Tuesday, February 14, 2012

That Which is Precious - Burkina Faso

Today we visited the Philadelphia Church in Ouaga. It is the church Marcel pastors and oversees, in addition to several others. You do not need a map to find such a church, whether here or in the bush, you simply follow your ear. Long before the block walls and tin roof come into view, a boisterous melody fills the air with the song of the redeemed singing their praises to God.

Thus far it has been my favorite part of being in Africa, to walk into a dimly lit room filled with people singing jubilantly unto the Lord, they bring such brightness to the darkest of places; both with their voice and their appearance. If you have seen the photos from previous trips here, you know the Burkinabe are those who love bright, bold color; from the clothing and hats adorning the women, to the beads woven into their daughters hair; it is this colorful array that will be forever etched in my mind.

We are always seated up front since we are the guests from America. I love this spot, not because I want a seat of honor, but because it places me just a step away from the many children who flood the front of the church. As I sit watching them I see my own grandchildren reflected in their mannerisms and personalities. There is Mary-Jane, my dancing girl; Zachary my curious, every busy little guy; Eva with her gorgeous big eyes and Ava, so small yet so ready to take on the world. Their color and language may be different, but children everywhere long for one thing, to be loved and cared for. I am reminded of what Jesus said, that we are to become as little children, wholly dependent upon him.

If there is an aspect of life in Burkina I will take away from all of this it is the realization that life is precious. Whenever Loren is introduced the first thing he does is raise his Ipad high over his head and show the congregation photos of his beautiful family. They ooh and ahh over the photos of Amber and MJ and Jude and Isaiah, but it is when he mentions that Amber is pregnant with their fourth child the people in every church we have visited applaud and shout for joy. For them, there is nothing greater that can happen than for a family to be given the gift of new life. Perhaps it is because they recognize the fragileness of life here in Burkina. Daily they are just one illness, one accident, one season of famine away from disaster and potential death. They are thankful for one more day, one more child, one more proof that God is the giver of life and his mercies are new every morning.

I watched them as they gave of their offerings this morning. It was as joyous a time as their singing of worship and praise had been just moments earlier. I asked myself, “How could this be?” Then came understanding. They were joyful because they HAVE something to give; that in the past day or week or month God had somehow, once again, provided for them. They gave cheerfully and with exuberance because they were so thankful God had given to them.
Loren’s message to the people today was on storms. What I have seen here in Burkina is we are much more alike than I ever imagined. They struggle with the same issues as we do, in their homes, in their families, in their marriages and their work, even in their church. We are all sinners in desperate need of a Savior and it is only by the grace of God we are changed and transformed. When the storms arise, we are all prone to ask, “Where are you God?” The answer is always the same. He is with us, perfectly at rest, knowing he will bring us safely to the other side.

It is the same message from the book of Mark, which Loren shared with TFAB some months back. Today, in Burkina, God used his word to bring faith to the heart of four who committed their lives to Christ. I asked Marcel afterwards if these were people who previously attended his church. He said no, this was the first time they had come. He told me this is happening almost every Sunday, God continues to bring in a great harvest here.

It is why we come, it is why TFAB and Ekklesia are committed to training the pastors who will feed and shepherd these new believers and the precious people who fill their churches, both in the city and the many villages scattered throughout this vast land. They will come this week; on foot, on bicycle, by cart and by scooter. They will travel long distances then sit for many hours to hear the truth of God’s word taught. They will be well fed that they might in turn go and feed the people with good, solid spiritual food. We come that the people of Christ here in Burkina might grow and be strong.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Things Learned in Africa

It is a quiet evening here at the house. Loren, Scott, Ian and Marcel travelled north today to Dori, I chose to remain behind by myself to work on the teachings I will share tomorrow with the women in a local church. A short while ago the power went out, again, this time just as darkness fell. I had thought that might be somewhat frightening, to be alone here in the dark, but it is a testimony to how comfortable I am here that I actually enjoyed it as a time to sit on the screened porch and take in the sights and sounds of an Ougadougou night.

I am back inside now, and Pierre, (our resident gecko who lives on the wall behind the air conditioner) is talking to me in his little clicking voice. The fans are spinning rhythmically overhead as music from the nearby church mingles into a melodic, uniquely African sound. It is good to be here.

Tonight I thought it would be fun to share with you something lighthearted, so here is my list of the 10 things I have learned in Africa:

1. You can never carry enough Lafi(water) when you are out in the bush. Its uses are innumerable.
2. Buckling up in a vehicle is NOT a silly thing to do in Africa, I’m sure Scott will agree.
3. It IS possible to take a shower and wash your hair and not get a single drop of water in your mouth.
4. A flashlight and hand sanitizer should be your constant companion. You NEVER know when you will need either or both.
5. Sidewalks in Africa are HIGHLY overrated as safe places to walk.
6. The Tam Tam has the best Spaghetti Carbonera I have ever eaten!
7. The African bush is home to some wonderful people and especially delightful, creative children who can take a pebble and make it a toy.
8. A smile and a warm handshake speak volumes in any language.
9. Wherever God’s people are, it feels like home.
10. I will never again say, “I never want to go to Africa”.

