Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Our Juggling Act

We feel a little like circus performers in a juggling act as we try to make the shift from Wycliffe PR mode to Steinborn departure mode while trying to still balance aspects of both over the next couple of weeks. On Monday, I taught a language-learning workshop for new missionaries with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC). This is the fourth time I’ve done this since coming home in 2005, and it’s been a learning experience for me as well as my students. I began by putting together what was initially a 4-5 hour course (a combination of straight teaching and interactive demonstration) based on an effective language-learning technique developed by a guy called Greg Thomson. Then the PAOC asked me to turn the teaching part into an on-line course, and do the practical demonstration part as a one and a half hour workshop. That’s what I did on Monday.

I begin the workshop with a short video about a new radar operator at a German coast guard station (it’s part of an advertisement for a Berlitz language learning program). Just as he sits down, he receives a distress signal: “Mayday, mayday! We are sinking, we are sinking!”

His response? “What are you sinking about?” (German does not have a ‘th’ sound, so German speakers tend to pronounce ‘thinking’ as ‘sinking’ :) Ah, yes, the challenges of learning a foreign language! The wrong sound or wrong tone in the wrong place and disaster awaits!

Because it’s an interactive workshop (I select one or more students who speak other languages to be language teachers, while the rest are language learners) and active (the techniques involve body movements, various actions, and object manipulation), the new missionaries usually have a lot of fun with it. It also tends to make them feel less intimidated by the thought of having to learn a completely new language, especially when they see how easy and do-able it is. I’ve even had veteran missionaries sitting in on the classes come to me afterwards and say, “Boy, I wish we’d known this stuff when we were trying to learn a new language. It would have been soooo much easier!”

Today we visited a lawyer to get our wills updated. Now that we’re empty-nesters, it was time. And it certainly didn’t take very long. One of the benefits of travelling light, I guess :) In fact, we spent more time talking with the lawyer about our work in Burkina and development work in Africa in general than about the details of our wills!

Just got an updated quote on airfare to Burkina. Prices are climbing. We could have had them for $1200 each a month ago with a flight directly out of Toronto to Paris and on to Ouaga. Now we’re looking at $1800 each and a more convoluted flight plan. However, we’ve sent some additional inquiries to see what else is out there. Your prayers would be much appreciated.

Our landlord is beginning to show our townhouse to potential new tenants just as we’re starting to pull stuff out of cupboards and off shelves to beginning sorting, organizing, and packing it. So the challenge will be to keep things to a relatively tidy mess. Speaking of which, I’d better go and help clean things up a bit before they arrive today!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Have You Finished Paying For Your Wife Yet?

After two days of trying, I finally managed to connect with our Kusassi co-worker, Pastor Emmanuel, yesterday afternoon. For some reason, the 10-10 numbers that I usually use didn’t work this time. I ended up dialling Bell direct. Definitely more expensive, but at least I got through.

In the course of our conversation, Pastor Emmanuel told me a story about his younger brother who lives in one of the more remote Kusassi villages. Apparently he had just lost his wife. No, she didn’t die. Her family came and reclaimed her! And this despite the fact that the couple have already been married for two years and have a young child together! How can this be, you ask? Well, in Kusassi culture, men have to pay for their wives. The price is 4 cows, 3 pigs, 1 guinea fowl, and 1 chicken. To give you some idea of how much this is worth, I can tell you that one pig will cost a normal working man a month’s wages. You can just imagine the price of a cow!

In a society where most people just manage to scrape by, paying such a bride-price up front would mean that most young men would be middle-aged by the time they could afford to get married! So for those who are less than affluent, Kusassi society has developed a way around this requirement similar to that used in our own society for purchasing items we’d like to have now, but can’t afford to pay for up front: payment by instalments. Pay two cows, get the girl, and pay off the rest over the next few years. Most young men can’t even afford the two cows, but they can appeal to various older family members (father, older brothers, and uncles) for help with this.

Pastor Emmanuel’s younger brother must have been a sweet talker because he managed to get the girl without even paying the first two cows up front! However, over the past two years, he had not paid anything either, so the family finally got fed up and exercised their cultural rights. When I asked why he had not paid anything, Pastor Emmanuel said that it was because he had several other children to send to school and this was taking all the meagre income he was managing to make. It turns out that this is actually his second wife. For some reason, his first wife left him after giving him three sons, and despite the efforts of both extended families, refused to return and married another man instead.

