Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Day Bombings


Please pray for Nigeria. While many of us in the United States prayed and sang carols at church, opened presents with family and friends and feasted on comfort food this Christmas, Nigerians wondered when and where the next bomb blast would explode. It seems that the deadliest blast happened at a Catholic church in Abuja, Nigeria's capital. Click here to read details.

Praise God, the Faith Alive family is fine. I'm sure they'd appreciate, or rather covet, your prayers for peace in Nigeria.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Greetings


'Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the house, all the creatures were stirring, even the mouse...

What a whirlwind time of year preparing to celebrate Christ's birth! Between the shopping, cooking, cleaning, worshipping, etc., I invite you to take a minute to share a Christmas greeting with the extended Faith Alive family. Simply hit "Comment" and follow the directions. We'd love to hear from you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mr. Nigeria


This post is for my single lady friends in Nigeria who are looking for good husbands. Yep. You know who you are. While you’re waiting for Mr. Right, I hope you enjoyed watching the Mr. Nigeria 2011 contest. If you didn’t, click here to admire some of the well-built, talented eye candy…I mean men…who recently strutted their stuff on the runway. If you don’t show up for work tomorrow, we’ll know that you headed to Lagos to meet them!

Monday, December 5, 2011

World AIDS Day


Last year I wrote an editorial in my local newspaper about World AIDS Day (December 1). This year I’m satisfied to read Bono’s powerful op-ed piece in The New York Times. It’s awesome. He mentions President’s Obama’s announcement: an increase in the number of HIV+ patients treated through the PEPFAR program United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief—the number one funder of the Faith Alive clinic in Jos, Nigeria). We pray that the President’s promise translates to increased and consistent funding to this program that’s already saved the lives of some of my closest friends.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Spiritual Benefits of Prayer


What if there was something you could do to resist temptation, be healed, forgiven and revived, and receive protection? Pastor Ben at Faith Alive in Jos, Nigeria reminds us that there is something we can do on a daily basis—pray. Below, he tells us about this month’s spiritual theme, Prayer that Availeth Much, based on James 5:13-18.

This month our heavenly Father decided to teach us about prayer in a way to boost our prayer life and to make us more effective in the ministry. He did the same to the apostles when they came asking him.

The subject of prayer was so vital that the early apostles made a special demand from the Master to teach them how to pray. Do we still have such request today? It is amazing today to hear this request void of spiritual ingredients but purely made up of physical benefits. No wonder we are losing the battle against the foes.

• Prayer was the only spiritual exercise that we were told to do continually (1 Thes. 5:17). This means prayer is the air (oxygen) we breathe for spiritual existence, suggesting that once we stop praying, we are dead spiritually, as no man exists without oxygen. So, what God thought and is still teaching us this month is that to survive in our spiritual journey, we must learn to breath prayer in and out. The breath in of prayer is to receive from God in prayer while the breath out is to reach out to God, people and our environment in prayer. When I breath out in prayer, I reach out to you thousands of miles away.

• Prayer is the only weapon against temptations. When Peter failed to watch in prayer, he became prey and was so messed up by the enemy that he denied his Mater three times. Jesus said, “Pray and watch that you do not fall into temptations.”

• Prayer heals. James says that anyone sick should send for the church elders to pray for him/her that the prayer in faith will heal him/her.

• Prayer brings about forgiveness of sins. James says if he sinned, his sin shall be forgiven.

• Prayer removes troubles. James says anyone troubled should pray. But today when we are troubled, we become depressed instead of lifting our hand and voice up to God in prayer.

• Prayer gives spiritual authority. James says Elijah prayed and there was no rain for three and half years; he prayed again and there was rain.

• Prayer brings revival. Peter prayed and Tabitha (Dorcas) came back to life; Jesus prayed and Lazarus came out of the grave.

• Prayer sets free. Peter was released from prison because the church prayed for him (Acts 12). Paul and Silas were released because they prayed.

• Prayer brings protections. Daniel was protected from the paw of lions as a result of his prayer.

• Prayer brings favors. Queen Esther received favor of her husband the king as a result of prayer.

• Prayer brings deliverance. Prophet Jonah prayed in the belly of the fish and was vomited out by the fish.

