Saturday, April 28, 2007

Malaria

Seven months after we arrived in Nigeria we went on our first “trek” with another missionary couple.
We left on Friday afternoon.
At Gayam we left the car and walked 1.5 hours to the river. We crossed in a small boat en spent the night at the village there.
One of our evangelists lived there.
The next morning we continued our trek, a journey of about 5 hours through the bush.
On this image from Google Earth you can see the road, the river and the area into which we walked.
We arrived in a small village where most people had never seen a white person.
We spent the night there, after enjoying their hospitality. I think it was there that we were treated to the pleasure of watching them prepare our meat for the meal – a large bush rat that was considered to be a delicacy in that area.
The next morning my colleague and I started a trip around a few villages to preach the gospel.
We would arrive unannounced.The entire village would come out to listen.
We would hold a short service including sermon, translated into the vernacular language of that place.
Then we would head to the next village.
By the end of the afternoon we had visited four villages and were back with our wives.
I’ll never forget how I felt just after dinner.
The fever started in my ankles and slowly took over my whole body.
Soon the diarrhoea followed. Malaria.
It seemed like I spent the whole night hovered over the small hole in the ground behind the compound.
The following morning we had to get back home.
I had no choice – I had to walk.
And that is what I did – with lots of rest stops along the way.
We got back to the river, crossed and walked to the car.
Two hours over the bumpy road home.
When we got home we saw that the airplane was waiting for us.
We expected that, because we were expecting guests: the Africa Director of our mission and two Board members.
But there was more than that.
We had left Sarah (age 1) behind with a colleague. She also had been terribly sick with malaria, and they wanted to fly her immediately to the hospital.
Within ten minutes Cyndi and Sarah were gone.
I was left behind with the dignitaries.
I told them to figure it out for themselves and went to bed.
It took me weeks to recover.
During the rest of our time in Nigeria I went on some trek, but I was never at ease.
Funny how an experience like that hangs around in your subconscious.

(Note: this is the fourteenth in a series of blogs celebrating the 30-year anniversary of our departure for Nigeria. The blogs can be found under the label "Anniversary". Click here for the first one.)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Sex

Sex is very important for (young) men.
That was also true for me in Nigeria.
What I didn’t realize (I was na├»ve, I think) was that that also was true for Nigerians.
The men, anyway.

Once we heard that the Pastor with whom I had worked in the beginning of my time in Nigeria had been attacked by a man who, so the story went, had caught the Pastor with his wife.
Not at night.
In the afternoon.
The man attacked the Pastor with a stick and damaged his shoulder permanently.
I have no idea whether the accusation was true or not.
Imagine this: in a mud hut, on a hot afternoon, with
someone else’s wife, and you are a Pastor.
How do you manage that?

One another station we had a small office building that needed to be guarded.
So we hired a guard.
(This is really true – one time we had a guard who protected us with his bow and arrows – when he was awake!)
One time I had to go to the office early in the evening.
When I came around the corner I saw a construction made of cardboard and corrugated tin that blocked off a section of the veranda.
Behind those “walls” lay our guard with a woman.

Once a year the Nigerian church had it’s "Synod" or "General Assembly".
The meetings lasted a week.
From early in the morning until late at night, in the tropical heat.
And no comfortable chairs.

Thursday morning, the next to last day of the meeting, we noticed that something was wrong.
The chairman of the Synode came in, looking exhausted and beat up.
During the night he had been attacked by a man who accused him of sleeping with his wife.
I have no idea whether the accusation was true or not.
Imagine this
: Small village. Lots of guests. Busy. Church meeting. Pastor. Chairman. Married. Another man's wife.
How do you manage that?

The last months of my work in Nigeria were colored by this event, because I was the Liaison Secretary between the Nigerian church and our mission organisation.
The situation was made more complicated by the fact that there were different tribes involved, and probably different kinds of power plays.

Who would want to get this Chairman out of the way?
And why?
Or did the man just feel like having some good sex?