“Well, since his first wife left him, can’t he ask for the bride-price back from her family and use that to pay for the second wife?” I asked. The purpose of a bride-price is not only to give value to the woman by compensating her family for the loss of her labour, but also to encourage her family to make every effort to help keep the marriage intact. Should the woman walk away, they will be obliged to return the bride-price, something they will go to great lengths to avoid since chances are high that they’ve already spent it for one reason or another.

“Well, no,” replied Pastor Emmanuel. She gave him three sons and each child is worth a cow.”

“But he paid four cows,” I rejoined. “So they at least owe him one back.”

“Yes, but she had several miscarriages. Those count too.”

Okay, so much for that argument. I’ll let you know how things turn out.

By the way, when the Kusassi ask me why we’ve been away so long, I’m thinking I’ll tell them that I had to visit my parents and finish paying for my wife! These are reasons no Kusassi can argue with!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Catching Up & Looking Forward

Coming home from a trip always means spending a whole whack of time catching up on mail, correspondence (e-mail) and finances. Good thing I love this kind of stuff because I sure seem to have a lot of it to do even when we’re not away! While we had access to the Internet most days on this last voyage, we only tended to respond to e-mails that required immediate attention, leaving the rest for when we got back home. Amazing how this stuff piles up!

Because of the particular line of work we’re in, I tend to keep fairly detailed financial records, tracking income and expenses for both personal and ministry purposes. In addition, we have to complete detailed ministry expense reports every month for submission to Wycliffe.

Our passports were waiting for us at the postal outlet when we got home, so we can stroke that task off our prep list. Next we need to apply for visas to Burkina, book medical examinations and immunizations, and look into plane ticket prices again.

Those tickets are going to cost us almost $3000 total through SIAMA, a travel agency in Europe that caters to folks like us in full-time ministry. That’s a really good deal, by the way! SIAMA can bill our Wycliffe ministry expense account directly, but the funds will only be released once we have received permission to leave for the field. Wycliffe can’t give that permission until we have 100% of our support. It’s a bit of a vicious circle, so we’re looking forward to seeing how God is going to work this all out!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Putting Your Feet in the Jordan

We arrived home in Barrie early this evening, having driven from Drummondville this morning. The high point of the day? Having my first Starbucks coffee in over a week in Belleville! The low point? Leaving the francophone area. I really enjoyed being so immersed in French again. I listened to French radio from Montreal as long as I could before we finally drove out of range. Interestingly, you can almost physically feel the change in culture when you cross the provincial boundary into Ontario.

When we were first asked to come and do some presentations in New Brunswick, we weren’t sure we could fit a trip like that into our schedule or budget, especially so close to starting preparations for our return to Burkina. However, it became increasingly clear that this was something God wanted us to do, so we went. And we’re glad we did. Not only did we have opportunities to share about the work of language development, Bible translation, and our ministry with the Kusassi with God’s people out there, but through His people, God also provided what we needed to carry all this out (or will by the time our credit card bill is due! :)

We’ve discovered that sometimes God wants you to stick your foot in the Jordan before He’ll divide the waters for you to move forward. Many Christians prefer to have God divide the waters first! Even many of those in "full-time" ministry like to wait until God has provided all the necessary means before even starting to do anything. Unfortunately, He doesn’t always work that way. In our experience, if the way forward is clear but the means are not yet there, He expects us to move forward and invariably provides the means as we go along. It sounds somewhat stressful, doesn’t it? Sometimes it is :) But it’s always exciting to see God at work!

Our next adventure in living by faith will be our upcoming departure for Burkina. Up until a few days ago, we believed that we were at virtually 100% of our required budget. However, a recent update indicates that we are actually at only 80%. Since the way ahead looks clear to us, we’re putting our feet in the Jordan and making preparations to leave in early September nevertheless. The next month and a half is going to be exciting indeed! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Homeward Bound

It was with some regret that we left our new friends, Allison & David, in New Brunswick on Monday. They were great hosts and we had a wonderful time getting to know them and members of the four francophone Baptist churches in that part of NB. I’m convinced we need to make every effort to recruit this young lady for ministry with Wycliffe! Allison has a real heart for missions, a gift for networking and building relationships, and good connections with the francophone Christian community. We really need people from that community in all levels of ministry in French-speaking West Africa, from prayer and financial support here in Canada to personal involvement overseas in all different kinds of work to help with the language development and Bible translation task. Something to think and pray about, Allison! :)

Our drive from Bathurst north through Campbellton and on to Rimouski was a scenic one, despite the pouring rain we first encountered. After Campbellton, the road followed the course of a winding river with high hills on either side before opening up into farmland as we approached the St. Lawrence River. Then there was so much fog coming in off the St. Lawrence that we felt like we were driving through pea soup in one town. A good reason to stop for a Tim Hortons! And further along the route, we had the best poutine in the entire world at a little roadside fast-food stand where we stopped for lunch. Lots of fries, lots of good gravy, and a whole pile of cheese curds on top! Boy, was it ever good!

