A Piece of Work

Last year near the end of my visit to West Africa, I was up in northern Cameroon and a few of my Fulbe friends had come to see me off. We were living near a missionary there, and he had a young intern missionary working with him – and this young intern had a young friend from Ontario, Canada visiting him.

This young Ontarian was in the oil business, working on the rigs in various places. He was a non-stop-talker, always with a funny story, told with great bombast and verve. He was fun to be around, but a little unnerving at the same time, because you never quite knew what he was going to say next. He was, in North American parlance, “a piece of work.IMG_5237

I told this to my friend the Wakili just before he was to meet him. “I will not tell you what ‘a piece of work’ means,” I said, “because I think you will just figure it out when you meet him yourself.” He met him soon enough.

Our young friend came bounding in and proceeded to tell us his latest story. He had been travelling across the country with an oil rig friend, and had been told to avoid the fish when ordering food. They were in a small town and were having no luck with the restaurants there. One after another they were told they had no food available for them (often you need to let them know ahead of time that you are coming).

Finally they came to one restaurant where they were told they had a choice of fish or bush meat. Our young friend knew that fish was out of the question, so he ordered the bush meat. In due time out it came – a monkey’s arm, complete with monkey fist still attached to the end.monkey

Our friend stared at it, nonplussed for just a moment (it is hard to shock him enough to quieten him down), and then figured, “Hey, I’m hungry” and went to it! (This was just a couple of years after the Ebola crisis swept through West Africa and the USA.)

Well, we had a good – albeit nervous – laugh at that story, and when we got back to our rooms I asked the Wakili what he thought. “Yes,” he agreed, laughing. “He is a piece of work.”

Some things don’t need to be translated.

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Family Matters

In our travelling of the past little while, we have been fortunate to be able to combine some of our support-raising work with family visitation, and the process of saying good-bye.Mom's Camera 046

This happened this past weekend when we were in Kelowna. My mother lives there, as does one of my sisters, so there was planned a Kilmartin Family Picnic – partly just to get together, but also to commemorate my mother’s 85th birthday. We were able to combine this with sharing about the ministry at Grace Baptist Church, which was really a lot of fun in its own right.

The family event went very well – the weather was really nice, and that day the smoke from northern B.C. was not in evidence. My sister chose a really great site to have it, right by the lake, under a large gazebo, and with enough grass to allow us to play bocce ball and devise a whiffle ball golf obstacle course. The food was marvelous, plentiful, and right up my palate’s alley. Six out of seven siblings were able to be there, which is pretty good for us.

The biggest surprise for me was to see my son Robert walk through the door at my sister’s house the day before the picnic. I had come in on the plane (flying in from eastern Canada), and was expecting Sonya to have beaten me to the airport (thinking that she was flying in from Edmonton). Instead she had driven with Robert, who was coming from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

It was a terrible long drive for Bob, happily broken up by a stay with his sister in Leduc, and then with friends in Lake Louise. The drive back east for him was not so nice, and he was not looking forward to the experience of getting home on his own (after the weekend was done I drove with Sonya south to OK Falls before flying home to Edmonton again). But he did it, he said, because he felt it was a good decision to do so.

Not all of my children share my perspective, but my view of my son Robert is that he has a great heart that is usually in the right place. In this case, it was right again. It was a great sacrifice for him to drive all that way, hours of it alone, in order to be at this family gathering. He felt it was important and worth it, and he was right.

People on their death bed know, and I am coming to find that missionaries heading toward the field know it as well, that there are a lot of things we can foolishly waste our time on, but being with family members for significant events is not one of them.

In the next few weeks we will see Bob again, as we drive to Manitoba to take care of things there – and to see our son, Daniel. Our son John will come west, to Canmore, and our daughter we’ll see this coming week. I cherish these times with our children, and loved the time spend with my extended family.

I hope that in your own life situation you are able to take some time to be with family as well, intentionally making time and space to connect with them in significant ways. Let us not take these people for granted, because they may not always be granted to us.

Bagirmi

When Sonya and I were in Colorado in May for our four weeks of Mission Training we met people from all over the United States, going to all over the world. It really was very cool.

One woman we met there was on her way to Chad, to minister among the Bagirmi people. The Bagirmi are found in Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR); there are over 260,000 of them, and they are classified as an unreached people group.

As we talked about them we noticed some similarities between them and the Fulbe people that Sonya and I will be working among. The Bagirmi are traditionally nomadic, they are cattle herders, they live in the Sahel (that belt of land below the Sahara Desert), and so on.

