The Value of Visitation

A week or so ago we had the pleasure of helping host several young people who were on something they called a “Vision Trip.” To call it a “Vision” trip is a foolish thing, of course, because they were advised not to expect any great vision, but we’ll let that go for now. The young people themselves are the main thing.

Turns out, one of them, Zac, is a engineer of sorts, having training in all kinds of mechanical things. We had been problems with our water heater (which is a nice way of saying, we could not get the water to work at all), so I suggested to Sonya she ask this young man if he might try his hand at it. So, he came over one afternoon and peered and poked at it, taking things apart, turning knobs, twisting all around to figure out its inner workings (why do they never put these things in convenient angles?). I helped by holding the torch (i.e. flashlight).

Long story short – Zac got it working, which is a real help to us in a lot of ways.

Then I suggested to Sonya she see if he can also fix the stove (can you see a pattern here?). So, once more, he came over on an afternoon and peered and poked, and this time it took him very little time at all to get it going. Can anyone say “Christmas cookies”? 😊

Finally, we remembered that the horn on the truck was not working (a very big problem in Africa, trust me), so Sonya suggested – yes, you guessed it. So, Zac peered and poked, and eventually got the horn going again also. This young man is going to go places – hopefully Cameroon!

But all those things were not the best thing. During their time here I drove three of them, along with Suleymanu, to a friend’s home out in the bush, so they could experience ‘real’ ministry among the F*lbe. Thirty minutes out of town, we came to U’s compound, where his extended family lived. He and his wife are the only believers there; they have been ostracized by the rest of the surrounding community, including their own family. So it is hard for them, as you can imagine.Umaru and Suleymanu

While we were there we trekked over to U’s father’s compound to greet and say hello. This Alhaji had heard that U had been reading the Bible to his children, and had called them all to himself to warn them against listening to such a dangerous thing. He is, however, a very charming and likeable man; an inveterate M*slim, to be sure, but a real sweetheart, you might say.

While we were in his suudu (single room house) he was busy finishing his prayers. When he came in I told him I was glad to see that he put such a high value upon prayer, because that was then something we both had in common. He was very happy to hear this (one thing about M*slims – because they never see Christians pray, they often have the idea that we never pray, and do not value it).

Then he asked why these young people had come to visit him, and this gave me the opportunity to share the love of God with him in a very good way. I explained what the nature of their mission was, how God had sent His Son to save us from our sins, and now these young people were committed to spreading that message to others. I was not preaching, so much as just answering his question.

This, in turn, was an answer to a request of my own, stemming from Col 4.3, that God would open a door for our message. At the end of it all, I had many reasons to thank God for the value of visitation.

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The 700 Club!

My friend Suleymanu came back from Nigeria yesterday, and I was anxious to hear the news about the conference he attended, which many of you were praying for. It was a gathering of F*lbe up in a northern state, most of whom were Christian believers (at least nominally), but not all. I asked him how many people were there, and he estimated at least 700! Wow! That is one big conference for one small little place.

The people mostly slept outside. They had gotten a huge tent from the local government, and I can just picture all these little coloured hillocks lying in the grey dawn, under a big billow of white canvas. Feeding them was a challenge (the conference lasted several days), but they had help from some unexpected quarters. One relative gave them a cow to slaughter. A M*slim man from the town gave them 30,000 Naira (a goodly sum for these people), saying that he was very glad they were gathering in this place. If all people were like this, he said, all of Nigeria would be peaceful. Our friends from down south also brought big bags of corn flour up with them. All together they managed, and the hosts were very pleased with how it all went over.

What was the big message, the main content of the preaching? was my question for my friend (that is what I always want to know). He said the big thing they talked about was the person and work of Jesus Christ. Many people there only believed that Jesus was a good teacher, a big leader, or perhaps even a prophet. The preaching and teaching, however, emphasized the fact that Jesus is all of those things, and more: he is the Son of God, the Saviour, the One God sent down to the world because He loved us.

