Praying Mothers-in-Law

One of the main reasons Sonya and I moved our family west from Manitoba in 2011 was to be closer to our parents (here in Alberta and in B.C.) and our extended families. It certainly has been good to be much closer to them the past several years. I know we’ll miss them when we go, but our parents are in good siblings’ hands.

So, as I am thinking about parents, I will tell a story about my prayer mother-in-law.

One week on the Mambilla Plateau I was asked to teach at a small Bible school about 30 minutes away from where we lived. The first day I was guided there by my friend Pastor Timothy; the next day I was on my machine alone.

As I was heading down one rather steep grade three young women were walking up the narrow trail. When they saw me they all went to their right, and I also headed to my right. At the last moment, however, one of the girls decided to switch course, and ran to the other side.

This meant that I had to switch quickly too, but as I swerved my motorcycle went from being upright, to sliding on its side down the hill!

So there I was, sliding down with my bike, looking at the steep grade I was going down, contemplating the cliff I was quickly approaching, thinking quite calmly to myself, “Yup, its gonna hurt when I fly over that.”

Before I could fly over the cliff, however, the bike suddenly righted itself – so suddenly that my back was given a bit of a wrench. I remember looking back over my shoulder to where I had been sliding down seconds before, asking myself, “What in the world just happened?”

I got to the school more or less on time, with a sore back, but happy that nothing more serious had happened. The whole episode happened at around 10:15 am Nigeria time.

Several days later we received an email from Sonya’s mother, Marie. She said she had woken up around 3:15 am a few days earlier, and felt led to pray for us. She did not know why she needed to pray, but began to pray for us anyway. Now she was wondering what it was that happened that day.

I checked the date and the time – yes, it was the very day and time that I was skidding down the hillside to a catastrophic (for me) end. Thank God for his Holy Spirit who impresses on us desires for goodness and acts prompted by our faith (2 Thess 1.11) . . . and for mothers-in-law who heed him.

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Our Easter Faith

[This is an article I wrote for our local newspaper here, which was published this week.]

In a time of great political turmoil, when there are huge divides in the political fabric of our society, is it a provocation to say that Jesus died as a political criminal? That it was because of the fearfulness of the political “Tru-s” of his day that he died? That his death on the cross was due to the political claims that he made for himself? And that his resurrection from the dead was proof that those claims were legitimate?

On Palm Sunday, falling this year on April 9th, Christians remember Jesus riding on a donkey into the city of Jerusalem – then, as now, a treacherous political hotbed. As Jesus rode along, the crowds proclaimed him to be the king who comes in the name of the Lord. The Jewish political elite were horrified at such a claim – they knew if the Romans caught wind of it, it could be the ruin of them all. Jesus, however, encouraged the crowd, and did not try to stop them.

When Jesus was arrested and tried, it was for political crimes against the Roman state. They said he had claimed to be the King of the Jews, and that was an extremely dangerous thing in those days. There were many Jewish rebels around, and it was worried that Jesus might be the match that set everything aflame.

Certainly Jesus’ claims made it clear that he had political ambitions. He said a whole new kingdom had come; he argued that the empire’s rule over peoples’ lives was not absolute; he claimed an allegiance over the people which the state could not allow to go unchallenged. In short, when Christians say that “Jesus is Lord,” they are defying the political system of the day – both then and now.

Easter Sunday is that day when Christians remember and celebrate Jesus being raised from the dead. For God to bring him to life was a vindication of everything he said and taught about himself. To be sure, the kingdom of God is actually not political in a worldly sense.  While it is as real as real can be, it is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

But the presence of God’s kingdom does mean that Christians do not owe their first allegiance to the “Tru-s” of the world. They have come to believe and follow the one who said that he was “the Truth.” Because Jesus is truly Lord, we know he is able to forgive us, bless us with new life, and allow us to walk with peace and joy even in a time of injustice, violence, and incivility.

The divine power that brought him back from the dead is now available to change people from the inside out – this is truly good news for people like me who desperately needed that second chance. So we say to all who will listen, that if you declare that “Jesus is Lord,” and believe that God has raised him from the dead, then you will be saved. This is our Easter faith.

Walking with the Fulbe

(This is an article I wrote that was published in the “MissionFest Manitoba” magazine in 2010, after we came back from our first time in Nigeria. Thought it was worth a reprint.)

1982, a young Christian is confronted by the shameful statistics regarding resources among Christians around the world. 1998, convicted by the Spirit to somehow be a statistic on the right side of the ledger, the now wanna-be pastor asks for time off from the church he is candidating at, even before he lands the job. After seven years of ministry there, he tells them, he would like to take a sabbatical year off to take his family “somewhere in Africa.” Amazingly, they agree.

It took a little longer than seven years, but in 2008 the Kilmartins were finally on their way. By this time we had settled on a specific context for our sabbatical mission. The Mambilla Plateau, in Taraba State, Nigeria, was to be the setting for whatever God had in store for us in the coming year.

Nigeria is a tough place to get a Visa for from Canada, but we managed to receive ours in plenty of time. Then, like the proverbial soldier who has hurried up, we ‘patiently’ waited for the situation “on the ground” to settle down. Local Nigerian church politics delayed us for a month or so, but the departure date of August 18, 2008 finally saw us embark on the experience of a lifetime.

Nigeria has over 140 million people, and I am pretty sure we saw most of them on the road out of the capital city, Abuja, after we deplaned. Crowds of people washing over the paved road was to be a common sight in the Nigerian cities we saw, while on the highway there was never more than a one minute stretch where we did not see one or more souls hiking along. Our destination was Gembu, the de facto capital of the Mambilla Plateau; a town of about 20,000, equally divided between Christian and Muslim.

