Peculiar Humour

I find that people in Nigeria and Cameroon have a great sense of humour for the most part, and happily it sometimes matches my own penchant for sometimes strange comedy.

I remember visiting our partner village with Sonya one day when we lived there in 2009. Just as we were getting ready to leave a woman there walked by and said that she loves me and would like to my second wife!IMG_3339

This was a broad joke for the people there, and they were wondering how I would react to such a request. Well, I laughed along with everyone else, and then told her I was sorry, but I did not think I could afford a second wife. This brought more laughs – and then I went a bit too far and asked her if she thought she could make enough money to support all of us.

I was saved by Sonya poking her head around the truck, even though she had not really caught any of this. This is what happens in a culture where having more than one wife is quite alright.

The Bigger Picture

Our church subscribes to the Church Around the World newsletter, which gives relevant news stories about what is going on in the world with respect to the Church (sort of like the title says . . . ).

In the August, 2016 edition there is an article there about attacks on Christian villages in northern Nigeria by “Fulani tribal fighters.” In their attacks they have “burned Christian residents alive, torched animals and houses, and destroyed farms.”

Apparently Fulani terrorism is on the rise in northern Nigeria but it has been overshadowed by the Boko Haram terrorists – also operating in the north – who are now affiliated with ISIS. The story goes on to note that the president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, is a Fulani man and the hope was that he would help to quell the violence. Instead it has only increased.

When we speak about the Fulbe we are speaking about the Fulani – the two words mean the same thing. Fulani is the anglicized version of Fulbe (which comes from the Fulfulde language).

I want to stress the fact that where Sonya and I will be ministering, we will not be in any direct danger – though we will still want you to pray along the lines of 2 Thessalonians 3.1-2: “And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith.”

On the other hand, our Fulbe friends are in various degrees connected to some of the Muslim Fulbe in the north, and it is our fervent hope that their witness will serve to draw their fellow Fulbe to Jesus Christ.

Inflation Alert

I was talking to a friend of mine in Nigeria yesterday and he was explaining to me the price situation there. Most people will know that worldwide there has been a rise in oil prices from Nigeria and OPEC recently.

What might not be so well-known is the effect this has had on fuel prices in Nigeria, with the subsequent adjustment in food prices. IMG_2509

The Nigerian President Muhammad Buhari made the decision to take the federal subsidy off the fuel prices earlier this year, and that resulted in a drastic rise in local food prices which has seriously affected the poor people that I know about.

My friend tells me that a bag of maize in Gembu that used to cost N8,500 now cost N16,000 (CAD c.$34 and $65). You can imagine the hardship this has caused among the poorer people in the region. My friend says that there are many now who are going to the hospital, suffering from malnutrition.

IMG_2518I fear mostly for our brothers and sisters in the Needy Church in Gembu. My son Daniel and I used to go there to help distribute rice and other foodstuffs that had been donated by generous donors from Canada. We also loved to be in church and worship with them when we got the chance (which was not too often).

Please pray for our poorer brothers and sisters there, not only among the Fulbe, but all of the tribes on the Plateau Mambilla who are suffering right now.

A Watchnight Education

Though some things are the same, it truly is a different world in Nigeria.

Our house, like most homes there, had a high mudbrick fence and a gate around it, and at night it was protected by a “watchnight” (as all the night watchmen call themselves). The watchnight has his own little hut by the gate, with a bed and a fire to roast corn on, and keep himself warm.

Our watchnight’s name was John. He was a serious fellow who was carrying two spears the first time I met him. He’d had occasion to use them too; one of them still had blood on it from the last fellow he had hit, trying to climb over the wall. Another day he had a bow and arrows, and he warned me about the arrows, as they were tipped with poison.

The church’s watchnight was named Agabus. One day he was telling me how to get to his village, which is a fair distance away (on the way to Warwar). So then I told him how to get to our home in Manitoba by plane, through Abuja and London. Then I had a thought, and I brought out the little plastic globe I had in my office and showed him that. Well, that was a real revelation to him, as he had never seen one before. He was most fascinated by the Pacific Ocean, which he felt was a very great river, and he wondered if canoes could traverse it.IMG_3035

At one point he asked if there were other countries above us, pointing up to the sky. So then I explained (as best I could) how the earth is round, and that from where we are the people in some other countries would actually be under us. We both found the whole exercise very enjoyable and a lot of fun. We talked about the different vegetation in Canada from Nigeria, and how the one is further from the equator and so is much colder. I don’t know how well I explained it all, or really how much Agabus understood, but it was eye-opening for us both.

Education in Nigeria is improving all the time, but it has a long, long (long!) way to go. It is one of the three priorities that we have in our partnership (along with evangelism and community development). It will help Agabus and John only indirectly, but we believe in time it will serve to lift the whole community up.

