World Water Day

22 03 2006

Today is World Water Day, which was created to raise awareness of the world water crisis . As residents of one of the many sub-Saharan countries which are feeling the brunt of this crisis, Tracey and I are aware of the great need for clean, potable, easily accessible water.

Right now, our region is in the middle of the annual 5-6 month dry season and is not uncommon to see ladies walking well over a kilometer to get water out of a stagnent, muddy water-hole or creek bed. (This water is then used for bathing, washing and even cooking!)

Tracey has been led begin researching how we might be able to bless the Kabiye people with clean water through the digging of wells. We are hoping and praying that we will find a suitable course of action soon. Giving water to a village would be a tremendous life-giving blessing and could open doors for people to hear about the One who gives spiritual thirst-quenching water.

Please join us in praying for direction in this area. Also, if you have any helpful suggestions or leads, feel free to share them. Follow the link provided above and get yourself involved in helping the 1.1 billion of people who don’t have access to safe drinking water.





Jedi Knights

22 03 2006

The boys have been playing Star Wars quite a bit lately. The movies and the Lego Star Wars game we have for the Game Boy are inspiring them to say the least. In the picture, Isaac is using his ‘force push’ power, a la the young Obi Wan Kenobi.

Since their ‘real’ lightsabers (toys which we brought back from the US in 2004) broke awhile ago, anything that is long (like the swim noodle) or has a handle now qualifies. (The sippy cup is just a sippy cup.) Our teammate, Andrea Miller, made the capes.

Graham is Anikan Skywalker and Owen is Yoda.





Let the Madness begin!

16 03 2006

JUST DON’T LET ME HEAR ABOUT IT!

Today, I begin my self-imposed blackout of all NCAA hoops news. Since we don’t get CBS over here in Togo, I won’t be able to watch the NCAA tournament until tapes of the games arrive in a couple of weeks. (Huge props to Chris, Dave and Forrest. You guys get extra stars in your crowns for helping a brother out!)

Nothing beats watching the first few rounds wondering who’s going to make the big shot and having your brackets get shot to pieces by some underdog. We try to keep that feeling (even with a two week tape delay) by shutting out any news about the tourney. So, Tracey will be screening our emails and I won’t be visiting ESPN.com anytime soon.

It is small price to pay to get a little taste of March Madness – even if it is in April or even May!

My Big Ten tourney champion Iowa Hawkeyes aren’t getting any love from the media, but I think they’ve got a great shot to get into the Elite 8 and beyond. They’ve got one of the best defenses in the nation and a bunch of seasoned, hungry seniors who’ve weathered a tough Big Ten schedule. That’s usually a recipe for success in the Big Dance. Getting by West Virginia, Texas and Duke or LSU is a tall order, but you never know…

For what it is worth, here are my Final Four picks:
UConn, Villanova, Texas & Gonzaga

UConn will stop the ‘Horns in the final game and take home the hardware.





Entering the Stronghold

12 03 2006

Ping…thwap…ping…thwap…ping…thwap…

The unfamiliar, rhythmic sound greeted us as we made our way up the hill.

Bali, a Christian from the Ajadaa church, had brought me to his home village in the Kabiye mountains – Tchichao Hazi. He knew there was no church in this village and he’d been encouraging us to look into planting a church there. And so, there we were, hoping to talk to the village chief and get his permission to start teaching God’s Word in Hazi.

Ping…thwap…ping…thwap…ping…thwap…

At the top of the hill we found a large, oddly silent crowd seated in front of a family compound on various large rocks. Standing in the center of the group were two old women.

One was striking a small ax head against a stone. Ping…

The other was hitting a broken piece of gourd with a stick. Thwap…

The chief had told us that we could meet him at this compound. A member of the household had just died and people were meeting there for a wake (of sorts).

“What are they doing?” I asked Bali.
“They are trying to find out why the man died,” he responded.

As we quietly found a rock to sit on, I knew I was about to witness an aspect of Kabiye traditional religion I’d never seen before – a pozitoh or divination. Adding to the ‘ambiance’ were chicken feathers and blood stains from a recent sacrifice (similar to those pictured left) which I spotted on the tree next to where I was seated.

Ping…thwap…ping…thwap…ping…thwap…

A young man stepped up and stood in front of the two women. On top of the man’s head was a covered basket which sat on an inch-thick ring made out of grass rope.

The ladies continued, ping…thwap…ping…thwap. The man didn’t move.

Suddenly, a sharp cry came from behind the compound and a nervous chuckle rippled through the crowd. I looked at Bali with an inquisitive look. “That’s the voyeur,” he said, “the one who can see.”

Ping…thwap…ping…thwap…ping…thwap…

The crowd was getting restless. Another sharp cry and then we saw the voyeur running to where the women and young man were standing.

With a quick blow, he knocked the basket off the man’s head. He then picked up the grass rope ring and began gazing into it as he if could see something in it.

He was swaying to the rhythm of the beat, holding the ring with one hand. With his other hand he was rubbing, sometimes slapping, his head, arms and chest. (Later in the day, as I peppered Bali with questions about the ceremony, I discovered that it was a spirit which gave the voyeur the ability to ‘see’ what had caused the man’s death. The voyeur certainly looked possessed.)

Ping…thwap…ping…thwap… The voyeur called for the father of the deceased and an old man went and stood before him. Ping…thwap…ping…thwap…

The voyeur and father then began a sing-song exchange in time with the rhythm. Ping…thwap…ping…thwap…

“Father?” asked the voyeur.
“Yes?” the old man responded.
“Father.”
“Yes?”
“A death.”
“A death?”
“A death.”
“Why a death?”
“Father.”
“Why a death?
“I will tell you.”
“Tell me what?”
“A woman.”
“A woman?”
“Yes, a woman.”
“What woman…”

Ping…thwap…ping…thwap… On they went, questioning, answering, repeating each other until the voyeur abruptly threw the ring down and ran off. The women stopped the playing the rhythm.