• Prayer removes fears and gives boldness. Jesus prayed in Gethsemane and received boldness and courage to face the cross (the cup)

• Prayer opens doors for revelation and understanding. Daniel entreated God in prayer and received the revelations and understanding about things to come.

The list is inexhaustible. So let’s equate prayer to our breathing rate because PRAYER IS THE SOLUTION; PRAYER IS THE ANSWER. DO ALL IN PRAYER.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Christmas Gifts with Meaning


Not sure what to get Aunt Edith, cousin Zach or baby McKenzie for Christmas this year? Consider global gifts--colorful baby rattles, intricate wood carvings, beautiful beaded jewelry, batik tablecloths or artsy quilt wall hangings from Nigeria. These are all new items that I brought back from my latest African trip.

The best news is that all profits directly benefit patients at the Faith Alive clinic in Jos, Nigeria. Plan to do your Christmas shopping on the following dates at these venues:

Friday and Saturday, November 25 & 26, Northern Colorado Writers Studio Holiday Mart(in Fort Collins, Colorado near Horsetooth and College, right next to Chico's) from 9am - 3 pm.

Sunday, November 17 and December 4 from 9 am - noon at First Presbyterian Church's Gifts for a Cause sale (531 S. College Avenue in Fort Collins, Colorado).

Monday, November 14, 2011

Nigeria 2012 Anyone?


While some of you might say that it's too early to think about Christmas, I'm already planning something for next summer--a trip to serve the children associated with Faith Alive.

Do you want to join me? Don't say yes unless you want to rock your world! About ten people have already expressed a serious interest, five of whom came to an informational meeting at my house last Friday. Let me know if you want a detailed visitor packet that includes costs and dates. Due to security concerns, I'm not listing details on the blog.

Please prayerfully consider this invitation and let me know if you're even vaguely interested in this or a future trip to Faith Alive.

(Photo of my husband with some Nigerian children.)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Spiritual Theme: Moving the Hand of God Through Praise


Once upon a time, there lived a king who faced a frightening battle. He turned to God, saying, “…we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You.”

God responded through one of the king’s servants, saying, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.”

Now the King and his people had a choice. Would they succumb to their fears and complain, or would they trust God and offer Him praises? They chose the latter, singing, “Give thanks to the Lord, for His love endures forever,” as they advanced into battle the next day and won.

We, too, have a choice when confronted with obstacles. Will we succumb to our fears and complain, or trust God and offer Him praises?

Pastor Ben at Faith Alive says, “Any time we praise God in our pain and fear, we make God bigger than our problems. This makes God to be seen in the circumstance and that gives Him honor. God is moved into action in return. But when we give in to fears and complain, we make God smaller and Satan takes the honor.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather honor God. Thanks, Pastor Ben, for reminding us (through Faith Alive's Spiritual Theme) to turn our problems into praises and showing that our response makes a difference.

(Bible references and quotes from 2 Chronicles 20)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Nikki and Next Year


If you were at Faith Alive in 2008, you probably met Nikki Burks. She’s a young adult from my church in Fort Collins, Colorado whose six months in Nigeria significantly shaped her future. In fact, her time there solidified her call to seminary. She’ll graduate from Princeton Theological Seminary next May. Way to go, Nikki!

She was in town on Friday and we enjoyed lunch together. I showed her snaps from my most recent trip and she said that she felt a physical reaction—like a magnetic pull—toward Faith Alive. So much so that she’s prayerfully considering coming with me next year.

Which brings me to offer an open invitation to anyone else who wants to join us. Nigeria 2012, anyone?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Peace in Jos


That's right--peace in Jos. Or as the locals say, things are "cool." So often I report when violence erupts, but this time I'm happy to say that I haven't heard of any crises, large or small, for many weeks. Google Alerts sends me links every day to new posts with the keywords "Jos Nigeria" and I try to keep in touch with the Faith Alive family there. Join me in thanking God for peace and asking for it to continue.

Monday, October 17, 2011

September's Spiritual Theme: Awake, O Sleeper


I like to sleep. Actually, I love to sleep. Bedtime is one of my favorite times each day. I get into my pajamas, settle under my fluffy blankets and thank God for another day. Imagine my interest when Pastor Ben told me that last month’s spiritual theme at Faith Alive was “Awake, O Sleeper,” based on Ephesians 5:14.

