You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2005.

Yesterday we hosted a holiday meal for some of our friends here in Tabligbo—our houseworker Emily, our guard George and his family, and the elders at Tabligbo and those of their families who could attend. Emily is single, but she is raising her orphaned nephew, David. For me, the best part of the day was Jeremy’s prayer last night, when he thanked God that he had found a new friend, David.


Papa Antoine and Jacques

Emily and David

Everyone Together

George and Family
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Our family skit

Team on Christmas Day

Here are a couple of photos from our team Christmas gathering that I talked about in an earlier post.

We always knew malaria was tricky, now we know why!

“It’s like a leopard being able to change its spots.” –Dr Alan Cowman

Read the BBC article.

“What God asks of us is a will which is no longer divided between him and any creature.  It is a will pliant in his hands which neither seeks nor rejects anything, which wants without reserve whatever he wants, and which never wants under any pretext anything which he does not want.”

“What folly to fear to be too entirely God’s!  It is to fear to be too happy.  It is to fear to love God’s will in all things.  It is to fear to have too much courage in the crosses which are inevitable, too much comfort in God’s love, and too much detachment from the passions which make us miserable.”

“How dangerous it is for our salvation, how unworthy of God and of ourselves, how pernicious even for the peace of our hearts, to want always to stay where we are!”

“All is not too much for God.”

–François Fénelon (1651-1715)

Happy Boxing Day, everyone!  (I always liked the way the British have of squeezing another holiday out of Christmas.)

Yesterday afternoon at 4:00, we headed over to our teammates the Koonces for our team Christmas party.  Louise is a great decorator and had spread a beautiful Christmas table (actually, several tables; there were 21 of us).  Our first order of business was the Christmas follies where each family was charged with entertaining the crowd in some way. These skits were performed on a stage—complete with curtains—set up next to the Koonces’ jungle gym. The Crowsons had come up with a “Guess-and-sing-that-Christmas-carol Pictionary-style game that was lots of fun (even though my team lost).  The Hollands & Sextons did a funny old West adaptation of the nativity story, while the Koonces entertained us with a Togolese version of the 12 Days of Christmas.  Trevor was really cute as “a bat in a mango tree.”  Not having an original bone in our collective bodies, our family performed a nativity skit from a Willow Creek production, Long Story Short. We discovered that the boys, especially Jonathan, are much better at remembering their lines than the old folks.

Following the obligatory team photo, it was back inside for food, glorious food.  The cooks on our team really put on the dog—I  should say, put on the turkey (that was actually moist!), dressing, cranberry sauce, potatoes au gratin, Mexican corn casserole, green bean casserole – pretty much the same things most of you ate.  Louise broke out some precious Millstone hazelnut coffee that  went great with the desserts.

Gift exchange was as chaotic as a it should be in a big family.  We all made out pretty well and enjoyed sharing with each other.

Of course, we were exhausted by the time we got home.  Today we are taking Stacey and Shannon down to the beach.  We plan to stay one night, while they will stay on until Thursday.  We’re trying out a new place that looks pretty nice, and the price is right.  Their full-color brochure advertises in English, “Come into your air-conditioned room, turn on the television, and you’re all set for a good night’s sleep!”

Hope your Christmas and Boxing Day are as much fun as ours!

 

We’re almost halfway through Christmas day in Togo, while most of you who will eventually read this haven’t roused yourselves from your visions of suger plums quite yet.

Saturday is our night to feed our school teachers.  We get to enjoy their company and they get to save on groceries!  Jenna is visiting her mom in France, and Stacey’s sister Shannon is visiting her here, so we had Stacey and Shannon over last night.   We had finger foods for our Christmas Eve – mini-pizzas, miniature BBQ pork chops (they were miniature because they came from a local pig who was still squealing yesterday morning), fried rice, Indonesian satay (beef kebobs and peanut sauce)—you get the picture, all the traditional Christmas fare.

