Friday, February 27, 2009

Last Assignment and Goodbye

Today was our last day in The Gambia. We had just enough time for one more meeting with a church leader. Pastor Forbes is head of an umbrella organization for a number of churches--all this required, among other things, for religious liasing with the government. He immediately impressed us with his hi-tech knowledge and skill. He owns and operates a business school, conducts a weekly television program, and pastors a church. He seems to have a good grasp of the challenges facing the Gambian Christians in the areas of education and leadership.
The surprise moment for me came when I mentioned the name, Dr. Pat Francis, the founding pastor (she is Jamaican)of a mega-church in Toronto, Kingdom Covenant Church. Forbes and I formed an instant bond as he watches her on television and admires her preaching and visionary leadership. She is already broadcasting in many parts of Europe and Africa. Next step, I took a picture of him to give to Pat, and he gave me one of his business cards to give her. Wants her to come to The Gambia. Steve realized in that moment that he just might be faced with organizing a "Pat and David" campaign to The Gambia! Can't you just see it? I don't know who was scared more by that little flash of fantasy, Steve or me?
I can't close out our tour blog without a last word about Skippy, our toilet froggie. We had not seen him for a few days and feared he had left us. Then yesterday he appeared unannounced to Steve. Well, this morning I was prepared, with camera in hand, for an appearance as I made my first visit of the day to the bathroom. Would you believe it--I saw him, no mistaking his little froggie legs and that stunned look in his eyes! But today was different. He just kept going. No explanation, no cry for help, no goodbyes. As I shuffled back to my bedroom I thought, how fitting. Providence just may have known that we were strangers in the land and needed comfort. I know this because I would sometimes hear Dr.Taylor sobbing quietly during the silence of the African night. Steve, on the other hand, would keep saying things like, "I could live here for the rest of my life," and "Do I really have to pack?"
Well, maybe far fetched for some of you, but we do likely agree that Providence (God) does care, does promise to be our comfort and companion. Skippy is not a sacrament, but he just may be a little sign. For now, that is enough.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

It's not goodbye forever

Well I am sitting in our little Ice cream shop, typing my last blog in The Gambia. I am starting to feel the typical sadness I associate with leaving this place. I have been here so many times that I have stopped counting, and the place feels like my second home. I am pretty tired, it was a jam packed 10 days full of a lot of meetings, a lot of early mornings and a lot of late nights (Dr. Reed we are leaving now! Pack up your computer.) We have one meeting left, the president of the Evangelical Fellowship of The Gambia. Both the organization and the man that heads it up are key players in the Gambian Christian community. Please pray for this meeting and our safe travel tomorrow as we head out for London. Oh yeah one last mission, Skippy! I captured him on my cell phone camera yesterday but the image is so fuzzy. I know when I bring it back it will be like those grainy sasquatch/loch ness monster photos. You know the kind. Oh well, I have never been so determined in my life to succeed.

Heartbeak and Hearts United

Ok, I told you this would be a special day. First, I discovered when I arrived here that The Gambia was a critical centre for the slave trade from the Africa side. The real surprise was finding out that the village which features in Alex Haley's book, *Roots*, is in The Gambia, not many miles from Banjul. So I immediately put in my pitch to spend a day there. That was today. It is an hour ferry ride across the river, then a 1.5 hour car ride to the village. a short boat ride took us to James Island where over 600 slaves would be packed into obscenely small quarters for three years, precisely to take from these strong young men their energy, strength and will. This made them sufficiently docile to manage the long journey to America. Other acts of inhumanity were presented, which only compounded the horror of what we were witnessing in this island memorial. For me, the trip was a memory horrible and a must.
The caption on the memorial plaque on the beach reads: *Never Again*. The hidden and sometimes subtle varieties of slavery being practiced today leaves me with little confidence that the warning has been heeded. But hope of course is never deterred by evil.
The other event today was a heartwarming event at the CVM house. Remember Martin from Sudan (in my first blog after arriving here)? It turns out that his second marriage was celebrated as a traditional African wedding. He and Rachel now have a 6-week old baby. So this evening the house was decorated brightly in lights and petals. Friends and volunteer staff were present. I officiated at a Blessing of their marriage and Glen led in a dedication of their newborn. Then a big chocolate cake. What a wonderful way to wind up our trip!
We are all still hoping to get a pic of Skippy, the little frog who lives in the toilet. Can you imagine Steve peering into the toilet bowl with that look of satisfaction that appears only on the face of a little boy who was just toilet trained and discovered the reward waiting for him in the bottom of the bowl!! Well, whether or not Skippy pays us a last visit, we leave tomorrow for London, and will be home Saturday night. We are squeezing in one last meeting tomorrow morning with an important Christian leader.
We have been filling in a lot of blanks and noting confirmations as one leader seems to corroborate the insights of another. Like building blocks in something that is a lot larger than what we have in place now. But this is why we came.

