Oiling Prayer

Throughout the Baptist Convention in which we work I have been told that the use of oil for prayer is prohibited for several pretty good reasons. The first is its connection with traditional practises, which the church does not wish to encourage. The second is the presence of hucksters and false prophet who make a practise of cheating people by selling them oil, which they claim has all kind of magical properties. The abuse of anything good is really only restricted by the imagination of the turkey willing to abuse it.

In my own practise, however, both in Africa and back in Canada, I have made the decision to use oil when I pray for healing for a few reasons. First, it is scriptural – we are told to do it (see James 5.14-15) – and no amount of abuse ought to make us throw a good baby out along with dirty bathwater.

Second, I have found that the process of anointing with oil underscores for me and those with me the seriousness of what we are doing when we pray for healing. It is possible for prayer for healing (or anything else) to be a kind of ‘throw-away’ event, something of which we may not expect anything to come. But if we really believe in our God, that he is not only kind and compassionate, but also strong and powerful, then we should be expecting him to act each time we come to him with a petition. The act of anointing with oil, for me, helps to pray with a higher level of expectation.

I fully understand our Baptist Convention’s reticence in this area, though. I have seen and heard the frauds sell their holy water and oils, along with the outrageous claims that go with them (e.g., “bury this under your threshold and when you go out you will not contract AIDs, or any other STD; you will get that job, that woman; you will be healed of that cancer,” and so on). So I have stopped carrying my own oil but always use some that is lying around the compound where we are. And I always instruct my translator (lately, my friend Suleimanu) to explain to the people that what we are doing is in obedience to the word of God, and that there is no magic in either the oil or the one paying, but there is power in God to heal.

The third reason I use oil is that it tends to heighten the expectations/faith of the people around me that God will do something through this process. Sometimes I feel that I do not “step out of the boat” enough to really see God at work. In praying for healing, anointing with oil, and offering the explanation that we do, we are putting God’s reputation on the line. Since he is the one who does the actual healing, if nothing happens it will be his business, not mine. This again heightens my expectation that God will work on our behalf – but it must begin with me doing what it is my part to do.

These days the people for whom we pray are very often very poor, with limited access to medical facilities and resources – by which I mean, the resources are often around but at a distance, both economically and geographically (which, again, means at an economic distance). After praying we will also often give some small funds to help people be transported to clinics, or to purchase the drugs needed and so on. We do not pray to the exclusion of giving other kinds of medical aid.

One final thing I will say is that we have seen times when no healing has been forthcoming in response to prayer (I have in mind one young girl up north who is suffering from some sort of psychological disorder or possession), much like Paul speaks of Trophimus (see 2 Tim 4.20). On the other hand, we have also seen God do some wondrous things which, as my old youth pastor used to say, we would not have seen had we not prayed.

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Merry Christmas!

It is time to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

We have just returned from a twelve-day trip up north where we visited about six believing Fulbe communities, ranging in size from just a few families, to whole villages. Our purpose there was several-fold: we wanted to reacquaint ourselves with the people there, and them with us (or, in Sonya’s case, to introduce her for the first time); to inspect their living situation; to teach, encourage, and build up; to pray for the people; and to see what practical assistance could be rendered.IMG_8039

A typical day was one where we woke up in our grass-roofed hut, ate a hearty breakfast of rice with a cabbage sauce, and then began visiting in people’s compounds. We did this from 8 am until 2 pm, walking from one family unit to another; seeing how people lived; anointing the sick with oil and praying for them, sometimes giving money so people could go to the hospital; giving advice where that was needed. At the end of all that one day our friend Suleymanu had to remind us of Jesus’ words to cast our burdens upon him (Matthew 11.28-30), because it would be easy to be overwhelmed by it all. In fact, I will not share everything we heard here, for fear that you too might be overburdened.