We’d planned to try and catch the ferry at Rivière-du-Loup so that we could take the more scenic route along the north shore. But we missed it by half an hour and didn’t want to wait another three hours for the next one. Friends in Quebec City were expecting us for supper. André & Johanne have been good friends since we first met during our French studies in Quebec City in the mid-90s, and are always ready to open their home to us when we pass through their area.

This afternoon, we met someone from Burkina Faso! He and his Quebecois wife are friends of Allison & David, and she arranged for us to connect (see what I mean about her networking skills?). So we stopped in Trois Rivières where he is a church leader and spent a pleasant couple of hours with them. We had a lot to talk about and it was again hard for us to finally ask for the road. We could have talked for another few hours, but Kathy & I wanted to put a few more miles behind us before calling it a day. Otherwise it would be too long a trip to get home tomorrow.

We’d originally considered stopping again in Montreal, but after some consideration (higher motel prices, terrible roads, tons of construction, arrival at rush hour, and the need to spend at least half an hour getting to a place that is really only five minutes away were a few of the determining factors we took into account!) decided to try Drummondville on the south shore instead. We’re glad we did. We found a decent motel at a good price and took advantage of this last opportunity to eat at a Normandin restaurant for supper. They have good food and we can’t spend time in Quebec without eating at least one meal at a Normandin, a Quebecois restaurant chain. They must have liked us too. It took the waitress over 30 minutes to bring our bill and take our credit card to pay for the meal after we’d finished eating. I think she’d have liked us to stay even longer, but Kathy & I had finally run out of things to talk about and were ready to hit the road with or without her!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Hopeless But Not Serious!

One of the first things I did in our French “Welcome to Ouagadougou!” presentation this evening was inform everyone that Africa was a package containing 53 countries! How did I manage to do that? By allowing English to affect my pronunciation of the word “continent”, and thus using the wrong vowel in the middle of the word!

Well, that was just one of a number of goof-ups we made in pronunciation and grammar tonight. Fortunately, our situation is hopeless but not serious. From the feedback we got from people afterwards, it sure seems that God was able to use us to speak to them in spite of our mistakes. This is really His specialty, isn’t it? If we are willing to do what He asks, despite our limitations, He somehow seems to be able to use it to accomplish His will.

All in all, though, we had a great time. We had excellent help in preparations and set up, and in the takedown and clean up afterwards. A number of volunteers played roles as the Passport Canada officer, the Police at the entry to Burkina checkpoint, and as snack & drink vendors. The two guys playing the Police took their roles very seriously, questioning people as to their reasons for entering the country, and even frisking one man for concealed weapons, while detaining another for looking suspicious! Haha, the other people in line loved it! We also some good volunteers to take part in our various skits.

You know, it’s funny that in one of our skits, the “Support Workers” one, we emphasize that language development and Bible translation is the work of a team, not just a couple of individual linguists and translators. I just realized how often this is true of our presentation work here in Canada too! Without all the help from these other people at all stages of the programme, we could never pull it off.

The best part of the presentation was being able to talk with people, young and old, afterwards. It was neat to see how God had piqued their interest, revealed something they had not known or realized before (like how many languages still don’t have the Bible available to them), and or touched their hearts with a desire to know more or find a way to get involved.

Some of the most complimentary comments we received were from the pastor of a francophone Baptist church in Moncton. Originally from Cameroon, he appreciated the way we did not focus on the negative things in Africa. We showed how the Kusassi live without making it sound like they were poor and helpless. We also talked about how we are getting the Kusassi involved in the work we do, and what they are able to do as a result. But his reaction to the vendor and market skits was the best compliment of all: “That’s exactly the way they do it back in Africa! Watching and listening to you, I felt like I was right back at home in Cameroon!”

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Our First French Presentation

We spent much of today going over the material for our French presentation with Allison (who is bilingual), making sure that the French grammar & vocabulary used, especially on the PowerPoint slides, were correct. You know how it is when a pastor is preaching and putting the various points of his message up on PowerPoint, and suddenly you see a spelling or grammatical error? Something like that can be enough to throw you right off track from what he’s saying. And sometimes it's downright painful! (Or maybe it only affects us like that cuz we’re linguists :) Anyway, we figured that our mistakes in spoken French would be distracting enough. No use making people suffer any more than absolutely necessary, right?

