It’s a GEM!

This Friday night and Saturday morning Sonya and I will participate in an annual Edmonton event known as GEM: the Greater Edmonton Missions Event.

This event is hosted by various churches in the area – when I was pastor at Wiesenthal Baptist near Millet we hosted it one year. This weekend it is Central Baptist Church here in Edmonton which is hosting it.

Sonya and I will have the opportunity to share a little bit of the work God is doing among our partners in Africa on Saturday morning, and we are really looking forward to that. Even under our straitened circumstances (under the Covid-19 restrictions, only about 40 people will be able to be in the building in person; the rest will participate on-line), it is always a joy to talk to people and share the good things God is doing.

The real focus of the morning will not be on us, however. We are in the very fortunate position of having much of our financial support in place (we are at 96%, so we can use a little extra, but do not need much), so we are not really fundraising while we are in Canada; we are mostly reporting on the work.

Rather, the real focus will be on Jason and Erin Bergman, missionary appointees to Romania, and Raffaele and Sylvia Gaudio, missionary appointees to Japan. After writing about the difficulties surrounding finding pastoral candidates, I am delighted to see these families readying themselves to get to their respective fields of work.

Both families are in their fund-raising phase, and I know how difficult that process can be. Click on their names to find out more about them, and decide whether you would like to join their team of supporters.

I pray the GEM will prove to be a great blessing to them, and all who are able to participate.

God’s Kingdom, God’s Will

Being dull of brain is not something I am proud of; it is just something I manage to live with. One good thing about it though, is that every once in a while, when a good thought actually develops up there, I get a real kick out of it. That happened just yesterday.

I was meditating on the Lord’s Prayer, mostly the parts about the kingdom and the will of God, two things that have been on my mind for a long while now. That part of the prayer runs like this:

Your kingdom come, your will be done. (Matthew 6.10)

In the past I had always separated the two, as though they were two discrete entities. Certainly, they are distinct elements in the prayer, but they are not detached from each other; they are intimately connected.

My OT classes in the Psalms, learning about Hebrew poetry, became helpful in this regard. Very often in Hebrew poems, two lines will amplify and explain one another. A very simple case is found in Psalm 33.8  (chosen at random):

Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the people of the world revere him.

These two lines say basically the same thing, but in doing so they are teaching us what the words mean. If we wonder what it means to fear the Lord, the second line helps us out; it means to revere him. That is not all that it means to fear the Lord, of course, but the second line does offer us an understanding of what the psalmist meant when he called us to fear God. The reverse is also true: to revere the Lord is, in part, to fear him.

I am going to go way out on a limb here, and argue that Jesus was probably a master of Hebrew poetry; he knew how the lines worked together with each other.

Thus, when Jesus calls us to pray for the kingdom of God to come, and then he tells us to pray for God’s will to be done, this ought to tell us something. No doubt, all of you reading this knew it already, but for me this is a new-ish thought, so I am joyfully going to write it down anyway 😊.

The kingdom of God is found in that place where the will of God is intentionally being done. When you see things going the way they should – people forgiving one another, being patient, loving, and so on – we can say the kingdom of God has come.

Thus, when the Bible tells you to forgive your neighbor, and you honestly do it, the kingdom has come in that instance. You are living according to the command of King Jesus.

This is what Jesus proclaimed when he came preaching: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4.17). This is to be the focus of our preaching and, indeed, the focus of our lives (as in, “Seek first the kingdom of God” [Matthew 6.33]).

Okay – the thought is not an entirely new one to me; it has been rattling around up there for a while. But in reading, studying, and meditating on scripture, all of you will agree that every now and again an old thought becomes new again, and something forgotten on the back burner come to fire on the front end again. When that happens, we need to rejoice and take note, then seek to live in the old/new knowledge we have gained.

A Question of Timing

I received a comment to my last post.

>>Hi Jeff:

Just another thought: Though I am sad the way George Floyd had to die, I question why such a huge fuss is made that “Black Lives Matter” when every day thousands of babies are murdered by abortion, seniors are euthanized every day and other senseless deaths take place!!! Don’t ALL LIVES MATTER? I think the worlds priorities are way “out of whack”!!!

Now write a blog about that!!!<<

Thanks so much for taking the time to spell out in writing what many other people are only thinking. You ask a very good question – so good, in fact, it is worth me spending the time writing a whole other article just responding to it. “Don’t all lives matter?” And, if so, why spend an inordinate amount of time on these particular lives? Let me do my best here to bring out my thoughts on this important matter.