The most touching thing came about the 7th or 8th day. When we went to leave one small community where we had found much need, several of the women climbed into our Helix, bearing flour and beans. They were taking them to a family whose head had been stricken with epilepsy, and were going to share what they had with them. I was reminded of Paul’s words: “In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (2 Cor 8.2). Here is the Christmas spirit at work.IMG_8036

Some of the communities are doing very well. They have good, strong leaders who are working together to improve not just their faith but their people’s living situations. In other places the leadership is not as strong, and both faith and people struggle. In one place I spoke on “God’s Will for Communities,” simply listing many of the ways God’s people have organized themselves through the biblical story, plus giving them illustrations from what some other communities are doing. As Suleymanu says, in some places they do not need material assistance so much as practical instruction on how to live.

These Fulbe are a people in transition – from being cattle herders they are settling down as farmers, when they have never done that before. They are like cowboys of the Old West who are trying to bring their women and children into the new world. In some cases they have failed, and have fallen back into Islam, and all that goes with that. The stronger Christian leaders among them are seeking to see that does not happen to any more of them. It is difficult work, but they know what is at stake and are determined. They have tasted the heavenly gift, have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, and do not wish any to fall back (cf. Heb 6.4-5).

Part of our mission is to help them in this task. Seeing these folks once more, experiencing their gracious hospitality, talking with them in the dim light of their lanterns, reminded me of how worthwhile the mission is. Thanks so much for partnering with us in it. I will do my best to write more on this in the days to come.

Travel Mercies

I had my first Fulbe dream a couple of mornings ago. I dreamed I was with the Wakili and about a dozen or so other folks that I know. We were spread out and trekking along a hillside all heading in the same direction across it. I don’t remember too much more about that part of it, except that I felt happy and privileged to be a part of it – even as I knew it was just a dream.

I have travelled a good bit with the Fulbe by now – even trekking for short distances at times. One thing I have learned from our time in Nigeria is the necessity of praying for God’s help and protection while on the road. Crossing the Donga, 2

I was surprised by it at first. Someone would be driving from one city to the next, or even just one village to the next, and special mention would be made in our prayer meetings that we needed to pray that the journey would be safe and free from harm. This struck me as being excessively spiritual for the first little while – until I began to hear about the accidents on the road.

At this point I have several friends who have died in vehicles on the roads there, and more who have been in accidents. Very few wear their seat belts; fewer still wear helmets on the motorcycles; there is no driving training (a driver’s license is not earned but bought); the roads are generally poor; there are few speed limits posted; and so on.

Of course, as I contemplate what has gone on here in North America, with the most recent tragedies affecting so many innocent victims and their families, I cannot help but think that there are no truly safe places in the world. The best place to be is where we believe we can do the most good, and seek to glorify God there.

All this is on my mind because we are (at the time of this writing) 48 hours away from our own long journey, taking us from Edmonton, Alberta, and our family and friendsIMG_7700 here to Ndu, Cameroon, to new family and friends (some we already know, others I hope to meet soon). It will take about 26 hours, in the air and the airports, before we land in Douala. We’ll reach there on Friday afternoon and drive to Bamenda the next day. There we’ll meet with the Hohns, the Grobs, and the rest of the missionaries there, getting acclimatized for a few days before heading off – finally – to Ndu and our new home.

So we covet your payers during this time of travel and transition. Most of the packing process is done (though I am sure we will find more things to do and take care of in the next day or so), so we are just looking forward to the journey now. Thanks for your partnership along the way. We cannot make it without you. God bless.

Friends with Jesus(?)

Here is a question for you. If you can be God’s, or Jesus’, friend, can he also be your friend? And if you are his friend, and maybe he is your friend, what kind of friendship would that be?

I ask the questions from a pastoral concern (I am a recovering pastor now, not having preached for a couple of weeks, so I am in some kind of withdrawal here). My sense is that too many Christians have conceived of a friendship with God/Jesus that looks like the relationship they have with their BFF, instead of the Almighty God – and this has damaged their Christian walk. Instead of being focussed on obedience and holiness, their concern more often looks like being comfortable and feeling good (which means that things like suffering and sacrifice all too often fly out the window).jesus-thumbs-up21

Consider this passage from John 15, where Jesus is talking to his disciples during the time of his last supper with them.  “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”

This is not your normal definition of ‘friendship.’ If I had a ‘friend’ who insisted that we remain on speaking terms only as long as I did what he or she said, I would soon have one fewer friend. Yet for his friends Jesus commands obedience, and for my part I suffer Jesus saying that to me, and seek to remain his friend. I do this because I recognize that he is my Lord, and not (only) my friend.