Then we practiced the “Preaching Through An Interpreter” skit, with me playing the visiting pastor this time, and Allison playing the interpreter. But rather than doing both parts in English like we do for anglophone audiences, this time only I spoke in English while Allison interpreted (or more often misinterpreted!) what I said into French.

We ended up rewriting some parts of the script completely because many of the funny parts in the English version are based on plays on words that just don’t work when you try to translate them into French. But Allison and some friends came up with other possibilities that worked well in that language. Of course, there’s always the possibility that some of those who hear the skit will not understand all of the English part, but they’ll at least know that something is very wrong with what the interpreter is translating in French! Allison was afraid that after the skit, no one would ever ask her to translate anything into French again! Haha, don’t worry, Allison, I’m sure everyone knows you better than that! And they realize that we probably coerced into doing it :)

All this week, I’ve been asking people to pray that God would give us the spiritual gift of tongues for a few days, and that they would specify French as the language of choice! Well, our French was far from perfect, but most of the fifteen or so people that came from Allison’s church at least laughed at all the funny parts, so I guess we were able to communicate sufficiently clearly for that. But they also laughed at a few parts that weren’t supposed to be funny… Hmmm…

However, they were a great group and we told them that we appreciated them coming out to help us practice our French for an hour or so :) There’s more truth to that than I’m sure they realized because on Saturday evening, we’re doing an entire “Welcome to Ouagadougou!” event in French for a much larger group of people. Another first for us. And it’ll be twice as long as what we did tonight. May God have mercy on those poor people and bless us with an extra measure of that spiritual gift! :P

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Divine Appointment

You’re not going to believe it, but I actually lowered myself to drinking a McDonald’s coffee this morning! Oh how the mighty have fallen! We were in a hurry, grabbed a bite of breakfast at McD’s in Edmundston, and didn’t want to drive several kilometres back to the Tim’s we’d passed on the way there. Nor did I want to take the time to stop at any of the Tim’s we saw further along the route.

But God has a sense of humour. We had to stop for gas before taking an isolated stretch of road on the final leg of the trip to Bathurst. As we drove into the gas station and up to the pump, we saw a sign: “Free Van Houtte coffee with each fill-up.” Kathy smiled at me with a knowing look in her eye, but I said, “No way, I’ve had enough.”

As I was filling up, the video screen on the pump reminded me: “Free Van Houtte coffee with each fill-up.” Being a man of iron self-discipline, I steeled myself against the temptation. After the fill-up, I took a few minutes to wash our bug-spattered windshield. As I finished, however, I realized that I had forgotten to hit the pump button for a receipt and now it was too late. So I went into the station shop to ask for a receipt.

While I was in there, I noticed the coffee stand and smelled the aroma of fresh brewed java. Well, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to simply go over and look at what they had. Turns out they had a regular Columbian roast… and WOW, what is THAT?!!! A vanilla-hazelnut flavoured blend?!!! Hey, I may not be the brightest crayon in the box, but I know a divine appointment when I see one!

Kathy nearly laughed herself sick when I got back in the car. But I just took it in stride, knowing that she’s not as sensitive to these kinds of divine appointments as I am :)

The group that turned out for our presentation at the Four Square Christian Fellowship church tonight in Bathurst wasn’t large, but we had a great time together! Susan, the Missions co-ordinator, had tables and chairs all set up, and arranged for dessert & drinks to be brought. The church had an excellent sound, lighting, and projection system that greatly facilitated our ease of presentation. And the pastor graciously agreed to take part in one of our skits. They were a great group that appeared to take our presentation to heart. We’re praying that God will speak to their hearts about actively getting involved in the task of Bible translation. There’s still so much to be done.

It was cool to finally meet Allison (and her family), who up till now we’ve only known through Facebook. We’ll be staying with them for the next few days. And they’ve given us the best bed in the house (the one in the nice, cool basement) while they suffer in their much hotter bedroom upstairs. Now that’s sacrifice! Thanks, Allison!
We spent over half an hour yesterday morning in Montreal trying to get to a Starbucks that we had located on MapQuest before leaving the motel! Do you think we could get there? Not a chance! We ended up driving around in circles, squares, triangles, and several other geometric shapes before finally giving up in frustration. It didn’t help that we hadn’t yet had a decent cup of coffee that morning!