In a word, Yes – all lives do matter. Babies (including those not yet born), seniors, men, women, children, of all races, colours, sexes, creeds, and whatever other categories we use to figure ourselves out. Each life matters.

It is also the case that issues of abortion and euthanasia ought to properly be addressed in our country especially. For instance, our non-legislation regarding abortion simply allows it the potential to become the most barbaric thing the world has seen. The fact is, I have preached and written about abortion and euthanasia, and probably will again – but now is not the time.Can't breathe

A friend commented that for Jesus all 100 sheep mattered, but that at the time when one went astray, Jesus spent time seeking for that one.

The text that came to my mind in reflecting on your question is found in Matthew 26. Jesus is approaching the time of his death and a woman came to anoint him with perfume. His disciples rebuked her for “wasting” such a valuable thing, and protested the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus, in his turn, rebuked the disciples by telling them the poor they could help any time they wanted; right then what the woman had done was appropriate to the moment (see Matthew 26.6-13).

A further story about Jesus is perhaps appropriate in this context, that of Martha’s complaint that Mary was not helping with the cooking. The story does not require us to write books about whether we are a “Martha” or a “Mary” personality; naturally both of them matter, and we need both. But, as Jesus implied, and as Ecclesiastes spells out, there is an appropriate time for everything.

In the same way I think the issues you have laid down will be with us for a long time; we can address abortion and euthanasia any time we wish. But right now, in this time in history, to do so would be a distraction from what is going on in our world.

What makes this time unique? I think we are living at an historic moment, when truly effective change might be possible in our western societies with respect to systemic racism. What we are seeing in these days we have not witnessed since the days of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s (for some context one might take a look at MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”; it is 9 pages long, but very good and very important).

kneelingWhat is remarkable is that the work of racial reconciliation that people are calling for today is part of the ongoing mission of the church; it is part of why Jesus came to die; it is in line with the will and desire of God for all those made in his image; it fully aligns with the two greatest commandments, to love God and to love your neighbour as yourself. The church ought to be front and center in this work, because it is central to the work we are all called to as Christians, people who seek to follow Jesus and to be his disciples.

In fact, after I wrote my own article, I read the statement put out by my denomination, and I was happy to see that we are united in our determination to seek racial righteousness. (You can read the full statement at https://mailchi.mp/nabconf/racial-righteousness-in-a-world-of-racism?e=85e8ab4dc2.)

The NAB statement articulates very well the point I was trying to make in my own article, so I will quote from it here:

“To ignore the roots of racism while carrying out ministry is to allow it to grow unchecked. How credible can we be with our witness to a world that is suffering in pain and strife if we are numb to its injustice, silent about its brokenness, or selective in our treatment of its sin? How credible is our testimony to the love of God for the world if we ignore the world’s sinful stratification of people and their worth? To be on the mission of Christ in a culture is to deal with that culture’s brokenness with prophetic energy and passion.”

As I wrote in my article, the surprise and shock I felt from our own churches was that they could so fully turn a blind eye to what was going on around them, and I believe that willful ignorance to be a symptom of the ubiquitous racism we see in our societies.

What you say is true: our world’s priorities truly are “out of whack.” The NAB statement includes various things we can do as individuals and communities to try and get it “into whack” just a little more. May God help us as we try.

On Pentecost, Black Lives Matter

A few weeks ago we were sent an email from our international office with an updated list of the NAB staff. It seems a brand-new position has been created while I was not looking: Rev. Wayne Stapleton is our VP of Racial Righteousness (see the NAB staff directory and scroll down a bit).

I was surprised when I saw this – first, because the position had apparently been around for several months, and I was just hearing about now; second, because someone thought such a position was needed by our conference. I have dealt with issues of prejudice and racism in my own pastoral ministry, and I assumed that pastors ought to be able and willing to address any concerns they might have locally on their own, without having recourse to someone at our head office. So I turned the matter over in my mind for a few weeks and thought about it.

Then, last Monday, George Floyd, an American who was black, was killed by another American who is white.George

The white man was a police officer, whose killing of Floyd happened in the line of duty. This egregious act of callous brutality has since caused protests, both peaceful and violent, to be made in many large and small cities across the United States.

I was wrong. As it turns out, we really do need a VP of Racial Righteousness (and, for the record, it should be noted that it is not meant only address the inequities that exist between blacks and whites, but between people of every shade).

