24 December 2007

Tabaski and Christmas in Bouake

What has Tabaski and Christmas in common you ask? Nothing really in my opinion. Also the market here and the supermarket in Europe and the US don’t have much in common. It’s only that both holidays are close together this year. Yesterday, I drove through our sheep market. I have never seen so many sheep in one place in my life. Actually it’s a big empty place here in the City of Bouake, where cars drive through easily. Only the last few weeks it’s filled with thousands of sheep.

Wednesday, 19th December, uncountable lots of sheep are going to be sacrificed for the forgiveness of sins, here in Bouake and everywhere in the Muslim world. Tabaski or El-Eid is one of the biggest holidays in Islam. It’s to remember Abraham offering his son Ishmael on the alter and God provided a ram to be used for the sacrifice instead. While few in our surroundings will celebrate Christmas, Jesu’s Birthday, a few days later.

Rom. 6, 10: „The death he died, he died to sin once for all.“ Hebr. 7, 27: „He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” John 1, 29 + 32: When John saw Jesus coming toward him he said: „Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him.“

How are we spending our Christmas season? Rod drove up to Korhogo for two weeks to teach at the Bible school. This week he has a module on Islam. He is coming back to Bouake, Dec. 22nd. Angelika stayed in Bouake to shop in the sheep market. No! She visited Mariam, a friend from church, whose husband converted to Islam, last year. This summer, a rival (a 2nd wife of her husband) moved in with a baby and a two year old girl. The small apartment got pretty tight for Mariam and her 3 children. Not only that. There are lots of problems in the Coulibaly family. Mariam does need a lot of prayer and encouragement out of God’s Word. Today, I visited another young lady from church who just delivered her 3rd child two weeks ago. A few days ago her husband died from an incurable disease. She also needs a lot of prayer and encouragement. Furthermore, I am encouraging Celine, a young girl of 19 years, who will get baptized with about 20 other young people. Celine is the only believer in her Muslim family. On Wednesday, she will help her mom preparing the Tabaski lamb. But Christmas and her baptism a few days later will not be celebrated in her family, not to mention to be noticed. That’s why a few friends of her are going to surprise her and I am going to help them with it.

“Hear the sound of the nations calling? Hear the sound of the fatherless crying? Who will go for us? Who will shout to the corners of the earth that Christ is King?”

(Israel Houghton – „We speak to Nations“©2001 Integrity’s Praise Music)

Wishing you a Merry Christmas
Joyeux Noel
Fröhliche Weihnachten

Rod and Angelika

02 December 2007

Our Three Week Saga

Well it has been 6 weeks since leaving the land of round doorknobs, slow traffic and restaurants on every corner (the US for those who may not have had the “joy” of passing through that country). Since our return to Côte d'Ivoire we have made a trip to Parakou, Benin and part way back. And herein lays a story.

Breakdown – #1
Before leaving for Parakou 3 weeks ago, we had been to Korhogo twice to teach. All of this with a vehicle that was beginning to give us a few minor concerns but which seemed to be holding its own. On our way north through Burkina Faso we had a relatively uneventful trip until we hit the town of Boromo, halfway between Bobo-Dioulasso and Ouagadougou. It was about 17h00 when I noticed a gradual loss of power which very quickly became a total loss of power as the motor stopped all together. Our Toyota Hilux, having about 260.000 km on the odometer, seems to be a candidate for such events as we found out three weeks ago.

After getting towed back to Boromo, where we spent the night in a nice little hotel, we discovered the next morning that we had a faulty fuel pump. That may not sound like much if you are used to gasoline/petrol engines. Toyota engines in Africa are, for the most part, diesel/gasoil. To loose a fuel pump is not good. In the end we were able to get towed to Ouagadougou (over 175 km in the dark) by a crew that decided it would be better to be half drunk before leaving. As we flew down the dark highway with Alfa Blondie blaring into the night, I was thankful that we had had the insight to send Angelika on ahead on the bus that morning to Ouaga.