Suleymanu said when the people heard this, many believed and were very glad. Many of the people had been living in an in-between world for the last 15 years. They were no longer living as M*slims (not praying the prescribed 5x a day; not going to the mosque), but they did not really understand what it meant to walk as a follower of Christ either. Now they have committed themselves to returning to their various villages (they came from far and wide) and walking with Christ when they return.

For me this is wonderful news – the very best, because I know that if once a person understands who and what Jesus is, and puts their trust in him, then everything else (and there is a lot of everything else!)can follow from there. They had other good stuff happening at the conference, but this was the main, the most important, thing.

As I look on from the outside, I see our F*lbe brothers and sisters making this huge transition from one whole way of life to another. It is as though they are climbing up a steep, slippery hill, and they have managed to take a big step up this past little while. I hope to be part of the support team and the process that enables them to keep the progress they have made. Lord willing, you may be a part of that, as well, as you continue to partner with us.

As you pray, pray that the Word of God will continue to go forth with boldness and power, and take good hold in the lives of these precious people. Thanks so much.

A Dry Story

So, . . . the last time I was in Nigeria, back in June/July, I went around with some of the Water Committee members from our village to inspect the water projects that have been installed in the area in the past few years. Most of the places where we went the water projects were doing very well – the water is flowing fine, it is clean, and the people are very happy with it.

I have a whole slew of pictures of my young friend Ya’u standing beside all these taps, with water with very high pressure – the sign of a good spring, and no leaks along the way. I have a video of a Muslim woman praising God, and thanking him for the donors back in Canada who gave funds so these people could have access to clean water. She blessed them and their families, down to their grandchildren, for the great gift they had given for her own family.IMG_6217

These water catchments are really important because, as the Ardo (one of the headmen) of Nguroje told us, they not only relieve the women and girls of a lot of work, since the water is now much closer to them. They also reduce the illnesses in the communities where they have them, because so many of the sicknesses here (typhoid is a big one) are due to dirty water, and the malarial mosquitoes who breed in them.

When we met with the Ardo it was to tell him that one of his wells had developed a problem through vandalism, and we were coming to ask him to fix the problem. He was very good about it, and promised to look into it and get it fixed as soon as he could. When we came to that same well this time, it had indeed been fixed, and was working fine. The Ardo, meanwhile, had been promoted to Laamiido of Nguroje, which is akin to being a traditional king. I wrote him a letter of congratulations, and told him how pleased I was to see a ruler who was making his “Yes” “Yes,” as Jesus told us to do.IMG_6211 (2)

Closer to home – right behind the village we were staying at, in fact – I had inspected another well, which had its pipe broken by motorcycles, so the women and girls in that place were back to fetching water from a dirty puddle-like place in a little stream. When we went to see them back in July the men confessed that they had been lazy, and not fixed the pipe. But they promised that they would get it fixed as soon as possible.

On this, our latest, trip, Sonya and I went to that little community and saw that the water pipes still had not been fixed. While Sonya spoke to the women, I trekked up to the source and saw where the problems were. When we came back to the village we met with the men and they gave us their apologies once again. They did not admit to being lazy this time, but said they had big plans to form a committee to look at the problem, and to actually expand things to include another catchment closer to home. They even asked the Wakili to join with them on their committee because, since he was well-respected there, things would go better.

Well – I may have been born in the morning, but it was not yesterday morning. I told these men that they sound to me like a lot of politicians, promising all the right things – and maybe even meaning what they say too – but in the end, failing to deliver when the crisis (e.g. election time) was over. I told them since they were our neighbours, I loved them, and so I would share with them in the most loving way I could.

The problem with them (I said) was not the spring catchment, or the broken pipes, or laziness, or anything like that. Their problem was simply a lack of love. They didn’t love their wives, or their daughters, or the people who would now get sick in their community. This lack of love was a deep heart problem, and they were helpless to change the state of their hearts.