(Note: this is the thirteenth in a series of blogs celebrating the 30-year anniversary of our departure for Nigeria. The blogs can be found under the label "Anniversary". Click here for the first one.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Our children

Our children have had many adventures with us.
We are thankful for and proud of them.
We think they have enjoyed traveling this path with us.
It hasn't always been easy.
I'm sure there are still painful things let over from that time.
There much geographical distance between us.
But we are really very close.
Enjoy the pics!





(Note: this is the twelfth in a series of blogs celebrating the 30-year anniversary of our departure for Nigeria. The blogs can be found under the label "Anniversary". Click here for the first one.)

Proverbs 31

Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
She opens her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.

(Note: this is the eleventh in a series of blogs celebrating the 30-year anniversary of our departure for Nigeria. The blogs can be found under the label "Anniversary". Click here for the first one.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Fire

In December of 1978 we went to Nairobi, Kenya, for vacation. My parents and a brother and sister were there. We had a great time together. Cyndi was pregnant with Ben.
Sometime between Christmas and New Year we got a phone call at 1 o’clock in the morning from Grand Rapids, Michigan. A colleague informed me that our house in Serti had caught fire due to an electrical problem and had burned “to the ground”. Nothing was left. He was calling us in Nairobi so that we could buy new supplies there.
I remained fairly calm. I really couldn’t imagine that this had happened. It seemed unreal and far away.
The next day I called back to G.R. to confirm that I had heard the message correctly. I had.
We didn’t buy hardly anything in Nairobi. I don’t know why.
I’ll never forget what it was like to see our house when we landed in Serti again. It was really gone, except for the walls, some cracked but all still standing.
We had taken what we thought we needed for more than two years with us from the U.S.: clothing, shoes, supplies, cassette tapes, etc. It was all gone.
The church people in Serti had cleaned up the house for us. And from all over Nigeria people sent clothing, furniture, kitchen supplies – whatever we needed. Very touching and impressive.
We camped out in the small guesthouse. A colleague with a team of Nigerians began to rebuild our house.
That took a few months, and during that time our son Ben was born (another story).
We were young and flexible enough to be able to swing with this punch.
We didn’t lose our vision for the work.
We just kept going and did what needed to be done.
No one asked us – and we didn’t ask ourselves – anything about our own feelings. How does this make you feel? What can you learn from this? Are you processing this in a good way? Are you doing it together?
Those were the good old days.
Or not?
(Note: this is the tenth in a series of blogs celebrating the 30-year anniversary of our departure for Nigeria. The blogs can be found under the label "Anniversary". Click here for the first one.)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Stench

At 1 o’clock in the morning we were wakened.
A colleague and three Nigerians stood at the door.
My colleague had gone to visit an evangelist he was supervising.
When he got to the village, he found that the man had died the day before.
Because he came from another village and was of another tribe, the people wanted to bring him home to be buried.
But the taxi drivers wanted too much money. The little church could not pay. Impasse.
My colleague decided to bring the man home himself.
So – the wooden casket was tied to the top of his car, and everyone who could go along got in.
It was quite late at night, they knew they needed to sleep somewhere. Viss would not mind being woken up in the middle of the night. Of course not.
The next day we saw that the casket had begun to leak. And stink. The man had, after all, been dead now for more than a day in the tropical heat.
We moved the casket to a pickup truck and took off with two cars for the man’s village.
It was a four hour drive.
His family did not know what had happened. We had to tell them.
Because the man had become a Christian, the family did not want anything to do with him. Including burying him.
We tried to negotiate in every way we could, but without success.
Finally, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, we headed over to the church. Perhaps they would help us.
When we got to the church, we saw a bride and groom standing outside the church. A wedding was about to begin.
We went to the elder’s room and explained the situation to the minister and elders.
They were willing to bury the man even though they did not know him, but, understandably, they would do it after the service.
We went back outside and waited.
It was now 5 o’clock, the man had been dead for 2 days, and the stench was unbearable. At least for me.
What an example of Christian love.
The minister and his elders dug a grave.
At 6 PM we buried our evangelist.
We were rid of that awful stench.
I will never forget what that smelled like.
Nor will I ever forget the love of those elders.