"Special Assignment" and Fun

Well, we can tell that our assignment here is winding down. Last night Glen delivered his last lecture. Steve has shifted from conference-running to follow-up admin and the local to-do list.
Two events occupied my attention today. First was a request for a meeting by the head of a major African governmental organization. she was told of our visit by her secretary, someone who was present at our Sunday evening healing service. Two members of her family are seriously ill. She came seeking pastoral counsel and prayer, both of which we provided as best we could. This is just one of the kinds of surprise moments in trips like this. She thanked Glen and me for accepting this "special assignment."
Then we had some fun. I now had time to relax and see a little of the Banjul sights. One of the best is the seashore, a few minutes walk from the CVM house. A few of us made the journey. But would you believe what we found...riding horses for hire along the beach. Two sets of eyes lit up like fireflies in an African night. No, they weren't the eyes of the young men who were renting out the horses, though they gave us happy smiles as they made their pitch. The bright eyes came from a couple of western Canadian guys who for a moment thought they were performing in the Calgary Stampede! Steve and Glen couldn't wait to pay their money (I bet they didn't even try to barter) and ride off into the sandy horizon. Fantasy is a wonderful gift! Me? I didn't need any more opportunities for inner organ massage...the Land Rover and Steve's driving is enough.
Tomorrow is our last full day here, and it's going to be a special day. Don't miss my next blog!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Poverty and wealth

Discussing poverty and wealth may sound easy if you haven`t moved mentally more than a block from your birthplace. But even a brief immersion in another culture will raise questions to ponder for a long time. On Monday we drove to the village of Jidda, about an hour`s drive from Banjul. A community of about 1700, Jidda is one of the villages selected for development projects by CVM.
One area of need is obvious, the other requires an explanation. The land is dusty and almost barren of foliage. Water is plentiful (especially under the ground) but accessibility is limited. There are a very few wells that are working, but they are not located conveniently close to the various 'compounds' (Jidda has 197 compounds of about 10-plus persons). So the project will build a water tower, a solar-powered pump to move the water up to the tower, and then run by gravity feed pipes to the various compounds. This will make water accessible to the various 'living centres' in the village.
But then came the surprise. The land is very fertile and responds well to planting, and water is not totally absent. We even visited a compound where the owner has irrigated his small plot and is growing bananas and other vegetables. So why is this not happening throughout the village? I learned something about what happens when ideas and skills are not passed from one generation to another. Though people live in this rural village, they are not 'agricultural.' They have not been taught the skill of farming land. So the next greatest need is for creating a resource pool of knowledge and wisdom that can be passed on to future generations. This village has all the potential to be a lush fertile and fruitful land.
Wealth is here. First, the beautiful children. I am grateful to belong to a faith that cherishes each child as being of inestimable worth. And it is impossible not to imagine the gifts of mind and heart that bounces around in each of these little bodies.
A second source of wealth is questionable for some on our team! It`s called 'attaya.' This is a local tea brewed in its own special way with sugar, 3-4 water boilings and lots of pouring from teapot to glass (a small shot glass size). The first round is thick but after boilings and pourings it gets thinner. Tastes are recognizable but the process gives it its own inimitable flavour...a memorable and tasty moment!
Today we began the day meeting with leaders of the Gambia Christian Council--the Catholic and Anglican bishops and head of the Methodist Church. We were warmly received and encouraged to continue to explore educational possibilities with them. All groups recognize the need and each is doing something. But they all acknowledge that none of the initiatives are very successful. Gambia is a small country (half the size of Toronto) and the Christian community is very small (less than 10%) and religiously isolated in this region of Africa. This means that financial and human resources are limited.
This evening, Glen gave the last lecture of the conference. He picked up a cold by the end of the weekend and has been managing its journey through his system for the last two days. He will survive!
I think Steve is missing his family, a lot! He seems to be emotionally bonding to various little critters here--a development that some of us think is not 'normal.' It's all about 'Skippy.' Skippy is a little frog the size of an over-sized spider. He appears occasionally but unpredictably on the inside of the toilet bowl AFTER a flush has occurred. Some of our team are afraid he will jump, you can imagine where! But it is pretty obvious to me that, looking at the terror in his eyes, Skippy is just trying to hang on for his life. I have been commissioned as the official photographer to take my camera to the bathroom with me every time I make a visit. I do think this is way over the top, but I am trying to keep with the team spirit. We'll see if my vigilance pays off. I now have to drink water every 15 minutes so that I can justify the numerous trips to the bathroom that my little 'African Safari' assignment is demanding of me.

