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.

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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).

Some Good Books

While it is true that you can never really get to know a place before you get there (sort of like, you can never know what it is to do a new job until you actually get into it), there are some things you can do to prepare yourself in at least a partial way. One great way I have found to help prepare to go to a place is to read good books on it.

There are library shelves full of great books on both living in and partnering with people in West Africa. I will just list three here that I have very helpful.

african friendsThe first is David Maranz’s African Friends and Money Matters. One huge area of concern for people from NA travelling to West Africa is the great disconnect between the ways the two cultures relate to money. This one topic can be a source of fear, mistrust, confusion, and frustration – just for a start!

Maranz tells stories that explain the differences between how we relate to money and one another, and makes clear that people in WA are acting quite normally within their own context – which we have entered. He manages to normalize some very strange things, and brings understanding, empathy, and humour into what might otherwise be very trying situations.

This was the first book I read when our family was contemplating travelling to Nigeria in 2008, and I would say if you have never been to Africa before it really is a MUST read.

The second book I read was Duane H. Elmer’s Cross-Cultural Conflict: Building Relationships for Effective Ministry. cross-cul confIt is a little broader in scope than Marantz’s, but his aim is basically the same – helping the reader understand the cultural divide so that it can be effectively bridged. I would also put it into the MUST read section.

cross-cul partA book I read just recently is Mary Lederleitner’s Cross Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission. This is a book that is much narrower in scope. Lederleitner’s goal is to help churches and other organizations which have partnered with majority world communities. I found this a very good book because both of my NAB churches have formed partnerships with a Fulbe community in Nigeria, and it speaks directly to our situation.

If any of our reader’s churches are planning to partner with us (which we really hope will happen), I trust that this book gets a wide readership within their mission leadership.

Haggling

One aspect of everyday life in West Africa that is different from here in NA is the haggling system. Not everything there is haggled over. In most of the shops the packaged items all have set prices – so a soda pop will cost the same for everyone all the time.

The food markets and the tourist places are another story altogether.

When we first arrived and discovered haggling I worried that I might be taking advantage of some poor merchant trying to sell me his wares. I needed have worried! Those merchants have been doing this a lot longer and are far better at it than I am. I still recall with chagrin being sold an umbrella by a street salesman when we first arrived for about double what I ought to have paid.

I think haggling is a much nicer process than we have here. When you are discussing the price of something you are no longer just a face in the check-out aisle. Now you are someone to have a relationship with; you can interact with the seller in some pretty fun ways.

My favorite memory is of shopping with Daniel, our youngest, on the way home from . . . somewhere (don’t remember that part). I have been tasked by Sonya to pick up things for the kitchen, so we stopped at a roadside marketplace renowned for its good vegetables. My job was to get the potatoes, and Daniel begged me to be able to bargain for some carrots.

The woman there had a daughter who was helping her, perhaps a few years older than Dan. While the daughter and I chatted about the price of spuds, the woman came up behind Daniel, grabbed him and hugged him tight. “I want to keep this one!” she said. “How much do you want for him?”

IMG_2457Daniel was unimpressed and had a look on his face that said, “Dad – please rescue me!” I laughed and told the woman I would be willing to give her a straight trade – Daniel for her daughter.

Oh no, she said, she meant for the two of them to marry and help her out at the shop. She could tell Daniel would be a good asset there. I laughed some more (it was a comical scene), and replied that his mother would be pretty upset with me if I didn’t come back with him.

We left good friends, having had some hilarious fun together. The vegetables were good and the woman had won herself a repeat customer!

Foodstuffs

One thing people often ask me about Nigeria and our time there is the food. What did we have to eat, and how did I like it?

The staple food of the Fulbe (from my limited experience) is a dish called fu-fu (honestly – I have no clue how to spell it, but if you read it phonetically you will get it). It is made from rice or corn. These are ground up and made into a kind of paste, which is then cooked. The result is a white paste which looks rather like large perogies, but with a consistency sort of like mashed potatoes. I usually eat it with a spoon, but traditionally it is eaten with the fingers. You break off a piece, roll it between your fingers, dip it into a sauce, and pop it into your mouth. It is not my favorite meal in the world, but it is very filling.

The best meal I ever had in the villages there came about one evening when I was travelling from our home in Gembu to where my friends lived. I had never stayed overnight in their village before, so this was a bit of an event for all of us. I did not eat anything before I left, and when I arrived at supper time they proceeded to feed me a marvelous (and huge) plate of jollof rice. jollof-riceI can’t tell you what was in it, except to say that it was so good that ever after, when I travelled from Gembu to there to stay, my mouth would start to water along the way!

At home we ate mostly North American fare, with rice being our main staple. Potatoes could be had in some areas, but I don’t know that they grew them very close to where we lived. We always liked to make sure to stop and buy some of the way home when we travelled.

You could also get beef and chicken there pretty readily, but the ‘cuts’ of beef were not always what we were used to. Mostly the meat was cooked cubed and put in some kind of sauce or soup. I remember at Christmas the church up on the hill slaughtered several cows in order to give the meat away to families within the church. All the meat was in hunks and chunks for the families to come and pick up.

I used to tell my kids that “everything is the same here, it’s just different.” Meaning, just about anything we have in NA we could also find in Nigeria . . . but it was always different in some way or other. If you had the inclination you could go to European stores and buy breakfast cereal, for instance – but it would be a disappointing and expensive knock-off of some American brand. Or you buy white bread being sold on the road out of the trunks of cars – but it would be unsliced and pre-sweetened (!?).

Malarba, farewell breakfastOne thing I have discovered in Nigeria and Cameroon is that, when it comes to the food, what is far more important is the people you are eating and fellowshipping with. Especially for a fussy eater like me 😉

IO Announcement

If you are not much of a reader, or just need a change, here is a video announcement from Dan Hamil speaking from our IO (International Office). You may click on Dan Hamil to hear about our going to Cameroon. Dan is the North American Baptist Conference’s Executive Director – and a good guy.

If you are wanting to hear even more yet, you can listen to us, Jeff and Sonya , talk about the ministry we pray that God is leading us to, and to the people we are going to be partnered with, on both sides of the Atlantic.