Now I discover thBagirmi 1at the Bagirmi and the Fulbe do indeed belong to the same people group. The Fulbe are spread out in about fourteen countries across the Sahel, and because of that they are known by very many names – Fulbe, Fulani, Pula, Pular, Fular, Bilkiri, Bororo, Fouta Tooro, and more. In each place they are known to be difficult to reach for Christ, but it is exciting, nevertheless, to know that others like our friend are working with us in the same part of God’s wide field.

For more information about the Bagirmi/Fulbe you can click here.

 

Unreachable?

When I was in Buffalo, New York, the pastor I was staying with was a real go-getter, fun to be around, and a bit of a mischievous guy to boot. He took me to play basketball (gasping away the heart attack after the first game, but getting my wind by the time the third came along), and then out to supper with the family – a truly delightful bunch.

As we were driving to his home he told me he had a special surprise in store for me. When we got there I discovered, to my great pleasure, that his family had adopted a 20 year old Nigerian from Abuja for a few months, and we got to spend a good amount of time together.Fulbe 1

My new friend was proud and enthusiastic to be from Africa, and Nigeria in particular. He said when people asked him where he was from (his accent made it clear he was not American), he would pull his shirt over his shoulders to show a tattoo on his back with the outline of Africa on the left side, and that of Nigeria on the right.

What truly surprised me about this young man, however, was his shock at hearing that I knew of, worked with, and was friends with, members of the Fulani tribe (that is the normal, anglicized, version of the name the Fulbe go by in Nigeria). “You can’t be working with them!” he exclaimed. “That is impossible – no one works with the Fulani!”

Fulbe 4He was truly incredulous. He had never heard of Fulbe being Christians, never heard of anyone getting to know any Fulanis or being able to work with them. All he had heard, apparently, were the stories of their tendencies toward violence, their intractability, and imperviousness to the good news of Jesus Christ.

I was able to share with him some of my own experiences. The Fulbe that I know are both Christian and Muslim, but most of them are hospitable, kind, generous, and good-humoured. I love them and enjoy them. They may be an unreached people group (according to the Joshua Project website), but, by the grace of God, they are not unreachable.

The Wonder of Children

Often when I am sharing about the Fulbe ministry in churches the pastors will direct that the children stay in the service (quite often they retire to go to a more child-conducive setting), and, if I am paying attention enough, I try to gear my presentation more towards the younger set. I have found that when you aim at the children, the parents will often get more out of it.

In Gladwin, Michigan, this happened, and I am so glad it did. As I often do at the end of my talk, I showed a picture of seven Fulbe children in a row, standing in front of the Wakili’s parlour in our small hamlet, where Aminu is behind (reading my thesis from school).077 Lamizanatu, Farida, Jamilatu, Maryam, Shuayba, Jama'atu, Sardauna

The Fulbe children were a delight and a wonder. They liked to follow me around as an informal posse. On occasion I have prayed for one or two of them for healing of one sort or another, so we have a special bond that way. One of them, Shuayba, was just about four years old when I first visited the hamlet; she welcomed me by climbing onto my lap and adopting me that first time out (in the picture she is on my son Robert’s lap). For a fellow who loves kids, it was a wonderful introduction to this new people group.IMG_0038

While in the churches I share what God is doing in and among the Fulbe people –some of the stories are amazing, others are heartwarming. I am trusting that all of them glorify God.

As I show the picture in church, I tell the young people to pay special attention, because I have a $10 bill in my wallet, and if they can recite the names of the kids after the service, the $10 is theirs.

I say the names as clearly and slowly as I can: starting from the left, Lamizanatu, Farida, Jamilatu, Maryam, Shuayba, Jama’atu, and Sardauna. I have never been too much in fear of losing my money; the names are hard to say, and no doubt harder for a young person to remember. In fact, no one had ever even tried to claim the money before. Not until Gladwin.

That Sunday morning the first little fellow, maybe five years old, came shyly up to me, his mother coming behind and urging him on, with a fistful of coins. Twenty cents worth. His fortune, no doubt, but now being given, with intense seriousness and quiet joy, for the benefit of people he had only just heard of, but had never met. He felt the need inside of himself, somehow had a sense of his own riches, and gave out of the fullness of God. I was humbled and overcome; I wished I could hug him and talk to him about the big thing he has just done, but he hastened back to his mother.

A second child came up, this one an older girl, and a real delight. She also needed urging from her mother, though she was a little more confident. She had memorized the names, her mother said, and was there to recite them to me to collect the reward. I was very pleased and asked her to repeat them back to me. The first ones were pretty much a wash, but “Sardauna” came out loud and clear – my friend, the Wakili’s son, had made the connection. For his sake I gladly handed over the treasure.10 DOLLARS

Truth is, I would have given it over in any case – just for the pleasure of having a child finally come up and try those really hard names out. The wonder of children. Making friends, one hard name at a time.