While he references scriptures that talk about physical sleep, Pastor Ben is mostly talking about spiritual sleep. However, he talks about their interconnectedness by saying, “Spiritual sleeping is detrimental at every level to our health…whatever happens in the spiritual realm effects the physical and vice versa.

“Spiritual sleeping is a stage and period we lose spiritual sensitiveness and alertness. At this time we become dull, lukewarm and inaccurate in our spiritual judgment and decision. We become so shallow in understanding, careless in handling spiritual issues and unconscious of spiritual moves that we begin to allow some unwanted seeds of the world to creep in and choke up the seed of the word of God in us.

“This reduces our spiritual performance and in turn leads to spiritual poverty. If not interrupted through some spiritual means, it brings about spiritual death. A careful look into the scripture above, it is clear that sleeping comes before death; that was why the sequence of the command above was that one has to awake from sleep then come out of the dead. It was to avoid all of these that we received the call to awake.”

If you want to read more verses about sleep, Pastor Ben cites Romans 13:11, Matthew 25:6, Mark 4:38-39, Jonah 1:6, John 10:10, Matthew 26:40-41 and Matthew 24:42.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Business Centers


I’ll bet that most people in the United States have been to FedEx (formerly Kinko’s) to copy, print, pack or ship something. But Americans probably don’t know that kinky-haired Paul Orfalea (hence the name Kinko’s) founded the company in 1970 with a single sidewalk copy machine in a California college community. If Wikipedia is correct, the company now has 1,800 sites and makes over $2 billion in revenue.

On a smaller scale, First Presbyterian Church in Fort Collins, CO donated start-up costs for Faith Alive’s new Business Center. Like Kinko’s, it will offer copying and printing (but leave packing and shipping to DHL). And the copy machine will not be on a sidewalk (even if there were one); it will be in a storefront near the clinic.

With a vision to become self-sustaining and profitable, one day, God-willing, we will read the Business Center’s success story. Only I doubt the article will describe Dr. Chris’s hair style.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Book Update: Editing


For those of you who wonder when the manuscript I’m writing about Faith Alive will be a book in your hands (or on your ipads), here’s the scoop. It’s coming. Really. I’m two years into this three-year project of research, interviews, outlining, writing, fact-checking, writing, getting legal permission forms, writing, etc. The manuscript is written, but it’s far from finished. It’s now time to put all those personal stories together and start the arduous process of editing as a cohesive whole.

Before I show the entire work to a professional editor, I need to self-edit. That basically means I want to pick up the manuscript, think like a reader and say, “Hmmm. What advice can I give this writer?” I’ll be looking for more than grammar and sentence structure—things like flow, characterization, voice and point of view that many readers don’t realize are the building blocks of a great story.

I’ve heard that editing is what transforms mediocre writing into something that people want to read so much that they don’t need a bookmark. That it makes the difference between ordering an advance copy because you’ve heard it’s a must-read or heaving it, unread, into the garage sale pile.

Here’s to doing my best for God’s glory in a way that inspires readers to draw closer to Jesus Christ and transform suffering into service.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Trip Presentations


It's hard to believe that I've been home for almost four weeks. When I look through the photos I took in Jos, Nigeria last month, it seems like I was there yesterday.

For those of you in northern Colorado who want to know more about my trip and all the new and exciting things happening at Faith Alive, you're invited to attend one of my presentations on Sunday, October 16 at First Presbyterian Church (531 S. College in Fort Collins) from either 9:30-10:30 am or 11 am-noon. I'll also have a smaller gathering at my home on Tuesday, October 11 from 7-8:30 pm for those who can't make either of the Sunday presentations.

Please let me know if you'd ever like to me to come to any existing groups and talk about Faith Alive.

On another note, many Nigerians remember Mollie. She travelled with me there in 2009. Join me in praising God that she and her husband just had their third healthy child--a girl named Charley Mila.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Radical Example


Last month, I blogged about meeting Pamela Brown-Peterside, a new member of the Faith Alive family. She currently lives in New York City and works at Redeemer Presbyterian Church as a Director of Fellowship Groups, a similar position to mine more than ten years ago at First Presbyterian Church in Fort Collins. But we have another common interest—writing. Check out her blog at http://citypsalm.wordpress.com.