Replacing steel with Phillystrand:
After spending 2 days in Ouaga, we were able to get back on the road to Parakou on Monday the 12th. We arrived in Parakou without difficulty and spend two full weeks helping with the Trans-World Radio transmitter site doing a variety of things help them out. The main job for which we had come was to help put new guy cables on the tower which was already standing. This was a bit of a challenge as we hauled our poor old broken bones up and down the tower for 3 days attaching new cables to the tower and taking off the old lines. We were replacing steel cable with a product called “Phillystrand” which as we found is much lighter and relatively easy to work with. The re-guying of the tower went without a hitch and we finished well before we had to leave.

We were treated royally while there by South African friends, Garth and Fiona Kennedy, the project leader for the past several years. It was great to spend time with them as well, drinking tea, eating Marmite on bread and sweet chutneys on meat and other such things folks in South Africa do. I take my hat off to folks like the Kennedy’s. Although Garth could be a general contractor anywhere in the world and Fiona as a doctor could be raking in the cash at a hospital, they have chosen to spend several years in less than agreeable conditions, fighting malaria, typhoid fevers and the like, to serve in the installation of this transmitter site which will bring Christian programming back to the more remote areas of West Africa. Through this medium wave transmitter TWR along with SIM will be able to impact areas that until recently have had little or no Christian influence. It is also our hope that their presence in West Africa will be a big help to smaller stations like Radio Sinaï of Korhogo where we have been involved.

An amazing part of this part of the story is that when we arrived in Parakou the container with the Phillystrand had just cleared the port in Cotonou but it was still in Cotonou, half a day’s drive from Parakou. The container had been loaded on the train at the beginning of the week but it only arrived in Parakou the Sunday the 18th giving us just enough time to unpack and install the Phillystrand before having to leave.

It seems that God had those details all worked out. It also allowed us a little time to get to know the other engineers, Paul Cox (the new project leader) and Chuck (both with TWR) who have also contributed much of their time as well as Lazare, Souleymanne, Etienne, and some of the other guys from Benin helping with the project. It was an interesting 2 weeks during which time I learned a lot and gained an appreciation for what TWR and other Christian broadcasters are trying to do around the world.

Breakdown – #2
So it was with our useful contribution having come to an end, we asked for the road last Saturday and began our long return trip to Côte d'Ivoire. We made it to Ouaga without difficulty and the following day (Sunday) we began the last leg of our journey home. At 200 km out having just passed through Boromo, (this happens to be the very same town in which our fuel pump gave up the ghost!) I heard a noise which sounded ever so familiar. As soon as I heard it I knew that the crankshaft had broken. Looking at the engine we could see the fan belt pulley on the crankshaft wobble as we ran the engine. I knew that we were in trouble again. After making calls to Bobo-Dioulasso and Ouaga, we decided that it would be best to haul the truck back up the road to Ouaga where parts are more readily available.

Following several hours of dickering over a hauling price, we began the long road back to Ouagadougou about 3 meters behind a truck going at about 60 km/hr without brake lights to tell me when he was about to brake. As we were once again flying down the road behind this truck around which we could see nothing, trying to stay just behind him hoping that he wouldn’t swerve too quickly to avoid something we could not see and standing on the brake any time it felt as though he was about to slow down, I said to Angelika, “This is more exciting than a tandem skydive!” And I meant it when I said it. By the time we arrived at the garage we were nearly black from the poorly adjusted diesel motor of our tow truck. We would rather not think about what we were breathing.

The next morning after spending yet another night at the Nehlsen’s (director for Christian & Missionary Alliance of Burkina Faso, and an old classmate and colleague of mine) I went down to the garage to find my fears confirmed, the second broken crankshaft in less than four months. Needless to say I am less than impressed with our mechanic in Bouaké who assured me the last time that the crankshaft that he replaced was the correct one. So it is here when one does not have the time to do his own work. You only get what you get. This time we took the time to work through the replacement parts and match its numbers with those of the engine block. Of course I am still sitting here in Ouagadougou waiting to hear if the parts that we purchased are indeed the parts that will work.