Tom, Matt, and Me

There are a couple of films that exemplify for me the fact that for one person to go from ‘here to there’ successfully usually requires a group of people helping them out on their journey.

Tom Hanks shows this in Apollo 13 (a film based on a true story), an account of a shuttle he and two others are flying, which suffers an explosion en route to the moon. Because of the explosion they are forced to return to the earth without accomplishing their mission. The mission of thousands of other people then becomes getting the three of them home safely.Apollo 13

In The Martian, Matt Damon is accidentally left behind on Mars, and many others are also called upon to sacrifice in order to bring him home safely.

My own ‘voyage’ saw me flying to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in order to visit several churches there, and in Minitonas and Morris, and from there flying to Toronto, Ontario; renting a car and driving to Spittsville, Smith Falls, then into Medina and Getzville, New York, across Ontario again to go to St. Claire Shores, Mason, Gladwin, and Auburn, Michigan, before driving to Romulus (nice imagery there), where the airport is and flying home to

The Martian

Edmonton, Alberta (arriving safely two days ago).

While waiting for standby flights, white knuckling it over the many bridges between Ontario, New York, and Michigan, driving to hosts’ homes, and speaking in various churches, I too was cognizant of relying upon many others to get me to where I needed to go, and to receive me when I finally got there.

Sonya and Cari, June 2017Sonya and my daughter, Cari, were the flight directors on the home front. After them were the many pastors who received into their churches and homes; others who hosted me so well; many people who came and listened to the vision and need regarding our Fulbe mission to Cameroon and Nigeria; those who gave words of encouragement and blessing; and the hundreds who were praying for the success of the trip. If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes the equivalent of an extended village to send a guy on a journey half way across the country to exotic places he has never been before.

By the grace of God, and thanks to all of these folks, the trip was indeed a success. The message was shared with a good number of folks, and there was a positive response to it.

Of course, there is still a long way to go in our journey to get to Cameroon and Nigeria, so we urge you to continue praying, reading, learning, along with us as we go. Thanks so much.

Prayer for the Plateau

There is good and bad news on the Plateau today.

The bad news is the death toll, and the fear of reprisals. I have heard of at least 47 people dead, with more missing, and many injured. Though I have seen pictures from there I will not post them here. A sister of my friend Bilkisu was one of the ones killed, so it has struck very close to home.

In our partner village (a hamlet, really) there are about 50 people who have fled from their homes and taken refuge there, and more are expected. They do not have room to host so many, so they have shuttled some off to a larger near-by village (at this point I do not wish to print the names of the places).

Part of the good news is that a sort of calm has settled over the Plateau, but the fear is, now, that there will be reprisals made by the Fulbe against their aggressors. Of course, just who the aggressors are remains a point of contention, with various folks arguing from different perspectives.

What is clear is that this was a tribal matter (not a religious one), primarily involving farmers and cattle grazers. Generally speaking, the Fulbe tend to be the cattle grazers, while the Mambilla people are farmers. Both Muslims and Christians (“so-called,” as my friends put it) were involved in the attacks. If you are very ambitious, and wish to get a better grip on why all of this is happening, you may turn to these articles – just three of many out there trying to explain the present situation: The Fulani Crisis: Communal Violence and Radicalization in the Sahel, Making Sense of Nigeria’s Fulani-Farmer Conflict, Why Fulani Herdsmen and Farmers Fight: How Climate Change and Boko Haram Created a Crisis.

Essentially, the problem is one of long-standing origin, and has to do with the traditional Fulbe having to graze their cattle farther south than they have usually done in the past few decades. this southern migration has been exacerbated in recent years by the presence of the Boko Haram in the north making it unsafe there for Fulbe people also.
This migration south means they have encroached on farmers’ lands, and many of the peoples they are coming into contact with – including, and especially, the Mambilla – have a violent history with the Fulbe, so there is bad blood between them already. Locally, there are some politics and politicians involved as well, but their role in all this is murky to me (I have heard bits of stories, but they are not really clear to me).

The great bit of good news is the number of people praying for the Plateau right now. There are a lot of practical things to be done (the government needs to step up; food needs to be bought; cooler heads need to prevail; and so on), but prayer to God is an ultimately practical discipline, requiring focus and attention.

One of the major elements in our support raising is to bring on board people who have pledged to pray for us and the ministry we are involved in. I consider this aspect of our support to be absolutely crucial to any success we might see on our mission. Thanks so much to all off you ho have committed yourself to this vital ministry – and thanks so much for your prayer for the Plateau right now.