She writes about Faith Alive in her September 13, 2011 post, saying that her visit there far exceeded her expectations. She says, “In a city rife with religious and economic tension, at Faith Alive, Christians and Muslims work side by side and are treated equally as patients without discrimination. Thus, Faith Alive stands as a beacon not just of a radical example of showing God’s love to the least of these, but as a symbol of reconciliation.”

May the city of Jos, the Plateau state, the country of Nigeria and the rest of the world see the light.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Victory Over Terror


While on a completely different scale, yesterday I remembered the events of September 11, 2001 in America and learned about two new explosions in Nigeria. I’ve read conflicting news reports about what happened, but it sounds like two bombs exploded around 8 pm in a popular bar area of Jos, badly wounding people’s bodies and sense of security.

This struck a little terror in my heart until I heard Dr. Chris say that the Faith Alive family is fine. His words of assurance apply not only to Jos, but to all of us trying to make sense of tragedy: “The devil is at work, but He (God) has assured us of victory.”

(FYI: I'm back to posting only on Mondays.)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Instead of Guilt


Don Simmons, a friend I met during my official equipping ministry days, gives great advice about what to bring home from a mission trip instead of guilt. Here are his suggestions:

1. RESOLVE. The deep gut strength/feeling to DO something about poverty in the world and where you live.

2. ARTICULATION. We can often miscommunicate our message because we “feel” it more than we can express it.

3. REALISTIC STRATEGY. You will need to be thinking of a realistic strategy to educate, engage and equip others on what you have learned.

4. HOPE. You know it now: God loves and cares for Africa just as much (and possibly more because they are poor) as he loves and cares for people in the U.S. If you focus on the hopelessness and not the HOPE, you’ll miss the point. If you focus on poverty and not the richness of God’s promises, you won’t be able to do much about poverty.

5. DESIRE. Pack some desire to go to other lands, other cultures, other neighborhoods. Let Africa be your “appetizer” for the buffet of God’s world and His people. Pack that desire to take others with you and open their eyes as well.

Don goes on to say, "The amazing thing about travel that I love is that it is the one activity that allows us to get a good look at how BIG God is, and how BIG our family is. Pack away all those new friendships, tuck away those treasures and pull them out often and pray for them, think of them, and remember what you learned from them. Isn’t it amazing that you went to be the giver yet you return very much the student?"


(Don’s website is http://www.creativepotentialconsulting.org/background.htm.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Arrived Home Safely


As a Kansas girl, I can't help but say it: There's no place like home. Now if I could only wear ruby red slippers, tap my feet and repeat that two times! Instead, it took about 40 hours door-to-door to get from Jos,Nigeria to Fort Collins, Colorado.

I'd write more but I'm not quite ready to reenter regular life. I plan to take my time readjusting, so you might not see another blog post until Monday.

Thanks to everyone who faithfully prayed for my safety. God (and I) will not forget your labor of love.

Cat in My Flat


Most people know that I love dogs, especially puppies. But I don’t pet the dogs in Nigeria because they roam the streets eating trash; I don’t want to get any bad germs from them. The guesthouse compound used to have a German Shepherd named Jack and I only greeted him by name.

It seems that the dog’s been replaced with a cat. I’ve only seen it (him or her—I didn’t check) in the compound and mostly on the stairs that are swept daily and mopped weekly. The other day I opened my front door and the cat darted in. After a number of “here, kitty kitty kitties,” I scooped him up and tossed him out the door. But this morning I took pity and let him in—for just a few minutes. After all, he’s one of God’s creatures and needs a little love.

Wedding Food




No wedding is complete without food and Pastor Esther’s special day was no exception. I’m not sure how early her family started preparing the pot of jollof rice, but I saw it stewing at 7:15 am and we didn’t eat it until after 3 pm. Around 11 am we enjoyed Coca Cola and Kola nuts that the groom gave to the bride’s family. And finally, around 3:30 pm, we ate cake, or what I refer to as “yum yum.”

Big Auntie



Saturday’s wedding between Pastor Esther and Victor is a testament to God’s faithfulness. Widowed for ten years due to her husband’s AIDS’ complications, Pastor Esther (a counselor and discipleship teacher at the Faith Alive Clinic) found another chance at love. Nobody has to tell me that they’re right for each other—I can see it in their eyes. Actually, I see the way that Victor looks at his bride. It reminds me of how my husband looked at me during our honeymoon stage.