A Day in the Life

One of the neat people I met on the Plateau was a Mambilla man named Pastor Timothy Shadgem. He was the director in charge of the Gospel Evangelism Team, and we got to be good friends. Timothy has a great heart for spreading the good news about Jesus and he led me on more adventures than just about anyone else. One Saturday in October was fairly typical.013 Timothy and Martina Shadjem

I was not riding my own machine (motorcycle) yet, so I waited for Timothy to show up at my house. He was due at 6 am, but finally arrived at 7:30. Something to do with his wife needing help. After buying some “foil” (i.e. fuel) we headed off down the mountain and wound up in a little village where he had arranged for me to preach.

There were not too many people there, as an old man had passed away and most of the people were off attending his funeral. Seven men sat on a board bench, while Timothy and I were given little stools to sit on. A background of young boys sitting against the wall of the building completed that side of the picture. Out in the road dogs, goats, girls, and women would occasionally walk by. Timothy said to preach the gospel, so off I started and the men listened attentively as I shared about the God who made everything and who loves us, so much so that even when we did bad things he sent his son to pay for our punishment.

When I was done I asked for questions or comments, and they thanked me very much for coming. They said they knew the message must be true because otherwise a white man from Canada would not come to them to tell it.

After the preaching I said I had two more gifts. One was the gift of prayer, so two of the men asked for prayer for healing in their backs. Then we gave them a soccer ball, to the joy of all. Presenting soccer ball in Wah 3After that they sent a young boy to ask if an older man wished for prayer, and he came back and said yes, so Timothy and I went to pray for him. This was a recent convert to Christ, who wished for baptism one day. After that we said goodbye to that village and went on our way.

We drove back towards Gembu, up the hill, and then turned off to the village of Wah. The Jauro of all the surrounding villages of Gembu lived there, I was told. This is a very important man, one of the traditional rulers. We drove to his compound, where a group of men were sitting, important in their own right. We greeted them all and then went into the house, where we waited in a room lighted only by the sun coming in the doorway. The Jauro was next door, getting up from bed. He came into the room, a very tall man, well-built, but quite old – maybe in his 80s – and stooped over now. He sat on his chair, while we were on a mat at his feet. We exchanged greetings and I told him next time I would have a small gift to bring him (I need to get him some footballs), and that I would pray for him if he wished. So I anointed him with oil and prayed. He then told me that he was having trouble with his eyes, so when I came back to bring him some medicine for them.

Then we headed back to Gembu once again, and as we passed my house Timothy asked if I needed to get anything, and was it still time enough to get to Warwar? Neither of us had a watch, but it still seemed early, so I said, nope, let’s keep going.

Warwar is across the Donga river, over some pretty big, steep mountain trails. On the way there it was not too slippery, since it had been dry, but we got stuck in a little stream that flows across the trail. Timothy couldn’t get the bike out of it, so I asked if I should get off and walk. No, he said, he can get us out. So he hits the gas, and lets out the clutch too fast, and the bike jumps up and I fall backwards off the end, and land with my butt end in the stream. It happened pretty fast, but I was not hurt too badly. After I got up I was laughing, but poor Timothy was pretty shook up that he had dumped the Field Director in the stream.

Down in Warwar we attended the ordination council for one of the field pastors. We got there an hour and a half late, which was great for us because it meant we missed most of the preliminaries. The ordination council is a whole story in itself; suffice to say the poor candidate scraped through with a 59% pass-rate after being raked over the coals by his colleagues.

After that the pastors and wives got together for a meal, and it rained while we were in there, so we drove back in the rain. That was interesting, and bit tricky, but we had no mishaps, though this time I was asked to please get off and walk a few times – which I appreciated.

Lovely Feet

Speaking of bugs (chiggers last time) reminds me of the last place I visited while our family was still living in Nigeria in 2009. I spent most weekends that year travelling in our Helix Toyota, or on my own motorcycle, or the back of someone else’s bike, going to different village squares, churches, Jauro’s palaces (a Jauro is one of the traditional rulers), or simple courtyards in individual compounds. There I would bring some word of greeting from my home church (at that time, Elim Baptist in Beausejour, MB), and preach and teach a little bit.IMG_2306

On the last such enterprise I travelled with my friend Pastor Aminu and some others in my Helix until we reached a creek-bed which it could not traverse. Then we switched to chabbas – taxi motorcycles – to take us the rest of the way to the village.

Meanwhile, as we rode in the truck, the Evangelism Team from the Baptist Seminary was trekking to the same destination – and I can only imagine what a long, hot, rough walk that would be. Men and women from the Seminary made the journey, taking about eight hours to climb up and down the hills.