Sometimes I think about that story when I am attending an elder’s meeting.

(Note: this is the ninth in a series of blogs celebrating the 30-year anniversary of our departure for Nigeria. The blogs can be found under the label "Anniversary". Click here for the first one.)

Chickens

I think we need more chickens in the church - and in the world.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Great White Hunter

In the river near us you could catch Nile (or Niger) Perch.
They could get quite big (see picture).

I caught a few of them, but of course never this big.
Lots of fun.
One time we went camping with colleagues along the river.
Four adults, eight children.
I caught one that probably weighed 25 pounds.
It was big enough to feed all of us.
Of course I had to clean it myself.
I did that with my fan club watching.
What more could a great white hunter wish for?

(Note: this is the eighth in a series of blogs around the 30-year anniversary of our departure for Nigeria. The blogs can be found under the label "Anniversary". Click here for the first one.)

Sinner

Something sad woke me up, late that evening.
I turned over, and, still waking up, realized that my wife was crying.
I knew instantly that it was about me.
I don’t know any more how she did it, how long it took or how difficult it was for her make me understand, but she let me know in no uncertain terms that she felt very alone in our relationship and that something fundamental was wrong.

Before a missionary family went on furlough a process of evaluation and planning took place.
The personal evaluation was done anonymously by Western and Nigerian colleagues.
Most of the time I got passing grades.
This time, reports that I was impatient, distant and angry appeared like an oil spill on the waters of my work.

In Nigeria (and I assume this would have happened wherever we were working) I looked for the first time directly into the face of my own sinfulness. Not just that I did things that were wrong, but that “sinner” was a description of who I was.
I was capable of throwing away the things that were the most valuable to me – my wife, family, work, calling and relationships – because of my own pride and selfishness.

The Heidelberg Catechism gets it right in Question 2:

How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily?
The first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; (There is a third, but I don’t quite agree with that one.)

Today we call it grace.
You realize that you are a crook.
You realize that you are still unconditionally loved.
During those years I began to realize those truths.
I had to in order to survive.

That process is still continuing.
It is unbelievably freeing.

(Note: this is the seventh in a series of blogs around the 30-year anniversary of our departure for Nigeria. The blogs can be found under the label "Anniversary". Click here for the first one.)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Women and children

My wife Cyndi taught the women at the Bible School in Serti. They were the wives of the students, and moved, with their children, to Serti for the duration of the study.
Most of them were illiterate. Cyndi taught reading, writing, Bible and hygiene.
Obviously there was a tremendous gap between Cyndi and these women in terms of culture and way of life.
But Cyndi gave herself to these women, and, as you can see, the women received her and our children with open arms.
The white baby above is Ben, our second child and first son, born in Nigeria (another story).
In the photo below you see Cyndi and Sarah among the women.

(Note: this is the sixth in a series of blogs around the 30-year anniversary of our departure for Nigeria. The blogs can be found under the label "Anniversary". Click here for the first one.)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Screwed

Four months after we arrived in Serti I started teaching at the Bible school located next to the church. I was not just the teacher – I was the Director!
Imagine this: students go to school here for three years. Most of them can hardly read, and know nothing about the Bible. After three years they are sent into villages to plant churches.

(Most of us don’t realize, here in the rich, well-educated West, that by far the most church leaders in the world have not enjoyed good theological training. In my cynical moments I think: high quality theological education has not really helped our culture remain Christian, has it? But that’s another topic.)

My colleague was Yakubu Mai Tadi (Jacob the Joyful). He was 10 years older than me and had been a teacher there for some time. He was a very friendly man, and we got along well. I think that he faced enormous pressures from family and tribe because he was one of the few with a fixed income.
I tell you that to tell you this:
In the summer of 1979 the Nigerian government decided to change the bills in Nigeria in order to do something about corruption. Before the end of t
he year everyone was to turn in his or her old money and exchange it for new money.
There were no banks in the district around us. People had to drive 100 miles to the nearest bank to change their money. It was very costly for poor people.
We decided to help the people in our district. They could give their money to us, we would exchange it. I didn’t have enough money on hand to provide for the whole district, so I developed a system of receipts. I took the old money in, wrote a receipt with 2 copies, and people could come back later with the receipt and pick up their money. It worked perfectly. Hundreds of people came with old, shrivelled money that had been in mattresses, underwear, and probably many other unmentionable places. I tried not to think about that as I counted the money.

