A Glass of Juice…

I know. I don’t write blogs like Jeff. Eventually I will tell you more about the ministry and teaching stuff we are doing. But I like to write about everyday things that we experience, so you can get a sense of out life here,  so bear with me.

This Wednesday, we had a glass of juice. Now, it is possible to buy some fruit juices here, for fairly exorbitant prices. I bought 1 litre in Bamenda when we arrived, but haven’t run into the same kind here, and find that $3 US plus is a bit steep for a litre, if I could find it here in Ndu, anyhow.

Juice isn’t really that good for you- it’s much healthier to eat the fruit than to drink the juice. Juice is all the sugar and none of the fiber, etc. etc., but I digress.

Fruit I can get. Papaya is in season, if you care for them; guavas are on the trees (I have a few on a tree here, but I really don’t like those very much)  bananas are available year round,  regular oranges (but they’re green) can easily be had, and I’ve actually had little mandarins (but with seeds) since we got here. Those are gettting smaller and less sweet so I think the season is tapering off.  Watermelon is great here.  Mangoes I am going to have to wait a long time for- I think it’s a rainy season crop.

Pineapple is my favorite, but unfortunately it doesn’t grow well, or is out of season, up here.  But when a visitor was coming up this way, Cal texted and asked if I wanted any fruit picked up along the way from Douala. I requested 2 or 3 pineapples. And I got some HUMUNGOUS ones. So I have been cooking sweet and sour dishes, eating  it fresh, baking with it,  bringing it for staff coffee time,  and finding a little space in my tiny freezer for some of it.

And, while  doing all this cutting, slicing, crushing and dicing, I did get  the spinoff of some pineapple juice. Which is yummy, and very, very sweet. So, having about a cup of it in the fridge, I thought I would stretch it a bit with some orange juice as I really like the combination.  You know that Tropicana commercial about juice from 64 oranges in every carton of  OJ? Well, no kidding- that’s believeable!!  After 20 minutes, I had squeezed 8 oranges of various sizes and types, gotten all sticky, and finally had enough about 2 cups of pineapple-orange juice.  We rationed some out for that meal and some for the next breakfast.

It was delicious, but not something I’ll do on a regular basis.



Good morning Ndu

On November 6th, I went to bed at 9 pm.

Now that might not seem like anything newsworthy, but for those of you who know my normal nocturnal habits, if this becomes my new normal, it will be a lifestyle change of epic proportions.

But to any of you who have lived anywhere near the equator, where the sun sets around 6 pm, and rises around 6 am, and where electricity is not a guaranteed thing, you realize that using the early mornings just makes sense, and so, by extension, late nights generally do not. And while I have some light options for late into the evening (even when the power is off), realities here are forcing some changes in my behavior.

So where was I? Oh yes.  I went to bed at 9 pm. Because there is no power this evening, the local establishments are not blasting their music at immeasurable decibels, so I am asleep quickly. Besides, I AM tired. My Fitbit is regularly registering my daily step count at 10-14,000 steps per day, and my body is still adjusting to living at an elevation of around 7000 feet above sea level.   Around midnight I wake briefly to a roll of thunder, but the accompanying patter of steady rain soon lulls me back to sleep.

At 4:54 I wake to the plaintive call from the muezzin calling out the adhan, summoning the Moslems to prayer.  Two minutes later the neighbor’s rooster gives his first clarion call. I think some other roosters started earlier than him, but they are far enough away to not disturb me. At 4:59, the second call, or iqama, from the muezzin goes out. I glance at my watch a third time, and the idea of this blog strikes me.

As faint daylight through my skylight window tries to raise my level of consciousness, I drift in and out of sleep til the sonorous cadence of the Catholic church bells at 5:30 filters down our way. Like ecclesiastical snooze buttons, they ring again at 5:45.    Moments later, my brain registers the first motorbike horn beeps of the day- I suspect some are ferrying the faithful to early morning mass. I smile at my Baptist persuasions, and roll over under my covers.

Jeff, who loves early mornings (and grew up Catholic for some years), slips out quietly at 5:50, while I still successfully feign being asleep. But at 5:55, the neighboring poultry alarm, having already given me an hour to respond, crows insistently again, and I give up part of the battle, roll over and grab my phone. It seems prudent to jot this series of sounds down in the memo section before I forget.

My smart phone also serves as my low light bible, and so I scroll in my Bible app to Psalm 127, part of my reading for the day.  A host of prayer points rise as I read this Psalm- so I pray for my children, who are my heritage from the Lord, for peace and security in this still tumultuous crisis in English-speaking Cameroon, and a few other things. I then claim a bit of Bible promise (He grants sleep to those He loves- verse 2), until by 7:15 it is SO light in my room that sleeping any longer seems just a bit ridiculous.