Fast forward to Pentecost – today – when we celebrate the pouring out of the Spirit of God upon his people. One silver living of this pandemic is it has allowed Sonya to “attend” church all over Canada and the U.S. This morning we worshiped with three different churches, all in the U.S. I wanted to spend time with them in order to hear how they would address the national tragedy their people were going through.protest

Again, I was surprised, and this time shocked, to see that the first two churches we attended, both pastored by white males, did not address or even mention the protests or the killing which precipitated them.

I should point out here that I am big proponent of preaching – I think the proclamation of the word of God is the cornerstone of the church gathered. Furthermore, I do not think the task of proclaiming Christ ought to be supplanted by political concerns, or talking about the events of the day, whatever they might be.

Having said that, however, we need to recognize that preaching Christ will always have relevance to whatever is going on in the world, and it is the preacher’ mission to proclaim just how Christ does address whatever ailments society is enduring at any given moment. The issue before us today, that of racial reconciliation, is a transcendent matter, encompassing all peoples and parties. The protests and the heinous act which precipitated them, are the very kind of hostility which Jesus came to address.

Today being Pentecost Sunday, one would think that the heart-change effected by the Spirit of God in the lives of his people ought to provide opportunity to reflect together with the people of God on the issue of racial reconciliation. This is what scripture teaches us:

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (See the whole context in Ephesians 2.11-22).

What Jesus and his Spirit have done makes a difference in how the races relate to one another. Christian sanctification matters with respect to racism, reconciliation, and righteousness. What Jesus has done spells the end of racism, though obviously not entirely in this life.

The fact that the two American white congregations we attended this morning could gloss over such an in-your-face illustration as has been staring at us all this week (and I apologize here to all those NAB congregations, of all shades, which did address the issue, but we did not see) tells me that we – and here I include all of us here in Canada as well – have such a long way to go in becoming more like Jesus.

Godspeed, Rev. Stapleton, and God help us all.

God’s Way in the World

Even though I have not been able to teach in the seminary at Ndu, Cameroon, for the past year and a half, I did teach three courses at a small seminary in Nigeria this past Fall semester. One of these courses was on the Major and Minor Prophets, and while I hope my students learned some things, I know I learned a lot from it.

What I came to understand is that there is a rather unpretentious method by which to see how God is at work in the world. Simply put, it works like this:

  1. God first creates, and then puts parameters and laws in place within which people and creation are to act.
  2. After his work of creation, God gives his creation space to exercise their freedom in whatever way they wish.
  3. Since God is sovereign, he is also the judge, and at the end he judges his creation on how it has freely acted.

We see this three-phased pattern first played out in Genesis 1-3, where God does exactly that. He creates and gives the law. Adam and EveHe allows his human creations to freely do what they will, including naming the animals and sinning, and then he judges them based on what they have done. This pattern is then repeated throughout scripture on both a micro and a macro level.

One passage sort of solidified the process for me, from Micah 2.1. There Micah proclaims:

Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it.

It is in their power.” God gave them their power when he gave them their freedom, and he did not rescind it when they were about to go astray. This does not mean, of course, that God made them to sin. All of God’s intention and desire is bent on them not sinning, short of forcibly stopping their hand.

What does this mean for us today? A few things.Micah

It tells us, first, that “God is not in control” in the sense of him directing affairs, and being the mastermind behind the events of the day. I remember talking to an instructor at the seminary who explained to me that he believed the socio-political conflict in Cameroon had been directly caused by God, because that was his understanding of God’s sovereignty worked. (Presumably this would include every other event in the world, including the terrible things plaguing the world right now, man-made and otherwise.)

But even a brief acquaintance with the Bible shows many things happen which are not in accord with his stated will. He even proclaims in Jeremiah that there are some things happening among the people that had never even entered his mind (see Jeremiah 7.31; 19.5; and 32.5).

In other words, while God is still sovereign – both in his setting down laws, and in judging them – his sovereignty does not extend to puppetry.

This means, secondly, that our responsibility as human beings is much greater than we have sometimes understood. I saw a young woman on the news the other day, tanning at the beach, surrounded by hundreds of others in a way not condoned by public health officials, explaining that she could do as she pleased because, “If God wants me to die then that is his plan.”