I was coming in as the Acting Field Director for the Mambilla Baptist Mission (an arm of the North American Baptist Conference). I had a minimal job description which included teaching at the Seminary, working with the local Baptist Convention’s evangelism department, and liaising with the Home Office. Within those broad parameters I could pretty well write my own ticket, which I proceeded to do.

My goal for our time there was quite simple: to establish relationships that could continue to be built upon in the coming years by both myself and our church. Our small church, and my own finances, could not afford this simply to be a one-time junket for my own curiosity and amusement. We wanted to build a foundation for future mission operations. Going into Nigeria we had no idea what that might look like, but that was what we were searching for.

Our four children were past their prime for this kind of trip. Robert was 17 when we set out; John was 15; Cari 12; and Daniel 11. I had been warned that this would be very tough on the family, especially if the teenagers were not cooperative. In fact, it was tough at times, and the kids did struggle. Mostly they suffered from friend-loneliness. Leaving your BFF for a whole year can seem like an eternity when you are 12, and email access alone really doesn’t cut it.

Part of the problem was there was not always lots for them to do. All of them taught at the local grade school (in subjects like English, math, French, phys ed., and fine arts), volunteered at the local HIV/AIDS clinic, made new friends, played sports, and so on – but they still had too much time on their hands. Even though we home-schooled the two younger ones and the two older ones took distance education, it still felt like “The Endless Summer” to them – only not in the great way we’d like to think.

To my kids’ great credit, however, they all managed not just to survive, but to thrive while we were there. This mission did not have the same kind of glamour and intensity that a short-term trip might have, but it enabled them to enter more fully into the lives and situations of the people among whom we were ministering. I saw my kids grow and mature in their characters more clearly in that year that I would have ever thought possible. Today, back home, they are different kids than when they left, and all for the better.

My wife, Sonya, swimmer that she is, dove headfirst into the culture there. She started a women’s Bible study for the ladies in our neighbourhood, joined the local school board, taught on a host of issues in multiple settings. The level of freedom she enjoyed in this very traditional town was a little surprising, but pleasantly so. Shopping in the market was a challenge to be relished, and she enjoyed being able to get around on a motorcycle again. Sonya could be easily found most Sunday mornings as the only white face in the English-singing black choir at First Baptist, Gembu.

As for me, the acting FD, I did not get to First Baptist very much at all. In keeping with my goal, I sought to see as much of the country and its people as possible, and this meant traveling most weekends to villages both on and off the Plateau. (Our family bought two motorcycles to facilitate our travel. Going by “machine,” as the Nigerians call them, is the cheapest and easiest way to get around, and they were nice gifts to give away when we left.)

About eight months into our stay I had an “Aha” moment. I had been getting to know a small group of Fulbe believers in the village of Maisamari – living in their compounds, traveling with the leaders, getting to know and love them – and one day I realized, “This is it; this is who we have been searching for.” Our church had been praying us through all of this, of course. Talking with them via email and with the Fulbe, seeing and hearing the mutual excitement they shared, confirmed for me that this was definitely a “God thing.”

Our time there took on a different colour after that. We were once again planning for the future, but now it was not just about one family going on a sabbatical mission, it was about bringing two communities of Christ-followers together. What would Elim and Maisamari be doing in this partnership? How would we communicate together? What were the high priority needs? How could both communities really benefit from our working together? What would all this look like!!? We simply didn’t know.

It was great to get back home in mid-July of 2009. Preaching has been easy – the first three months I spent bringing the church up to speed on our time in Nigeria, talking about the Fulbe and developing our relationship with them. We have hammered out some answers to our questions: we have a good communications system; we know what the priority needs are, and how best to help. For the rest, we are enjoying the adventure of being explorers. The exciting thing is we accomplished our modest goal: in Christ, we are now “Walking with the Fulbe.”

Quick Updates

There are a lot of times when it is difficult to reach people in Cameroon or Nigeria by phone. This is because they are outside the normal coverage areas, or because their server is down. This past week I had been trying to reach my friend Aminu, with no success until Saturday when he finally called me.

Pastor Aminu had been travelling on the Mambilla Plateau, visiting the Fulbe communities there and seeing how things stand with all of our brothers and sisters there. This will be a brief update of what is going on there – with the caveat that our line was very fuzzy and cut in and out at times, so while I am thinking I have all my facts straight, there have been times when things have gotten lost in translation.

Some people for whom I and others have been praying are feeling much better. This includes my friend Gogo (who is recovering from a stroke), and little Umayyatu (who is better after suffering from malaria). I found that another man, a Salihu, is now ill – but I must confess I am not quite sure who this Salihu is (I do know one Salihu, but this is a different person). Aminu tried to explain it, but without a picture my memory can be faulty at times. But I am praying for him anyway, because the Lord knows who he is.

The widows of the Alhaji Guni are now past the 40 day mourning period, so they are able to go outside their compound and resume a more normal life after his passing.

Aminu’s wife Bilkisu has finished writing her Law exams, and is now in Gembu doing her practicum. That means she is going to the court house every day to see how the lawyers and judges conduct themselves there. That really would be an education!

They are struggling at the moment, because they are supporting one of Aminu’s elder brothers and his family. They are part of the refugees whose homes were burned out last month. In a place where employment is at a premium, this will be a long-term struggle no doubt.

The major concern on the Plateau right now is the weather. They should be entering into the rainy season, but the rains have yet to come. The dryness is beginning to affect the cows, as at least four have died due to a lack of grass for them. This is turn will cause suffering for the people at large, plus possible conflict between herders and farmers, and the former will need to bring their cows down from the hills and closer to the sources of water, where the farms are.

Thanks for your prayers on behalf of our Christian brothers and sisters on the Plateau.