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You know those scary sounds that were coming from underneath our car?  It seems that when I almost slid into that gulley on Sunday,  I knocked part of my transmission loose.  It’s the part that sends the four-wheel drive to my right front tire.  I don’t know the technical terms, but it looked like the ball had come out of a ball & socket joint.  The mechanics couldn’t simply put it back into place because the bearings inside had frozen up.  So, we’re off on our road trip today without four-wheel drive.

But enough of this technical talk.   What does all this mean?  Why did we not slide all the way into that gulley and become hopelessly stuck?  Why did that misplaced road not interfere with our steering and cause and accident?  Why?  Why not?

All I know is that before we left that morning, we prayed.  And we made it home safely and with relative ease, despite the dangers along the way.  Today we plan to drive the length of the country of Togo, from south to north, along a road that is often littered with the rotting corpses of burned out cars, fuel tankers, and vehicles whose over-worked drivers fell asleep at the wheel, or who took that curve around the mountain a little too fast, or whose brakes gave out.  And that’s just the first leg of our journey

And again, we will pray.  Feel free to join us.  And, while you’re at it, you can ask that our visitors, the Hendersons, get to see lots of elephants at the game park.

Here is Jeremy at yesterday’s Easter egg hunt. Marty (with camera), Jeff (right), and Levi look on. (It’s mango season!) Posted by Hello

It’s Monday again and our “day off,” which may actually turn out to be the case today.  We had planned to take the Hendersons to Lome or maybe to a pool somewhere for a little relaxation before we head off for the north tomorrow.  But car problems resulting from our drive to church yesterday have put the car in the shop and we’re stuck at home, at least for the morning.  For me, at least, it is a welcome break.  Maybe I can observe a little of that Sabbath principle that I lamented missing last week.

We drove out yesterday morning to a village called Bagou-kope.  We had been warned that the road was bad and that we might not be able to make it.  There is one place where the road was washed out and there was a big gulley down the middle.  It had rained the night before, so every effort to go around or straddle the gulley led us sliding towards it.  We were able to fill in part of the holes with rocks and get enough traction to go up, off the road, and around the gulley and continue on our way; but not before doing some damage to the underside of the car.  That’s what’s being worked on today.

A little further down the road we stopped and picked up some Christians, who were going the same way we were, to the “cluster worship.”  This is when several churches from the same area get together for worship.  At one point we had 21 people in and on our ten-passenger SUV – 14 inside and 7 on the luggage rack.

Worship was exhilarating but long—about 3 hours—quite a stretch for our twelve year old American visitor.  I preached one of the two sermons, speaking on true friendship, how Jesus laid down his life for his friends, and we show our friendship to Jesus through obedience.  Some of the local children had prepared a program they presented, and we were fed black-eyed peas with spicy oil and ground cassava before we left.  We found an alternate route home, but had to listen to scary noises coming from under the car.

We made it home about 3:00 p.m., and guests started arriving at 4:00 for our team Easter celebration.  We did the Easter egg thing with the kids, my visiting friend, Alan, led the devotional, and then had a team meal featuring lamb and beef roasts that Maureen had prepared.  Mmm, mmm good.

I’d like to share a quote from Chris Wright, whose “life passion is bringing to life the relevance of the Old Testament for Christian mission and ethics.”

Other religions do not save, not because they are inferior as religions in some way, but because religion itself does not save anybody.  God does.  Other religions do not tell the story.  This is also why we cannot accept the substitution of the scriptures of other religions for the Old Testament.”*

*From “Christ and the Mosaic of Pluralisms,” in Global Missiology for the 21st Century, ed. William D. Taylor.  Baker, 2000.

 

Here are Alan Henderson’s impressions of West Africa after less than 48 hours here.

"Eighty-two percent humidity.  Eighty-six degree temperature.  And that’s inside the house! No wonder my body feels a bit droopy!  The warmth of the temperature inside, however, is more than matched by the warmth of the people outside.  Firm handshakes, welcoming smiles, scampering children, friendly greetings in both French and Ewe–all these things combine to make for indelible memories.  Sights, sounds. and smells of the marketplace.  Wood smoke curling skyward.  Goats and sheep wandering through side streets.  Chickens running.  Vendors trading.  I can’t wait to get to heaven when I’ll finally be able to fully understand my Togolese brothers and sisters even as I am fully understood.  But for now I wait patiently, smiling, nodding, and learning as a child in a new and intriguing culture.

