Island in Time?

November 28, 2008

Thursday morning I climbed my hill behind the guest house to watch the sun rise over Africa for the last time.  It did not disappoint me!  Although it seemed cloudy looking east and for a moment I wondered if I would see the usual color and flooding of light over the country side, it appeared just as predictably as the days before.  The predawn glow, the orange sliver brushing the horizon and then the radiant disc rising once more over the distant hills with the warmth of first light hitting me.  It is hard to convey the experience of light flooding the quiet of the morning and having the luxury of morning prayers and quiet time looking over the Nigerian landscape.  The morning quote was from St. Augustine :  “You awake us to delight in your praise; for you made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until the rest in you.”  And then a little later the prayer for the morning:  “Help us to love you above all things that we might serve our brothers and sisters with a love that is worthy of you.”    It seemed the perfect thoughts to begin my last day in Nigeria .  I really felt that I had been brought here to learn about HIV/AIDS and its devastating effect on men and women but also the hope and healing that can be brought to those affected.  In the process I felt my heart open even more to the call for me to be a part of that hope and healing. 

  

Breakfast by Candlelight

Breakfast by Candlelight

The morning was busy with final packing and receiving callers who stopped by the guest house one final time to say goodbye and thank us for coming.  Dr. Chris stopped by twice and his personal warmth and gratitude was even more reassuring that this had been the right journey at the right time.  We had a last time with the MCC Nigeria staff and a time of prayer of thanksgiving for each of us and the service we were able to provide, we shared one “last supper” (lunch actually), and then boarded the bus weighed down with our luggage and started the four hour drive to the airport in Abuja .  The landscape seemed more familiar after the three weeks there and I talked quietly, dozed off occasionally, and thought about when I might see all this again.  In spite of concerns about the process of checking in at the airport, it all went smoothly with the help of “a friend of Chris’” and after quick goodbyes to Goddy our driver and Bianna from the Faith Alive office, we were in the waiting lounge ready for the first leg of our flights home.  I slept fairly well on the overnight flight to Amsterdam , in part due to having the two seat row to myself and the other part being the help of the drug induced sleep of Ambien.  The Amsterdam airport provided the first culture shock of shops everywhere, food kiosks with pastry and fresh coffee, and the joy of a hired shower where I luxuriated in the seemingly endless supply of hot water cascading over my head.  The four hours passed relatively quickly.  I did have the opportunity to find the meditation room and spent my quiet time away from the bustle of the terminal itself.  I found myself in the room praying quietly and joined by a series of three Moslem men who also came in to pray.  As they were kneeling on their prayer rugs and facing east to offer their prayers I couldn’t help but feel that surely God was hearing each of our prayers acknowledging our dependence on Him and asking for His blessing on our day.  It was a quieting way to begin the reentry process into the world that lay ahead.

   Eight and a half hours in the plane from Amsterdam passed without incident and I read, slept a little, thought, watched a mindless movie, and listened to music.  I met my luggage and walked through customs in Minneapolis , cleared immigration, grabbed a cup of Starbuck’s coffee and a scone and was on the last leg of my journey when I boarded the flight to Denver .  I stepped off the plane and my 36 hour journey from Jos to home was nearly complete.  Susan was waiting for me at the luggage claim area and the warmth of her arms said I was really home.  The drive to Ft, Collins flew by and then I was walking through the door to our home.  A home cooked meal, a hot shower, quick calls to the kids, a rapid view of the pictures I had taken, and a tumble into my own bed with a peaceful ten hour sleep.

    Was this just an “island in time” that I fly and come back from?  Were Bangladesh and Mali just the same?  I pray that rather than island separated by time and space from my “real life” that these experiences are linked inexorably by bridges to the reality of who I am called to be.  I hope these bridges carry me forward on my journey and that these experiences are just as real as my life in Colorado , my life being incomplete or less than God intended for me if they are not anchored into the core of who I am.  And what about calling?  Am I called to be comfortable? Or maybe a little uncomfortable?  Or could I be called to even experience discomfort?  One thing I know:  I am not at all unsure about the claim God has on my life.  I pray for wisdom on how to live that calling out.  May God be in the journey.  Thank you for sharing that journey with me. 