And with that I will call it a night. Continue to pray for us. I just spoke with Marcel’s wife, Pauline. She told me she saw what is left of the truck Marcel was driving this morning. In her words, “It is a miracle he is alive.” Thank you Lord for your protection, we rest well knowing our lives are ever in your hands.

I am sure Loren or Scott or Ian will be sharing some things later in the day about their journey to Dori, a place where it is not so easy to profess faith in Jesus. Pray for those who live in such places, that God will bring light into the darkness and encouragement to those who are in His.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Revelation - Burkina Faso

God is amazing! I know, I say that often, but the longer I live the more I stand back in awe of how he works in our lives, quietly, behind the scenes unbeknownst to us until that day when he pulls back the curtain and as they say here in Burkina, Wal-la’! His masterpiece is revealed, the puzzle of our lives becomes clear as we see how the pieces fit together to create a magnificent story of His glory and grace. That God would care so much to involve us in His work of redeeming and teaching His church is beyond my comprehension. That He would ask us to pray and then answer our prayers, that he would bless us with resources that we might give, that he would teach us that we might in turn teach others, that he open our eyes to his truth that we might share the gospel of the good news of Jesus Christ; all this causes me to bow before him in worship and adoration.

It was on the road to Boromo earlier this week that the curtain began to part. As I looked out the van window at the passing sights, I had this recurring thought that I had seen this place before. There was such a familiarity in the Burkina countryside, the many African villages, the crowded marketplaces, the arid and sparse vegetation. I knew it was not just general Africa I was thinking of, but something very specific.

Revelation came in the blink of an eye. In my mind I was there, 40 years ago, attending a missions convention at the Assembly of God church in Grant Pass, Oregon. They appeared, one by one, on the stage, the missionaries from Indonesia, South Africa and Mexico. But the ones that intrigued me were a couple from Upper Volta. So many years ago and yet I can still see them standing there on the platform in their African dress, I can describe them in great detail. I am able to recall their names, Dave and Jan Hall. It is their pictures and slides and films I spoke of in an earlier post. It was their stories that convinced me I never wanted to actually go to Africa and yet I was captivated by all I saw, I wanted, somehow, to be a part of what God was doing in the people of Upper Volta. I prayed for the missionaries and for the people, I gave of what I made from a babysitting job that summer, I helped with the car washes and bake sales and other fundraisers, that our youth group might give money for the purchase of vehicles to help “Speed the Light” to the native people. Year after year the missionaries would return home to share their stories, year after year I was enthralled with how God was bringing light to a people half a world away. Upper Volta would always hold a special place in my heart.

Decades past. Loren sr and I were driving home from one of our trips to the Steens, we had just crested a hill where cell service became marginally available when we received a call from our son. It was 2002 and Loren was calling to tell us he had been invited to go to Africa to share the gospel and to teach the pastors in a place called Burkina Faso. I was at once excited and terrified at the thought of him going, but knew it was God who was calling him.

Upon his return he shared with us how much he already loved the people of Burkina, what a joy it had been to go, to teach, to be used of God in such a way. He told us of some of the needs of the people, both practically and spiritually. My own heart was drawn to Burkina and we began to pray and to give, just as I had done so many years before for the people of Upper Volta.

It was not until I was on the road to Boromo this week that I made the connection. This land of Burkina Faso that God has called us to is, this land that seemed so familiar to me as I sped through the many villages and towns, this land IS Upper Volta the land God laid on my heart so many years ago. Somewhere during the ensuing years, the name was changed but all else is as it was. The pastors Loren is teaching, the women I am instructing, the children who bring such delight to our hearts, they are the fruit of the ministry of the missionaries of a generation passed, missionaries I had prayed for and supported so many years ago.

I told Marcel of this and at each of the churches we have visited he tells the story. I watch the older men and women as their eyes light up in recognition at the missionaries names, a broad smile spreading across their faces. I pray they understand, as I have come to see, God is awesome and mighty, merciful and kind, uniting us in the cross of Jesus, connecting us in ways we cannot fathom. As I pen this, (yes, literally, for time is precious while we are here in Burkina and no laptop is handy as I have some down time out “in the bush”) I am sitting in the midst of a congregation of people beloved of the Lord. They have come, pastors, leaders, elders and their wives to worship, to listen, to take in and to grow in the things of God. I am listening to my son teach what the Bible says about marriage, about family, about what honors God. Soon I will stand where he stands and I will speak and share with the women from God’s word, from my life, from my heart. I will encourage them to pray, for their husbands, for their children for their families. I will do this with absolute conviction as I stand before them, for I KNOW God is with them. I cannot express to you the joy that fills my heart; I know God is good; I just cannot believe he is SO good!