They honored me by inviting me to be a “Big Auntie.” That means that I wore the bride’s green and gold family fabric (versus the green and purple Faith Alive fabric) and a massive headgear. I also spent the day with Pastor Esther, the “amaria,” from 7:15 am until 4:30 pm. The day started with dressing the bride and progressed to watching the bride’s senior brother accept the dowry of food, wrappers (fabric), money, palm oil and kola nuts. This was followed by a “church” wedding inside the Faith Alive Clinic and led to the reception at the new Faith Alive building’s courtyard.

Here’s to many blessings for the bride and groom!

(Photos are of me with the groom, and the bride and groom in traditional wedding attire.)

Mentoring


One thing that Dr. Chris Isichei, Founder and Coordinator of the Faith Alive Clinic, is most excited about this summer is the beginning of a mentoring class. He’s been leading a group of eight people (six men and two women) during weekly sessions. Topics include writing your ideal eulogy and life mission statement and setting smart goals. But unlike other trainings, Dr. Chris encourages people to set unrealistic goals. That way, only God can take the credit when you succeed.

This week we separated into small groups. We took turns sharing one of our goals with other people playing an angel, a devil and God. For example, I said that my goal is to publish my book before twelve months are through. God and the angel encouraged me by saying all things are possible, my grace is sufficient for you, you can do it, etc. The devil told me lies—I don’t know enough about Africa, I can’t do it, I should play and rest instead, etc. It was a great preparation for expecting and overcoming obstacles.

I suggested to Dr. Chris that he videotape the weekly sessions so that more people can benefit from his mentoring. I’ll let you know if this happens. If it does, I’ll be the first to watch the tapes.

Elim Elementary School


What a joy to spend some time with Elim Headmistress Kate and the school’s second-in-command, Ben. School is unfortunately out of session this month and won’t resume until later in September, God-willing. At that time, Kate will know which students are returning and which might’ve moved out of the area during the summer months.

Here’s to the end of the summer holiday and beginning of a new school year!

Bombing in Abuja


Kai, I don’t know what some people are thinking. On Friday morning, a Muslim holy day during the Ramadan season, someone bombed the United Nations building in Abuja (Nigeria’s capital). There has also been some ongoing violence in northeast Nigeria in Maiduguri by Boko Horom (which means something like “western education is evil”). Both cities are quite a ways from where I am in Jos; even here, most incidents have been in outlying areas.

I already knew about the Maiduguri crises and fortunately a friend told me about the Abuja bomb blast before my husband called to see if I was okay. It’s only because I had a little time to digest the information that I could calmly say that I’m fine and feel safe. I still asked him to pray for my safe return to the United States—and for the future of Nigeria.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Muslim Staff


Even though the Faith Alive Clinic is a Christian non-profit (NGO or non-government organization in Nigeria), I know of three Muslims on staff. Two of them are beautiful sisters—one works in the laboratory and the other is a French teacher. Why French? Because it’s the official language of a few neighboring African countries (Niger and Cameroon) and it’s something that both Christians and Muslims can learn together.

I asked the sisters (Bola and Fatima) what it is like working at a Christian organization. “It is good,” they said. Most of their friends at university were Christian so they’re used to not only living peacefully side by side, but loving and trusting each other. Oui oui to that!

Dinner with Clement and Kate


If the Elysur restaurant in Jos awarded frequent diner points, I’d be eligible for a free meal. Elim Elementary School Headmistress Kate and her husband Clement treated me to dinner on Thursday evening. It was a joy to spend time with this selfless couple. Not only is Kate the founder and leader at Elim, she’s working toward opening an Elim OVC (orphans and vulnerable children) Center for extracurricular and skills training (computer, baking, carpentry and sewing). Her lawyer husband advocates for child protection and defense against abuse, trafficking and other atrocities. Thanks to this well-matched couple for their hospitality.

Angel Scholarships


What do 200 children at Faith Alive have in common? They’re on the waiting list to receive educational scholarships for their primary (elementary) and secondary (high school) tuition. These kids are in addition to (and separate from) the OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children) sponsored through our church for Elim Elementary School.