Before continuing on towards New Brunswick, we were scheduled to drop in on a fellow Wycliffe member living north of Montreal to pick up a French Wycliffe display to pass on to someone else in Quebec City on our return trip. Believe it or not, we even missed the turnoff for her place because we were looking for the street name that was given on the map! It never showed up anywhere on the road signs. I think it’s a conspiracy…

After another unplanned scenic tour of the region (and the visit with our friend), we were looking forward to finally getting on the highway and headed east again. However, to calm our shattered nerves, we decided at this point that we’d better stop and resort to a Tim Hortons coffee before continuing on our way. It wasn’t a Starbucks, but it would have to do.

We made good time, crossing the St. Lawrence River at Quebec City and continuing along the south shore until we hit Rivière-du-Loup. At this point, I had to stop and get another Tim Hortons coffee. The one earlier that day just wasn’t going to see me through! (Well, okay, we needed gas and a chance to stretch our legs too, but that’s beside the point.) We arrived in Edmundston, NB, by suppertime and spent some time calling the different motels in the city to find out which one would be the best deal.

Today we’re headed for Bathurst, NB, where we’ll be staying with David & Allison Fontaine. Allison is the missions co-ordinator for her church, a francophone Baptist one, and is the person who arranged for us to come and do our presentations here. The first one, “An Evening With Wycliffe”, takes place tonight at an anglophone Four Square church in Bathurst. The next one is Thursday evening, a modified “Welcome to Ouagadougou” presentation (in French) for some folks from Allison’s church. And the grand finale is on Saturday, a full “Welcome to Ouagadougou” event (in French) at a Christian family camp for members of four francophone Baptist churches gathering there for the weekend.

Doing all this in French is going to stretch our limits, but it’s going to be fun too :) Please pray that that we would be able to communicate clearly and effectively, and that God would use us to motivate His people here to get involved in bringing His Word to those who are still waiting for it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Managing in Montreal

Yippeeee! I got my Starbucks! It was a few minutes after 7 by the time we got going, but Kathy allowed me a little grace period. We spent most of the day on the road, heading for Montreal. We took the back way around Toronto to avoid rush hour there. Not sure we saved a lot of time, but at least we felt like we were moving!

Kathy did most of the driving. Usually it’s me doing most of the driving, but I spent the time working on our presentations, part of which I did not get done before it was time to leave. Stopped for a very late lunch in Cornwall. I thought I spotted a Starbucks there, but it turned out to be false advertising.

We managed to get to Montreal before rush hour. If you’ve ever driven in Montreal at any time of the day, you’ll know what a zoo it can be. They have some of the roughest roads here that we’ve ever driven on. And construction galore. And lots of one-way streets.

Once we got to our motel room, we got on the Internet to look for someplace to have supper. We found a place nearby that sounded good: Mike’s! Haha, no, I don’t actually own it (not yet, anyway :) It’s a restaurant chain common here in Quebec that we’ve frequented before, kind of a middle of the road place. Anyway, MapQuest told us that it was a mere 5 minutes from our motel. Well, remember the construction and one-way streets I mentioned earlier? By the time we navigated our way through the entire northeast region of Montreal, got lost a few times, and finally found the place, it had taken us over half an hour! We chalked it up to the Lord’s way of saying, “Hey, you’re in Montreal! You might as well take in some of the sights!”

Sure hope we can find our way out of here this morning without taking all day to do it. We’re aiming for Edmundston, NB, tonight.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Getting Ready for New Brunswick

For the first time in a long while, Kathy & I had a weekend without a speaking engagement, a presentation, or an appointment of any kind. Good thing because we needed the time to get ready for our trip to New Brunswick! Packing, housecleaning, translating scripts into French, printing, and making arrangements for cat-feeding and plant-watering were some of the things that required our attention. Thank God for friends and neighbours that are willing to help us out.

Nevertheless, we did take time to go to church this morning. It’s the first time in months that we’ve attended a worship service at Hiway Pentecostal, our partner church in Barrie. Pastor Todd saw me earlier in the week when I came to the church office for something, but when we walked in the church door this morning, he took this very public occasion to exclaim in a loud voice, “Is that Mike Steinborn I see here in church? I don’t believe my eyes! And Kathy too? It’s about time you two decided to come to church again!” Haha, what a comedian! He’s really quite a nice guy when you get to know him, though :)

It’s going to be a late night tonight as I finish translating some of our PowerPoint slides into French, particularly the section dealing with Bible translation challenges. Some of the examples that are illustrative and funny in English don’t work in French at all, so I have to find other ones.