Shalom, Larry Kieft

Random thoughts as we return

November 24, 2008

Back home again, the trip just seems like a blur.  Its hard to believe we were in NIgeria for almost 3 weeks.  What is a second home to me, felt like a whirlwind this time and its surreal that I’m back where we started.  What a blessing this group was.  Each person contributed their own gifts to make us complete.  Our ages spanned 50 years, doctors and nurses and a pharmacist. Our religious affiliations were diverse: Mennonite, Christian Reformed, Lutheran, Catholic, and no formal religion. Some worried that we wouldn’t have enough in common.  How wrong that turned out to be.  We became family, listening to each other’s issues, laughing together, sometimes weeping together.  100_3668

Our doggy lamps lit our rooms when there was no electricity.  We had candlelight meals together.  In the process of this time we spent together, we all changed.  Most of us don’t know exactly what these changes will mean–we just know we’ve started down a path on a new journey.  I am blessed to have been a part of this group.

Closing Statements to Faith Alive Staff:

Larry:  This clinic exemplifies Micah 6:8.  “He has shown you oh man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice and to love mercy, and to walk with your God”.

Jim:  You have taught me how to have a proper greeting every day. You show joy in living with AIDS and not dying with AIDS. I have learned from the sincerity of your love of God.  Spiritual healing precedes medical healing here.

Theo:  I can sum up everything in 3 words: Hope, Joy and Thanksgiving. The gift of joy is so important. You know how to give thanks to the Lord, something we need to learn.

Kristen: The joy and hope I saw in the support group with HIV+ people, so much different than at home…

Laura: Thank you for your hospitality and welcome.  I’ve been truly blessed. Clinics in Canada run with increased government support.  So much of what is being done here is by sheer determination and love of Christ.

Lois: Coming to Africa is something I ‘ve wanted to do since I was a little girl. My dream has been fulfilled.  My favorite day was the day spent in Kafin Chan, because I’m from a small village in the U.S.

Jenny: I’ve been to Africa 8 different times as a tourist “on the outside looking in”.  This is the 1st time I’ve been on the inside.  I was expecting to see true devastation and I haven’t seen anything like that.  I wish there were 100 more clinics like this throughout Nigeria/Africa

Pat:  Thanks for being allowed to feel like part of a family.  One word comes to mind, “Time”–time to enjoy life that you offer, time you give of yourselves to the patients…

Jean: God is so good.  God brought our team here. You have become my family. God loves us all. God doesn’t look at color, whether we’re short or tall. We are all children of God. I will remember your faces and your smiles.

Elton: You guys renamed me “Grandpa”. You do a tremendous job with the equipment you have. You have auxiliary programs like counseling, I have not seen in other places. Thanks especially to Dr Innocent-what a great man. He enjoys medicine. He enjoys teaching, seeing patients.

Sarah:  I expected to see people dying of AIDS, people look so much healthier and happier than I expected.  Please keep doing your wonderful work.

Rochele: What a change in 5 years this clinic has undergone.  Faith Alive used to rely on volunteers and barely had any medications. Now its a 3 story hospital with paid employees and antiretrovirals for AIDS patients.  What a privelege to come back and see the hope that this clinic continues to give.

Faith Alive Staff

Faith Alive Staff

Rochele Beachy

Home (my first post!)

November 23, 2008

I was surprised by the burst of cold air that greeted me when I exited the Toronto airport. Only yesterday we were sweating in Abuja and dying for a little air conditioning. Is it possible to have culture shock when returning to your own home, I wonder? Mid-way through our 3-week long trip, I must admit that I was longing to be back home with the comforts of my daily life. I was having a hard time adjusting to life in Jos as it was so vastly different than anything I had seen or experineced previously in my life. I was praying and wishing that our time would go faster so that I could just return to the familiarity of my life. Now, as I sit in my little apartment in Toronto

Kristen and Laura

Kristen and Laura

, I find that I miss Nigeria so much that my home feels different than when I left it. What has changed? Essentially everything is still here. My possessions are all here untouched, my light switch works everytime and I actually had a shower that had running water…hot running water! Despite everything being the same, strangely, it feels different. I feel different. My perspective is altered. I feel like I am not really home here anymore because as we came to the end of our time in Jos, I became accustomed to life there and it was surprisingly beginning to feel a little like home as well. I wish I could share with my family and friends exactly what my experience was like but there are no words that fully describe the images ingrained in my head. My pictures show only a one dimmensional view of the faces of Nigerians that touched my life and impacted me in a way that is unforgettable and that image does them no justice. I think my saving grace will be that I had my sister by my side the whole time and so I have someone who truly understands what it was like and what we saw. I don’t think I could have commited to this trip without knowing that Laura would be with me every step of the way. I must say how much I appeciated having Laura by my side, sharing a room together like we did when we were growing up. The laughter that we shared together (mostly on Jim’s expense!) was so necessary after spending difficult days observing poverty in Nigeria. How can life return to “normal” after seeing the things I saw? How do I return to the mundane process of normal life here in Toronto where everything is so easy? I thought that returning home would feel so much better but today I don’t feel like I am truly home yet. My thoughts remain in Nigeria and I miss the way of life we came to know there.  