While the truck reached there at mid-afternoon, the Evangelism Team did not arrive until close to sunset, so we had several hours to wait. We spent part of it in a church just outside the village, praying and worshipping. The rest we invested in a short walk to the top of an overlooking hill where we could survey the beautiful countryside.IMG_0193

Finally we were all together, and after more prayer we headed into the village. It was dark by then, but a generator had been brought and Christmas lights lit up the village square. My business that evening was to share my testimony, so in my white Fulani robe I stood in the middle of the square with my friend Aminu beside me, translating to the crowd.

Now, you should know: Fulbe people are normally very stoical – they do not like to show too much emotion to outsiders, and never any sign of pain or discomfort. Wouldn’t you know – towards the end of my testimony a bug began to seriously bite me just at my right shoulder, and I was trying to get at him without being too noticeable. My friend Aminu noticed, and he asked me under his breath what I was doing. When I told him he replied back that “A pullo [a single Fulbe] does not concern himself with such things.” Doh! Sufficiently chided, I left off with the bug and finished my testimony.

Aminu and I left early the next morning, as we had to be home for another engagement, but the Evangelism Team stayed behind. They went door to door, asking these Muslim people if they could share some more about Jesus. Later that afternoon they gathered those they had talked to and fielded any questions they had concerning Jesus and the Good News.

I later asked Pastor Aminu how the event had ended up. He responded by telling me that thirteen former Muslims from that village were preparing for water baptism! Suffering a little bug is one thing. Personally, I am in awe of those saints with the lovely feet trekking over the mountains.

NB. The second picture is of my son Robert and me with the Evangelism Team in Mbu.

The Chigger

There are all kinds of exotic (!) things that can ‘get’ you in West Africa. When our family lived in Nigeria all of us – except for me – experienced the little fiend known as a chigger.

A chigger is a little bug that loves to burrow into your toes, make its den, and lay eggs there. (I hope no one is reading this while they are having breakfast :-0) If it is not taken care of a chigger can cause a great deal of damage, but even though all the kids and Sonya had chiggers, she managed to keep our family out of serious harm during our time there.010 Hotel in Gembu with Larissa

It was when the Baptist convention on the Mambilla Plateau was dedicating its new mission hospital in 2010 that I returned to Nigeria for the first time. I was staying in a new hotel called the “Why Worried Hotel.” It had been built by an engineer friend of mine, and it even boasted hot water for its guests (he had a solar panel hooked up to a water container; when you wanted hot water you took your bucket outside where it was, pulled down the hose, and voila – there it was).

064 Larissa at my hotel in Gembu, Nov 2010The manageress in the hotel had a five year old daughter named Larissa who used to like to visit me in my room. She had never seen a white person before, and for her I was the ‘exotic’ thing! I remember her mother used to call her with the most wonderful sing-song voice: “Lariiisssaa.” It was beautiful.

One morning I woke up with a pain in my foot; upon close inspection I saw that I had encountered the dreaded chigger. Not one to panic, I called Sonya right away. I still remember her laughing at me over 6,000 miles of air waves. She gave me good advice though – find a local woman and ask her to get it out for me.

So when I saw Larissa I asked her if her mother could get a chigger out for me. When she came back I received the bad news that her mother did not know how to remove chiggers. In a little while, though, Larissa’s mother herself showed up to visit and when she actually looked at my toe with the chigger there she said, yes, she could remove it. It turns out she was from Cameroon where chiggers are called by another name.

So she found a sharp stick, told me to hold still, and dug around a little bit. The operation was successful; I put some salve on the spot and was quite better in no time.

A chigger is a small thing, but it can easily lead to a serious big thing. I am so thankful for praying, working, giving, worshiping family and friends who stand behind us and with us to ensure little chiggers remain just that.

Power (Electrical, that is)

246 Sisters Hapsatu and Halima, grindingOur power went out for 5 hours this morning, from 9 am until 2 pm. It was not too bad, as it was an intentional outage so some power poles could be fixed, and we were given notice of it before it happened. I was gone for much of the morning so it did not affect me until the last couple of hours.

It reminded me, though, of what most of our friends in Africa live with all the time. In the villages where I minister I cannot think of a single one which has a source of communal power. In a few places I know there might be a generator if there is some community event happening, but other than that there is nothing.

Think of that in your own context. There are no stoves or fridges. All the cooking will be over a wood fire; the food will have to be such that it will not spoil in the open. Lots of things will be impossible to keep in the house.

There are no washers or dryers. All of those kinds of things are done by hand, either down by the stream or whatever the source of water is.184 Fetching water

There are no lights in the classrooms in the school. The children will have to see by the light that comes in through the windows. This is true for the houses as well. In the evenings everything is done by kerosene lamps, battery charged lights, or candles.