Good morning, Ndu. I still have 2 hours and 15 minutes before I have to teach today.  Plenty of time to dress, cook breakfast (yes- COOK breakfast- cold cereals -those that are available- on cool mornings are rather unappetizing, especially with powdered milk), make a list for my househelp-in-training, get organized for the day and walk up the hill to the academic block. On Friday, Monday and Wednesday I do not have this luxury of a slow start, as I teach English at 7:30 am.

So, I may yet become a morning person.  (Although, ironically I am posting this late on a night that I can’t sleep) And since I finally have internet of sorts again, I am able to share this revelation with all of you.

And the Electrician said “Let there be light”(and a good chunk of the time, there is!!)

Our year in Nigeria (2008-9) gave me a taste of living in an NAB mission house in West Africa. So I came with some medium to low expectations (and higher hopes) about our housing here in Cameroon. But for those of you who envisioned us living in a hut with a grass roof- we are way beyond that! (Except maybe when we will go out to the villages) The NAB mission houses are quite comfortable, large (especially since this one was designed for a large family and there are only two us here right now) and very liveable.

The big difference between our Nigeria experience and here, is that in Cameroon we have a Field Director (Cal Hohn) who personally oversaw many of the renovations and repairs to our house here in Ndu, and I was pleasantly surprised by the condition of the house when we arrived. Cal has an excellent Cameroonian electrician (Abel) and the whole house was rewired and LED lights installed.  So except for no light in MY office for some reason, pretty much everything else works well- as long as there is actually grid power.  (The seminary is loathe to turn on its generator unless there is something really important happening.)

Our first night, the power went out about 5 times, for a few minutes each time. There has been a loss of power for a while pretty much every day so far, but considering what I had been told about Ndu power, I was expecting it to be much worse. I think the longest it had been out has been a couple of hours, unless it went out longer at night sometime when we were sleeping, but my refrigerator seems cold every morning.  (Yes, I have a refrigerator, with a small freezer. And now that I have figured out the controls, I have stopped freezing everything in the fridge portion as well.) However,we were without power from 1 amt Friday  til about noon Saturday, and since I am missing a part to get my generator hooked up, That was not a power option, so I definitely was in danger of losing my freezer contents. Hopefully power is better now til I get the generator fixed, since most of the stuff in the freezer is ‘special’ stuff from Bamenda that I can’t buy here!!

I also, much to my delight, have a microwave!!!!!!!!!!   I was prepared to treat ourselves and buy one eventually, but because of some renovations and rearrangements going on in Baptist Center in Bamenda, Cal was able to ‘dash’ (give for free) us one. Cooking for only two people, left overs are a HUGE part of meal planning so this is a massive bonus – if the power is on at dinner time. Since that is peak consumption time, that is questionable.

The biggest adjustment is the switch to 220 power and the hazards involved in using any 110v equipment or appliances brought from North America. Having blown the circuits of the one electrical appliance we brought to Nigeria in 2008 (a popcorn popper) by plugging it in without a step-down transformer, I was determined not to make the same mistake this time. So instead I am making slightly different variations of the same ones.  I referred to one ‘oops’ in my previous blog.

When Cal inventoried the house, there was an old washing machine that has been sitting here for a couple of years, not working. This same amazing electrician (Abel) was able to determine what was wrong with it, got it running and since I brought over a new dial for the controls, it is now easy to operate. However, having no extension cord to have the cord reach the wall outlet, I innovated and put a regulator in to act as an extension. It made noises but didn’t want to do much. So I filled it manually to clean it (You have NO idea how much dust had settled on, in and throughout the tub) and then tried to start the agitator. It made funny noises but was doing something, so I left for a few minutes. I came back to that distinctive smell of an unhappy motor. So I shut it all down and engaged my time-honored problem solving technique of going to bed and sleeping on it. In the morning it suddenly occurred to me that there are two different outlets in the regulator. Sure enough, I checked and I had accidentally plugged in to the 220 outlet instead of the 110!! Somehow that did not blow the motor, and now the machine has happily done 2 or 3 loads for me- cold water only, and a little bit of leaking, but WHO CARES?!

That same day, buoyed by my electrical problem solving prowess, I tried to eliminate some factors in the puzzle of why I had no light in my office, so I decided to test the wall sockets. I have NO idea why I didn’t just plug in my phone charger (yes EVERYONE has those here!!) Instead I grabbed the really nice 110 power bar of my desk, (which I hadn’t used yet and was saving for printer, and other 110 office things we have coming) and plugged in in with a socket adapter. I should have used the extra step down transformer in between, which was my eventual plan, but that is currently in the laundry room, acting as an extension cord for my washer. I naively figured that if I wasn’t running anything with it, the extra voltage wouldn’t matter, and the light on it would tell me if there was power. But of course, it is 110 with a light, meaning it’s using power, and FZZT- POW-POP!!  And that awful electrical smell! And oh yes- all the lights went off in the house.