How I really see it:
Now you may be thinking that this is a long string of bad luck which you would wish on no one. The fact of the matter is that we have been able to spend time with Steve and Amy Nehlsen that we would never have had had it not been for these breakdowns. We have been able to share our lives and our faith with our good friend Safiou who is still a Muslim after all these years. Although he is not practicing he has not to date been willing to follow Christ. While in Boromo I had several occasions to share with a young man who is involved in beekeeping and to encourage him and share ideas about how to modernize wisely. Boromo is also a town where one can at times see elephants in the vicinity which also makes it an interesting place to visit.

On our next visit we will find many good friends who have helped us in one way or another. The old man who loaned us his truck to haul us into Ouaga turns out to have lived for some time in Bouaké and knows several people with whom I am acquainted. All in all, our breakdowns, although we wish they had not happened, we can see how God just wanted us to spend a little more time in Boromo and in Ouaga than we had planned. We would like to be home just now but we are here and it would appear that it is the right place to be at this point. It has also allowed me the time to sit down and write down some of the stuff that has been going on just now. I guess that God really does know what he is doing. One last benefit of these difficulties is that we are looking at purchasing another vehicle in the near future so you can count on it, you will be hearing from this corner again!

I have been looking into another way to get to Bobo-Dioulasso and on to Côte d'Ivoire without having to pass through Boromo again! Of course, now that I have paid my dues the Boromo road spirits should be appeased and let us pass without any more trouble. With my luck though, I am probably going to be hit by and elephant!

10 October 2007

We Bought the Farm!

Truth is a House!

For the first time in my life I am in dept up to my ears. Today Angelika and I signed a contract to purchase a house from my folks. With Thomas Moore, the lawyer hired to write up the contract as well as both mom and dad, we sat and read through the document which states that I am indebted to them until the house is paid for. This is a big step for the two of us who live in a cash society in Africa where this sort of a set-up is unheard of. The house that we purchased can be seen on Google if you do a search for: 163 NE Lincoln Ct. Hillsboro, OR 97124.

The second big step we took was to rent it out to a couple who has just returned to Oregon after a brief foray of two months to California. They were glad to find a place within their price range and such a nice place at that and we are thrilled to have renters from the first day that this house became our responsibility.

So it is that today we signed two contracts and have moved from being among those who mark on their tax returns that they own no home in the USA to those who mark that they do. We find ourselves among those who make regular contributions to the city and county for the better operation of things such as utilities, city centers, parks and office buildings. Who knows, maybe we are paying for stuff now that actually benefits us and those around us!

We Lost Some Friends

On the sad note, many of you may have heard the sad news concerning the crash of the Grand Caravan near White Pass, Washington at the beginning of this week. It was carrying 9 skydivers back to Shelton, Washington following the Caravan Boogie Star Skydiving Center of Star, Idaho. There were ten on board and as of yesterday searchers had found all of the victims of this tragic crash.

Knowing skydivers and having met some of these guys it is hard to imagine such a full loss. According to the reports that I have read, some authorities are asking if icing may not have been the cause of this crash. I would ask that you be in prayer for the families of these skydivers and the pilot. I know personally the owners of the plane and I have jumped with several of those who lost their lives in this accident. To loose so many in one accident of course has huge implications for their home drop zone in Snohomish, Washington. It will also impact the future operations of Kapowsin Air Sports in Shelton, Washington, the drop zone where this plane was based.

Planes are often rented from one DZ to another such as Farrington’s plane had been that weekend to the Star, Idaho for the “Caravan Boogie”. Unfortunately for the team from Snohomish and their families this accident ended the dreams and hopes of many at one time. Pray that those who are left would find their hope in God in the days and months to come. There are very few skydivers in my experience who would say that they are believers or followers of Jesus, which is just one more reason to pray for their families and friends. As one of the brothers of one of the guys lost in the accident said, “Skydivers form a tight bond with each other.” This tragedy is bound to have a significant impact on the entire family. My prayer is that it would cause many to ask what the purpose of life is, even when it is cut short as it has been for these great skydivers. As we say in skydiver, “All the best and Blue Skies!”