This is a foolish line of thinking, and can only lead to what is described in Proverbs 19.3: “A person’s own folly leads to their ruin, yet their heart rages against the Lord.” That is to say, if a bad thing happens to this young woman, she and those around her will look to blame God for her trouble, when in reality she has brought it upon herself.Prayer

Thirdly. This understanding of God’s work in the world should serve to heighten the seriousness with which we take prayer. If we see God as planning and controlling every single second of the day, then prayer becomes a divine farce, having no real or true effect on anything. If, however, we know that God has given us freedom, but that he is still a loving sovereign, then we will also know it is possible to pray and real and true change may be effected because of our prayer. This too is the testimony of scripture, and of our own lives.

What a Shame

I asked one of my friends among the people group we are working with, what he would consider the thing most feared by his people. He replied that to be put to shame was the thing most feared, and his response was echoed by everyone else I spoke to about it after that.

This is not too far from our own culture. In fact, it occurred to me to ask him the question because another of our friends had bravely spoken up during the morning worship time, and I knew in the West that speaking in public has been the thing causing much fear among people – and we could easily venture the thought that it is the subsequent potential for embarrassment behind that which causes the fear.

This idea was careening around in my mind (lots of space up there sometimes!) right before Good Friday. I put it together with Peter’s words of reprimand to Jesus in Mark 8. There Jesus has been predicting the way his own shameful death will occur. Peter cannot countenance such a fate for the one he has just declared to be the Messiah (v. 29), so he attempts to rebuke Jesus (vv. 31-32).

christ_cross

This becomes an important passage for our ministry in Africa because of how the idea of a shameful death for Jesus intersects with the fear of shame in the culture – especially when considered from the point of view of our friends’ non-Christian religious background.

I decided to tackle this theme in my own Good Friday message to the people, but I heightened the rhetoric by including passages from Isaiah 53. This chapter is a pretty straightforward prophecy of the way the future Messiah is going to die; it is shameful, violent, painful, and shocking. Because of the way the Messiah is treated, Isaiah says, people will despise him, and assume that he was some kind of horrid criminal. This is the theological turn that he predicts many in Israel will get stuck in, and it turns out to be the same trap which many today fall into.

The way out of the trap – of not believing that Jesus is the Messiah because of the shameful way he was treated – is, of course, to know and believe “the rest of the story.” This is the vindication that God brings to his Messiah through raising him from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is for Christians the answer of the shameful question his death poses.Easter Morning

What that means for my African friends, as well as for the rest of us, is that there is a bigger shame than the death that Jesus suffered before humanity. Jesus said, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels” (Mark 8.38). In other words, being put to shame before men and women in this life will be as nothing compared to the potential shame before God in the time to come. If fear is to be our motivator (and sometimes it is okay that it is), the fear of God ought to be foremost in our minds.

During my time of quarantine I have been catching up on reading a lot of books. One of them – a gift from our NAB IO – is by Richard Hays, called Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul. It is a very thought provoking read (though not for the faint of heart, as it is quite technical). The one thought he had there which pertains to the subject at hand comes from Rom 1.16 (found on pp. 38-39).

You will remember this verse is Paul saying, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel . . .” in a way that, to Western ears, sometimes sounds like the gospel is a bit embarrassing, but Paul has overcome his embarrassment somehow by a force of will. Meanwhile, some of the rest of us still may struggle with our own embarrassment.

Hays shows how this is not a great understanding of the text – Paul is in no way embarrassed by the gospel. Rather, Paul has in mind the promise from Isa 50.6-7: “I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near,” and he knows that since God is the one who has vindicated his Messiah, he will also vindicate Paul.

Another passage from Isaiah punches this idea in for me. It is from 33.6. “He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.” I pray that me, you, and all our African friends may possess this fear, and thus this key, that will unlock the treasures of God for us.

Confessions of an Anti-coffee Snob (and almost no mention of Covid 19)

You’ve heard of coffee snobs, right? Those one who sniff their noses at grocery house brands, or Tim Hortons, or try not to gasp if you tell them the only coffee you have in your house is Nabob instant freeze dried?

I think I must admit to being an ‘anti-coffee snob’.

I grew up in an instant coffee house, made with milk, (café au lait my parents called it) When mom and dad had ‘real’ company, mom would ‘perk’ a pot of coffee using the percolator, and fresh ground coffee beans. We had an only fashioned grinder mounted on the kitchen wall by the sink, and my job was often to climb up on the counter and grind the coffee beans into the tiny glass holder underneath that would slide out. To this day, my favorite part of coffee is actually the smell!