"The mix of ancient and future here confounds me.  To see a mother walking down the street in dust-covered sandals, small child securely strapped to her back with colorful cloth, a heavy load of dishpans and firewood on her fabric-wrapped head, supported by one hand, talking on a cell phone with the other.  (Perhaps the strangest disconnect for me has been that Lanita’s American cell phone receives a signal and works here in this remote place…when it often can’t receive a signal ten miles from our house in Atlanta!)

"The blending of culture and faith humbles me.  This morning we greeted an old "papa"–Emmanuel–who lives just next door to Anthony and Maureen.  He is sightless, leprous, and physically wasting away–one of those whom Jesus touched and healed while he was here–and yet, before we left, he prayed a prayer of blessing over me and my family. He may be blind, but he is a blessing.  He may be leprous, but he demonstrates Christ’s love.  He may be physically wasting away, but inwardly he is being renewed. 

"Tomorrow we will worship with a local village church.  We anticipate what GOD will teach us there…in worship…as He joins us by His Spirit." 

I hope you have one or two, because they are rare. Those lifelong friends who, when you’re with them, no matter how long you’ve been apart, everything just feels normal. I’ve got a few — not too many — but that’s OK.

Last night, one of those friends arrived here in West Africa. Well, I should say two, because although I’ve known Alan a little longer, I’ve come to have almost the same degree of familiarity with his wife, Lanita.

Lanita was my replacement. Of course, she also filled places I could never fill. Alan and I were roommates in college. We lived off campus in a haunted antebellum mansion for a while, and then upgraded to nicer, but cheaper accomodations. A week after I moved out, Lanita moved in, but only after I had served as best man in their wedding. That was 22 years ago, and we’ve remained good friends ever since. They and Maureen also click, so it makes a great reunion when we’re together. They’ve always been great to extend hospitality to us we’ve visited them in the States, so now it’s our turn to welcome them to our turf.

I know how good, how comfortable, how secure I feel in those kinds of relationships. Then my mind goes to One who was utterly alone on that dark Friday. Those whom he had befriended deserted him. Even his Father, for one unimaginably desolate moment, forsook him. And he did it for me.

Yet we do not call that day dark Friday, but Good Friday. It was a good day, in spite of its darkness, in a way that only God can transform evil into good. He brought Supreme Good out of supreme evil.

So it makes me reflect again on the nature of good and evil, and marvel at the goodness of God. Evil is not ultimate, but God is. And as I thank Him for the friends I have in Alan and Lanita, my heart is filled with much greater gratitude for the friend I have in Jesus.

Yahoo! News – Schiavo’s Parents Urge Court to Act Soon

I find this case very disturbing. I do not believe in using extraordinary measures to prolong life when there is no reasonable hope of recovery. Several years ago, I helped write a letter asking for a respirator to be removed from a dear friend who had been “brain dead” for over a week. I don’t think I’m an extremist on this issue.

But since when do food and water consitute heroic measures? There seems to be enough doubt as to what Terri Schiavo’s wishes may have been, about her relationship to her husband, about his present commitment to her — as President Bush said, surely it would be better to err on the side of life.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the American Civil Liberties Union has decided that the right to die outweighs the right to life.

At the same time, I know that there is probably no hope for recovery, and I wouldn’t want to be “maintained” for such a long period of time. I would hope that my family could let me go. But since, in this case, they can’t, it would seem that the husband would divorce her (he doesn’t seem to have regarded the marriage vows as sacred to this point, which to me invalidates his right to be the sole decision maker), and let those who wish to continue to care for her do so.

John T. Willis
Today someone told me that Dr. John Willis has started publishing his daily devotionals as a blog, and then I found the link on Mike Cope’s blog.

Dr. Willis is Old Testament professor at ACU; his classes were among my favorites (and toughest) when I was in grad school. I’m excited to find out about this and hope you’ll check it out.

Mondays are our day off – sort of.  This one was a little busier than usual, but not at all atypical.  We were away from home for almost twelve hours, which is quite rare.

It started off with a drive to Lomé, the capital city of Togo.  First stop was to drop our poodle, Salty, off at the vet.  Salty has developed a pretty nasty problem with ticks, so dropped him off to get cleaned up and for his annual vaccinations.  (OK, we were about two and a half years behind.)

Next on my agenda was to get my shocks replaced.  I learned on Friday that one of my front shocks was busted.  But, we couldn’t contact the mechanic right away, so we went on into town to see Mr. Murali, an Indian business man who will give us local currency for our American checks.  In the parking lot of the building where he has his office, I bought two belts – a black and a brown, since my reversible belt is about to fall apart.  I paid $15 for the two– Maureen says it was too much.