Some News Links:
Seattle Times Article
Victim Profiles

05 October 2007

Wilderness Wanderings

It has now been 3 and ½ months since we set foot on this nation’s soil and it would seem that it is now time to get out of here. It has been an interesting few months filled with visits, phone calls, meetings, trips, fuel stations, restaurants, rain storms and sunny days. We have put over 5000 miles on our little Nissan Sentra and it is still rolling. We have hiked into some of the most beautiful county in God’s creation both in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness area in southern Oregon and in the Sister’s Wilderness area of Central Oregon. We were able to taste some of the best huckleberries in the world (the ones just picked off of the bush which don’t make it to the can) and enjoy the sound of the forest away from the highways and mechanized world we live in.

I don’t think one can beat the feeling of getting up in the early morning in the mountains, starting the fire while brewing coffee and watching the valley floor stir to life as the sun creeps up over the eastern trees and hills. It’s at moments like these that one is reminded that we serve an awesome God who has given us so much. It also forces one to reflect on the responsibility that we must have before God for the way in which we treat this creation. I don’t suppose that there are many other spots in the world where one gets such a profound sense of how great this world we live in really is. My guess is that if we were to live in Michigan, Georgia or some flat place like that, we would have a harder time coming to such conclusions.

Besides having been profoundly impressed and blown away by douglas firs, hemlocks, sugar pines, mountain lakes, springs and mossy glades, I have also found several books very interesting in the past few months. The one that topped my list for interesting recently has been The Starfish and the Spider – the Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom. The basic idea is that, “If you cut off a spider’s head, it dies; but if you cut off a starfish’s leg, it grows a new one, and that leg can grow into an entirely new starfish. Traditional top-down organizations are like spiders, but starfish organizations are changing the face of business and the world.”

They go one to describe seven principles of decentralization in the first half of the book before trying to give meaning to the legs of a decentralized organization in the following section. They finish by pointing out that hybrid organizations might do better in situations where there is still need for a central clearing house approach to business, such as your bank or a flight program. One of the things that struck me in particular is the principle that a “starfish” organization finds its raison d’être in its ideology rather than in a strong leader at the top with a clear “vision”, such as it is, as with a spider organization. Wow! That has some serious ramifications. You gotta read the book!

Another book that I have been reading is Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse – How Societies choose to Fail or Succeed. Perhaps that is why I have been thinking about the beauty of Oregon so much recently. According to his tell (and one does need to take him with a grain of salt) we are not all that far from what could be the end of western societies as we have come to know them in recent history. Of course much of his discussion is centered around our use or poor use of natural resources that we have and the huge conflicts of interests that are played out in a single valley of the United States which are amplified a million times in other parts of the world with far more dyer consequences. He does a good job of pulling one’s head up and making one ask how he could be more conscientious in the use of the resources at his disposal. Of course as I read this stuff from the perspective of life in Africa it certainly has other implications that the average American may not pick-up on simply because the impact of global warming may not be as severe. That is not to say that there may not be implications but all indications are that the tropical parts of this world may be affected far more severely by global warming.

I have found it disturbing that more Christians do not give this issue much thought. It seems that global warming has become a “liberal” discussion point which simply means that we who follow Christ need not be concerned. I am concerned that the “labeling” of an issue like this has taken so many good thinking people out of the discussion. I guess I would hope that more of us would find the strength and courage to begin thinking about a more sustainable industrialized world. Walking the forest paths of Oregon, running down streams and swimming in pristine mountain lakes has moved me with a sense of our responsibility to take better care of this place.

Now before you write me off altogether, let me end these ramblings by making mention of another idea that has recently caught my fancy. I have been impressed by some of the articles one can find online concerning “missio dei” or the sending of God/mission of God. There is an excellent summary of this concept found on Wikipedia which I recommend. Mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God.

“It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church. There is church because there is mission, not vice versa. The Church must not think its role is identical to the missio Dei; the Church is participating in the mission of God. The church's mission is a subset of a larger whole mission. That is, it is part of God's mission to the world and not the entirety of God's work in the world.”

“Our mission has not life of its own: only in the hands of the sending God can it truly be called mission. Not least since the missionary initiative comes from God alone … Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is church because there is mission, not vice versa. To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love.”