KD

Together

November 22, 2008
Lois visiting a village home

Lois visiting a village home

The clock read 2:38AM when I awoke, but my body was clearly saying 8:38AM.  For at least this one day more my body clock and thoughts will remain in harmony with the flow of time in Jos, Nigeria.

I’m sitting now in front of my computer and drinking a cup of freshly brewed coffee.  I must confess I really do appreciate that part of being in the USA! 

Separating from the group was more difficult than I anticipated.  Elton,  Sarah, Rochelle,  Jen and I reamined together on the Amsterdam to Detroit flight.  But several times I saw Laura, Kristen, Larry, Jean, Pat, or Jim in a quick glimpse of another traveller.  Then came the little jolt that we were no longer together.  I heard Theo laugh as well – and again the little jolt that our group was no longer together.   (Did I miss anyone, Larry?)

One of the words I appreciated in Jos was “togetha.”  Speakers would check for understanding by questioning, “Are we togetha?'” or affirm unity by commenting “We are togetha.”   It would be great if someone could create a way to be together in more than one place at a time – to be together with family at home as well as family spread elsewhere in the world.  And now immediately comes the thought that indeeed Someone did create just that –  we remain together as brothers and sisters in Christ having shared a common – maybe even transforming! – experience.  That’s true, but a little simplistic.  I truly enjoyed being part of our community the past few weeks and I think sadness at the dissolving of the physical aspect of that community is an affirmation of its’ importance in my life.  It would be truly sad if there were no regrets at saying goodbye.

I started writing this thinking perhaps I would reflect a bit on the significance of the events of the past weeks.  I have many images flashing through my mind.  Wonderful images – the incredible joyful response of the Faith Alive support group when our bass members started singing “Mun Gode, Allah!”.  That’s probably number 1 on a top ten list.  But there are others – the passion in Justin’s voice as he shared his love and concern for Nigeria, the orphans at Almanah Rescue Mission, the “real” coffee retreat on the hilltop at Meshiah,  the smiles of the people of Nigeria, the sincere “you are welcome” heard again and again, the dancing and colors of cultural evening,  ??Theo dancing??, the HIV patients I saw with Dr. Ben, evening meals in Nigerian homes and “our” home at RURCON, Obed and Gindiri, the sight, sound and colors of market, the incredible fact of the existence of Faith Alive, Amina and her group of Muslim TBA’s listening to Larry’s presentation, Valerie in her tree.  That’s probably more than 10 and still just the tip of the iceberg.  Then there are the images that haunt my heart – the note of despair in Justin’s voice as he shared his love and concern for Nigeria, the trembling hand of the newly diagnosed HIV positive woman, the protruding dirt streaked belly of the little girl at Hwol Yarue school, the pain of the  young man with the huge bone tumor, the little 10 year old boy injured by a motorcyle,  the smell and sight of burning garbage, the voiced and unvoiced fear of what happens if PEPFAR is withdrawn, and that list goes on as well.  These remain pictures in my mind.  I’m don’t think I’m  ready yet to reflect on the ways in which I have been, am being, and will be changed by the experience.  I need processing time.   I went to Nigeria feeling conflicted and I return home feeling conflicted.  Nigeria inspired both compassion and resentment.  The individuals are so precious and so endangered – the government with the financial resources to respond apparently so very uncaring.  My prayer is that I allow myself  to be transformed and not to react by shutting down in response to absolutely overwhelming needs and pain. 

Last night I walked into my home about 8:15PM, dropped my luggage in the middle of the floor and said good-night to my sister and brother-in-law.  I stood alone in the quietness for a moment.  Then I went to the kitchen and flipped on the light.  I took a glass over to my refrigerator.   I selected the “cubed ice” button and filled my glass half full from the dispenser.  Next, I selected the “water” button and pressed there to fill my glass.  That’s when I discovered my water dispenser isn’t working.  Really – life can be so difficult sometimes!!!