But I don’t’ remember ever being offered coffee to drink as a child, and if I was, it did not particularly agree with me. Then, as an aspiring teen volleyball player, I heard the adage  ‘coffee stunts your growth’, so I refrained, wishing to maximize my height at the net.  I learned about the addictive nature of coffee, watching my university colleagues unable to function without, it, and eschewed the brew all the way thru my undergraduate degree. ( I did pull thru more than a few late winter nights on hot chocolate/sugar serum, but somehow never was addicted to that- although my family will tell you that I do have some serious chocolate cravings) I also recognize now that I think I have (had?) a higher than average number of bitter taste buds, so perhaps the bitter aspect of coffee made it an acquired taste that I had little motivation to acquire.

At a certain point, not drinking coffee became an official, almost principled, position of mine. The principal at my first teaching position was fueled by strong Danish coffee, and I flat-out laughed at him when he reported that my students told him he had terrible coffee breath. I like to tease my Baptist brothers and sisters (especially my sisters) about the coffee dependency in church functions. As the pastor’s wife, often early at church, I resisted being asked to make coffee at Elim (until they got a Bunn-o-matic, which I was willing to tackle on occasion).  I occasionally would jokingly ‘complain’ about discrimination when only coffee is offered at functions, or when tea was made in a coffee carafe, creating an undrinkable brew that is neither tea nor coffee.   I prided myself on the reduction of coffee and the increased offering of teas and other hot drinks, especially at our ladies’ function, long before coffee bars with a myriad of drink options became popular in big churches.

However, I do still love the smell of coffee, and coffee and mocha flavored items have always been very enjoyable to me. Asa parent, long cold days and early mornings at the rink, when the boys were in hockey, gave rise to drinking a ‘mocha’, which is hot chocolate with some coffee added. My own version is still only about 10-20% coffee, but unless specified, the rink canteen made it 50/50, which is still too much for me.   A little instant coffee would sneak into my hot chocolate at home as well if I was heading out early with a Contigo mug.

Then a number of years ago, someone- I think my son John- introduced me to Tim Horton’s French Vanilla cappuccino, which I would treat myself to occasionally. Coffee snobs will, of course, argue that neither of this nor a hockey rink mocha are really coffee, but nevertheless my gradual slide had begun.  When I discovered a slightly more economical version at the Bulk Barn, this insidious coffee product made its way into my house. Made with additional milk, I used it to jump start Cari thru her last years of high school (when she was not taking breakfast), and therefore began to imbibe it more frequently myself.   And then I moved to Africa.

In all  the regions we have lived in here in Cameroon and Nigeria, mornings ARE cool, and making time to have a cup of something hot while reading my Bible early in the day has become an important routine I try to adhere to.  I successfully located in Yaounde enjoyable varieties of teas, have modified the local hot chocolate product with additional whole milk powder and sugar to make it something ‘more like home’, and have successfully created a chai tea latte mixture somewhat reminicient of the Starbucks version (although that one is far too complicated for regular consumption). Here in Africa, of course, the French vanilla concoction is not available in a recognizable form, so I would ration the precious amounts I would bring from home, or which my friend Dori would add to a White Cross shipment coming our way.  Not naturally being a morning person, and trying to function in a culture which is running full speed for about two hours before I would naturally want to open my eyes, I began to appreciate the caffeine.  Suddenly, as my last ‘stash’ was dwindling, I realized that it must be possible to create a reasonable facsimile of this dry powdered mixture, because the magic ingredient needed might be vanilla sugar, which is reasonably easily available in Cameroon (but not my region of Nigeria).

So the experiments began, and by the time I went to Canada last year, and stopped in Croatia for a holiday with John, I was proud to present to him my home made version. It’s actually relatively difficult to produce the same way in the west, because here I use full fat powdered milk, which is actually super creamy compared to the low fat, or the ‘non-dairy powdered creamer’ versions you might see on the labels.  So I regularly stock up on sachets of vanilla sugar, learning some versions are better than other.

Additionally, since we are stuck in Nigeria now with the COVID-19 situation, I have to make it without the vanilla sugar, so it’s powdered milk, sugar and instant coffee, bringing it basically back to the café au lait (powdered) of my childhood- heavy on the milk and sugar, of course.  (Next idea…figure out how to make my own vanilla sugar?)

