Ummayyatu’s Story

At about the age of three, my little friend Ummayyatu already has a story to tell. As with any three year old, however, the story begins with her parents.

I met Iliyasu and Asma’u on my very first trip out to their village. I had not been in the country very long (maybe two weeks or so), and I had been invited to come preach there by the Wakili and Pastor Aminu, who I had met earlier that week. It was a Wednesday – I remember because Wednesdays are when they have their longer worship service, since Sunday is a market day for them.

I preached a very poor sermon on Jesus being the good shepherd (because my friends back in Gembu had said that the Fulbe were herders and this would be a good passage to preach on), and then asked my friend Aminu if any sick people in the village would like to anointed with oil and prayed over (I had brought a little vial of cooking oil with me). He said that would be a good idea, and so we began.

One couple we prayed for was Iliyasu and Asma’u. They had been married for about ten years at that point, but had no children – and for them, as Christians in that culture, this was a terrible thing – akin to having the curse of God upon you (or, at least, that is what others might think of them). I anointed them both with oil, prayed in the name of the triune God, then continued on.

About a year later, on my last trip to the village, they had still not conceived. As I was readying to leave, Asma’u caught me and, in very halting English, pled with me not to forget to pray for her in her plight. I promised her I would not, and when I got back to Canada I enlisted the ladies from our home church, Elim Baptist in Manitoba, to remember her in prayer, while Sonya and I continued to pray for her as well.

About a year later we heard the good news that Asma’u had become pregnant, and we were filled with joy and anticipation. That feeling turned to dust in our mouths, however, as the little boy was stillborn. I was heartbroken over that, and could not imagine how Asma’u and her husband Iliyasu felt. Nor could I find out for another year, when I finally went back to visit.

On that visit, in 2012, I was told by Pastor Aminu that the death of the baby was most likely preventable, but that the young couple had been let down by the medical staff there. When I finally met them in their compound they were stoic (as Fulbe traditionally are, in fact), and Iliyasu explained to me that, after all, “this was the will of God and we must accept it.”

I was horrified by that thought. As people coming out of Islam, all Christian Fulbe will be subject to the danger of a fatalist theology – the idea that everything that happens, good or bad, does so because God had ordained it. So over a lunch of jallof rice and tea I began to share with them a more Christian understanding of the ways of God.

I reminded them of the OT prophets, who they were familiar with; men who spoke for God to proclaim that the way things were was not what God had willed. All over the place, people were doing things that we all knew was not according to the will of God. Furthermore, I told them, God was not in the business of taking babies. He receives them to himself, yes, but he does not take them.

All during my talk their eyes steadily widened, and at the end they looked at each other with palpable relief and gladness. They had accepted their “fate,” but with sad and burdened hearts. Now that they had heard the truth they were freed from the lie of Islam and fatalism, and knew their grief had not been brought to them by God’s hand. (I decided I ought to preach that message to the larger body of Fulbe believers, and was met with the same reaction wherever I spoke on it.)

The next year or so we heard the news that Asma’u had conceived once again. Our happiness was tinged with great concern this time, but in the end our joy was crowned with the birth of a little baby girl.

When it came time for the naming ceremony, about a month or so after the birth, I suppose the name just came naturally to her parents. They named her Ummayyatu – “Mother of a Tribe.” They explained to me that they named her that because so many people came to the naming ceremony of this little miracle, including relatives they had not seen in many years, that it was as though she had given birth to a whole tribe.

It was a long while before I was able to visit the little miracle girl. My friend Jim Black was there before me, and he says she would not stop screaming when she saw him – he reminded her of the white doctor who had given her shots at the hospital (Dr. Jim Smith in Banyo, Cameroon – really, a wonderful man). So when I knew I would be able to get back to the village I told Iliyasu he needed to show her pictures of me, and tell her, “So baajo am, Jeff” – “This is our friend, Jeff.”

It worked. Like most Fulbe children, Ummayyatu was shy, but not afraid, when she met me, and I am glad to say we got along pretty well.

Thanks so much for your prayers for this precious little miracle girl. She and her little sister(!), Hawwa’u, had been suffering from malaria, but now they are well again. Praise God.

Widows’ Housing

In Acts 6.1-7 a problem developed in the early church over the treatment of some of the widows under their care. After they had successfully solved the problem by ensuring the widows were all taken care of equally, Luke reports that the word of God spread, the number of disciples increased rapidly, including a significant number of priests – and the way he says it leads us to believe that it was how they treated the widows that had a direct bearing on the willingness of these people to give the gospel a hearing.