Lois Lyndaker

11/23/08

The Roads

November 19, 2008

The roads around Jos. What a drive!!! Road to Ampang Market

Along a Road in Jos

But what do the roads mean? The roads connect people with work, friends,family, places to go, worship and each other. But are they not just roads? NO!!! Let me explain.

The roads here have no marked names. The names may have been there in the past but they do not exist anymore. Directions are given by “turning by a business, church, etc.” and everyone “sort of” knows where you mean. There are no numbers on homes and the homes are not evenly spaced on these roads but one home may be behind another. How do you find someone…possibly ask a neighbour or have a good memory or pray for help.

There are no street signs indicating normal traffic flow. There are no lines on the road, stop signs, yield signs, or rate of speed signs. There are traffic lights but they do not work…a police officer has a booth in the middle of an intersection and vehicles obey the officer. The other option are intersections with no police prescence. These intersections require drivers to determine who will go first…its not a situation enjoyed by defensive drivers as you will never get anywhere.

Which vehicles are common? The most common is the 2-stroke, 100HP Jigeng motorcycle. These drive on the left of the road, the right of the road, and down the middle of the road. Drivers generally do not wear helmets and these are used for taxis. Motorcycles are not given priority by autos…accidents are common. Peugot cars are the most numerous (late models with lots of dents and cracked windshields) as well as Japanese cars. There are no General Motors products. The lory drivers tow their trailers with stock and people who jump on the back of the trailer while it is working.

Drivers pass on the left, right and while oncoming traffic is getting close. Be prepared to hit the shoulder when neccessary. The shoulder is usually as smooth as the road…potholes are everywhere.

At this point we are still alive. Please God, keep us safe and steer our cars as we travel the roads of Nigeria. Be our copilot and help us as we see our neighbour on the side of the road.

It would be a good idea to wear a seatbelt. As a passenger, it is easier on the nerves to look out the side windows and not straight ahead…I have a feeling that is how I will see my neighbour.

Jim Friesen

Choices

November 19, 2008
Students at Gindiri Theological Seminary

Students at Gindiri Theological Seminary

On Tuesday our group visited Gindiri School of Theology.  Some of the team members facilitated a discussion regarding  the appropriate pastoral response to HIV/AIDS concerns.  Traditionally, Nigerian women are taught to be submissive to their husbands.  The question being asked was –“If a woman comes for pastoral counseling concerned about having sex with her husband because he is HIV +, what advice do you give her?”  That question triggered animated discussion. Some students expressed the need to protect and advocate for the woman, but the opposite point of view was also voiced.  One suggestion was to advise the woman to return to her husband and submit because the marriage should be kept intact and as long as she was being obedient to God’s command to be submissive, God wuold protect her.  Obed Dashon, the college president, made some closing remarks.  He commented that we have a choice–a choice to follow culture or Christ.  That comment was made in the context of African culture and response to HIV/AIDS epidemic.  But that comment took root in my thoughts as I prepare to return tothe U.S. I also will have a choice–to follow my culture with its emphasis on materialisam, its waste of natural resources and its tendency to avoid dealing with social/justice inequalities.  Or I can choose to follow Christ and His teaching to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with my God.

Lois Lyndaker

11/19/08

Thoughts on Conservation

November 18, 2008
Getting water from the spring

Getting water from the spring

Water is precious here. Throughout the long months of the dry season, city water runs infrequently for those who are wealthy enough to have plumbing. Those who do not have plumbing rely on wells for their water. A water bucket is an essential piece of equipment, and we can often see women carrying water on their heads from the well.

Here at the guesthouse, we all have private bathrooms attached to our rooms. These, however, are not “bathrooms” in the typical North American sense. The typical fixtures are all there; a toilet, a small (lopsided) sink and a showerhead are all present in the small tiled room. The biggest difference (aside from the small animals we occasionally notice) is the lack of water. When I open the tap on the sink, nothing comes out. If I am lucky, there might be a small trickle of water. Our toilet does not flush, and there has never been water in the showerhead. This becomes “normal” sooner than you might think. Kristen (my sister and roommate) and I have become very good at the “bucket bath”. One of us goes, barefoot and pyjama’d, out to the courtyard in the morning to fill a bucket with warm water. The procedure is then as follows: wet hair, shampoo briefly, rinse with 3 – 4 cupfuls of water, wet body, use washcloth to wash, rinse with 3 – 4 cupfuls of water. We have perfected the procedure to the point where 2 of us can be very clean and use only ¾ of a bucket of water. We flush our toilet “manually” with water from our bucket. All laundry and dishes must be done by hand, and we are fortunate to have staff at the guesthouse who do these chores.