I sit in churches where you, the generous people of TFAB have given, that there might be a roof over the heads of all who gather. Today we gave Bibles to the people, food for their soul; but we also gave corn and rice, food for their bellies, as famine is coming upon the land due to no rain and a failed harvest. I am told the people of TFAB are the very first in all the world to respond to this great need.

The people have asked that we say thank you, thank you so much. Thank you for praying, for giving, for sending those who teach them well in the way of God.

When I was I Hawaii last month, I sat on the couch reflecting upon our visit there, thinking how much I had enjoyed it and how sad I was to see it coming to an end. I contrasted that with my then upcoming trip to Burkina Faso of which I was so fearful. I thought of how glad I would be to see THAT trip come to an end, but as quickly as the thought came, the Lord spoke to my heart and told me leaving Africa would NOT bring much gladness but would, in fact, fill me with great sorrow; in departing I would be leaving a part of my heart with the people of Burkina Faso.

God’s word is true. I am already sad to think of leaving these people. Their language may be foreign but their hearts speak a language no tongue can tell. It is the language of the cross, which unites us in the blood of Jesus Christ.

Continue to pray for us. I will be sharing tomorrow with a group of women here in Ouagadougou. Next week the Bible school, taught by Loren, Scott and Ian will begin and run for the entire week. Thank you for praying for our protection, I am not sure which is more frightening here, the bugs which want to invade our bodies or the vehicles which want to run us down. We are well. If you saw Loren’s facebook post this morning, you will understand why we ask you to pray for these very practical things. We are thankful that God protects us in the ways he knows to be best. Pray for the Word of God as it goes forth, that it will be received into good soil and bring about a continuing harvest here in the land of Burkina Faso. Above all, please pray that God will be glorified in all that we do.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Perspective - Burkina Faso

Perspective. It is perhaps what has become most clear for me here in this static land that is at once both incredibly simple and exceedingly difficult. Much is as I anticipated: the hot days, the dusty, rutted streets; the masses of people darting in and out of traffic. I came hoping I would come to love the people, yet all the while assuming I would have a great distaste for the land. But it is not as I thought. Indeed, the people, particularly the children and their mothers, have captivated my heart, but driving home from Boromo, from our day in the bush, I was enthralled with the beauty of the African countryside, a sense of peace settled came with the setting sun, knowing God’s hand is upon this barrenly beautiful land.

Perhaps it was the joy of watching the children play, or teaching the women who, if given the opportunity, could teach me much as well, or perhaps it was just the knowing that here in Burkina Faso, God’s church is alive and well. I am so thankful God has granted me the privilege of coming, to teach the women, to laugh with the children and to share with you a glimpse of God’s church in Burkina.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as our plane made the final descent into Burkina. Loren had spoken of donkey drawn carts coming to gather our luggage and an airport that was reminiscent of a grade B movie set in the Banana Republic. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed when we were promptly shuttled from the plane to the newly finished immigration area, where friendly smiles and a newly installed luggage conveyor belt greeted us. Gone were the dim lights and donkey carts, although the swirling fans still clicked away overhead. And what is even more amazing, all of our luggage arrived, in tact.

They say much is changing in this country. For the first time, streetlights illuminate the main roads, scooter lanes and sidewalks now line the street. Yet much is still the same. Scooter drivers ignore the bike lane, choosing instead to play “hit me if you dare” as they dart in and out between the cars and trucks which speed down the road, randomly choosing which traffic signals to obey. This is made even all the more challenging with the rolling blackouts that affect the city periodically, causing all to go dark.

Life in Burkina is lived outdoors. Even at night the people were out; walking, riding, going here and there. I asked Scott and Loren and Ian to give me one word that describes Burkina. Perhaps Scott captured Oaugadougou best; “moving” was the word he used to invoke the feeling of the city. It seems everyone is always on the move. Like ants scurrying, each one knows their purpose but to the outside observer, it is simply chaos.

It should be no surprise then that our first few days here have been much the same, filled with movement and, at times, a bit of chaos. We arrived late at night only to learn the house that is always the haven for the TFAB Burkina trips was not going to be available, but “would we mind so much staying at the extra rooms at the back of the compound?” Being new to Burkina, I didn’t realize how important having “the house” was. Two nights and two different places later, I can tell you, it is VERY important. The rooms they suggested left one feeling very unsafe, especially if your mom is travelling for the first time to Africa, as there were no real locks on the doors and we would be separated from one another.

