to return to the earth without accomplishing their mission. The mission of thousands of other people then becomes getting the three of them home safely.Apollo 13

In The Martian, Matt Damon is accidentally left behind on Mars, and many others are also called upon to sacrifice in order to bring him home safely.

My own ‘voyage’ saw me flying to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in order to visit several churches there, and in Minitonas and Morris, and from there flying to Toronto, Ontario; renting a car and driving to Spittsville, Smith Falls, then into Medina and Getzville, New York, across Ontario again to go to St. Claire Shores, Mason, Gladwin, and Auburn, Michigan, before driving to Romulus (nice imagery there), where the airport is and flying home to

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Edmonton, Alberta (arriving safely two days ago).

While waiting for standby flights, white knuckling it over the many bridges between Ontario, New York, and Michigan, driving to hosts’ homes, and speaking in various churches, I too was cognizant of relying upon many others to get me to where I needed to go, and to receive me when I finally got there.

Sonya and Cari, June 2017Sonya and my daughter, Cari, were the flight directors on the home front. After them were the many pastors who received into their churches and homes; others who hosted me so well; many people who came and listened to the vision and need regarding our Fulbe mission to Cameroon and Nigeria; those who gave words of encouragement and blessing; and the hundreds who were praying for the success of the trip. If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes the equivalent of an extended village to send a guy on a journey half way across the country to exotic places he has never been before.

By the grace of God, and thanks to all of these folks, the trip was indeed a success. The message was shared with a good number of folks, and there was a positive response to it.

Of course, there is still a long way to go in our journey to get to Cameroon and Nigeria, so we urge you to continue praying, reading, learning, along with us as we go. Thanks so much.

Prayer for the Plateau

There is good and bad news on the Plateau today.

The bad news is the death toll, and the fear of reprisals. I have heard of at least 47 people dead, with more missing, and many injured. Though I have seen pictures from there I will not post them here. A sister of my friend Bilkisu was one of the ones killed, so it has struck very close to home.

In our partner village (a hamlet, really) there are about 50 people who have fled from their homes and taken refuge there, and more are expected. They do not have room to host so many, so they have shuttled some off to a larger near-by village (at this point I do not wish to print the names of the places).

Part of the good news is that a sort of calm has settled over the Plateau, but the fear is, now, that there will be reprisals made by the Fulbe against their aggressors. Of course, just who the aggressors are remains a point of contention, with various folks arguing from different perspectives.

What is clear is that this was a tribal matter (not a religious one), primarily involving farmers and cattle grazers. Generally speaking, the Fulbe tend to be the cattle grazers, while the Mambilla people are farmers. Both Muslims and Christians (“so-called,” as my friends put it) were involved in the attacks. If you are very ambitious, and wish to get a better grip on why all of this is happening, you may turn to these articles – just three of many out there trying to explain the present situation: The Fulani Crisis: Communal Violence and Radicalization in the Sahel, Making Sense of Nigeria’s Fulani-Farmer Conflict, Why Fulani Herdsmen and Farmers Fight: How Climate Change and Boko Haram Created a Crisis.

Essentially, the problem is one of long-standing origin, and has to do with the traditional Fulbe having to graze their cattle farther south than they have usually done in the past few decades. this southern migration has been exacerbated in recent years by the presence of the Boko Haram in the north making it unsafe there for Fulbe people also.
This migration south means they have encroached on farmers’ lands, and many of the peoples they are coming into contact with – including, and especially, the Mambilla – have a violent history with the Fulbe, so there is bad blood between them already. Locally, there are some politics and politicians involved as well, but their role in all this is murky to me (I have heard bits of stories, but they are not really clear to me).

The great bit of good news is the number of people praying for the Plateau right now. There are a lot of practical things to be done (the government needs to step up; food needs to be bought; cooler heads need to prevail; and so on), but prayer to God is an ultimately practical discipline, requiring focus and attention.

One of the major elements in our support raising is to bring on board people who have pledged to pray for us and the ministry we are involved in. I consider this aspect of our support to be absolutely crucial to any success we might see on our mission. Thanks so much to all off you ho have committed yourself to this vital ministry – and thanks so much for your prayer for the Plateau right now.

I will reprint here what I said in my prayer post of a few days ago, since it is still relevant:
Please pray for safety for our Christian brothers and sisters (cf. 2 Thess 3.2); pray that the government will intervene in such a way as to de-escalate the violence and bring peace to the area (even an enforced peace at this point [cf. Rom 13.4)); pray that no Christians return evil for evil, but that they will return good for evil (cf. Rom 17-21); pray that the Christian leaders will speak with the words of Christ (cf. 1 Pet 4.11).
Thanks so much for your prayers.