In the Company of Bishops and Chairman

Well today was a historic moment for theological education in the Gambia. Glen, David and I met with the Bishop Ellison of the Catholic Church, Chairman Greg of the Methodist Church, and Bishop Johnson of the Anglican church. I am still in awe of the good spirit and the positive working relationship these men have. I guess when you work in a predominantly Muslim nation, you need to work together. In Canada we can hardly get a congregation to agree on something, let alone a diverse group of people such as these. That being said, the meeting was better than I could have ever anticipated. The Methodists, Catholics, and Anglicans all are supportive of our proposal to bring theological education to the Gambia. All have tried various initiatives on their own, and all have only had limited success in their opinions; a joint venture, they feel, is the answer to the need they have in The Gambia. We as a neutral third party are poised nicely to come alongside these groups and move forward. Only one key group remains, the Evangelical Fellowship of the Gambia, who I assume will be supportive. It has been a long road and many meetings but I think that we have accomplished what we set out to do. Thanks for all your prayers over the last week. We just have a few last meetings to wrap up.

It has been a good experience, getting to know Glen and David on a more personal level. I have some stories that you can ask me about later (not suitable for publication). Also, neither of them are really morning people from what I can gather. I feel that I have had a foretaste of what it must be like to have teenage kids. Dr. Reed insists it is because he doesn’t have an alarm clock, but that is a weak excuse. In the mornings Dr. Reed’s mood can be apocalyptic. I laughed when I read revelation this week; it reminded me of Dr. Reed walking down the stairs in the morning.

“I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters.”

Once you get a little coffee in him (or a coke), he gets back to normal. If you feed him, I find he is a little more friendly.

Update on skippy the toilet frog, he was spotted last night but David didn’t get the camera in time. We only have three more days to get him on film.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Real African Experience

Why should I have been surprised? I have been here before. Unless you are sporting a tourist badge and wear a Tilley's hat, you are called into service. This really has something to do with a disproportion in certain types of resource. For us, it is education and preaching. If you are ordained, you are quickly recruited to "minister the Word" over and above the task you came to do. Glen and I have been honoured to share in this way. But we are constantly aware that we are trying to bridge into another culture that is different in so many ways. All of this, of course, makes the schedule very full and little respites scarce.
As I see the rich life and resources of this continent, and yet it is so scarce in a certain kind of resource (money and education) that would fit it as a major global player, the immediate feeling is one of frustration. It came home to me more than once this week in conversations with church leaders, when I saw the deep hunger for learning and no money or opportunity to acquire these riches so street-common in the West. This is why our exploratory trip makes all the sense in the world. We just need to see if this little idea will get legs!
Now, to more mundane things. Someone should have warned me what a bad driver Steve is. After only one week, he has acquired a reputation of being the original Rough Rider. It's enough that we are in an antiquated Land Rover that rides on what feels like iron wheels and no springs. But he is magnetized to find bumps and pot holes. I finally blurted out that if I wanted my internal organs massaged, there are more humane modalities. His learning curve on this one hasn't changed a centimeter since we arrived. What is remarkable and relieving, however, is his steady cheeriness.
Glen had his African experience immersion this weekend. Friday evening I laid on him some ghost stories (based on some documentary work I am doing). Guess who didn't want me to turn the bedroom light off! I just prayed that he didn't want to climb under my mosquito net with me. When he gets home, of course he will tell you all that it was a joke...and it probably is. But it was fun. The next day the subject came up with some leaders regarding the African experience of spirits and the ancestors. Glen was getting lesson 2! Then he got recruited for assisting in this evening's healing service. For those in the know, the last drip of Dispensationalism was finally wrung out of his soul tonight!