In October we went on furlough. I was not able to finish the job. My replacement was a young pilot with his family, who would live in our house to learn the language. I explained everything to him, and left things in good hands.
When I came back six months later, he told me that everything had worked fine. No problem, as Nigerians say. I was pleased.

After a month or so I noticed that people from villages in the bush were coming to me asking for their money. When I asked for their receipt, they couldn’t show one. It was then impossible for me to give them money. But I found that strange and difficult, because it was obvious that these people had spent money to come long distances, and were really disappointed when they went away empty handed.
But there was nothing I could do, and after a while people stopped coming.

Months later I was going somewhere in the car with the pastor with whom I worked. I don’t know exactly how we got on the topic, but he informed me that people in the surrounding villages – that we were trying to reach with the gospel – were angry at me because I had cheated them. They really thought I was a crook.
Finally I heard how things had gone. Yakubu, my colleague, had gone to the bush villages and offered to help the people there by collecting their receipts, picking up the money and returning it to the people. The advantages were that people could save travel expenses, and, because Yakubu knew the Bature (white man), it would be a simple process.
By now you have guessed it: Yakubu turned in the receipts all at once to my (inexperienced) colleague, and never returned to the villages with the money. When he was called on the carpet, he insinuated that I was the problem.
I honestly do not remember what happened be
tween me and Yakubu after that event. My mind draws a blank. As far as I remember, he stayed on as teacher in that school, and as elder in the church.
Since that time, whenever I have been the recipient of criticism that is not accurate, I think to myself: been there, done that.

This is a picture of the first class at the Bible School that I taught. Nigerians don’t laugh on pictures. I wasn’t laughing much during those years either, so that was not hard for me. Yakubu is sitting left of me next to the young lady.

(Note: this is the fifth in a series of blogs around the 30-year anniversary of our departure for Nigeria. The blogs can be found under the label "Anniversary". Click here for the first one.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virginia Tech

The words of poet Nikki Giovanni yesterday at Virginia Tech:

We are Virginia Tech.
We are sad today and we will be sad for quite awhile. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.
We are Virginia Tech.
We are strong enough to know when to cry and sad enough to know we must laugh again.

We are Virginia Tech.

We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did not deserve it but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, but neither do the invisible children walking the night to avoid being captured by a rogue army. Neither does the baby elephant watching his community be devastated for ivory; neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.

We are Virginia Tech.

The Hokier Nation embraces our own with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong and brave and innocent and unafraid. We are better than we think, not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imagination and the possibility we will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears, through all this sadness.

We are the Hokies.

We will prevail, we will prevail.

We are Virginia Tech."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Why we went

I suppose you can ask the question: why did you go?
If I give an honest answer, it is: I don’t know.
Adventure. Challenge.
The lure of Africa, acquired during my stay in Eritrea in 1973.
To prove something to myself and my community: I can do this!
To help people.

It really wasn’t very spiritual.
I believed in God, and I was convinced that it was worthwhile to tell people about Him.
But that faith was more a thing of the head than of the heart.
It hadn’t translated yet into an open and warm heart.
Perhaps you could say the “reason” for going was the theory in my head, the “drive” to actually go came from who I was as a person.
Maybe that’s too bad.
But I don’t think so.
I needed to make this journey in order to learn.
Otherwise I wouldn’t be where I am today.
And I believe I did it with integrity, given who I was and where I came from.

In order to get somewhere, you need to take the first steps.
And then it doesn’t really matter so much why.