Try wrapping your mind around that idea just a little. It has huge implications for us today. The reasons for the church’s existence have become fairly convoluted as the church and church organizations become more organized. This of course leads to a top down spider looking organism which no longer finds its life in an ideology but in its leader. When its leader falls the organization takes a hit and at times it is fatal. There is a foundational readjustment needed within the church to make the mission of God our raison d’être. This fundamental readjustment can make the difference between life or death of any given church. For too many years we have fought about the color of our floors, the songs that we sing, the clothes that we wear rather than the real reason that we get together in the first place.

23 June 2007

The Wild and Crazy Month of May

The month of May came and went in a whirlwind which left me spinning. By the end of the month I had made three trips to Abidjan (5 hrs away), I had said goodbye to Angelika (as she flew off to Germany) and I had welcomed the 15th installment of the French LICORNE peacekeeping forces to our campus. Of course within the same month I tried to bring a close to a year of teaching at IBB (Bethel Bible Institute) in Korhogo (2,5 hrs away) and with the help of a great team from the US, put the roof on a church in the village of Dagba (at least 2 hrs away from Korhogo). All of that and I had papers to grade, packing to do, exams to write, and meetings to be at. In the end all got done or happened as it were and I find myself in Germany where I finally caught-up with Angelika!

One of the interesting things of note that happened the 3rd of June which in retrospect should have taken place at least 4 years ago, was a match between Côte d'Ivoire and Madagascar in the run off to the CAN (Africa Nations Cup) which took place in Bouaké. Our star player Didier Drogba was there along with the rest of the national team to trounce the Malagasy team 5-0! Of course it was a real celebration as for the first time since the beginning of the war we saw government troops along with the presidential guard sitting along side the former rebels cheering their team on for the win. It was exciting to see many faces in the stands who, since September 2002 have not set foot in Bouaké, there for the first time in five years to cheer on the national team. As one of the government officials said as they were leaving the stadium, “We Ivorians are made for celebration not for fighting, we do much better at dancing than shooting!” That was well said and we are praying that we will find more reasons for celebrating than for shooting.

Of course the roofing of a church is always a big thing in a village like Dagba. We were there for a little less than a week which meant early mornings and late afternoons. We worked solid from about 7h00 until 18h30 each evening. The team that came was composed of college guys all of which are in the middle of paying for school and looking for how to finish out their college years without too much dept. Not only did these guys raise the roof and the necessary funds for traveling to Côte d'Ivoire, but they also raised enough to roof the church again this year. That means that they raised $6000 extra each year to bring with them for roofing churches. Wow! And it was simply our job to welcome them and do a little organization and everything else happened just like that. Our national crew led by Nicodème was fantastic and they worked also like dogs to get the job done and safely. Our crane worked again lifting each truss without drop any on anyone which is always a good thing!

At the same time last month while I was with the crew in Dagba, Angelika was working with a couple of girls who had come to work with orphans. They had a great time painting and spending time with kids who otherwise have few distractions. Two American girls where an amazing distraction for them and we hope that through their time that the orphans were impacted with the love of Christ but also that the girls were impacted with the needs of kids in Africa.

All in all, I think that next year I am going to try to skip the month of May. Oh yea, I got a year older in May as well, another good reason to skip it next year!

02 January 2007

Bonne Année 2007 !

As 2007 begins I thought that it would be reasonable that I write down a few reflections and notions concerning the year gone by and this year coming. First thing on my mind is to thank God that my father is now home and doing quite well for a 72 year old man who has been sliced open twice in the past 6 months by doctors trying to get him to feeling better. We have spoken several times on the phone with both him and my mother and it is good to hear they are doing well.

One big surprise over the holidays this year was to hear that my sister Carmel (Debbie), her husband Victor and their family flew back to the US for an early home assignment due to the failing health of Victor’s father. We were glad to hear that their field permitted an early departure due to family concerns. We are also glad for my folks who must be tickled pink to have more grand kids than expected at this time of year.

As for things in Côte d'Ivoire, they continue towards what we all hope will be a peaceful solution to the now, four and a half years of a divided country. As previously mentioned, we are now living under another UN resolution - 1721 which is more of the same and which has many people frustrated due to the constant ambiguity of the language used in calling for change. This resolution also calls for presidential elections this coming year in October, as has been the case for the past two years. In order for this to happen everyone agrees that there needs to be disarmament and a census taken which, will provide for open and fair elections. The rub comes in figuring out how to go about disarming and taking a census so that people can register to vote.