Kathy has informed me that the alarm is going off at 6 a.m. on Monday morning. She also said that if we can get on the road by 7 o’clock, she’ll buy me a Starbucks coffee for the road. Otherwise, forget it buddy! Wow, if that isn’t a great incentive, I don’t know what is! Our contact in New Brunswick, Allison, has told me that there is no Starbucks in the area to which we’ll be going, so this may be the last one I get for over a week. I can do this! Yes I can! I’m sure I can... I think...

Well, I’d better hurry up and finish here. It’s already after midnight and six o’clock is coming.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Passports and Jerk Chicken

I must confess I felt a little annoyed when Kathy nudged me and said, “Okay, it’s our turn.” We were sitting in a Passport Canada office and I had just nicely started into the introduction of a book I’d brought along to read while we waited to be called to the counter.

In the past, we’ve been accustomed to 2-3 hour waits in the Passport office (we go there instead of mailing in the applications because we’re down in Toronto anyway, and it cuts the return time in half). So I decided to bring along something to pass the time at least somewhat profitably. If I’d had some guarantee of being able to have access to an electrical outlet while we waited, I’d have brought my laptop to work on. But since that wasn’t possible, I took a good book instead.

What I hadn’t counted on was how very quickly our turn would come! We had actually chosen the government office in Brampton instead of the one we usually go to in Toronto (North York) in hopes of having less wait time, but this was unbelievable! We’d barely been sitting down for five minutes! However, another ten minutes and a swipe of the credit card later, we were on our way again. Wow! Now that’s service! And from a government office at that!

Some people told us that we should have submitted our applications much earlier. They said that because of the new regulations requiring a passport for entry into the USA, more people were applying than usual and there would be a bigger delay. The lady at the Passport Canada counter disagreed. “Things are moving right along,” she said. “You should have your passports in two weeks max.” Go figure!

To celebrate our success, we decided to go to a small West Indian restaurant nearby for lunch (the Passport Canada lady recommended it). Kathy ordered roti, but I decided I wanted something a little spicier: Jamaican jerk chicken. As we sat at the table in a small room, surrounded by colourfully painted walls and other customers from the West Indies, listening to loud reggae music playing in the background, and watching a Jamaican soap opera on the overhead television, I was almost instantly transported back to Africa. The sights, sounds, and smells of the place reminded me so much of some of the small restos and canteens we’d eaten at in Ghana.

The only things missing were the heat, the humidity, some flies, and a few chicken bones on the floor. Oh well, one step at a time. I’m sure the Lord could have arranged it, but I guess He didn’t want to overwhelm us all at once! We’ll probably get the heat, the humidity, and perhaps even the flies before our departure, but the chicken bones will likely have to wait until we actually get back to Africa. Funny how you can miss stuff like this, eh? But after three winters in Canada and numerous meals at restaurants that are all beginning to look and taste the same, we're ready for something different!

Hope you'll follow us on this blog as we go back to Burkina. It's a whole different world over there and we'll share it with you all as much as we can. So stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Explaining Bible Translation to Non-Christians

Most of the presentations that Kathy & I do are for a variety of Christian groups, anything from entire church congregations to women’s groups, seniors’ groups, prayer & Bible study groups, and even Christian schools. Today, however, we were asked to do a presentation for a non-Christian group. How often does that happen? Pretty rarely, but it does occur from time to time. Most of these opportunities have come from a newspaper write-up we received shortly after we first came back to Canada in the fall of 2005. This time it was for a group of retired and semi-retired business people and professionals called the PROBUS Club. It’s the second time we’ve addressed one of these clubs. I did a presentation at a club in Huntsville about a year and a half ago. The one today was in Bracebridge.

As usual, we took them on an informative and entertaining trip to Burkina Faso and the Kusassi people, introducing them to some of the cross-cultural and linguistic challenges we face there. When it came to talking about the work of Bible translation, however, we took a slightly different tack. Christian groups have no problem understanding the need for this aspect of our ministry. Non-Christians, however, question its validity, often seeing it as religious proselytizing more than anything else.

That’s why we take pains to point out the tremendous power and impact of the spiritual dimension in the lives of people like the Kusassi and other people groups that practice indigenous religions throughout Africa and around the world. They live in constant fear of evil spirits and spend much of their lives trying to appease these spirits and prevent them from harming their families, their crops, their livestock, and more. While this sounds like superstitious nonsense to many North Americans, it is very real to the Kusassi and others. Their fear of the spirits is also the key to much of their lack of development in the areas of health, agriculture, business, etc. Any efforts at community development that do not first address the spiritual issues that hinder improvements are ultimately doomed to failure.