(Note: this is the fourth in a series of blogs around our 30-year anniversary of our departure for Nigeria. The blogs can be found under the label "Anniversary". Click here for the first one.)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Snakes

Of course I was and am afraid of snakes.

I do not have the gift of being able to spot animals and birds in nature.

When you don’t see a snake he is at his most dangerous. Snakes want, with few exceptions, nothing more than to get away from you as quickly as possible. They only attack when they are cornered.

Once I was standing by the house of our colleague in Serti. I was working with another colleague on building a water system. Suddenly he began striking the ground next to my feet with a piece of pipe. A puff adder lay right next to my right foot. I never saw him.

That same colleague went on furlough for six months. We lived in their house. During that whole time, I never saw a single snake. The afternoon he returned he killed a snake in our front yard.

We got to know the spitting cobra. It is really true that they can spit their venom. Their search for food brought them often to our chicken house, and one had to watch carefully before going in to get the eggs.

We always had a cat, to warn us when snakes, scorpions or other unwanted animals came into our house. Our kids played on the floor, so that was very helpful. One day we heard our cat making a terrible noise behind the house, and, sure enough, he had been spit at by a cobra. We washed his eyes out under the faucet, and he spent a week sitting on a sugar sack, recovering. He did recover.

Did you know that frogs make more noises than only croaking? When they are terrified for their life – for example, when they are getting eaten by a snake – they make a cry that cuts to the marrow of your bones. Terrible.

To my knowledge, I’ve never eaten snake.
They say it tastes like chicken, as they say about every strange kind of meat.
I’m sure that’s true.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Our first weekend

I’ll never forget that first weekend in Serti.

Serti lies in eastern Nigeria, on the only road to Cameroon in that area. It’s a narrow, dirt road, treacherously slippery because of sand in the dry season, impossibly muddy in the wet season. It was a hundred miles over that road to our nearest missionary neighbors, and that trip took us 5 hours average.

Serti was very reachable by air – during the daytime and assuming good weather. The airstrip was right next to our house. On Saturday, April 24, we landed at that strip in the twin engine plane that belonged to our mission organisation. It was always a big deal when the airplane came, and that day was no exception. I’d guess there were a hundred people there, including the Nigerian pastor with whom I would be working. (Later someone told me that his words, upon seeing me, were: They have sent us a boy!)

It was hot, dry and dusty. There was no water. The house was furnished with the furniture of the family that had been there before us. After a while everyone left, and we were alone. The midwife who was at that station had an emergency (later we learned through experience that, when it came to meeting and caring for people, she often had an “emergency”.) We were left to fend for ourselves.

Just before supper our other colleague, Ruth Veltkamp, drove up. She was in charge of our orientation and language learning.

I remember so clearly that she parked the car and sat there for just a moment, head bowed. I had no idea what she was doing, but I assumed it was praying – thanking God for a safe trip, as a missionary should. Or something like that. I had no idea. My thought was: would I think to pray and thank God after a trip? Asking the question was answering it, it seemed to me. Later I learned that she was filling in the mileage sheet.

The next morning (Sunday) we went to church with Ruth in a small village. The church was made of tree trunks with a grass roof, and we sat on benches made of clay, through a long service we could not understand. I remember constantly hearing the word “chicken”. In Hausa that means “inside” (spelled “cikin”). The temperature hovered around 100.

After the service we had lunch it someone’s house, a hut with a grass roof. The food was not good to our taste. We struggled with Sarah, the food, the people, the culture, the heat.

Monday morning we started our language lessons. Ruth let no grass grow under her feet. She had hired a young man to help us. We faced the huge task of learning a brand new language in an area where almost no one spoke English.

The image is still etched in my mind of me, in the afternoon, sitting on the couch next to Cyndi, crying my eyes out. I’ll never forget what that felt like.

Our first weekend in Nigeria.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Anniversary

Thirty years ago today my wife Cyndi and I, with our daughter Sarah, left Phildelphia for Nigeria, West Africa. It was the beginning of our journey in the world of cross- and multicultural living.
That's a long time ago, and a lot has happend in those years.
I always enjoy remembering these kinds of dates. They provide me a moment to be thankful, reflective and enjoy the memories. I look back, and I look forward. Where have we been, and where are we going?
Many people have made this journey possible, and we are thankful to all of them.