O how the mighty have fallen! -or at least come full circle!!  Since I now regularly purchase instant coffee, my husband recently pointed out that it is now a bit hypocritical for me to say I don’t drink coffee, when I have gone to such lengths to create this.  I argue that I am still not ‘really’ a coffee drinker, but his point is well taken.  However, if you are ever able come to visit me in Cameroon, I should warn you that all coffee served will be instant version, although in both my ‘houses’ in Cameroon, (neither of which I cannot get to at the moment)  I can possibly help you with the use of a French press if you bring your own ‘real’ coffee.

Meanwhile I hope you all have a good supply of your favorite beverages as you ‘lock-down’ , ‘self isolate’, maintain essential services, or, if you are a health care worker- work around the clock for the rest of us.

 

The (Attempted) Making of a (Sort-of) Morning Person

IMG_6443It’s 10 am on a Wednesday morning. So far, I have …..
-cooked breakfast (shaking it out of a box is not an option here)
-baked gingersnaps, roasted ground nuts, made a pan of granola and baked some left over tortillas into corn chips
– did laundry- a batch of clothes, and much more difficult, our comforter
-swept and washed most of the bedroom floor (wasn’t up to the whole move-the-furniture routine this morning)
-swept and washed the screen porch floors and the outside veranda -using the water from my laundry
-turned my compost pile (more correctly- added to it, and cleaned up the mess the chickens had made of the top layers)
-watered my flower beds with left over kitchen water
-searched for some different recipes for my white beans that soaked over night.
-am working on this blog

If this does not seem impressive to you, you either…

  1. Are a horribly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed morning person
  2. Don’t know me at all
  3. Have small children at home who have you up at the crack of dawn all the time

Generally, for my whole adult life, I have not been a morning person. I managed thru university, but arranged some strange schedules to minimize the 8 am classes. I have never developed a taste for coffee, so rarely looked to caffeine for assistance. In my first two years teaching, I was very glad that I did not drive often for our car pool arrangement, because the early hours of our departure combined with the late arrival of the sun during Alberta winters made it questionable whether I would have the cognative abilities to make the split second decisions required behind the wheel on Hwy 2. I could function by the time I got to school 45 minutes later.

During my child-bearing years, my late-night energy cycle meant I was able to get a lot of housework done that was impossible with small children underfoot, and then stumbled around comatose during the wee hour baby feedings. (I was pretty much sleep-deprived for the 8 years that I was pregnant or had children under 2 years of age, so I don’t think being a morning person would have made a difference anyhow.)   I managed to get my four children dressed and off to school on time for 16 years, but if you showed up at my house around then (or even an hour or two later), you would almost certainly meet me in my bathrobe.

Occasionally I have tried to force myself into the proverbial world of the “early to bed, early to rise”, usually without long-term success.  Instead, when jobs required early mornings, I learned to function with less sleep. And, since I am now past menopause, it has, in fact, become worse.  (Anyone who tries to tell a menopausal woman that she just needs to ‘stick to a schedule’ in order to change her sleep schedule, is tempting fate, especially if that same women has not slept well for the last 2 weeks)

Moving to Cameroon, I was determined to try it again. SInce the sun goes down at 6 and comes up at 6 for pretty much the whole year, and we didn’t have power at night for much of the first 4 months, I was convinced my circadian rhythm would adjust and I could move seamlessly into the cycle of those all around me, including my husband.

Anecdotally speaking, I think I must have been doing better, because I was able to be at class in Ndu at 7:30am, actually awake and ready to teach. But, while I love the skylight in our bedroom there, especially during the gloomier rainy season, if I have not been able to sleep til 1 or 2 am, having the sun streaming into my face from overhead at 5:45 does not launch me out of bed in a merry mood.

However, while I was in Nigeria recently, with no power in the house, and limited life to my solar powered lamp, I successfully went to bed before 9 pm, woke up usually only briefly once or twice, and got up regularly at 5:30 am for devotions. I think another factor in this achievement was the high level of physical activity I was doing, since I was walking back and forth across the village sometimes 4-5 times in a day, and working with the contractor at the renovation site, and physical exhaustion is a great sleep aid.

Since they say you can create a new habit if you do something for 29 days, or something like that, I was optimistic on my return to Cameroon that this cycle could continue. Alas, it was not to be. And although I have experimented with melatonin, physical activity and exercise, camomile tea and less screen time before bed, I am rarely able to sleep before 10 pm again (or 11 or 12 or 1am) , or, I wake up after a couple of hours and stay awake for 3 or more hours.