On Thursday, I sat in on the panel interviewing children for renewal scholarships. We looked at their grades, home situations, aspirations and level of economic need. I’m glad that I’m not the one making the final decisions. I don’t think I could turn away any of them.

Please let me know if you’re interested in contributing anything toward educating this future generation of Nigerians. Any amount is appreciated.

(This snap is of some neighborhood children; I don't know if any of them are on the waiting list.)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Prince Prays


Faith Alive guests are always asked at their last family staff meeting to say a few words about what they’re going to take home from Faith Alive. Knowing that they don’t want to hear about the souvenirs and such, I told them that I’m taking home two things based on my conversation yesterday with Amos, the architect of the Faith Alive Clinic. He read the chapter I’d written about his life and I asked him, “What did that feel like reading about yourself?” He reflected for a moment and said, “Inspired and challenged. Inspired by God’s faithfulness in my life and challenged to do even more.” That’s exactly what I’m taking home from my trip—inspiration and challenge.

Following that, someone else (usually a staff person who knows the guests well) comes up front to pray for the guests. Little did I know that Prince, Dr. Chris Isichei’s son, had gotten up early, dressed in his Sunday suit, came to work with his daddy and was sitting in the front row just to pray for me. I’d gotten through my talk without crying, but I couldn’t help myself when Prince stood in front of over 100 staff members to lift me in prayer. Thank you, Prince. And thank you, Drs. Chris and Mercy, for raising children who love God.

Power


I expect the electricity to be sporadic in Nigeria, but it seems to be especially bad this week. We haven’t had light for three days now. Think of all the things that rely on power and you’ll begin to understand how this affects daily life. I feel a little guilty running the guesthouse generator when I know that many others in the neighborhood can’t afford a generator, much less the fuel it needs.

Quite the opposite is now true at the Faith Alive Clinic, thanks to the generosity of a donor in the United States. Today the Executive Committee commissioned the new generator that has the ability to power the entire block. Actually, a representative from the generator company told us that we’re currently only using a small portion of its capacity and it will last longer if we supply power to the neighbors. Faith Alive is exploring its options and I’m sure will do what it can to help others.

Many people living on Zik Avenue in Jos are in the dark today when the light source is so close, and many Nigerians are without electricity in this country that’s rich with oil.

Money


Whatever the currency, the date on the bill apparently matters. The best exchange rate to convert U.S. dollars into Nigerian naira is with $100 bills. That I knew. But I just learned that a bill dated 2003 converts to 150 and a bill dated 2006 gets 160. Note to self: bring a new bill next time.

Emily's 10th Birthday


Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday to Emily, happy birthday to you. That’s what we sang at dinner tonight to Drs. Chris and Mercy Isichei’s oldest child. We didn’t forget her special day because she didn’t let us. Not even for a minute since I set foot on Nigerian soil. It’s a good thing that I came prepared with a Hannah Montana bag especially for her. Now if I can just remember to celebrate her brothers’ birthdays, I’ll be set. Maybe someone can help me find Benten gifts for them (or just enlighten me about that character).

Quilts

Some of you have asked me to bring fabrics and beads back to the U.S. I’ve taken it one step farther and am bringing back a few quilt wall hangings that I bought at a nearby mission for people living positively with HIV. Please don’t worry if the quilts sell (or I decide to keep!) the one that you want; I can take preorders before my next trip to Nigeria.

Driving School


The Faith Alive Clinic offers skill acquisition classes to dozens of people each year. Students who attend and learn for about a year graduate. Sewing and knitting students receive machines with the intention for them to start their own businesses and generate income. Rather than expensive laptops, computer school graduates benefit from the experience. I’m not sure what graduates of the arts & crafts school receive.

Because most of these skills appeal only to women, Faith Alive is starting to take applications for a driving school. In Nigeria, it’s a luxury to own a car. Many adults pay others to drive them via vehicle or motorbike (okada). While I know how to drive in America, I wouldn’t dare drive in Jos where street lights and street lines are nonexistent.

The driving school’s goal is to graduate well-qualified drivers who will find access to vehicles and start their own businesses. It’s all part of Faith Alive’s goal to empower people to move from dependency on others to self-sustainability.

Here’s to Nigeria’s future drivers!