At home in Canada, I am used to walking into my bathroom at any time of day, turning on the lights and having an almost instantaneous supply of both hot and cold water. I start my dishwasher and washing machine without a second thought. My time here has made me think about exactly how much water I use everyday. As Christians, we are called to be good stewards of the Earth, and this includes the use of resources. I know that my water use practices will change once I return home. This might just include the use of a “bucket bath”!

Laura Puopolo

Beneath the Cross

November 18, 2008

I realized that not only have I been in Africa for the past 2 ½ weeks but I have been sleeping beneath the cross since my arrival in Jos. Let me explain- the group has been staying at the RURCON Guest house on the NBTT compound in Jos Nigeria. There was a wardrobe closet built in to the wall in room #1. The first night as I lay tossing and turning wishing that I was in my own bed I glanced around the room from under my mosquito tent. I clearly saw a cross. I am not sure that it was intentional or not but it was very comforting that first night. I know as a Christian that the power of the holy spirit is always near but this large cross as big as the bed seemed to speak to me in my fear.

It served as a visual reminder that God is near.

I grew up hearing missionary stories from Africa, not all of them very comforting. In fact some of them were downright frightening especially the ones that included snakes. I have yet to see a live snake. The only one that I have seen was in a jar of formaldehyde in a lab jar at one of the hospitals.

This was another reminder that God is watching over me.

Sunday at the COCIN Church we attended I was blessed in a very unexpected way. I fully expected to hear traditional African Hausa choir complete with drums, shakers, and other percussion instruments. WOW was I surprised. The choir was double the size that it usually was for a special celebration. They were dressed in black and white and they sang Handels’ Halleluhiah Chorus beautifully. The song that the congregation sang was “What a friend we have in Jesus”- in Hausa. The traditional Choir sang with the drums. So I did not miss out on the traditional flavor. The reason that this church was chosen–it is the church of one of the Servant Singers. She and her husband were celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary. Elizabeth and Yakubu D. Dung have a lot to celebrate! 6 living children and 35 years of marriage is a reason to celebrate all day long and then some, congratulations to them and their very hospitable family.

God Sees when we are missing home.

Sarah Sprunger

11/16/08

Sunday in Nigeria

November 17, 2008
Offering in Church

Offering in Church

I had the privilege of attending the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Nigeria since that is my tradition in Colorado. It felt similar in many ways because they used a liturgy from a hymn book that was published in 1941. Lutheran liturgy does not change!! They sang songs from the hymnal and then many choir songs and other singing that was Nigerian music , very different from the hymnal music.

We only had two offerings this Sunday. In the first offering the congregation simply walked to the front when they chose to during the service. The second offering the entire congregation walked to the altar and placed their money in a bowl.

It was great to feel this solidarity with the Lutheran church in Nigeria.

We met several people from the Wycliffe Bible transalators. One person noted that there are yet 300 languages in Nigeria that have no transalation in their language. There are 500 languages in the bush in Nigeria. So they have many years to complete this task in Nigeria.

God truly is present in the life of the Christians in Nigeria.

Jean Gall 11/17/08

True Generosity

November 17, 2008
Rochele and Dr Chris Isichei in front of Faith Alive Hospital (new TB center)

Rochele and Dr Chris Isichei in front of Faith Alive Hospital (new TB center)

I’ve know Chris Isichei now for 5 years and it no longer surprises me how generous he is. When we asked to borrow a laptop to have at our guest house, so we could write home and blog, etc, without hesitation he pulled out his brand new laptop tablet, the very best one he had and told us to take it.

Last night Faith Alive was broken into. Every laptop that was there was taken—we heard they lost five total. We have tremendous sadness about this. The one amazing thing is that the very best laptop Faith Alive had was spared because of Chris’s abundant generosity.

Honor the Lord with your possessions and with the first fruits of all your increase so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine.

Proverbs 3:9

Rochele Beachy

11/16/08


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