Speaking of getting the picture, it will be a while before you get any of our Christmas pictures this year.  A certain 4-year old dropped our digital camera yesterday and now all we have is a “lens error” message on the screen.  Thankfully, I bought an extended warranty, so I hope we’re covered.  Since this happened on a holiday weekend, so it may be Tuesday or so before I’m able to find out—then we’ll have to send the camera back—who knows when we’ll see it again?  I’ve taken a few photos with our old film camera and will scan a few once we develop them.

In the meantime, still speaking of photos, I’ve opened a new photo page on Flickr.  Click here or under “Links” in the side bar.  I’ve posted a few old ones and I’ll go through my archives to try to find a few more old favorites.

To my eyes, it was a little bare under our Christmas tree this year, but you wouldn’t have guessed it by the boys’ reactions to what Santa brought them.  Jeremy had been asking for a Game Boy SP, which I happened to pick up in the States back in July.  Just a few weeks ago, in his letter to Santa, he asked for a “Sonic” game for the Game Boy.  I had no idea what that was, but found it on the Internet and Shannon was able to bring it.  When he opened his presents, a literal tear came to his eye.  As we talked about it later, he said, “I was so happy, I didn’t know what to say.”  Jeremy speechless.  Now that’s a Christmas miracle.

We watched another miracle last night—Miracle on 34th Street, the original version.  With our DVD player out, it was probably quite comical to see four of us crowded around the laptop.  I had forgotten how good the movie is.  I was impressed with how well this secular Christmas story communicates an important part of the Christian message—that transforming power lies in the “intangibles”—in faith, hope, and love—and not in worldly power structures.  And that we have to keep believing this, even when “common sense” tells us otherwise.

After Santa and breakfast this morning, we went to church here in Tabligbo.  The church has been discussing its worship times, so I asked the elders on Tuesday what time they would be meeting today.  I was told 9:00.  We arrived only a few minutes late, just as they were taking the collection, which is seldom the first “act of worship.”  I soon discovered that they had changed the time to 8:00 a.m.  We only continued for another forty-five minutes or so, so the boys were thrilled with the short service.  They asked me to come back and speak next week, when they’ll meet at 7:00 a.m.  But, they told me, that’s 7:00 African time, so come at 8:00 pepepe.

Well, Christmas day is only half over, I’d better get away from the computer and enjoy it with my kids.

Yesterday morning I went out for a little exercise. As I took my first deep breath, my olfactory nerves immediately said, “Christmas.”

What they had picked up on was the heavy presence of dust in the air—dust that had blown in with the cool, northern winds that arrive this time of year, known as the harmattan. Maureen has done a lot of baking and has decorated the house beautifully, but it was the dusty smell of harmattan that told me, “Christmas is here!”

My teammate Jeff Holland forwarded me this article on Christmas in Asia. Of course, the comments on Singapore interested us. I’ve never seen a display of Christmas lights in America that can compete with the Orchard Road shopping district in Singapore. But most puzzling was the question the article brought to mind—“If Muslims in Indonesia can wish one another “Merry Christmas,” why do retailers in America have a problem with it?” On the other hand, maybe we are better off if those for whom the phrase has been emptied of it’s true meaning, do just stop saying it.

For those of you who didn’t get our mass e-mailout, here’s our family’s annual year-in-review:

Dear friends,

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you! It’s once again time for our annual update. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how the years keep getting shorter and shorter?

Early in the year, we celebrated Chinese New Year with our teammates here in Tabligbo. Anthony participated in the annual Watchi men’s meeting, spending three nights in Sedome.

In March, we were blessed with a visit from Alan and Lanita Henderson with their sons Levi and Josiah. Alan was Anthony’s roommate back in their college days at Lipscomb and has been a great friend ever since.

We all worshiped on Easter Sunday with the Adangbe cluster of churches in the isolated village of Bagoukope. The road to the village took out our vehicle’s four-wheel drive, but we managed to keep the car moving for a wild, West Africa road trip through Togo, Burkina Faso, and Ghana. In Burkina, we visited the Nazinga Game Ranch, which has one of the most dense elephant populations in West Africa, and we were not disappointed with our elephant encounters. We also visited our friends on the team working among the Dagara people of Burkina. Probably the most terrifying aspect of the trip, at least for the Hendersons, was fighting night-time traffic in Kumasi, Ghana. We also visited the Elmina slave castle before the Hendersons flew out of Accra.

