Water, Water Everywhere . . .

I should say a few more words about the water projects that our Friends of the Fulbe Society sponsor. Some may worry that this ministry is somehow taking work away from local Nigerians, because we are doing things for them that they could very well do for themselves. Let me explain how it works.

On this side of the pond we mostly supply the funds needed to buy materials and pay for labour costs. The cost of a water project may run anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 depending on the source, the distance from the village(s), and many other factors. The villages we target are typically small to mid-size, and there is no way they could afford to finance such a project on their own.DSC02841

Our team on the ground is made up entirely of Nigerians. The team is overseen by a Nigerian engineer. He is now responsible to scout out locations for possible spring catchments, and he looks after the workers, ensuring that the job is done well.

This team does not do all the work, however. Much of the manual work is given over to the villagers – this is one of the conditions that must be met before a project is begun. The villagers must agree to “own” the project themselves by providing for the necessary sand, rock, and labour to dig trenches, and so on. Were it not for this ‘voluntary labour’ from the receiving village the labour costs would sky-rocket to where even North Americans could not really afford to finance a water project.

Does it go without saying that all of the materials are bought locally: the cement, the plastic piping, and so on? These are all Nigerian projects, benefitting Nigerians not just by providing water, but by giving long-term jobs to the crew.

Our latest project is just in the beginning stages. A family here in Canada has seven children who wished to honour their parents’ memory with a memorial gift. Their parents were passionate about blessing people with fresh, clean water, but during their lifetime were hampered financially. Their seven children now find themselves in a position to see their parents’ dream become a reality. Each one has given $1000 so that we now have $7,000 with which to bless whole communities of people.

Our team is actively searching for a location now – in fact they think they might have found a spring that could furnish as many as seven small villages with fresh, clean water. Now THAT is a living memorial. God bless that family, and may their tribe increase.

Springs for Life

The best drinking water I’ve ever tasted is from Kamloops, B.C. I might be biased, since that’s where I mostly grew up. Edmonton tap water is not too bad; that is what we drink now. Our house in the country has a very good well, but the water, while potable, is not that pleasant to drink, so we have been bringing in tap water from Sonya’s parents’ house in the city.

The situation in eastern Nigeria, as in many places in the majority world, is not half as good. I remember giving a ride to one woman from a rural village on her way to the city. She had with her a bottle of grey, murky, floaty-filled water and I rudely told her she could not drink from it while in my truck; she would have to drink from my water instead. I most likely offended her when I said that, but I thought I was going to be sick if I saw her take a drink of that awful stuff.

The thing about the Mambilla Plateau is that it is full of good water springs, but most of these are up in the hills, far away from where the villages are situated. That means the villagers get their water from out of the way sources that are often muddy, used for washing and to water the cattle. It does not take a medical genius to recognize that the health hazards from such a situation are many and dangerous.

One of the ministries that the Friends of the Fulbe Society is engaged in is tapping these springs and bringing the clean, fresh water down to where the people are. The leader of “Springs for Life” on this side of the pond is Mr. Bernie Lemke: architect, builder, former missionary, and – with his wife Lily – having a heart of gold. SDC10099

Bernie lost his Nigerian counterpart to cancer last year, so earlier this year he and Lily travelled to Nigeria and Cameroon to find a new partner who would be able to oversee the work of building catchments for the springs. They managed to find such a man, and they figure the water projects will go ahead even better than before.

Of course, when a water source is ‘caught’ and brought down to a village, it is not just the health of the people of the village that is improved. Their whole way of living may now progress. It is usually the young girls who are tasked with fetching; often the water will be kilometers away from where they have to take it. If that distance means they have to miss school, so be it. Water is more important than school.

We know today that a young girl getting an education is one of the key factors in a community rising out of extreme poverty. Our “Springs for Life” projects are helping whole communities do just that.

Just a week or so ago one of our water projects was completed. I have seen the pictures of Bernie’s proud partner there, of the excited villagers drinking the clean water, and of my friend Pastor Aminu speaking to them on behalf of the Friends of the Fulbe. “This spring catchment has been built,” Aminu said, “by Christian people who have the love of Christ in them. Though they do not know you, they know Jesus, and He has given them this love for you that has brought this clean water right to your village.”

These Muslim people, he said, were amazed at these words, and we are praying that here, as in so many other places, the clean, fresh water brought to them will open doors in their hearts to the Living Water which God wants for them.

There is more to say about this ministry, but I will keep that for the next post.

In the midst of life . . .

My good friend’s cousin died last week in Nigeria. He had been a car accident, had a head injury, and was taken to the hospital for treatment. After a week or so there he succumbed to his injuries and passed away.