The crowd relaxed a bit and small, quiet conversations began to start up. I had been able to follow much of the conversation, but I still asked Bali to tell me what the voyeur had said.

Apparently, there had been strife between a woman in this village and the man who died. According to the voyeur, she was the one who caused him to become sick and die. The man’s father had asked who the woman was, but the voyeur said he didn’t know her name and since she wasn’t in the crowd, he couldn’t point her out.

“It’s not over though,” Bali said. “There is another voyeur.”

The ceremony was repeated a second time. Ping…thwap…ping…thwap…

The women playing, the young man holding the basket and, of course, the voyeur were different; but everything else was the same. Ping…thwap…ping…thwap…

The second voyeur, however, did not reveal much more. Only that the woman was a member of the dead man’s extended family (which for most Kabiye, is quite large.)

After the second voyeur left, the chief and the other old men who had witnessed everything gather together to decide/decipher the word that had been given by the voyeurs. Once everything was decided, a large group of grieving women began singing a sad, wailing song and moved into the compound.

Bali and I were able to greet the chief shortly after all of this had finished. As soon as the chief had heard our request, he called everyone who was still lingering around outside the compound to gather around us and to listen to what we had to say.

I kept my words brief and focused on the truth that God did not create the world for pain, suffering and death. Sin had brought all of that about. But, by his great love and mercy, God has provided a way for us to have victory over sin and death through belief in Jesus Christ. I told the crowd that this was the Word we wanted to teach in their village.

They had a few questions and then thanked us for coming. An older man stated that they needed some time to consider our offer to teach them God’s Word. Most everyone else agreed, so they asked us to come back in about a week (Sun. Mar. 19th) and they would give us a reply.

I left Hazi with a mixture of disappointment (that we hadn’t been fully accepted), wonder (at what I had witnessed), sadness (for the lost souls of that village), excitement (at the potential for what God could do there) and resolve (to pray and fight for the hearts of these people) in my heart.

The scripture quoted on the banner of our team’s e-newsletter, Acts 26:17-18, was on my mind. “I am sending you to them to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan to God.” Never has that verse spoken more truth to me.

I left Hazi knowing that the only way we are going to be able to plant a church in the Kabiye mountains is through more prayer and perseverance than we’ve ever used before.

The mountain region is the heart of Kabiyeland. It is the familial, cultural and religious home of the Kabiye people. For instance, ask any Kabiye person where their home is, and they will give you the name of one of the 7 main Kabiye mountain villages; even if they actually live in a village 50 miles away. (Bali is no exception.)

Also, whenever the time arrives for major Kabiye ceremonies to be performed, there is a mass exodus to the mountains. Funerals, male & female initiations, harvest festivals, etc., everyone goes ‘home’ for these important events.

Because the mountain villages are so important to the Kabiye, we have always recognized the great need for churches to be planted in this area.

Unfortunately, this same area is the most unreceptive to the Gospel as the majority of the Kabiye living there are deeply rooted in ancestral and spirit worship. Whereas fetishes and idols (like the one pictured at the beginning of this post) are less prevalent and/or visible in the ‘remote’ villages in the plains, they are displayed prominently in virtually every mountain village household. More often than not, they are covered with fresh blood stains and feathers from a recent sacrifice.

Our efforts to evangelize in the mountains over the past few years have failed. Whether through flat rejection of the Gospel or a lukewarm faith which quickly became cold, the Word has not been accepted where we’ve tried to sow it. The mountain area is very rocky ground, literally and figuratively (see the parable of the sower in Mark 4).

Still, we – the missionaries and leaders of the Kabiye churches — believe that now is the time for us to enter this stronghold area. Hazi has great potential to be a point of entry. (The fact that the village chief, who is ‘responsible’ for many of the spirits in the area, did not flat out reject us, is very promising.)

Please pray for the village of Hazi.

Pray for the hearts and minds of the people there to be opened.

Pray that the Lord will direct us to men and women of peace in that village (Luke 10:6).

Pray that the Kingdom can be established in some faithful hearts.

Pray that this particular battle can be won and Jesus will quickly win victory in the war for the hearts of the Kabiye living in the mountains.

Pray that we will be bold, truthful, loving witnesses to the Gospel.

Pray that Bali will be able to reflect our Lord’s glory upon the people in his hometown (including his parents), encouraging them to follow his footsteps of faith.

Pray!

Pray!

Pray!





Happy Birthday Graham!

9 03 2006

On March 1st, Graham turned 6! He is growing (and growing and growing) so fast. We are very proud to call him our son and are excited for what this next year has in store for him.

 

Okay, so I’m a bit late on the post. I could list the excuses, but they don’t really matter. Still, Graham is having a strangely extended birthday this year. It started with a party in Accra with his team friends Feb. 25th, before the Neals’ departure to the US (pictured above). The kids had fun playing games, eating a Mickey Mouse cake with ice cream and giving some gifts to the birthday boy.

 

We were driving home on G’s actually birthday, so nothing special there. But the next day, Mar. 2nd, Tracey made him another cake (left) and he got to open more presents! Not a bad deal.


The cool (and sometimes frustrating) thing about all of this is that there are even more presents from family on the way. Just today, Graham received a birthday package in the mail. Hopefully that will hold him over until next week when our gift to him, a remote control 4×4 truck, will be arriving. (I know I’m having a hard time waiting!)

Happy Birthday(s) G! We love you!