But the desire of God (I went on) is to bless us with good lives – including clean, healthy water, and lives where love and joy are evident. This He is able to provide for us through His Son, Jesus Christ. These men needed to hear again the good news about Jesus – how His death allows for forgiveness of sins, and how His resurrection can bring new life to those who put their trust in Him – and get on board with God’s plan for them and their families.

This was plain talk such as these fellows do not usually hear. It is not culturally appropriate for my friends to talk to them like this, but since I am from North America I can ‘get away with’ things that they cannot. When we first saw the trouble with the pipes, back in July, the Wakili was worried that folks back in Canada would be discouraged because the funding they had provided was being abused by these men.

I told him not to worry. Canadians (and Americans too) know that not everything works perfectly, and that people are all-too-human, and one little set-back would not discourage them from continuing a truly good work. Besides which, I reminded him that God was bigger than all this, and He would be able to work some good out of it somehow.

I see this opportunity to preach the gospel to these men as the good that God is doing, though of course this dry story is not finished yet. We pray – and I invite you to do the same – that the story will yet have a wet ending!

Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. John 7.37-38

Hawa’u’s Story: A Case of Mental Health

Sonya and I met Hawa’u (you say it pretty much like Hawaii, only with a ‘u’ at the end) when we made our tour of F*lbe communities back in December, 2017. We were getting a general picture of the communities and trying to assess basic needs. We saw several people who were ill in one way or another, and most we were able to help with very basic medicines (Sonya is a Mom, after all) or to provide the means for them to get to the nearest hospital, about an hour away.

Hawa’u, however, was a different case altogether. She was not ill in a physical senseof the term. Physically she was functioning, but her behaviour for the past year or so, we were told, had been very strange. When we saw her, her hair was not plaited (very odd for any Fulbe woman over here), her face was dark and dirty, her clothes were slightly dishevelled, and she had a wild-eyed look on her face, that went with a wicked-looking and scary kind of smile.

While we were visiting with her family she was relatively calm, and seemed to like the attention she was receiving, but when we went to leave she decided she would follow us out the door, and she was soon running out of control. At the end of that episode she was rolling in the dust and dirt, trying to escape her would-be captors. It was heart-breaking, and the image stayed with me.

All the rest of that month, and into January, I was praying/thinking about Hawa’u, saying something like, “O Lord, what in the world are we going to do? How can we help this girl?” I really had no idea what was wrong or how to help, but I kept on praying that an answer would come.

Finally, in January we were to go on a ‘mandatory retreat’ in Bamenda to meet with other missionaries there. (I put it in quotations like that because at the time I was chafing at the bit – being made to go on a ‘retreat’ when we had only just arrived!). Down in Bamenda we met lots of great folks, but Hawa’u would not leave my mind, and I kept pestering God about her. Then one afternoon, during one of the sessions, one young woman named Mary stood up and let the rest of us know that she and her husband were both doctors specializing in mental health and BOOM – I knew I had my answer.

Later that afternoon I introduced myself to her husband, Dr. Bryan, and explained the situation to him. He was interested and compassionate, but the timing of my next trip up north was a little too quick for him to accompany us (I was leaving the next week). He did say he might be able to diagnose the girl over the phone, if we were able to talk to the family there, so I latched onto that.

Our friend Suleymanu and I drove the two-day, 15-hour journey to Hawa’u’s village the next week, and we met with Hawa’u and her family once again. This time she was morose and mostly unresponsive, and the family looked almost as depressed! With her mother and father, we reached Dr. Bryan on the phone, and he began asking them questions about their daughter’s behaviour: he would ask me, I would ask Suleymanu, Suleymanu would ask them, and then back up the train again.