Happily, the weather there is usually warm, so furnaces are not needed – most of the time. If people are cold (and often they will be, in a way that a Canadian will never know), there is always another layer of clothing.

I have never heard anyone listening to music unless they were in a vehicle. Most of the men I know have radios, and they like to listen to the BBC in either Hausa or English, but these are all portable and battery operated. There is no TV in the villages. If you wish to work on a computer you’ll have to rely on your battery and when that runs out – well, then you stop.

Miracle on the Mambilla Plateau

One of the things that still amazes me about our time on the Mambilla Plateau (and all my time there since) is the miracle of grace that God performed on my own psyche (if you can call it that). Let me explain.

I grew up on Vancouver Island, and we still have lots of family there. In fact, most of my family is on the other side of the Rocky Mountains. This is not a real problem except for one thing – I am afraid of heights, and travelling over the mountains gives me the heebie jeebies (not sure how you spell that, but you get the idea).IMG_2901

However you understand those passages about us not been given a spirit of fear, and so on, somehow does not occur to me when we are driving along a steep mountainside with nothing but vertigo-inducing slopes all round. The last time we crossed over I did not drive; while the rest of the family enjoyed the natural grandeur of God’s great creation, I stayed in the backseat with a sheet over my head and watched a video.

When we planned our trip to Nigeria it did not occur to me that this might be an issue. We were headed for a plateau, and, as everyone knows, plateaus – while higher than the ground around them – are relatively level plains. Right? Well, no, not really.

Turns out the Mambilla Plateau has more mountainous terrain than I have ever encountered in my life. Plus more hair-pin turns around the sides of mountains; narrow, rocky paths heading straight down into river valleys; tight turns heading straight up the sides; and on and on it goes. When we first approached the Plateau it was during the night and although I knew we were heading uphill, I had no idea of how winding and treacherous the road really was.DSC02885

It was not until we saw everything in the light of day and started touring around that I realized what I had gotten myself into. Mountains and hills everywhere, with nary a straight, level spot in sight. This could have put a sudden stop to any thought of ministry for me except for one thing – the mighty grace of God.

For you see, not once in all my time there did I have any fear of heights. I remember riding on the back of a motorcycle, gazing over the edge of a high, steep cliff marvelling at God’s goodness to me, that my fear had been taken away. I am still somewhat in awe of it today, after having ridden a bike on my own through countless peaks and valleys.

A friend of mine who is not a believer suggested that when I faced my fear (by going to the Plateau where I was forced to go up and down everywhere), it would just naturally cease to exist. That sounds good in theory except that back in Canada when I thought I was over this fear for good, I still am afraid of heights. That part I can’t explain. I can only explain not being afraid in Africa, and that because of the miracle of grace God performed in me.

Good African Books

Still thinking along the line of good books, I should mention some good books by African authors as well.

The first one I came across (and it was a felicitous find for sure) was Nigerian Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. This is the novel that made its author internationally famous, and rightly so. Part of its story involves the first coming of missionaries to Nigeria. When I was teaching that part of Church History in seminary I quoted from these sections and my class just loved it. thingsfallapartThough they were not all big readers, they all know who Chinua Achebe is and are very proud of their native son. The other book by him I have read is Arrow of God. I see that there is a third in his African Trilogy – No Longer At Ease – and I guess I will have to get that one and read it too one of these days.

My favorite African theologian is Kwame Bediako, from Ghana. My major regret with Bediako is that I have read so little of his work; they are not readily accessible in our area. Even so, his slim little volume Jesus and the Gospel in Africa: History and Experience was a delight to read, and very enlightening for a westerner just learning about the Church in West Africa.

A larger work is the Africa Bible Commentary, a one-volume commentary on the whole Bible written by 70 African scholars. I was just getting into this book a bit here in NA when I decided I really ought to give it to a friend in Nigeria. When I visit him again I will have to try to reacquaint myself with it.abc

Sadly, not too many of my African friends are big readers. Several have confessed as much to me, and the evidence of it shows when I am teaching in the seminary there. One young fellow who I taught this past spring complained that all the books in the seminary library were “too old.” I soon disabused him of that thought. The library in Mbu, where my colleague missionary Dave Burgess laboured for many years, is the best library on the Mambilla Plateau and has a good reputation even off the Plateau. When I go there I am amazed at the depth and breadth of the collection.

There are some leaders in the church who are studious readers,  though, and eager for more good reading material. If you have [good, appropriate] books that you wish to donate they may be transported via White Cross in Edmonton (you will want to help out with the shipping costs if you do this of course).