That leads to my other question – if we can be Jesus’ friends, based on our obedience, can he also be our friend? My own feelings on this are ambivalent.

Think of the passages where Jesus is said to be the friend of sinners. Here is the whole quote: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

Jesus does not deny that he is a friend to sinners, but he does not deny that he is a glutton and a drunkard either. It is as though the accusations are so fantastically false they do not deserve to be answered. We know the latter charge is untrue, but what of the former?

Abraham was said to be the ‘friend of God’ (see 2 Chronicles 20.7), but God was never said to be his friend. Their relationship was what one scholar has called ‘asymmetrical’ – that is, it is uneven, unbalanced. God cannot be a friend to Abraham in the same way Abraham can be a friend to him. I would contend that our relationship with God/Jesus must be seen the same way.

Think of Jesus’ reply to those who said that his biological family was waiting for him: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12.48-50) Again, a proper relationship with Jesus is based on obedience to God’s commands.

Jesus is Lord, and my relationship with him cannot/should not look like my relationship with any of my other friends. So, while I may speak of Jesus as ‘my friend’ in at least one sense (e.g. he has helped me in times of trouble), I need to work to ensure I do not imagine that friendship is something it cannot be.

It is wonderful to feel close to God the Father through our relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I believe it is God’s desire and purpose that we be on intimate terms with him – all he has done through the ages has been to accomplish this end. But if we forget the basis upon which our relationship is built – our proper response to God’s action in Christ – then we are building on a foundation of sand and living a lie. Let us be  better than that. Let us be good and true friends of Jesus.

Great-Grandpa’s Church

A 20 year building vision – that’s what they had.

Sometime around 1905 someone among the parishioners at Sacred Heart Parish in Lebret, Saskatchewan, had an idea to build a stone church. 20170827_141722They had a wooden chapel already, but they felt something more enduring was needed. (Their instincts were good – the historic wooden chapel was burned by the Ku Klux Klan.)

My great-grandfather, Napoleon Pilon, was a part of that church. He was a farmer in the region, one of many staunch Roman Catholic believers there. The farmers were an integral part of the vision because for the next twenty years, from 1905 to 1925, they brought field stones from their farms to the building site.

For twenty years that pile of stone grew higher and heavier. Finally, in 1925, the priest of the time, Father Le Coq, looked at it, looked at the men, and said, “Its time.” And they began to build.

With the foundation being laid for twenty years, it took only an extra two to actually erect the building there today – inside dome 38 feet high; ground level to the top of the cross 122 feet high; 145 feet long by 55 to 70 feet wide. 20170827_134228

The building is imposing, and the inside is still beautiful and preserved pretty much in its original state – complete with Tyndall stone, from our old neighbourhood in Manitoba. (An architect has said it would cost something in the neighbourhood of $40,000,000 to build the church today.)

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When I think of it I am impressed by the foresight of the men – and women too, no doubt – who conceived the idea and worked to bring it to fruition during those twenty years of toiling on the soil, digging those big stones out of the ground, hauling them who knows how far. My great-grandfather among them, they were not deterred by the passing of time, or the seeming lack of progress, or the worshiping in a place that wasn’t yet their spiritual home.

I learned all of this from our visit to Balcarres, when we took a small detour to Lebret so I could check out the cemetery where some of my family are buried (including Great-Grandpa, and Thomas Kavanagh, the first white homesteader and grain farmer in Saskatchewan, and a great-something uncle of mine).20170827_130757 The church was closed when we arrived (they had celebrated mass earlier in the day), but there was a sign that told us to call “Bruno” if we wanted a tour.