Among the Christian Fulbe a problem with the widows has also been noticed, though it is not of their doing. Older Christian women who have lost their husbands will normally live in the same village as their grown sons. However, if their sons are Muslim – which many of them are – it is often the case that the Christ-following mothers are neglected and ostracized in their communities.

Our brothers and sisters have decided that they need to do something about this. They have so far built two very modest homes (basically multi-plexes, with four and eight women in a structure, each woman having just one room) in their villages and  have taken some of these women in.

The strategy is two-fold. First, it gives these women a place to live, and be, where they are loved and cared for, and are able to practise their Christian faith without fear of hindrance. Second, it makes for an evangelistic opportunity. A Muslim son can ignore his mother when he lives next door to her, but when she moves away he is obligated by custom to go out of his way to visit her. So these Muslim family members (because not just sons will be obligated to visit) will come to these Christian villages, meet followers of Jesus, see how everyone – including their relatives – live, and will even attend worship services there.

When I was in our partner village last year at this time I lived beside Gogo for about a week. Gogo (which means “Auntie”) was one of these Christian widows languishing in her own village before our Christian partners took her to live with them. She was about eighty years old, in good health (since then she has had a mild stroke, but has mostly recovered), and very cheerful.

You had to go out of your way to visit her, but she seemed to have visitors very often: old people, children, middle aged men and women. I asked her how her life had changed since she has come to live in the village. I thought her smile was as big as it could be, but when I asked her that it grew even larger.

“Just happiness – joy and happiness all the time,” she told me. She praised God for bringing her to such a place where the love of Jesus was so evident.

Our church has been blessed to be a part of the building of these homes, as have a few others. To me, this is what partnership is all about: helping our partners’ vision be fulfilled and seeing the fruit of the gospel for the Kingdom.

A Woman to Celebrate

Here is a woman to celebrate on International Women’s Day: my good friend Bilkisu.

This young woman is a daughter, a sister, an auntie, a wife, a mother (seen here with her little guy), and – you guessed it – a student presently studying Law at a university in Taraba State. She is extremely intelligent and gifted, and though her education to this point (i.e. her elementary and high school) has not been of the highest quality, she is putting her talents to good use and is engaged on a program of studies designed to help all of her people.

Why the law? Here in Canada and the US we have funny jokes about lawyers – and over in Nigeria they always get the joke! But the study of law is still important for Christians and especially for women.

In Manitoba when we got home from Nigeria in 2008 we discovered that our church had been shafted – literally! There was a huge hole in our foyer floor that was built for an elevator shaft, but with no elevator to go in it, because the contractor had not fulfilled his part of the contract. I decided that it was in line with our Christian ethos to contact a lawyer (a good guy, living in Winnipeg), and he was able to help us out of the jam post-haste.

In Nigeria almost the first thing I heard from my Fulbe friends was the need for “Human rights.” Not just Fulbe people, but people from all different people groups there regularly have their legal rights trampled upon – as I also did on some of my trips through the country. This is able to happen because people are ignorant of the law, and have no idea what their “rights” really are.

This is especially true for women there, who are less well-educated, and are often the target of unscrupulous villains (I am not exaggerating here, but do not have time to elaborate).

Bilkisu wants to change that.

Her great dream is to become a full-fledged lawyer, and help her people through the legal process there. It is questionable whether she will be able to realize that particular dream – the issue of resources is standing in her way. My wife and I have been helping her a bit through school, but the costs for law school are inordinate obstacles to her, and our, resources. So she is earning her law diploma for now, learning the rudiments of Nigerian Law, so that she can go back to her communities and talk to the women there (as no male lawyer ever could), and educate them in their rights and freedoms in the country.

Bilkisu starts eight days of exam writing tomorrow (March 8th). Say a little prayer for her, if you will, that she will be able to articulate well the things she has learned, and will do well in coming days. Circumstances dictate that she is sacrificing time with her family while she studies (during the school year she lives in a city in the north, while they are further south in a small village), so pray too that she will not be lonely or discouraged during this time. If you would like to know you can help her out financially, send me a note and I will let you know.

The Alhaji’s Widows

An Alhaji is a person who has made the haj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca, one of the Islamic holy places. My friend the Alhaji Guni made the pilgrimage earlier in his life.