This is where Bible translation comes in. Through God’s Word in their own language, people like the Kusassi can learn that there is someone who created them and loves them, and who is infinitely more powerful than any of the evil spirits they fear. Those who put their trust in God no longer have to spend their lives appeasing the evil spirits and being afraid to try anything new for fear the spirits will be angry. The truth found in God’s Word can set them free. Now that’s Good News indeed! And it’s something that even non-Christians can understand and agree with.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Countdown Has Started

No presentations or speaking engagements this weekend for a change. Instead, we attended our first farewell BBQ. It was held by a small fellowship group in Orillia that we’ve been part of since the last time we were home in Canada. The countdown now feels like it has finally truly begun. Just recently we gave the required two months notice on our townhouse.

Today we got passport photos taken. They were a real deal through our CAA membership: $20 got us two sets of photos each (one set for passports and the other for visas). Since we’ve never needed them for any automobile services, I’m glad we’re at least getting our money’s worth out of the membership in other ways! Now we’ve just got to get the passport forms filled out and sent in.

In the meantime, we’ve got a presentation on Wednesday to get ready for. It’s for the PROBUS Club in up Bracebridge. And I’m still working on the script for our “Welcome to Ouagadougou!” presentation in French in New Brunswick in a couple of weeks.

Thank goodness it was hotter outside today! That’ll help us get acclimatized to Burkina. (Yes, I’m being somewhat facetious :) However, the way we’re sweating in the heat and humidity of our home this evening almost makes us feel like we’re already back in our little place in Ouaga! Whew! Might have to resort to a little A/C tonight.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Making Ends Meet in Burkina

After nearly a week of trying, I was finally able to get through to Pastor Emmanuel in Burkina. Each time we talk, I make arrangements to call him again in about 3 weeks. If we’re unable to connect for one reason or another, the deal is for me to keep calling at the same time on each subsequent day until we succeed. When I finally did succeed this time, Pastor Emmanuel told me that the phones had been out for some time. It’s the rainy season in Burkina, so a storm might have taken down a line or a pole. Of course, it could have been thieves too. A few kilometres of copper wire and a couple of steel poles can provide a quick source of cash for an organized group of ethically challenged entrepreneurs. Don’t laugh! It happens!

Food is becoming expensive in Burkina. The supplies from last year’s meagre harvest are dwindling if not gone for most people, and the new crops are just being planted. Unless you’re a farmer, it’s hard for most of us to imagine the fragility of life tied to the vagaries of weather and soil like this. Pastor Emmanuel’s harvest last year was so pathetic that he and his family ran out of supplies before Christmas. I’ve sent him to Ouaga a couple of times already to get some money from our account at the SIL Centre there so that he could buy food and medicine. It puts us in the red, but we can’t let the man and his family starve.

To his credit, he never complains and probably would never tell us that they’ve run out of food. But I know enough to ask. I asked this time. True to his nature, Pastor Emmanuel said that they still had enough for a little while. I had to press him harder to finally reveal that what they had would barely last two more weeks. The first harvest was still several months away.

I asked how much bags of rice and corn (their staples) cost now. He said that a 50 kg bag of rice (enough to feed his family and potential visitors lunch meals for a month) used to cost 13,000 FCFA (West African francs; 400 FCFA = $1.00). Now it costs 20,000 FCFA ($50). As for corn (the evening meal is made from corn flour), it can’t even be bought by the bag anymore. It’s being sold in smaller units and has comparatively almost doubled in price too.

I told him to go to Ouaga sometime in the next couple of weeks when he got a chance and get some more money from our account. I then sent an e-mail to our finance manager asking him to give Pastor Emmanuel 100,000 FCFA when he came in. That should enable him to buy enough food to last until this year’s harvest starts to come in.

I’m looking forward to the day when people like Pastor Emmanuel and others like him in Burkina can find ways to gain or earn an income that is sufficient to cover their needs. His church is too small and poor to provide much in the way of tithes & offerings. The agriculture and bit of livestock raising that most of them do is such a gamble. The soil is poor, a family can only work so much land by hand, the weather is unpredictable (and certainly uncontrollable), vaccines for animals are expensive, etc, etc. Most families barely manage to scrape by from year to year. Sometimes they don’t even do that.

Right now, I realize that we are God’s provision for Pastor Emmanuel and his family at times like this. So are those of you who contribute funds for them through us. “Before you came along,” Pastor Emmanuel told me one day, “you wouldn’t believe how hard life was for us. We thank God for you and those who support you financially every day. I’d hate to think where we’d be if God hadn’t sent you here.” It's not every day one gets to be part of such a literally life-saving answer to prayer!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Medical Adventures

Well, I missed the fireworks. So did Kathy. She came with me to the hospital because we figured we could leave directly from there. It was a good idea, had it not been for the 4 hours it took to get my second round of intravenous antibiotics: three hours of waiting for a doctor to look at me and a nurse to hook me up, and another hour for the stuff to run through. Sigh.