His story will not be reported in any of the newspapers there, because if they did they would have to report every such incident, and soon there would be room for nothing else.

One graveside service here begins, “In the midst of life we are in death . . .” This is especially true for our African friends. I recall hearing a knock at our door around 8:30 one night only to meet a pastor there. He pleaded with me, would I take his wife and their two twin baby girls to the hospital, 7 km out of town? The road was rough and he only had a motorcycle, and was understandably worried that the trip would be too much for them.

It took no convincing at all for me to grab the truck, drive over to where they were staying, and trundle them all in. The missionary doctor was very angry at him. Not because he brought them to the hospital so late in the evening – but because he brought them to the hospital so late in their illness. Why had he not been there sooner?

Long story short – though both girls were very close to death, our mission doctor managed to save them both. I visited the family on my next trip a couple of years later to find one of the girls had died of yet another malady.

IMG_2717Stillbirths, vehicle accidents, unexplained illnesses, malaria, typhoid – the list goes on – all take their toll on these poor people. There are myriad reasons why in Nigeria the hospital system is so poor, and why the people do not access them as well as they might. Bottom line: people die when they could live. Spiritually this is also the case.

I thank God for the wonderful missionary doctors who served when I was in Nigeria, and we can all thank God for the great NAB medical missionaries serving in Cameroon: people like Rick and Debbie Bardin, Julie Stone,  and Dennis and Nancy Palmer – not to mention the many who have gone before them. Physically they are saving lives every day, and spiritually they are helping to do the same – and creating an environment where the good news of Jesus Christ is given a hearty welcome because people there know all about the medical missionaries and they love what they bring.

Hurera’s Testimony

This past March saw me in Nigeria, travelling to a few different communities (some too small to be called villages), meeting old friends and making some new ones. One of the new friends I met was a woman named Hurera, and as we travelled around she came with us a few places and we got to know each other a little bit.

Hurera spoke just a very little English, and I speak just a very little Fulfulde (the language of the Fulbe people), but we were still able to communicate through our friends who could speak both.

Hurera’s story was mostly a sad one, as for much of her life she lived with tragedy. One morning she gave her testimony during our time of worship, and though I could not understand then what she was saying I knew it was having a powerful effect on the people. Fulbe are quite stoic by nature, and do not show emotion easily or freely, so this morning, as Hurera spoke, I knew something very moving was happening as I could hear the women snuffle and pull their veils over their heads, and could see the men covering their faces with their hands. Afterwards, as I sat with Hurera and another friend she told me the whole story while he translated for me.

When she was very young Hurera’s parents both died, and she was given over to her grandparents. While she was in their care she was abused, and they eventually gave her away to be married at a very young age (think young teen-ager here). Her first husband also abused her, and eventually divorced her, taking her children with him. She was remarried, with a similar outcome.

The result of all this was a woman who felt she had no worth at all, who believed she was beyond the love of humans and God, and who had given up all hope for herself of ever having any kind of happiness in her life.

One of the practises of my Fulbe friends is to bring people into their fellowship by having them come and live with them in their community. They did this with Hurera. They made a place for her to live in their community, they visited her, showed her kindness, treated her as a woman of value and worth, and with both word and deed taught her about Jesus and his love for her.

The deep emotional impact of her story came as she shared how profound her despair over her life was compared with the love and joy she has now found in Jesus Christ. This woman is simply brimming with the love of God, and she shared with great passion how the people ought to be sharing Jesus everywhere they go with everyone they meet – because only he has the power and the love to change them no matter how far gone they think they might be in sin and darkness.

Hurera’s story touched me as well. Among other things, it is a vivid reminder for me of the wonderful life-changing love that God has for each one of us, and of the need for people here in North America to hear that very same message.

P.S. I do have a picture of Hurera with me, which I would share with you if we were sitting and sharing a coke together, but I am leery of putting photographs of my Fulbe friends on the website since it is not always safe for them in their environment. Thanks for understanding.

Trusting Connections

Back in Manitoba I was old-school. Never used a cell-phone in my life. Africa changed all that. I got my first cell phone when we lived in Nigeria, and even though I was terrible at using it there, it did come in very handy on several occasions.

With the exception of very small children, everyone I know in Africa has a cell phone, some of them more than one. The ones I am familiar with are all pay-as-you-go. There are no phone plans to go on or anything to tie you down, or have to pay for when you have no money and can’t use it. That is a good thing for the folks there, because it means virtually anyone can afford one – and in a country where the infrastructure for landlines is pretty much non-existent, this becomes very important.

But it has some major drawbacks, especially if you live out in the villages, as most of my friends do.