So, I am just grateful right now that I don’t have a schedule that requires me to stick to a routine. Instead, I try to make a list (physical or mental) of what I need to do in the morning. If I have to go to market, the list is ready, the shopping bags are in place, etc.  If I have a good sleep, I attack the morning with vigor. If I have almost no sleep, such as a couple of days ago, I do the bare minimum and stumble around in a fog for a day. If I have had a half decent sleep, such as this morning, then the list means I don’t have to think about what needs to be done. I just get up and get started, remembering that doing all these things early is WAY better than during the 31 degree heat of the afternoon.

So, after finishing this blog, which was interrupted by numerous visits, trips to the kitchen for another ginger snap, and a short meeting with my language helper, I am going to check if my laundry outside is dry, make lunch, and work on my language learning stuff until I get tired. Oh – and decide on how to cook the beans and get them started  And then…..I plan to take a nap -when it’s 30 degrees outside and too hot to do anything inside.   And I continue to be glad that I don’t have a 9-5 job.

The Lights of a Packrat

OK, so I know that I’ve always been a bit of a packrack (My children are rolling their eyes as they read this and saying, “A bit?!?!?”)  But as I packed up for moving to Cameroon, I had to limit what we brought, what we put into our limited storage, and REALLY tried not to foist a bunch of junk onto my kids.  And I thought that living in Africa might continue promote a more minimalistic lifestyle.  HAHAHAHA! Well, it does in its own way, I guess. But in what I consider emergency preparedness, I can’t seem to help myself.

lights

So here is just the light collection saga.  When I was camping and out-tripping in Canada, for numerous weeks per year, I had one Petzel headlamp (second from the left). It served me for about 10 years of trips, plus roadside car repairs and at-home power outtages, with about 2 sets of good batteries for that whole time.  It DID occur to me to go to Cameroon with just that, but I decided….NOT!!  Frequent use walking the house and campus in Ndu seems to have strained it and on this last trip, I thought it had died. New batteries worked briefly (after a three week search for AAA’s that lasted more than 20 minutes), but then it failed again.  But I couldn’t very well throw it out, so I dragged it all around Nigeria (not working) in the bottom of my bag, and it made it back to Banyo with me.  Frustrated to not have a hands-free light for over a month, I tackled it this morning with the help of some internet advice. I cleaned the contacts with VINEGAR! And it works!! Still a bit touchy to operate, so I haven’t solved the problem completely, but I am optimistic.  Test use tonight has proved it so far – packrats score again!

Before leaving Canada I was advised to buy a good rechargeable LED lamp. Well, technology has changed, and the new power source in North America is USB /power banks, so I got a few things. I bought a Nite Ize lamp (second from the right). It lasts quite a long time, and charges with a mini USB input. It also has an output port, so in a pinch, I can charge my phone from it too.  Disadvantage- it is REALLY bright, even at the lowest setting, and is most comfortably used when you can hang it up so the light shines in a way that doesn’t blind everyone. Because of that, it lives in its little bag for long period of time when we travel, unless there is a convenient nail, hook or twig to hang it from near the ceiling.   At home in Ndu it lives on top of the cabinet in the dining room, where it cast the best light when the power (frequently) goes out.
I also engaged in an impulse buy at MEC in Canada and bought this super-cool lid for my Nalgene (far right) that has a light, solar panel and glow-in-the-dark silicone ring around the lid.  I haven’t needed a night light with much frequency between my children’s graduations from kindergarten and my move to Cameroon, but this is now my defacto water bottle, night light and bedside lamp, as well as a great conversation piece in the villages where they love anything solar powered. Being normally used in Canadian summers where it is light til 10 or 11 pm, its one minor downside is that it doesn’t shine very well as room lighting from 6-10 pm here. That minor problem is overshadowed (pun intended) by the much worse fact that the lid doesn’t seal very well. So it’s good in my room but not great in my truck, or backpack, or knocked over on the bedroom floor. And although I still have the original Nalgene Seal with me, it’s a pain to carry around to change, so I rarely do.  But I still use the bottle-with-lid-light a ton, and live with its various disadvantages, because of its day-to-day convenience, the ‘cool’ factor and the way it saves my shins and Jeff’s sleep during my nocturnal sojourning.