When I met him in 2008 he was already an older man, very well-respected, old-fashioned, and set in his ways. He was a Muslim, but open to hearing about the Christian claims about Jesus. When our friends had been made refugees back in 2002 he was the one who arranged for them to come and settle back on the Mambilla Plateau, where they are now.goliath-alhaji-wakili

I think it was the second or third time I came to preach at the village that the Alhaji Guni was there to hear me (he is the middle one in the picture here). Afterwards he did not have too much to say about what I actually said, but he did note that I had used my Bible while I was preaching. “We do not allow that here,” he told me. You can use notes to preach with, but not books – either the Bible or the Koran – because books had caused too much violence and hatred.

I told him I respected his position, and since the “word has been hid in my heart” I could easily comply with his request. Since then I do not use a book when I preach in the Fulbe communities, or when I preach in front of Muslims generally.

The Alhaji and I became friends, and I visited him in his home several times. When I brought my two youngest children, Cari and Daniel, to the village he wanted us all to come to his home and meet his family, including his wives. I had never met his wives before, and this was a big honor for us. We did not meet them in the parlour where we normally visited, however. To see his wives we had to go back into the recesses of the compound, to the women’s quarters – because they were not allowed to venture outside that area when strangers were there.

Alhaji Guni became a Christian a few years ago, and his life underwent a dramatic change. Whereas before he would not allow his daughters to go to school to be educated (and discouraged others from allowing their daughters also), now he confessed that he had been wrong about that, and encouraged his and others’ daughters to get all the schooling they could.

The last time I saw him at his home, his wives were outside in the front – a huge change. We went in to visit in the parlour and sat all together. They were not exactly happy, though, because my friend was failing in his health, and it was clear he was not well.

I was just told that he died this past Wednesday, so I am grieving his loss today. He was a good man, and was becoming a good Christian leader. He was what we might call a “man of peace” in his community.

It is with the events surrounding his widows that we are now concerned. I do not know all of the traditions surrounding funeral and mourning ceremonies among the Fulbe; my friend Aminu says it would be too hard to teach me over the phone. He did say a few things though. The widows of my friend (he had four wives) will not be able to leave their compound for forty days. In the meantime they will have many visitors come to condole with them – with the problem that these friends and family members will literally eat them out of house and home.

Long story short – all of the traditional Fulbe customs surrounding the condolence period will bring hardship to these poor women now, and the Christian leaders are looking at ways that they can carefully navigate change so that the hardship can be lessened as much as possible. My friend Aminu will begin, on his part, by not coming to condole with them in the first several weeks; rather, he will wait and then bring a gift to them when he arrives (two new procedures).

A couple of posts ago  I wrote about some of the early NAB missionaries in Cameroon and Nigeria: Carl Bender, Paul Gebauer, and George Dunger. They did not want to come and bring NA culture to a place where culture and civilization already existed. They just wanted to bring Jesus – knowing that with him whatever change is needed will come on its own.

That is basically what is happening here. Our Christian brethren are in the process of looking critically at their own culture (pulaaku is what it is called), and seeing how the presence of Christ urges them to change it for the benefit of the people.

Brighter Day Update

I finally managed to reach my friend Aminu in Nigeria this morning (after having the line go dead three times in a row) and got a bit of an update on the refugees on the Mambilla Plateau.012-friday-2-pm-prayers-in-gembu

The people there have now gotten out of the “Why Worried” Hotel, and have found themselves different places in the town of Gembu where they have resettled. A great deal of thanks are owed to Robert Ngalam, the owner of the hotel, who hosted them when their need was the greatest.

While their homes and possessions were mostly destroyed in the fires, they still have the land around their old homes, and they are now preparing to go out to the farms and begin the season of hoeing and planting. Their cows were out in the pastures as well, so they have been back to check on them.

Pastor Aminu says they are adapting well to life in the town. Their children will need some help now, however, with respect to their schooling. All of their books and school supplies were destroyed in the attacks, and will now need to be replaced. Plus, virtually all children in Nigeria need to wear uniforms in order to go to school. This means they will all need to buy new uniforms before they can begin attending school in Gembu as well.

Government workers have inspected the damage in the burned-out village and will now report back to their superiors. The people believe that something will be done by the government there to help them, since the government leaders there are reputed to be fairly decent. The difficulty sometimes is that the amount given by the government may be “cut” by those handling the funds, so that when it gets down to the people who actually need it the amount is sometimes less than is needed.