For the past couple of weeks I have been trying to phone one off my good friends there, and have had no success at all. Tonight I decided to fan out and try everyone else’s number that I had. Finally, after dialing the 8th number (and all these numbers are 15-16 digits remember) I reached a mutual friend in Cameroon.

This friend told me that everything is fine, except there is no service where my friend lives. I know what that is like, since I have stayed there many times.

On a good day to call someone on the phone you have to go outside under a particular tree and the reception might be pretty good. On a bad day you will have to climb a nearby hill (think small, smooth mountain) to try to get reception. On terrible days like these, there is absolutely nothing to do except go to a different town – and sometimes even that does not work.

This can be very tough on NA-Africa partnerships, where communication is crucial. But even more crucial than communication is trust (well, okay – the two need to go together . . . but you know what I mean). So when I cannot reach my friend it might be frustrating, but I know if he really needed to reach me he could go to the trouble of travelling to the next town (hire a taxi, catch a chabba, hitch a ride with a friend, call me at the right time of day, and hope there will be success at the end of the road) and get me.

Meanwhile we practise that wonderful Christian virtue of patience and trust. Trust in God, and trust in our partners.

Barka

082 Me and BarquaIt is hard to explain how big a deal cattle are to the Fulbe people. Maybe this will help. When you are greeting a male pullo (an individual Fulbe person) you will ask him how his cattle are, how his home is, how his wife and children are . . . in that order. Cattle come before all else, because they are a pullo’s source of wealth and life. Without cattle a pullo feels as though he is no longer a part of the Fulbe people.

Thus it was that when we were in Nigeria I determined to buy myself at least one cow. This cow would help me identify with the Fulbe; as it increased in value it would help with travel expenses; and it would provide another link to the people I am partnered with. On the other side, it would provide milk for the community, a kind of status, and give employment to a shepherd. (In another post I will explain the situation of our partners, and why status for the community and employment for a shepherd would be an issue.)

So a friend of mine agreed to help me buy a cow – and he did a wonderful job. We got a “father-son” deal, since he bought the cow from his father at a really good price. Not only so, but the cow was already pregnant, so it was a 2 for 1 deal.

In Fulbe culture naming a cow is a big deal as well. After much thought I decided on Barka for my cow’s name. Barka means “blessing” and I am blessed to have a cow as good as this one. She has given me a couple of good female calves, as well as a bull calf already. And now – just today – she has given birth to another healthy female calf. God has indeed blessed!

Shout-Out to Roseville

We are in the process of raising support in order to head out onto “the field” in Cameroon and Nigeria, and as with all things of this nature it is truly a team effort. A few words ought to be said about the people working behind the scenes (I think the technical term for this is “give a shout-out”).

Sonya and I travelled down to our International Office (IO) in Roseville, CA, a few weeks ago and met our North American Baptist staff there. A whole day of interviews and – what shall I call them? – things were planned for us to help get us ready to embark on this journey.

My favorite parts were simply getting to know the team members there, and being able to pray with them. It is a funny thing, but I felt like I knew most of the staff there before I met them because I have seen their faces and names on the website and some of the newsletters that come out of the IO. Getting to actually meet them was sort of like meeting celebrities for us.

Praying with them was pretty special – they had heard about the fires up around our area (near Fort MacMurray), and someone from Alberta had asked them to pray about that. It brought us close to home and close to tears at the same time.

Some of the staff we spent a good amount of time with, because they needed to give us information, draw information out of us, or else take our picture and video. These latter two things are really not my favorites, but the staff there was gracious and professional.

They are continuing to coach us through the process now (boy, do we need a lot of it), but working with good people is always a pleasure.

When you have a chance, stop and pray for them and the work they do for the Kingdom. All of us can use it. Thanks so much.

Jeff

The Fulbe

Perhaps a few words should be shared about some of the people among whom Sonya and I will be working.

The Fulbe are the largest unreached nomadic people group in the world. There are about 39 million of them – larger than the population of Canada!

Over 98% of them are Muslim, and historically they have been in the forefront of Islam, using jihad to push it south down the African continent.

In Nigeria, where we will be ministering part of the time, the Sokoto Caliphate was a Fulbe Muslim empire ruling from the early 1800s to 1903, based in what today is Kano State, and going as far south as the Mambilla Plateau (where they were up against the strong Mambilla people).

When the British government came against this Caliphate it defeated its rulers, and established the Northern Nigerian Protectorate, with a puppet caliph at its head. Because the British did not wish to upset its Fulbe hosts they forbad the Christian missionaries from going north up into the Fulbe empire.

This unwritten law was in effect until Nigeria declared its independence in 1963, after which the missions slowly started to work their way north. This also explains why the country is roughly divided into three sections, running east to west, with Muslims in the north, Christians in the south, and a Middle Belt with about a 60-40 split (Muslims being in the majority).