Togo faced a political crisis in the first half of the year following the death of the long-time president. His son was immediately appointed president, but stepped down after local and international calls for elections. He was finally declared winner of the hotly-contested election, which provoked some violent clashes between security forces and protestors. Things were eerily quiet here in Tabligbo, but in light of reports of violence coming in from surrounding towns, we decided to go to Ghana to wait out the situation. With the Hollands and Crowsons already out of the country on furlough, our family and the Koonces evacuated with our two short-term couples, the Bontragers and Newlins, who returned to the States.

Security in Togo returned to safe levels very quickly and we only had to stay out of the country for a short time. While we were in Ghana, we were blessed by the hospitality of the Village of Hope, an orphanage that became, for us, a place of refuge. We also enjoyed the previously scheduled West African Missionary Retreat while we were there.

The month of July found our family divided—but only geographically. Anthony traveled to the States to take a course toward an advanced degree, while Maureen and the boys went to Singapore to be with family and friends there. Anthony was able to get to know his new niece Emma Grace. In September, we welcomed a new Singaporean nephew/cousin, Justin Lee, whom we have yet to

meet, into the world.

Anthony made two trips this year to visit churches and Christians in Benin. The Watchi churches held their annual all-church conference in August and a three-day women’s meeting in November. Our final trip this year was a Thanksgiving holiday trip to northern Togo for our kids’ sports camp, where the boys worked on their soccer, baseball, football, and basketball skills.

In our ministry, Anthony has continued to put a lot of energy this year into the translation of the Train & Multiply leadership training curriculum. The process is almost complete and we look forward to having the final edition into the hands of Watchi leaders soon. The concept, which focuses on leaders mentoring leaders, is beginning to take root and several Watchi leaders are mentoring younger ones. Anthony has also been involved in mentoring the elders of the Tabligbo church and teaching in different villages.

A new area of ministry for Anthony this year has been writing scripts for World Christian Broadcasting. WCB, based in Franklin, Tennessee, operates a short-wave radio station in Anchor Point, Alaska and is constructing a second station in Madagascar. All programming is oriented toward non-believers and is broadcast in English, Chinese, Russian and, soon, Arabic.

Maureen has been more active in women’s ministry this year, building relationships through village visits, teaching some on health issues, and using her nursing skills as opportunities have arisen. Her primary ministry continues to be in the home where her three boys keep her very busy, and where she enjoys extending hospitality to those who come our way.

Jeremy and Jonathan continue to grow and mature. Jeremy is now in second grade and Jonathan is attending pre-school at our local Tabligbo “MK” school. They both enjoy their teachers, Miss Stacey and Miss Jenna, as do all of us on the team. They’ve also been learning a little Tae Kwan Do as their extra-curricular activity. Jeremy has developed a talent in origami, and Jonathan is a big Spiderman and Star Wars fan.

Many of our thoughts this year have been on our upcoming transition to life in the States. We plan to leave Togo in early May 2006 and, after about a month’s visit in Singapore, arrive in the States in June. This is part of our team’s overall phase-out strategy and this decision has not come about because of any unhappiness with our life and work in Togo.

We know that it is time for a change, but we are not yet sure which direction God is leading us. It is a time for building faith and trust in God. We covet your prayers as we seek His direction, as we pray God’s blessings on you and those dear to you.

With love,

Anthony, Maureen, Jeremy, and Jonathan Parker

Yesterday, I started the book Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World, written by Lipscomb professor Dr. Lee Camp.  I saw the book recommended by Mike Cope (I think it was there, though I can’t find  the post right now; Mike does have a “blurb” on the back cover, so I know he’ll vouch for the book), and put it at the top of my Amazon wish list.  When I learned that we had a visitor coming to Togo who could bring it, I got her address, had it shipped there, and it was delivered to me yesterday.