To be fair, there were some more urgent cases than mine. Three people were brought in by ambulance and wheeled in on stretchers. Others had twisted and possibly broken arms and legs, gasoline burns, a variety of cuts and gashes, and more. I was probably the healthiest sicko there. Thus the wait.

Thanks to Allison for some suggestions of other occasions to see fireworks, like the continuing Festival of Fire at Ontario Place and the upcoming Symphony of Fire at the CNE. That’s what friends are for!

Now I’ve just got a week of oral antibiotics ahead of me. The pills are big enough to choke a horse! When the pharmacist saw them, he said, “Wow, this is powerful stuff! What did you do?” I told him about my friendly, docile little pussycat and he said that he’s seen a lot of cat bites turning nasty, far more than those inflicted by dogs. Great! So next time I’ll make sure I’m bitten by a dog.

Speaking of health issues, Kathy just got a thyroid medication prescription for a total of 1500 pills. The pharmacist looked rather stunned and was sure there had been a mistake until we explained it was enough for the next four years in Africa. The drug isn’t available in Burkina. Nevertheless the pharmacist seemed determined to convince us that we were making a mistake to take so many, telling us that the expiry date was at most a year and a half from now. When Kathy pointed out that it didn’t mean that this particular medication was no longer any good, he admitted she was right, but that it would no longer be at quite the same strength.

The pharmacist continued by asking if we couldn’t get a family member to purchase the medication for Kathy when she needed it in the future. Now there was an idea! How hard would it be to set that up? No problem at all, he insisted. Perfect!

When he stocked shelves at a Barrie grocery store, we called our son The Night Stalker. (stocker/stalker; get it? :) I wonder what we can call him when he goes and buys drugs for us?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

It's Canada Day!

I’ve always been proud to be a Canadian. This is probably a combination of the fact that my parents were immigrants from Europe and all the Remembrance Day related footage I watched on TV as a kid. However, in latter years, my sense of identity as a Canadian has been heightened by living overseas in Burkina Faso. This is probably the case for any person who suddenly finds himself or herself in the minority as a stranger in a strange land. It certainly was for me.

In Burkina, we’re always invited to celebrate Canada Day at the Canadian ambassador’s residence. We receive a specially embossed invitation and go on the appointed evening to enjoy free food and drinks, hobnob with diplomats and government officials as well as fellow Canadians, and hear a speech from the ambassador. Apart from the fact that we hardly know anyone else there and feel a little ill at ease in such company, it’s a great evening! One time, we were even interviewed by a local TV station, with the result that the Burkinabe men & women attending a seminar on our centre in which I was taking part thought that I was an important Canadian diplomat as well as a linguist!

We always look forward to Canada Day celebrations when we return home, especially the first one. It takes on a whole new meaning after several years of absence. I remember one in particular. We’d arrived back in Canada at the end of June and were looking forward to the fireworks display in the town of Bracebridge. It turned out to be one of the coldest firsts of July on record! We absolutely froze our buns off! At first we thought it was just us, having just come from Burkina’s hottest season of the year. But then we saw even local people wrapping themselves up in winter coats, blankets, and sleeping bags! It was a great fireworks display, but we all lost no time in getting on the road home when it was over.

Kathy & I are looking forward to what will be our last Canada Day in Canada for a few years. We’d like to see some nice fireworks one last time and hope to catch the ones here in Barrie this evening. However, I spent the first four hours of this day on a stretcher in the local hospital with an IV running into my arm. Saturday morning, in playing with our cat, I received a deep puncture wound from one of his teeth in my hand. It hurt, but we had a “Welcome to Ouagadougou!” presentation to set up for in Toronto, and I had a lot of stuff to carry for that. This probably did not do my hand any favours.

By the next day it was beginning to turn red and swell, and I was popping Tylenol to help manage the pain. We had a great time putting on the presentation for the members of Lisle Memorial Baptist Church, and they really got into it. However, my hand continued to swell and suffered more trauma as I shook hands with several people and carried out our skits.

By Monday evening, my hand had swollen to nearly twice its normal size and red lines were running up my arm. Kathy convinced me to go to the emergency department immediately. Several hours later, the doctor took one look at it and immediately prescribed an intravenous antibiotic treatment, with another one scheduled for tonight. Hope I can get out in time for us to see the fireworks!