Bruno turned out to be a marvelous tour guide and raconteur, and we enjoyed listening to him tell the story of the Qu’Appelle Valley, the town of Lebret, and the church. My favorite part was when he was relating the story of the building of the church, and Bruno quoted the words uttered by the priest, “Men – its time.”

A call to arms, a call to worship, a call to work.  In the fullness of time. Twenty years in the making.

Watershed Changes Coming

I just saw an article, Hydropower on the Mambilla Plateau, outlining a new deal struck by the Nigerian and Chinese governments. As the article states, there was an earlier agreement, which later fell through.

At that time – back in 2007, I think – the Mambilla Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS) initiated some steps to purchase land outside of the flood zone, which is where the seminary is now located.

If this new deal goes through it will mean major drastic changes on the Plateau. Some of them we trust will be for the better, as they will gain access to electricity, and the region may be opened up to more possibilities. Other changes may not be for the better, as land will become an even more contested resource, and many people will need to be relocated – including this guard at Kakara, where the dam will most likely be located.

Guard at KakaraIn any case, much wisdom will be required to best know how to navigate these new waters (pun intended), and so prayer will be needed for our Christian brothers and sisters on the Plateau and beyond.

Fearing God = Freedom

Freedom means a lot of things to folks here in North America. It is not often linked to the word ‘fear,’ but for me the two things are inseparable.

The Bible says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (see Proverbs 1.7). I have found it is also the beginning of freedom.26

Just to be clear, the fear we are talking about is not some kind of white-knuckle, wide-eyed worry that the old man is going to come up the stairs with a wrench in his hand. Our heavenly Father is not to be compared with the inhumane abusers that some folks have to suffer here on earth.

Rather, he is seen in Jesus – who is the exact representation of his being (Heb 1.1-3) – and Jesus did not abuse anyone. A quick read through the Gospels tells us that he was no pushover either, and that his disciples were actually afraid of him (see Luke 8.22-25 for one example).

The fear they had for Jesus was a mix of awe, respect, reverence, and ignorance. Does that last bit surprise you? It did me a bit, but it makes sense, for we fear what we do not know – and how can we fully know the Lord?

Anyway, on to my main point. The fear – let me say, the right fear – of the Lord also brings freedom. Since it makes we want to love and obey him, I know that if I am fearing him I am walking in the way of the Lord. And if I am doing that, then what else have I to fear? In fearing God I am free from all other fear.Vans on Madina road

As the psalmist says, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (See Psalm 23 for the whole passage.)

Or, as Paul puts it, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (For the whole, beautiful passage, see Romans 8.31-39.)

Folks often ask about the inherent dangers of living and travelling in Cameroon and Nigeria, and wonder how we deal with the fear. The proper fear of the Lord brings in its wake many good things. For me, a fear-prone guy at the best of times, one of the best is freedom from all other fear.

NAB Appeal

An appeal has gone out from the North American Baptist International Office concerning the Fulbe refugees on the Mambilla Plateau, which you can access at Fulbe Conflict. If you are able to pray or help in other ways, it is much needed and appreciated.FB_IMG_1500329690816

To aid in understanding the conflict I have made two short videos (4 and 5 minutes) which you can access at Fulbe History, Part 1 and Fulbe History, Part 2. (Thanks to the Alberta Baptist Association for the use of their board room.)19424277_780166562153348_5658066797476326273_n

I include here photos taken of the harm done to the cattle to show the horror of it all, but will refrain from posting photos of the slain, out of respect for both the living and the dead.

At the moment people are out of harm’s way, but if only if our definition of “harm” does not include things like lack of shelter, food, education, and so on. You can see where I am going with this I think. There is a great need for aid to be given these folks. Thanks for clicking on the links to read more about it all, and for your praying and giving.

Annemarie Hattenhauer

All through our time in Nigeria, and then later in Cameroon, I was conscious of walking on a path already trodden by the many who had gone before me. I have written about some of them already, like Minnie Kuhn, and the three early NAB missionaries, Carl Bender, Paul Gebauer, and George Dunger. (Click on Early Pioneers to read more about them and their legacy.)