It sounds simple enough although in Côte d'Ivoire turning a rock over can be done a number of ways and with varied results, not to mention such a complicated affair as turning in weapons and getting one’s name on a list so as to be allowed to vote. The real solution is with the politicians who are still discussing from which side we should push to turn over the rock, not to mention how to deal with the results of a turned over rock! It leads one to believe in the end that most politicians must be half stoned any way and if not they probably need a good stoning! At times we wonder if they are even talking about the same rock!

Be that as it may, we have plans for this next year. At the Bouaké campus (former ICA) we are going to go forward as if there is a future. To put that dream in the ground we have an almond tree project under way even as I speak. We have about 70 almond trees in a nursery which we hope to plant in the next few months on campus. We have begun digging holes in which we will begin to put good soil to give our trees a fair chance at becoming mature and productive trees. Knowing very little about almond trees, I am going with the local advice I have been given which is to plant them no closer than 10 meters which leads me to believe that this is a tree of considerable size. Anyone out there who might have experience with the almond tree, please feel free to chime in with any advice you might have.

My major interest in planting almond trees however, is in with the flowers that will provide early foraging for my bees. Yes, we are still going after the bee deal. We have about 25 hives that are producing honey even as I write. I am excited about a project that we are hoping to get underway to provide each of our students at Bethel Bible Institute (IBB) in Korhogo with a hive, a bee hood and a smoker as well as instruction on how to produce quality honey. I am hoping to connect next week with an older man south of Korhogo who has received training in apiculture and who is willing to help us train the Bible school students. He is a believer and is excited about sharing his understanding with future pastors. Beekeeping is the kind of activity that is well adapted to rural village settings in northern Côte d'Ivoire and an activity which does not demand a lot of time and money to initiate and manage. The results are pretty good tasting too.

Of course we will continue our other activities of providing the best French military experience possible while hosting the Licorne Forces. We don’t have a lot to do with the guys staying on campus but we try to be as helpful and welcoming as possible. One of the realities of them being a long ways from family and home during the holidays is an openness which might not be true at other times and in other places. Keep us in mind as we play the role of being their hosts and also the caretakers of the campus which they have occupied while attempting to keep Côte d'Ivoire from degenerating into another Rwanda. I have begun meeting with four soldiers several times a week to help them with their English. We have had some interesting conversations. We hope to have them over soon for a meal where we can exchange on a more informal basis. Of course through all of this it is our hope that they will not only hear of Christ but that they will also see Christ through our lives.

As we enter into 2007 we will hope to continue working with our church in Bouaké and encouraging them to reach out to Muslims. There is and continues to be a certain resistance to sharing with Muslims concerning one’s faith. Many times it is simply because of a fear that in an honest discussion with a Muslim one may become convinced to follow Islam. This happens on occasion and is not an unreasonable concern. But as in so many areas of life, if one doesn’t dare to reach out, to do the unusual but to simply keep the status quo, nothing happens and nobody is challenged and no impact is made. Pray for us that we might be able to bring about change and impact this city through the lives that we touch. We do not want to settle for mediocrity when we serve a God who is anything but mediocre.

I continue to teach two days every two weeks at IBB as well as serving on several committees and boards of training institutions. All of that and the pressures of running the Bouaké campus can at times be overwhelming. Pray that I would find time to “smell the roses” and not get stung by the passing bee!

Continue to pray also for Angelika who is still very involved in women’s ministry through our churches in Bouaké and has numerous contacts with Muslim women in Bouaké. She and Abby Silué, one of the women from our church and good friend of ours, have been working faithfully together to edit Bible stories in Dioula (Jula) and telling them to several Muslim women. Pray for them as they walk the fine line of speaking the truth and not offending the sensibilities of those with whom they are sharing the truth of who God is and what He is like.

So it is that we enter into 2007 with hearts full of praise for the opportunities God places before us. We know that it is no simple thing to walk as Jesus walked but this is our prayer for ourselves as it is our prayer for those of you we know who might have taken the time to read this stuff. Bonne Année ! Que Dieu vous bénisse dans l’année 2007 !