Painting


Jos, Nigeria is home to the talented artist Udubrae. I’m not sure if that’s his first or last name, but I don’t think it matters. It’s the signature he puts on each of his oil paintings. Last week I asked him to create a picture of Faith Alive. Today he delivered the completed canvas and I’m pleased. I wasn’t sure if people would recognize the man standing in the middle of the painting, but I shouldn’t have worried. Dr. Chris’s youngest son took one look at it and said, “That is my daddy.”

MCC Supporter


What a joy to meet Pamela Brown Peterside, a Nigerian-Irish woman currently living in the United States who supports the Faith Alive Clinic through Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). She’s in Nigeria visiting relatives and stopped by on Monday to see what we’re all about. “What do you think?” I asked her at lunch after Dr. Chris Isichei’s tour of Faith Alive. I don’t remember her exact words, but they were along the lines of, “I’m really impressed. I had no idea how holistic this ministry is.”

Pamela learned about Faith Alive through an article a few years ago in MCC’s monthly magazine, A Common Place. I’ll have to go through their archives to read the specific article. Whether or not I find it, she’s a reminder about the power of the written word. Sannu da zuwa, Pamela. You are welcome anytime.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Support Group Picnic


After helping my friend’s son get set up at another hospital on Sunday, I joined the Faith Alive support group’s special picnic at a nearby wildlife park. We looked at monkeys, crocodiles, lions, antelopes and an elephant (all caged, much like at a zoo) before gathering under the pine trees to sing, dance and play a game.
For the game, people were asked to recite certain things: favorite Bible verses, a song in their local dialect, the meaning of HIV and Faith Alive’s Founding Coordinator’s full name (Dr. Christian Ogegbunem Isichei).

Dr. Chris encouraged the group members to fish for themselves, meaning that they need to become self-sufficient and not rely on Faith Alive for everything. “Faith Alive has given you a lot of things,” he said, “and now it is time for you to work hard to help yourselves.” Join me in praying that these wonderful HIV+ people be empowered to not only make their way in life, but also bless others as they have been blessed.

Emergency

Instead of going to church and resting on Sunday, I escorted a friend’s baby to the emergency room at JUTH (Jos University Teaching Hospital). The 15-month-old boy was lethargic, running a high fever and coughing. His parents first came to Faith Alive where his mommy works. But because we didn’t have a pediatric specialist on ground to insert the i.v., we rushed him a local government hospital where one of our volunteer doctors was on call.

He thinks that the boy has pneumonia that’s affecting his heart. Antibiotics and oxygen should do the trick so within a few days he should really improve. We praise God for his life and pray for the another family who had to buy the child-sized coffin that we saw outside.

WHOT?


Do you want to play WHOT? What? The card game, WHOT. What? Much like the American “Who’s of first?”, this conversation goes on and on until I show them the deck of WHOT cards. Ah ha! Then the game begins. Instead of circle, square and triangle, we say bowl, carpet and angle (with a Nigerian accent, of course). 20 is a wild card that switches the shape, 14 means general market (everyone pick 1 card), 8 means skip the next person, 5 means for the next person to pick up 3 cards (unless you can defend by playing a 5), 2 means the next person picks up 2 cards, and 1 means hold on because I’m going to play whatever card I want to next. The game’s similar to UNO in that you match shapes and numbers and the first person to play all their cards wins. I’ll bring a deck of cards home so let me know if you want to play. To make it authentic, we’ll turn off all the houselights and play in candlelight!

Girls' Day Out

With people here to cook, clean and do my laundry, I spent this Saturday enjoying time with Dr. Mercy (Dr. Chris’s surgeon wife). I told her that I felt like I won the lottery to spend so much time to spend with her—she’s normally quite busy juggling two jobs, volunteering at Faith Alive and being a wife and mother.

We started by going to the new Udebrae Art Gallery near the Jos Museum; the main artist is painting a picture of Faith Alive for me. After agreeing that he’s doing a wonderful job and only needs to add more green, we went to another shop that sells beautiful quilts, dolls and textiles. I plan to resell many of the items at our church’s pre-Christmas market; all profit will benefit the Faith Alive Clinic.

No girls’ day out is complete without eating out, so we enjoyed fattoush salad and spring rolls at the Elysur Restaurant. We hardly noticed when the electricity came on and off throughout our lunch. I had to adjust my eyes in the nearly-pitch dark restroom, but the flush toilet made up for it.