Meanwhile, I asked about the House of Prayer in Gembu also. Pastor Salihu is reporting that the work there is coming along, slowly but surely. Many Christian Fulbe in the town of Gembu would be afraid of coming out publically as Christians by attending worship there because there is a great amount of oppression and opposition to Christianity there, but they are slowly becoming stronger and more courageous.

Thanks for your prayers for these good folks. If you would like to give aid in more tangible ways please let us know here and we will let you know how that may be done.

(P.S. The picture is the main street in Gembu on Friday afternoon when the Muslims gather for prayers. There are so many they spill out onto the street.)

Early Pioneers

I was talking to one of my sons recently about how our support-raising was going, and I said it was coming along slowly but surely. It is humbling, I said, when I think of all the folks who are generously giving to help us to minister in Cameroon and Nigeria, and he asked me whether I felt any pressure to do well there.

I said, no, not really. We really do want to do very well in the work there because of all the people who are giving towards the work, but I do not feel pressure, only a great deal of uplifting support. It is the prayers of the people, and the power of God’s Spirit, which will enable great things to happen, and will give mundane events eternal significance.weber

One cool thing I have been doing here is reading a book by a fellow named Charles William Weber, a history professor at Wheaton, who wrote a book called International Influences and Baptist Mission in West Cameroon : German-American Missionary Endeavor Under International Mandate and British Colonialism.

The very neat thing about this book is it highlights the lives and work of Carl Bender , Paul Gebauer, and George Dunger. These three men and their wives were early NAB missionaries in Cameroon and Nigeria, and in my previous work on the history of missions on the Mambilla Plateau I have heard of all of these men.

What made them special in those early days was the very “modern” outlook they shared concerning the stance the missionary ought to have with respect to the peoples being evangelized. They had all attended our denominational school in Rochester, and probably imbibed a good part of their thinking from there.

In a nutshell, we can say they agreed with Jesus – that if you try to pour new wine into old wineskins it will burst them apart. So they did not try to make the tribal peoples they ministered to into good Europeans or Americans, but sought to plant the gospel on native soil. This perspective no doubt contributed to their success, and to the future success of the Cameroon Baptist Convention.

I am glad to say the Fulbe work is travelling along the same lines. The Fulbe are a wonderful people, and the Christians among them are committed to remaining who they are as God has made them, but now in the kingdom of light.

(P.S. About the book –  the price is prohibitive at $158. Happily, our Taylor Seminary Library has a copy, which is where my wife got it for her class.)

Yawwa

Yawwa! We are in language training!jamila-jeff-fadima-aminu-at-majidu-farewell

My forays into language learning have been mixed at best. I remember taking High School French in Grade 8. I got a good grade, but did not know the language at all, so I switched into German to see if I would improve much. I took German to the end of Grade 11, and actually learned a little bit.

In my first year of university I started learning biblical Greek, and did well enough in that to keep it up as much as I have been able in the years since.

Now Sonya and I have been trying to learn Fulfulde, the language of the Fulbe people. We are learning it from a book I ‘stole’ from Gembu when we lived there in 2009 (this was when we figured we would be the last missionaries there) (I guess if anyone wants to be reimbursed they can talk to me about that . . .:-{0 ). Learning a language from a book is not the best way to do it, but it is the best we can do right now.

I am hoping that getting this bookish background will help us when we finally get on the field and are immersed in the culture there. Sonya is at a bit of a disadvantage here, since I have already lived in the villages and have been able to hear the cadences, learn the greetings, and have even picked up some of the vocabulary.

I already knew, for instance, that “Yawwa” is an expression of approval and joy, and have used it lots in daily conversation with my friends.

Now we are waiting for the day when it will be all caps: that we’ll say YAWWA! on our arrival in Cameroon. Thanks for supporting and praying along with us on this journey.

Black Day Update

After a week has passed, the dust has settled a bit on the Plateau, where our friends had had to flee from their village after their homes had been burnt by a large gang of young men.

They made their way safely to the city of Gembu, where they have been housed at the Why Worried Hotel. This is where I stayed in 2010; it is owned by a Mambilla Christian brother who has offered it to these refugees free of charge.

Meanwhile, the local government has given aid in the form of food and clothing, and food and other supplies has also been coming in from other Fulbe Christian communities. Our own church, Wiesenthal Baptist, has raised just over $1600, which will also be used for food and medical supplies.