I first met Lee when he was a freshman at our mutual alma mater, Lipscomb University (or David Lipscomb College as it was known in those days).  In the halls of Sewell dormitory, Lee never impressed me as a scholar.   Wait a minute, that didn’t sound right.  I never thought of him as a scholar, just a really nice guy.  It was years later, when our paths crossed again at ACU, that I started to recognize that not only was this guy really nice, he was also really smart.

As I’ve only made it through the first chapter, I can’t really give you’re a review of the whole book, but I did find myself identifying with these words:

There is, I must confess, a deep part of me that is embarrassed to advocate a “radical Christianity.”  For I find, in these recent days of my pilgrimage, that the more I seek to surrender to Christ, the more I discover those idols to which my “old self,” as the apostle Paul calls it, has been desperately clinging.  It turns out, of course, that my sins are not all that interesting, but the same as the lot of all humankind:  pride, ambition, lust, greed, self-seeking.  The more I pursue the light of Christ, the more he illumines the diseases of my heart, the dysfunction of my soul.  I have long desired quick fixes for my thorns in the flesh, my defects, my failings—but Christ has granted me none.  But he does, as I walk behind him, alongside him, and alongside others on the Way, grant me daily bread, daily sustenance, his grace being always sufficient for the day. (p. 24)

Wander over and see my latest post on the Grace Notes site. You’ll find some more good, redemptive reading there as well.

Yesterday, I was once again listening to NPR on my Worldspace satellite radio, when I heard about something called “PostSecrets” It seems that someone has started a service where people are encouraged to send in their secrets on anonymous, handmade postcards. Many of these are available in a book, and some are posted on the PostSecrets blog.

Most of the secrets that are shared are actually confessions. As the radio played in the background, the one that really caught my attention was from someone who worked at Starbucks. “Whenever a customer is rude to me,” the server confessed, “I give them decaf.” I’ll be sure to be nice the next time I order coffee, especially if it’s first thing in the morning.

Other confessions are much more serious, and some even tragic.

“When I was 4, I told my grandpa I hated him. He died before I could apologize. I’m still sorry.”

“I suspect my religious upbringing is the reason I can’t get turned on without breaking the rules.” This confession was written around a portrait of Jesus that had been decorated with a rather comic mustache.

You’ve heard that there are no atheists in foxholes. Two confessions, which take quite opposite approaches, might make us wonder if there are really atheists anywhere. One person wrote, “I always say that I don’t believe in God. No one knows that I pray to him every night, ‘Dear God, don’t let me die alone.’” Another wrote, “I tell people I’m an atheist, but I believe I’m going to hell.”

Others, through this service, have begun to learn something of the power of confession. The radio program reported about one woman who wrote that she had originally written her six secrets that she was afraid to tell to anyone on postcards and had intended to mail them. Then she decided to share them with the person whose rejection she most feared. She placed them on the pillow beside the head of her sleeping boyfriend, and headed off to work. That day, her boyfriend showed up at her work place and asked her to marry him.

I thought that this was a marvelous illustration of God’s love toward us. The only thing that hinders from fully experiencing his love is those dark spots on our soul that we try to keep him or anyone else from seeing. We want everyone, including God, to think that we have it all together, when really we are torn apart inside. All God is waiting for is for us to bring those dark secrets into the light and release them to him. He will never spurn those who cry out for his love.

It should be the same way in the church. The flip side of confession is called absolution. I used to think that meant some kind of human “binding and loosing” of God’s forgiveness. It may have something to do with that, but much more simply, it simply means helping one another accept the forgiveness that has already been granted in Christ. When God says that he will forgive our confessed sins, we sometimes have trouble believing that simple promise. We need brothers and sisters to come alongside us, not only to say, “I forgive you,” but also to say “You are forgiven.” They help us believe God’s promise.

When James says, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed,” I think he had a holistic view of healing—it has physical, spiritual, emotional, and social dimensions. Confession is good for the soul. True healing, however, doesn’t come through an anonymous postcard (though that could be a good beginning), but, like the girlfriend learned, through personal encounter—an encounter with the living God and the community of his people.

So…what’s your secret?