Marcel suggested a hotel that would be nearer his home. Since it is his town, we assumed it was a place he was well acquainted with. It was only as we travelled to Boromo the next day and saw a sign advertising the “Chic Hotel”, that he confessed he had never laid eyes on the place and had only chosen it because it was the first place that came to mind because he, too had seen the roadside sign advertising it some weeks prior. Such is life in Africa.

The paved highway of town gave way to one of the many rutted, unlit dirt stretches which abound, (I still struggle to call them roads). Bouncing our way past dirty, cluttered, tin storefronts, old stacked tires and the occasional roaming dog, we made a quick turn and arrived at our destination. Dim lights illuminated our way up the stairs to the 2nd floor where we each locked our double bolted doors and called it a night at least feeling somewhat secure, until Loren realized the window to his room had no latch or lock, it freely swung, back and forth, beckoning any who might want to enter. Welcome to Africa.

Morning found us moving to a new compound Marcel was somewhat familiar with. While not ideal, it seemed workable and have to do, since we were scheduled to be in Boromo, some 120 miles away, by 9 am that morning to teach the many pastors and leaders and their wives would be coming. We finally left Ouaga at 9:15, but, no worries, (remember, this is Africa) Marcel called ahead to let them know we would be a little bit late.

I am told the road from Ouga to Boromo and on to the Ivory Coast is one of the most important and heavily travelled roads in the entire country. After travelling it and living to tell about it, I have to agree. I hate to fly, just the mere hint of turbulance sends me into a semi-panic mode. But I would fly a thousand flights back and forth across the Atlantic before I would choose to be a passenger in a vehicle on the Boromo road again. Picture Highway 97 (only about 6 feet narrower) with no shoulders, no center strip and crumbling edges on both sides giving way to rugged ditches. Then add in scooters carrying everything from extra passengers to pigs going to market, bicycles travelling without lights and the occasional walker on the road. Now drive this at 70 miles per hour. Oh did I happen to mention the occasional semi-trucks that are broken down and stopped, dead center in the middle of the road? All quite manageable in the bright sunlight of late morning, but absolutely nail biting in the darkness of night.

Tomorrow we will travel north on a highway which Marcel assures me “is far better, have much less traffic”. Then on Friday we will go again, twice the distance that we went on Tuesday. Funny, when I thought about all the things I might be afraid of in Africa, riding in a van was not one of them. It never crossed my mind, and I think it would be safe to say the thought never entered Scott’s head as well. Until last night, after we finished up at late dinner at 10 pm, thinking we had survived the worst of what the Burkina roads had to offer. But on the way back, we were travelling the paved city streets, travelling 55 mph at minimum I would say, when we heard a yell from the front just as the van careened over a large speed bump, landing and continuing on only to hit a second in just a moment’s time.

Let me just say, the back of the van is not the place you want to be at a time such as this. The chickens in back were squawking (yes, they gave us two at the church where we spoke), but it was Scott who had suffered the most trauma. He was bleeding from the wound inflicted when his head met the ceiling, not once but twice. Much debate erupted over whether or not we should take him to “La Clinique”, which we all knew could be a cure worse than the cause.

After closer examination, we decided to take go to a local pharmacy to buy the items we felt would be necessary to properly dress his wound, all the while so keenly aware that this is Africa, and there are millions of little bugs lurking everywhere, just waiting for the chance to enter some poor unsuspecting persons body. A bottle of antiseptic, a roll of gauze and a purchase of antibiotics later, we all poured back into the van, eager to get home and tend to our wounded only to find the vehicle would not start. Did I happen to mention we had expected just a quick stop and were parked in the road?

With Scott clutching tightly to the gauze patch on his head with one hand and holding his headlamp in the other, he walked behind the van as the other men worked to maneuver the vehicle backwards to a spot where they could get it off the road. This in a place where there were no streetlights and no open stores, save for “La Pharmicia”. While Marcel called a mechanic friend to come look at the car, (remember it is almost midnight now) Loren went back into the pharmacy to purchase sterile gloves so he could administer first aide there under the blinking pharmacy sign. We had acquired quite a little audience by this time, had it not been so late I am sure Marcel would have figured out some way to tell those who gathered about Jesus. As it was, the mechanic arrived and Marcel used his car to drive us to our rooms, where we all fell into an exhausted sleep.

Today has been a good day. I am happy to report that Scott’s head looked great this morning and as far as we can tell, he is his normal, chipper self . Today has been a very good day. I am also delighted to tell you that tonight, we are in “the house”. What a difference in perspective two days makes. If you had led me here the first night, I think I would have looked at the place we were staying and wondered how I would survive two weeks there. Now I look around and say, “Thank you Lord, for providing us with such a place.” As Loren says, now he feels like he is home.

So by now you might be asking, “How is that you have come to love this place which has presented you with so many difficulties?” That, my friends is the rest of the story, which will have to wait until tomorrow’s post….. IF I return from the road to Kongoussi.