My friend Aminu reports that the people do not appear to be overly traumatized, but in as good as shape as can be hoped. Their immediate needs have been taken care of, so it is their long term disposition that is the question now.

One concern they have regards the justice system there. They fear that the young men responsible may somehow go unpunished, which would encourage more of the same to take place, thus making the Plateau even more unstable.

So, while we are thankful that our friends are safe, and thus far well cared for, we pray that justice would be done there. Thanks for your payers.

Black Day on the Plateau

img_5274I am very glad to report that our Red Letter Day was a great success. With the help of Dan Gibbs of GECHAAN, and the miracle of the internet, our friend Pastor Aminu was able to “show up” at our Friends of the Fulbe Society meeting and give us a very full and good report of what was happening there among our brothers and sisters in Nigeria.

I hope to pass along some of that report in the coming days, but there is an urgent need I need to talk about right away.

Pastor Aminu told us right away, at the beginning of our meeting, that right at that moment on the Plateau (it was 9 pm in Nigeria when we began the meeting), friends of ours from a small village had been attacked by a gang of young men; their houses had been burned, along with many of their belongings, and about 10-15 families had fled from their homes into the bush, and were making their way to Gembu to seek refuge there.16230003_1159555660764828_1139448356_o

These Christians had been attacked not for any ostensible religious reason, but because they had been working on making a better lives for themselves through the planting of eucalyptus trees. The youths wanted the benefits of that for themselves, and so conspired to take it away from them.

I confess to being a bit confused about it all. Over here in Canada and the US we do not often hear about people attacking a whole village, so how something like would come about is a bit of a mystery to us.16244741_1159557590764635_159148927_o

What is clear is that there are now about one hundred of our Christian brothers and sisters who have made their way to Gembu with little more than the clothes on their backs. There are enough Fulbe Christians within the town of Gembu to house all of them, so the most urgent issue will be feeding these folks. Food costs have risen steadily the past while, and the economy has not been great overall.

Wiesenthal Baptist Church has responded already by sending $500 as an emergency fund with which to purchase food for them, but my guess is that more will be needed. For the long term we will have to wait to hear the reports we receive. This is the second time this little village has been attacked in this way (the first time was in 2002), and it is unlikely now that these folks will go back there; they will no doubt find other places to resettle and begin their lives over again.

Thanks so much for your prayers for our brethren there. If you would like to help with some of the material costs you may contact me and I will let you know the best way to do that.

Pastor Aminu to “Visit”

When the Northern Alberta Missions Committee (NAMC) was transformed into the Alberta Baptist Association’s Global Operations Team (ABA GO Team) in 2015, it was decided that we needed to do something else to continue supporting our work among the Fulbe. The NAMC had supported many good mission ministries over the decades, but whereas most of the other ones would continue to be supported through other ministries after the NAMC dissolved, the Fulbe has no other champions among the NAB conference.

So the Friends of the Fulbe Society was born. The Society is actually a sub-committee of Wiesenthal Baptist Church, but it has representation from a whole host of churches, with members from all four Canadian western provinces, the USA, Germany, Cameroon, and Nigeria.

Our executive committee meets about six times a year in the ABA Board Room in Edmonton, Alberta, though we Skype in some members from other places. This is the group that meets to receive reports and updates from the field, hear how our Fulbe brothers and sisters are doing, deliberate on new ministry priorities, and decide on funding directives. (Wow – that sounds like an advertising blurb right there!)

Anyway . . . this coming Thursday is going to be a bit of a Red Letter Day for us, as – Lord willing – we will also have Pastor Aminu joining through the miracle of the Internet, and the generous hospitality of Dan and Tina Gibbs – the Directors of GECHAAN, in Gembu, Nigeria. pastor-aminu-mosoba

Internet access is a luxury in Nigeria, not always reliable or even available, so we are very fortunate to have the opportunity afforded us by the Gibbs. There are a few on our committee who have never met Pastor Aminu (or any other Fulbe person, for that matter), so this is an exciting occasion for us. We hope to hear first-hand how things are going with our Christian brothers and sisters, to discover some of the challenges of the ministry there, and to enter into some of the grief and joy of their lives.

Please pray with us that our connection will be good and strong, and that we will be able to receive a good, full report from our brother, Pastor Aminu. Thanks so much!