I will reprint here what I said in my prayer post of a few days ago, since it is still relevant:
Please pray for safety for our Christian brothers and sisters (cf. 2 Thess 3.2); pray that the government will intervene in such a way as to de-escalate the violence and bring peace to the area (even an enforced peace at this point [cf. Rom 13.4)); pray that no Christians return evil for evil, but that they will return good for evil (cf. Rom 17-21); pray that the Christian leaders will speak with the words of Christ (cf. 1 Pet 4.11).
Thanks so much for your prayers.

Dairy Farmer (??)

My kids like to joke with me that I have had so many different kinds of jobs (Mushroom farmer, security guard, golf course greens-keeper, talent agent for film and television, and so on). I have not added a new position yet, but I now have a very small bit of dairy farming experience, courtesy of some friends from our home church.

When Sonya and I returned from our training in Colorado, after our meetings in our head office in Roseville, we still had some work to do cleaning out the garage of the parsonage where we had been living. Our Dairy friends live close to there, so we have been staying with them since we got back to Alberta on Wednesday and –happily for me – they let me help out in the milking parlour.IMG_5530

They work in the parlour from 5-8 each morning, and then again from 5-8 each evening, milking over 100 cows . We did not do it the old fashioned way, sitting on a stool and aiming it into a bucket (not sure anyone does that anymore), but it is still a fascinating process.

The cows are called in from the pasture, and gathered together into the barn; then they are let into the parlour where their feed has been measured out for them (each cow has her own specific allotment of grain and barley given to her), and they are cleaned and prepped to be milked. Then the actual ‘milkers’ are attached, and they are able to hold on because there is a vacuum suction in them (simulating a calf’s sucking motion).

And so on. (I’m guessing you don’t need a blow-by-blow report).IMG_5564

The coolest thing was carrying buckets back and forth from one of the sheds there to the parlour. To me, nothing says “Farmer” more than some guy carrying a bucket or two across the yard. To the layman what is in the bucket is a total mystery – it could be milk, or feed for the chickens, or just-picked apples for a pie, anything! (in my case it was barley) – but you know it is important stuff.

Sonya and I are among the mission homeless right now; we do not have a home of our own anymore, but are counting on the kindness and grace of friends and family. So I am thankful for my dairy farmer friends – and now for my in-laws, whose home we will be in until we are able to leave for West Africa.

We are pretty much ready to depart I think. We have a good number of folks who have committed to praying for us; our training phase is finished; we have packed a whack-load of stuff and sent it over on a sea container with White Cross.

The main thing we are waiting on now is our financial funding. We are at 57%, which is very good, but of course we are still aiming for 100%. If you or your church are among those who have indicated your wish to support us, but have not yet filled out an Intent to Give form, you can log onto the “Give” link at the top of this webpage and go through the motions (BIG Thanks for that!).

We are so grateful for the many who are praying for us and who have already begun to give towards this mission. We know we are very blessed to be partnered with folks who are so generous with their time, energy, and resources. May God continue to bless.

MTI

As so often happens with communications with our friends in Africa, I have been unable to contact my friends by telephone for the past few days, so I do not have any update to give on the situation there. In lieu of that I will share some of the things that have been happening here at MTI (Mission Training Institute) in Palmer Lake, Colorado.

I wrote about our LAPs (Language Acquisition Projects) a little while back. During the first half of our training we were focussing on how to learn the language of the people we will be working with – which for us means Fulfulde, which is the language of the Fulbe people.

We have now transitioned to learning how to be handle the unsettling process of entering a new culture, how to navigate stress and conflict, and – today – how to keep the Sabbath. Yesterday was by far our most stressful day here, so it was wonderful to have a Sabbath rest today.20170518_094450

Yesterday began with a May snowstorm outside and a hostage-taking simulation inside. Yes – you read that right: we simulated a scenario where a group of missionaries were gathered for a convention in a place that was thought to be safe, but was overrun by rebels. I don’t want to give everything away, since some of you may someday come here for this training, but I will say that for an activity that was only make-believe, it was surprisingly intense and lifelike. (Note the picture of me relieving the stress afterwards.)

The simulation is designed to help you see your ‘true colours’ under stress; to figure out what your coping mechanisms are; and to see how you generally handle it. Being overseas can sometimes cause long-term, unrelieved, stress to mount up, and it is good to know up front whether you have the requisite peace and trust in God that will be needed (it is not a bad thing to learn about for normal life here in North America either).

None of this is an exact science, of course. Only time will tell whether a person will be able to handle all the stressors successfully. This, for me, is just another reason why I am celebrating today that we have 150 Prayer Partners on our Prayer Support Team. Wow! I praise God for each and every one of them. We will be leaning on them heavily as time goes by I am sure.

For now, please pray for us with respect to our training here at MTI. We are doing well so far, but it is not easy by a long stretch. Continue to pray also for our Fulbe brothers and sisters who are enduring far more hardships than we will normally face. Thanks and God bless.