Abel has labeled the panel better than the last two Canadian houses I have lived in,IMG_7783 so I grabbed a torch (aka flashlight),  flipped a few breakers, and we were back in business- except for my power bar.   And, for some reason, there is now no power in that office outlet so there is now neither power NOR light in my office. So I am sitting at the small table I have placed in the parlor for exactly this purpose.  But the power has gone out anyhow, so I should quit now and not run down my computer battery too far. (And I was not successful uploading any more pictures. Gave up after 8 attempts. Sorry.)

Besides, it’s dinner time and I have to go figure out how to heat my leftovers for dinner on the stove (it’s a gas one!)

Update on the woodstove….

…..It would seem that the solution, as is often the case here,  is to hire someone who actually knows what they are doing. So Mark came one day, and Godwill another and split a bunch of wood for us in different sizes, and we got a reasonable fire going for a couple of hours for the last few days, and we have had a much more pleasant evening in the parlor.

It’s still  a bit tricky figuring out how to tend the fire with this wood, but that’s ok- I like playing with fire. 🙂


Well, we haven’t posted for a while- been in the throes of actually MOVING here to Cameroon.  So here we are!!  Seems like it is my (Sonya’s) turn to start blogging. I tend to write about the mundane things about life, so here we go…

Our house here on CBTS campus is equipped with a nice wood burning stove in the parlor (Cameroon speak for living room) which is also our dining room. It was put in to replace the original fireplace which never  vented properly and tended to make the house smoky. Apparently it is the envy of the neighborhood, because it heats the main room efficiently and nicely.

Heat, you say? In Africa? Yes, heat. Ndu is probably the highest village in Cameroon, situated at about 7000 feet above sea level, so for Africa, it is really quite cold. People walk around here with winter jackets, toques (or whatever they call them here) scarves, etc, especially in the morning, and when it is cloudy. Which, in the rainy season, is a lot of the time. I haven’t figured out temperatures, but for all you prairie people who are like me and pooh-pooh anything above -20, it’s a damp cold, so even though it is well above freezing, it is very chilly.

In addition, houses are built of brick, stone or cement, are not well sealed or insulated, have no central heating, and have at best, single pane glass for windows. So whatever the temperature is outside….it’s about 3 degrees warmer inside, if you don’t have any heat source.  Sunday was an in between day for weather. Light cloud in the morning, a bit it of sun by noon. An hour or more of rain in the afternoon (rainy season has stubbornly not quite let go here yet) and I am guessing a low of 10, and a high of maybe 20 Celsius for the short time the sun was out.  Tonight as I get ready for bed, I am estimating it is around 12-15 degrees Celsius….and 15-18 in my house. Which, while very nice by Canadian outdoor standards, means a sweater on all day, and shoes or slippers on the cold cement and tile floors at all times, and one or two blankets on the bed. (In all fairness, having not brought an outdoor thermometer with me, these estimates are all based on my internal thermometer, which I suspect is slightly out of whack.)

So, back to the wood stove.  I pride myself on being able to start a fire, with all my camping background,  and Jeff is pretty good at it too, but so far, we are failing miserably here.  Cal got us a grand load of eucalyptus wood, which is conveniently stored in our huge laundry-drying room, but …
a) It is currently all too long to fit in the stove
b) it is rather damp, being the end of the rainy season, and I don’t’ know how to tell what is cured/dried, but this is apparently not.
c) Even when we borrowed a machete (no axes), Jeff easily(?) managed to make starter kindling, but we have no idea how to make  the mid size pieces with it, and still keep all our fingers.
d) the person’s son who we were told could cut it up for us ‘has not yet come’.
e) I don’t even have any ‘Scout water’  (kerosene or Naphta fuel) on hand to help me out here

So although Dinah had a nice fire crackling in the fireplace when we arrived on Wednesday, we have yet to successfully do the same.  I hope we figure this out soon.  Apparently days get hotter in the dry season, but nights get colder. Seems our location in the Sahel (the belt  in Western Africa below the Sahara) means we get the same winds that make the desert so cold at night.  Cari, I should have brought my down vest after all.

I’m going to crawl under my two blankets for now. We went to church, took a nap, and actually got on the internet today. I wrote a blog, checked out facebook  a little,  did email. I tried to set up an office space, figured out how to reset the breakers when I did an electrical ‘oops’, and made chicken and rice soup by LED lantern when the power inconveniently went out around dinner time. Firewood is a challenge for another day.

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.)


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.