Most of them these saints are passed on now, but we have the special privilege of having some of them still around, and supporting us. One of these is Annemarie Hattenhauer. Teaching in Cameroon for many years, Annemarie is now retired and living in Edmonton (her last trek to Cameroon was in 2007) – but for her “retired” really does mean having her ‘tires’ retreaded.Annemarie at LPC

Annemarie has been letting me know about some of her many contacts in the country – including Provost Johnson Nseinboh, who I will be accountable to when I am at the Ndu Seminary, and the Fon (chief), His Royal Highness Emmanuel Nfor, also in Ndu. She helped to establish a church on the Fon’s palace grounds by visiting with him, and holding simple Bible studies with some of his wives.

Today Annemarie’s health precludes her from continuing on in Cameroon except via prayer for those who are still there (and for us, who are on our way there), but it does not mean she is no longer in active ministry. During the summer she was involved with her church’s VBS “Kids’ Week,” and she was also the Camp Grandma at a Baptist General Conference camp during the summer. At the Seniors’ complex where she lives she is a pastoral care volunteer.

I thank God for Annemarie and so many others like her, who have served faithfully and continue to do whatever their hands find to do. Annemarie has requested prayer for her health – she has suffered two strokes and is dealing with a heart problem. As you pray for us – that we would find our way to the field soon, and be a great blessing there – please also pray for Annemarie as she continues to serve here. Thanks so much.

Front Page News and the Bible

One thing about working on Biblical Theology is it is always relevant to whatever is going on in the world, especially when the topic is something like racism – which has a (modern) history of being supported by the Bible.

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Racism has been supported in modern times by an appeal to an illegitimate and perverted interpretation of the Bible. I say in ‘modern times’ because prior to the antebellum period in the southern United States (i.e. before the Civil War), there was no real attempt to justify slavery along racial lines.king march

In fact, one cannot find racism itself in the Bible using proper methods of interpretation. What one finds, instead, is the idea that since all are made in the image of God (the Imago Dei), all humans have an inherent and intrinsic value and dignity given them by God himself – the relative value of which does not depend on ethnicity. Racism, therefore, has no place in the Christian life or worldview. It goes without saying (but I’ll still say it) that any notion of one race being superior to another ought to be abhorrent to any follower of Jesus.

(And again, just for the record, the intrinsic worth and dignity of a human is not affected by gender, sexual orientation, or physical or mental challenges, economic status, and so on.)

To be sure, slavery can be found in the Bible – but never racial slavery. In the Bible there was slavery sometimes due to war and conquest, but most often it was an economic institution, and it actually functioned as a kind of social safety net. (When people became too poor they were enslaved for a period of time in order that they might have a roof over their head and food to eat.) Slavery based on race is not found in the Bible.

A few words about the Fulbe people in this regard. Traditionally the Fulbe are Muslim, and in their past history they have been great champions of the Islamic faith, converting many people at the point of the sword. Since in Islam one cannot enslave fellow Muslims, when the Fulbe wished to make a people their slaves they did not convert them, but

Iliyasu and Jeff

simply conquered them. This history accounts for much of the animosity of other people groups towards them up to the present time.

Possibly because they are traditionally nomadic, the Fulbe are also racist. For them Arabic and Caucasian peoples are near the top of the totem pole, while the Haabe (black peoples) are at the bottom. Partly this has to do with the religion of Islam, which they received from the Arabic people, but I think too that their nomadic background plays a part. If some white guy shows up they will automatically know the guy is not from just down the street. He must have travelled far to get there, and they have a lot of respect for that.

One further important caveat here – when the Fulbe come to Christ their racism vanishes. When Jesus becomes their Lord they understand that they are alike with all other people in their great value, in God’s love for them, in their sinfulness, and their need of redemption. This is just part of the message they wish to carry to their fellow Fulbe.