Given that this was way out in the bush, where Hawa’u would not be receiving any other medical attention, this was excellent treatment for her, and we got a good, comprehensive picture of her condition. From the information gathered, Dr. Bryan was able to give a diagnosis and (after ascertaining that the family could afford and sustain them) prescribe medication for her.

So far so good, but getting mental health medicine turned out to be not the easiest thing. They were not available at the nearest government hospital, nor at the pharmacies where it was. Back in Banyo, however, our CBC hospital proved to have what was needed, so Suleymanu and I, with the help of the mission doctor there, managed to buy the meds and send them off with a taxi driver (7 hours drive away at this point). Then we prayed and waited.

The drugs would take about two months to show a difference, we had been told, so the next couple of months were really a case of “Be still and know that I am Lord” trusting that God knew what he was doing when he put us in contact with Drs. Bryan and Mary.

I am not the most patient type, so after a while I would pester Suleymanu to call up and see how Hawa’u was doing, and eventually we were told that she was talking to people, she was happy and peaceful, and doing the things she and they wanted her to do (it used to be, for instance, that in the morning they would send her to fetch water, and she would spend the whole of day down by the river).

I could hardly believe it, and was counting the days until we could go up and see her again. This time, though, we wanted to go one better and actually take Dr. Bryan with us. He also was wanting to go, since he was anxious to see his patient in person, and see how she was doing.

So – to make a long story a little bit shorter – we arranged to travel north during our semester break. Dr. Bryan’s hospital allowed him to take the time off (not an easy thing), and we made a very quick trip (3 days’ travel, with 1 full day in the village) up.

The doctor was making his rounds with Suleymanu, seeing a lot of people with what might be called general health issues (saving one man’s life in the process, but that is another story). At one point I lost them, and decided to go to Hawa’u’s compound and wait for them there. I was welcomed in and sat chatting with four women there (my Fulfulde is not real great, but it is enough to do that so far). While I was sitting there I took a closer look at the young woman sitting near the door – she looked familiar, but I wasn’t sure.

“Are you Hawa’u?” I asked her. She smiled and nodded. I could hardly believe my eyes. Her hair was plaited and covered, her face was clean and shiny, she was well-dressed, had a nice (not scary) big smile on her face, and just looked like a bright, happy 15-year old. The change was truly incredible, and I praised God for the difference.

Given the culture and context, I am told that a very specific diagnosis is not easy to come by, but Hawa’u’ condition places her on the schizophrenia spectrum. When the doctor came he began to talk with her, and she responded shyly but fully rationally. As far as I could tell, the change was complete.

But the story is not quite over . . .

Later that afternoon we saw another young woman, 23 years old this time, who was in much the same condition Hawa’u had been in. Two years before Salamatu had begun shouting at the things and people around, and one year after that she stopped talking altogether. She had been mute all that time and now we were sitting before her. This time Dr. Bryan could cut out one of the middle-men (me), and ask his questions to the family personally. They did not think Salamatu would take oral drugs, so he injected her with a medication (please know that though I am not reporting it here, he gave advice concerning possible side effects, and all the other things a responsible doctor will do), telling them it would take three days to see any change in her.

The three days were hardest on me, as we had to travel down south the next day, and I was on pins and needles waiting. I will not delay you now though – the folks up there tell us she is now talking, taking care of her children and herself, doing all the things she might normally do, and is very happy with the changes she is experiencing. They are calling it a miracle, and, knowing the various ways that God is able to work, I agree with them.

Since then I have talked to friends in Nigeria who tell me there are more cases like Hawa’u’s and Salamatu’s over there, so I am hopeful we will be able to do some good there as well as time permits and God wills. Dr. Bryan was not able to immediately help everyone he saw, but he certainly helped these two young women – blessing them, their families, and their communities, and I am praying he and his wife will be able and willing to continue the work. Please join me.

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.

NAB Appeal

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

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

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

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

Front Page News and the Bible

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

no racism

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

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

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

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

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

Iliyasu and Jeff

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

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

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

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.

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.