My Fulbe friends tell me that because of all this the work of the Gospel among the Fulbe is still in the pioneer stages.  This is certainly how I feel when I am there working among them. The first Fulbe converts that I know about did not come to Christ until the mid-1990s – though there is evidence that the Spirit of God was at work among the people prior to that time.

Virtually all of the Fulbe Christians I know are first generation believers, coming out of an Islamic background. This accounts, I think, for the fact that their story always sounds to me like the Book of Acts, and why it is so exciting to be a part of this great work of God.

Jeff

Pillars

When our family lived in Nigeria, we had plenty of occasions to rub shoulders with the Muslims there, and for the most part, these were positive experiences. In fact, sometimes even when they didn’t start that way, they turned into good experiences.

I went up north one time with some friends, and when I came home they stayed behind to continue their visit. After I left, my Christian friends were arrested and my presence was required to get them out of prison. So, we started bright and early on the eight hour drive and, half way there, we picked up a lawyer, Bashir, a Muslim man. In those four hours he and I became friends. At the actual prison, there was not much to do because the charges were very spurious; nevertheless, I admired Bashir’s professionalism in the work.

On the way home we had a four hour drive before Bashir left us, so he proposed to me that we have an intellectual discussion regarding Islam and Christianity. That seemed like a good idea to me so I agreed, and asked him if he would explain to me about the Five Pillars.

The first pillar that a Muslim must observe, Bashir said, is to proclaim the creed: there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet. The second pillar is to pray at five set times per day. The third is to fast during the month of Ramadan. The fourth entails giving alms and being charitable. The fifth is for those who are able, that they make the pilgrimage to Mecca.

My friend Bashir is a very articulate guy and he explained these things really well. I did have a question though. In keeping with the building metaphor, I asked him whether all of the pillars were weight-bearing. That is, if a person failed to fully observe the five prayers a day for instance, or fasting during Ramadan, what happened to the structure?  Bashir assured me that the whole structure would fail. I was a bit shocked at that and asked him if anyone had ever fully kept the five pillars. He told me no, that it was impossible.

Then he asked me what the pillars of Christianity were. I was stumped for a second since Christians do not usually think of the faith in this way, but as I thought about it, it seemed to me we do have some ‘pillars’ analogous to the Muslim pillars.

For starters, we too are called to pray; though we don’t have set times of prayer, we are told to pray continuously. As well, while we don’t have set times of fasting, we are called to fast as the situation warrants. Our third pillar is also the same as the Muslim in that we are called to express charity and do good to all people.

But then I told him that none of these are weight-bearing pillars. If you fail in any of these areas, the house will still stand because in Christianity there is only one weight-bearing pillar, and that is Jesus Christ. He has fulfilled all the requirements of the law on our behalf and so as we stand under his pillar, we can know our house is secure.

I explained to him that Jesus has done this precisely because he knew that we never could fulfill the law on our own and because a holy God will not brook his laws to be broken. I told my friend Bashir this is the good news of Christianity: that Jesus has done all that is required on our behalf, and this is why we can sing “Blessed Assurance”.

The Beautiful Game

Fifty soccer balls fill one duffel bag, all deflated of course. That is about how many we took on our trip in 2008. We received them from churches, individuals, and soccer teams in and around Beausejour, MB.

Our plan was to give one away to each village we visited simply as a way to bless the people there. They weren’t really door-openers, because we had already been invited to the village (I never go anywhere in Africa without being invited), but they sometimes did serve as heart-openers.

Since I managed to visit over 50 villages in the course of our year there, we had no trouble giving the balls away. Sometimes I deputised my oldest son, Robert, to go to villages when I could not be in two places at once. He did a great job of representing me, and the goodness of God, whenever he went.Presenting Soccer Ball at Maisamari, Sept '08

I remember very well one particular place where we were in the meeting room of the village chief presenting the youth leader with the ball. There were a couple of windows full of young boys looking in on the proceedings, and when they saw the ball (they could not understand English) they started to shake with excitement. We took the ball outside, walked down to the soccer pitch (a brown patch of earth with some poles in the ground at one end) and I gave the first ceremonial kick of the ball.

I was wearing some semi-formal footwear, and was a bit nervous, but still managed to send the ball towards the upper left corner of the ‘goal’ when the keeper stopped it.

Our message when we gave the balls was always the same. We gave them as a present for all the people in the village, especially the young. Both boys and girls were included, as were all different religions (usually Islam predominated, but not always). The gift was to be a reflection of God’s love for the people, and a reminder of his nature and desire for all of us: that we live in joy and peace together.

Jeff