I have a couple of USB power banks, two of which are gifts, that get used for charging phones, some ofthese lights, and a host of other little things I never anticipated. The third power bank is a massive 4.5 pound thing I bought for my laptop computer, and I save it for charging computers when off the power grid for a long time. ‘Cause ‘off the grid’ here doesn’t usually mean no cell network- just no electricity in the houses. So we are still expected to use phone, text, email, Messenger, Facebook, What’sApp, etc., and have phones and SIMs for multiple networks to facilitate this in multiple scenariors.  An additional power bank that was gifted to me last year with one of the others, was passed on to an evangelist friend of ours. He really wants my solar charger panel with the USB ports, since the ones here are of questionable quality, but I am drawing the line there.

Coming back thru more populated parts of Cameroon this week, I was at a Total fuel station, and my eye fell on one of the D-lights they sell across the country, and which are really quite impressive and actually come with a warranty. (Although I haven’t found anyone that’s tested that warranty.) I used one of Lisa’s in the village last month, and thought I should own at least one good solar powered lamp.  I decided against the bigger one which has a few other features I didn’t need (USB port, I think). So this one (far left), at $16 Cdn equivalent, looks a bit like my Nalgene but you CANNOT put water in it. THAT much is specific in the instructions. (What else you would want to put in the screw open top container, I have no idea! It’s low power and heat so I don’t think I can try drying anything inside- but you never know….)
Note to you all, if you’re coming to Cameroon or other African countries, see what they have  readily available before buying anything solar in North America. Some things here are really very good and reasonably priced

Oh yes, as a camp leader in Canada I spurged once and bought a miniMaglite. That one seems to be missing at the moment, but it’s probably in Ndu on the shelf by the front door.   And my smart phone (obviously) also has a flashlight app- which I’ve used 70% of the time that my Petzel wasn’t working.

Jeff has one little LED light flashlight he’s used all year so far…….I think he might be due for new batteries soon.  I just hope they are not AAAs.

 

Dear Mr. Prime Minister

Greetings to you and your family from one of your citizens now living in Cameroon, West Africa. Given the potential dangers of international travel these days, I trust you will be safely back in Canada by the time you read this.

I have been following your progress just a little since you have been touring India, and an internet news clip from your time there caught my eye. Trudeau family in IndiaI applaud your motivation in wearing the designer clothes (i.e. to raise the status of women internationally), and your attempt to reach out to many peoples while there . . . but if I may be so bold, I would like to give you some caution on those fronts as well, and perhaps an invitation of sorts.

Canada, as we all know, is a pluralist, secular nation, where the separation between religion and state is an accepted axiom. (Speaking as a Christian of the Baptist persuasion, I write this with some sense of pride, since many of my Baptist forebears were persecuted for the way they believed they should practise their religion, and they were in the forefront of advocating for the division which we now enjoy.) What this means is that Canadian prime ministers do not usually need to discuss their personal religious beliefs in public. This has both positive and negative implications, but it does tend to ensure that no one religious group may feel entitled over against any other.

On your recent trip, however – and indeed throughout your political career – you seem to be seeking for a sense of acceptance based on your ability to join together with peoples of all religious beliefs. While this is perhaps laudable, you need to know that for people who sincerely and deeply hold the beliefs that you are wearing on your sleeve (as it were), you do not always represent yourself or our country in the best possible light. A Muslim and a Christian both know (for instance) that you cannot legitimately “pray” in a mosque one Friday, and the next Sunday “pray” in a church. If you do, you look like a spiritual dilettante, who does not know very much about either. (To be sure, some folks may be happy that you have ‘identified’ with them in the short run, but over time you will appear disingenuous and opportunistic.)

My caution is that your mixing of politics and religion will send the wrong signals to very many state leaders who lead religious nations, and who happen to be truly religious themselves (not to mention, many of your own Canadian citizens).

My advice, and invitation, on the other hand, is if you wish to genuinely follow a religious path, and if you are seeking to know which path is the ‘true’ one, then you should seriously pursue that journey (though, probably not when you are in the public eye). I would recommend beginning with the claims of Jesus Christ (admittedly, I am biased); I am sure there are some good, discrete followers of Jesus there in Ottawa who would be happy to instruct you in “the Way,” and allow you to weigh his claim to be “the way, the truth, and the life” for yourself.

Meanwhile, as I am instructed to do, I will continue to pray for you, and for the peace of our nation. Thanks for serving. God bless.