The Bible verse for today was from David, 2 Samuel 22: For by Thee I have run through a troop; by my God have I leaped over a wall.
With God: without Him nothing is possible.
I have leaped: I still need to leap, to do something, take action.

During the coming weeks I would like to think and reflect with you about these last 30 years. I will do that by telling some stories and reflecting (briefly) on what I have learned. I hope that you can, in this way, share in our thankfulness.

The first short story: On April 14, 1977 we left Philadelphia for Holland (see photo). We spent a week in Sassenheim, where a cousin of my father still lives with her husband and family. He exports bulbs (flower bulbs, that is ;-).
He had at that time two cars: a Rolls Royce and a big Chevrolet. He loaned us the Chevrolet for that week (I'm still upset that it wasn't the Rolls Royce) and in that huge car we floated over the cute Dutch roads.
We had no idea that we one day would be living close by Sassenheim.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Lee Iacocca

Found this on the blog of Greg Caruso.

Lee Iacocca has a new book out: Where have all the Leaders Gone?

And he is mad, acoording to Caruso. This excerpt:

Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, "Stay the course."

To read more of the excerpt, click here.

But watch out, if you are a Bush fan. GW gets nailed.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

B.C.

Johnny Hart, the creator of the comic strip B.C., died last weekend.
I have enjoyed comics since I was a teenager, and especially B.C.
I'll never forget two poems from strips I read 35 years ago:

When Hydrogen U played Oxygen Tech
The game had just begun.
When Hydrogen racked op two quick points
And Oxygen still had none.
Then Oxygen scored a single goal
And thus it did remain
Hydrogen 2, Oxygen 1,
Called because of rain.

Little earthworm in the ground
Tell me something quite profound:
How, with attributes so few,
They named a planet after you.

Someone sent me this strip last week for Good Friday.
Hart died on Saturday.
Another legend gone.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Very large stone

Three women were on their way to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body.
Three women who had been touched deeply by Jesus' words and actions.
They loved him deeply enough to perform this last service to him.
But they were worried.
"Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?" they asked themselves.
Mark says that it was a "very large" stone.

What kinds of large stones are there in your life?
Which impossibilities stare you in the face?
Failures?
Obstacles?

"When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away."
You have a choice.
You can believe that the very large stone will never be moved.
Or you can believe that there is Someone who can roll it away.

The choice you make has enormous consequences.
It determines how you live your life.

Bad news for Bush

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Juxtaposition

I have been thinking this week about the contrast that we experience in this week of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

It is strange and unusual that we, in this one short week, and actually in two short days (Friday to Sunday), are confronted with so much death and so much life.

Have you ever thought about that?

Which other religion or celebration or ritual invented by humans has this kind of contrast?

Death is dramatically posed next to life in a juxtaposition that only the Bible and the gospel could think of.

And the gospel displays all of its glory: the deeper the darkness, the more radiant the light.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Good money after bad

According to this website, the war in Iraq has cost almost 414 billion dollars up until now.

Are we, after spending this money, any safer from Isalmic fundamentalist terrorism?
If you want to say the Iraqi people are better off without Saddam, OK.

But are we (I mean Americans, citizens of these United States - and it is, after all, about us) any safer?

We have spent money on security within the United States, and we haven't had any attacks, so you can presume that money is being spent reasonably well (although I heard the other day that a stewardess took a handgun on board an airplane without any problems).

But has the money we have spent in Iraq made us any safer?
Is the worldwide threat of terrorism, and the threat to our society, any less?
Are the terrorists now less capable of succesfully attacking us?
Do fewer terrorists want to attack us?

All the Bush government can say is, that if Congress sets a date for withdrawal, the terrorists will have won.
I don't hear them showing us how we are winning now, or will win if we keep spending this money.

The message is what will happen if we don't.
I want to know what will happen if we do.