Take On the Spirit of Wisdom

Senegal 521The beautiful piece of fabric presented to me in the picture has on it the words “Take on the Spirit of Wisdom.” This is the motto for Good News Theological College and Seminary in Ghana. The ELCA has had a relationship with this institution for more than thirty years. Many of the teachers there have been educated through ELCA Scholarships. The words on the fabric symbolize the hope of the faculty and administration as students study and learn to facilitate the proclamation of the gospel. They are to with God’s help, take on the Spirit of Wisdom.

I was on the campus of GNTCS visiting with West Africa Regional Representative Themba Mkhabela, his wife Kwena and their beautiful son. Kwena had just moved to Ghana from South Africa and I wanted to see that she was feeling at home. On this night Kwena and Themba hosted a party for the staff and families of GNTCS to tell them thank you for helping to make their home comfortable and for welcoming them into the community. It was a good three-day visit.

I had just finished an eight-day trip to Senegal visiting Dakar with Anne Langdji another West Africa Regional Representative, where we saw many of the projects that the ELCA supports in Senegal. They include an elementary school, an AIDS and sex education program run by beautiful young women who go out and teach adolescent girls about safe sex practices and how to take care of themselves and a sports program where youth play basketball, table tennis and other sports. We also visited the theological institute where future pastors are being trained. There was one young woman in the current class

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We also attended the church wide assembly of the Lutheran Church in Senegal. This was held some three hours from Dakar in Fatick. I mentioned the one young woman in the theological school because as of yet the Lutheran Church in Senegal does not ordain women. This was one of the major topics of conversation during the assembly. The discussion was led by a Senegalese pastor who graduated from LSTC. He did a fine job of lining out the biblical reasons to ordain women. He cited the story of creation in Genesis and agreed that we are all created in the image of God. His next statement was, “Men were created after the animals, but no one would say that man is inferior to animals.” I thought, “that will preach.” There was no conclusion to their discussion, but they are having the discussion.

From Fatick we traveled north to Linguere. On the way we saw herds of cows and a rare sight a herd of camel. In Linguere we visited the primary health care project and the farm that raises cows for milk production. I was able to see how the milk is pasteurized and how yogurt is produced. I learned tons on this trip.

It has been over two months that I have been in Central and West Africa and I am having an excellent adventure. Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Ghana are no longer unknown places on a map to me. I look forward to visiting Liberia before I return to Chicago. I look forward to all the places that I have yet to visit and all the people I have yet to meet. I look forward to a life that will be very much tied to the continent and countries of Africa. My prayer is that God will enable me to “take on the Spirit of Wisdom” as I learn and grow into this awesome calling.

I am westafricabound.

Time in the BBQ Chapel

“People who love Jesus say that they are in a spiritual relationship with the Son of God who lived, died, and rose from the dead. Such claims may strike many people as odd or even fanatical. . . Still, there is something undeniably appealing about it—the notion of being in a relationship with God. . . We should at least note what the Bible says about those who love Jesus. . .: they are loved back; indeed, they inevitably come to discover that God has loved them first.”                                 (from the introduction to Loving Jesus by Mark Allan Powell)

 It is clear to me that the missionaries that I work with in Central and West Africa love Jesus. Some may even say that because of what they do that this love has caused them to be a slightly off-center. Mind you this is not a negative comment. Wouldn’t you have to be a little beyond the norm to give your life to work and ministry in a place where you are always “the other?” Wouldn’t it have to be for the love of people, for the love of the world or/and for the love of God? That’s what I think anyway.

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So these people who love so deeply needed a time to be reminded of God’s love. They needed a brief retreat.

We arrived on Sunday afternoon to Il Lomba Hotel in Kribi about four hours outside of Yaounde. Seventeen of us piled into three vehicles and made the trek to the beach. The list included: a friend along for the ride, four missionary couples, three single women missionaries, a babysitter, a four-year old, a psychologist from the states, his son and me.. Greg had come the week before to have time to sit and talk with each of the missionaries and to help facilitate this retreat. He had come to see how well they were all coping with their not so typical lives and work.

When we were all settled we walked down to the BBQ Hut, transformed into a chapel, for worship. It was the third Sunday of Lent and we were gathering to hear God’s Word and receive the Eucharist. Deborah and Jackie had planned the service. Deborah led us in prayer and Jackie told us a story of a near accident and the utterance of words praising God. I served the Supper. This worship began our time together of song, prayer and conversation.Kribi Retreat 2013 026

It hadn’t happened in years, but I am glad that this year the missionaries from Cameroon and Central African Republic were given permission and the funds to go on retreat. They had been through a lot in the past few months. Their previous Area Program Director had been elected as bishop of the Rocky Mountain Synod of the ELCA and the position had been vacant for at least five months. Now they had me and I was trying my darndest to figure out my role and to help them in theirs. Susan, Jackie, Joe and Deborah had been evacuated from the Central African Republic on Christmas Eve and had been trying to keep themselves busy in this in-between time. Elisabeth who was studying French in N’Gaoundere, had just had disturbing news about her parents. Solofo and Joely work long hours as doctors in Gaoura Baloui; June and Phil have their hands full working out the logistics for the group and Anne and Willie, well, their position as regional representatives isn’t a piece of cake. With Greg here this was the opportune time to have a little respite.

It was good to have time to get to know one another. Although I was tempted, I resisted having the group do silly icebreakers and instead on the second morning during devotions, I had them singing Negro Spirituals.  The above reading from Mark Allan Powell and the text from the 13th chapter of Luke was used to talk about God tending to us in the crap of life in spite of our ability to produce fruit. It was a reminder that no matter how much, how little, or how badly or greatly we do what we do, God’s love, God’s grace and God’s forgiveness is and will always be a free gift.Kribi Retreat 2013 028

After devotions, Greg Nelson lead us in some exercises. The topic of his workshop was “Identity and Intimacy”.  The missionaries were asked the question, “Who does God say that you are?” It was a time for everyone to think about the resources we were given to help us through the tough things in life. After a morning of work the afternoon was spent gazing at God’s good creation, playing in the water or just relaxing.  The group was able to do a few vacation like things before they got back to the missionary lifestyle that can at times be chaotic.

So it is from this BBQ chapel that I hope refreshment came.  Now it is back to serving and loving a God that we are reminded, loves us first.

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Holding on to God’s love, I am westafricabound.

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