Then we made a short drive over to the Togo-Ghana border to meet Kossi, who is the primary translator for the Train & Multiply materials.  He has a house just across the Ghana border, so he met me there to turn in some materials he had translated.  He gave me book no. 54, and I realized that we are inside the “10 more books to go” mark.  This translation project has been going on for over two years now, much longer than I had anticipated.  But the end, at least of the first edition, is in sight!

I tried again without luck to contact my mechanic, so it was off to lunch at Marox’s – a Filipino-owned German restaurant (go figure) that is a Lomé staple.  We ordered “Royal Sauerkraut,” a Spanish Omelet, and fries, and that fed the family.  The boys can subsist on French fries.  While we were waiting for our lunch, Maureen bought vegetables at the outdoor sellers who are set up near the restaurant.  Afterwards, she went across the street to a supermarket to see if they had any affordable breakfast cereals.  Did they ever!  They actually had cereal on sale, so she came out with quite a few boxes.  You learn quickly here that if it’s on sale today, it’ll probably be out of stock tomorrow – and for the next few months.

We had promised the boys to take them swimming, and the Koonces had discovered a private pool we could go to, so we set off there.  In the afternoon, we swam while the mechanic put new shocks on the car.  He had said that he would be finished by 5:00 p.m., but that time was rapidly approaching and he wasn’t finished, and the vet was closing at 5:30.  While Maureen and Jeremy waited at the pool, Jonathan and I took a taxi to the vet to get Salty.

When we got into the taxi, I heard some strange other-worldly chanting coming from the radio.  I assumed that it was the Qur’an being chanted, and I was right.  I asked the driver if he understood what it was saying.  At first he said yes, and quickly added that he was a Muslim.  I asked again if he really understood what it was saying, then he said No, but he just listened to it.  I asked what that did for him, but he didn’t answer.  He may not have known how to answer, or it could have just been a communication problem since we were speaking French.  I just get by in Ewe/Watchi, but I can’t get anywhere in Kotokoli, the people group that he belonged to.  They are the largest predominantly Muslim group in Togo – about 99% Muslim.

I’m pretty new to Muslim evangelism, and I tried to talk to him about how Christians believe that God speaks our language – that his message can be translated into any language and still remain his Word, but that didn’t seem to connect.  I asked why Kotokolis who want to become Christians were so severely persecuted, but he didn’t want to talk about that either.  When I suggested that, because he was no longer living in the traditional area, that he could become a Christian, his only response was, “There are lots of Muslims here, too.”  In other words, he wouldn’t even be free to consider it.  I’m afraid my Muslim encounter didn’t get very far, but I pray that God will work to convert that taxi driver.

We went back the pool and that same taxi driver took us to the mechanic’s vacant lot (alias, garage), where they had just finished working on our car.  After settling the $200+ bill, we left just as the sun was setting.  We made stops at several pharmacies on the way home to try to locate a polio vaccine for our friends, the Hendersons, arrive next week for a visit.  Didn’t find any, but did manage to order some through one pharmacy.  We enjoyed our dinner, some savory pastries we picked up at a bakery, in the car.

Jonathan slept all the way home and went to bed immediately with his clothes on when we got home.  Jeremy went down pretty quickly;  I’m about ready to go, too.

It’s days like this when I should feel guilty for abandoning the Sabbath principle on my day off, but I’m just too tired.

 

This morning after worship, we were given a gift.  That’s a little unusual, but by no means unheard of, in this very relational culture.  Sometimes we’re given gifts of pineapples, papayas, corn, cassava.  Today’s gift was a little different.  It was a broom.

Now this broom didn’t look like any that you would probably recognize.  It consisted of 3 long palm branches with the leaves pulled off on one side, bound together by a leaf used as a rope, so that the remaining leaves all hang on the same side.  It is used for sweeping the dirt courtyards of the homes here in very broad strokes. 

When the little group of twenty or so had finished worship this morning, we said our goodbyes and were getting into our car.  A young woman came up to my wife and said something that we couldn’t understand.  We asked someone else to help us, and though we couldn’t understand her much better, we did figure out that we were to wait because they wanted to give us a broom.  A few seconds later, the young woman came back with the long palm branches that we could only fit on the roof rack of our Toyota Prado. 

Needless to say, I was touched.  I was touched that we would be given a gift for which we have absolutely no use.  I was touched because this young woman could not imagine our home and the wealth in which we live – a home with a grass yard instead of a dirt one.  I was touched because, from her world, she thought of us and gave to us what would be valuable to her.

The phrase, “It’s the thought that counts,” took on a whole new meaning.