After the rain stopped, we came back to the guesthouse so that Dr. Mercy could review the chapter I’ve written about her. She added some details and made some minor corrections. Hopefully there will be time before I leave for us to go to her house and look at photos from Faith Alive’s early days. We could’ve spent more time talking but her children needed her.

Hair Saloon


In America, a saloon is a place to drink beer and hang out with cowboys. But here in Nigeria it’s a place to get your hair washed and styled. It’s been a bit of heaven to get my hair shampooed vigorously every three days. The only downside is that no matter what we do, it refuses to cooperate. Constant rain and humidity invade my naturally wavy hair until it’s a total mess; I look like I’m sporting a messy brown mop.

Today I showed someone a photo of my family and they asked, “Which one is you?” Kai, do I look that bad here? Fortunately my hair is long enough to pull back in a pony tail but I’m looking forward to being home and looking more like normal.

Trash


For those of you interested in daily life here, you might like to know what happens to trash. If people are outside, they drop it (candy wrappers, tissue, etc.) wherever they are. Each day I see a woman wearing a bright orange vest hunched over the street sweeping with a short broom. I put my trash in a wastebasket at the guesthouse and take it downstairs to Baba when it’s full. Baba then takes the trash to the corner and dumps it in a container (an improvement over years past when the trash went in a big heap in the corner for the goats to eat). But don’t worry about them—they chomp on the overflowing rubbish.

As for laundry, every few days I hand wash my clothes, wring them and then hang them to dry. I take bucket baths and heat the water first on the gas stove if it’s a cold enough day. Otherwise I splash frigid well water on myself to cool down. Let’s just say that I’ve needed to heat the water lately.

Canteen--Feeding on News


Why did it take three weeks for me to discover that Faith Alive’s Canteen (a cafĂ©, really) serves more than Nigerian food? Today I tasted a bit of American News on CNN, today’s Nigerian newspaper and a Diet Coke. The television at the guest house only shows dozens of channels of preaching shows and one local channel. Sunday evening I watched a short episode of the Who Wants to be a Millionaire (Nigerian-style). Even though I’m not here to watch t.v., it felt good to catch up with the outside world.

Tree Stump

Since I’ve already posted about the trees in front of Faith Alive, I thought I’d let you know that even the stump is being removed to make way for parking. Security guards are detouring patients and staff to another entry until the main one is smoothed (or at least smoother). It’s fascinating to watch a trio of men chop away with hatchets in what will probably take them days to destroy. Maybe they’ll ask some men down the street to borrow the chainsaw they’re using to cut their branches into firewood.

Computer Man


Who ya gonna call? If you’re at Faith Alive and need computer help, the answer is Joshua the IT Specialist. It’s only because of him that I can post on this blog and occasionally check email from home. I can hand him any electronic device (well, except my hair dryer) and know that he’ll fix whatever problem I have. Three bosas (praise Gods) to our computer man!

Dr. Bode-Thomas


You’ve heard it said that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, I know that it also takes an army of people to arrange for a Nigerian child’s heart surgery in India. It was my pleasure to spend some time this week with the Army’s General, Dr. Bode-Thomas, founder and head of HeartAid in Jos (where Dr. Chris Isichei is a Board member).

Little Chris’s daddy Daniel suggested that rather than buy her a gift, I should appreciate her with a handmade card. And what a card it is! Shola, a Faith Alive staff member, made a beautiful embodiment of our appreciation for this kind doctor who made all the Indian arrangements for Little Chris’s surgery last fall.

Nagode (thank you), nagode, nagode to Dr. Bode-Thomas and HeartAid. Her vision is for a quality heart hospital in Nigeria to treat the thousands of patients who will not survive without it. May it be so.

Dedication Declaration


Weekly family (aka staff) meetings at Faith Alive always end in a recitation of their Dedication Declaration.

"We have gathered to declare that we will refuse to settle for less than God’s best! Therefore we make the following affirmations:

I am confident in God’s promises. My past has been forgiven. My future is secure and God has a purpose for him life.

I am committed to God’s purposes. I will my life serving God’s purposes with God’s power for God’s glory. I will value character over comfort, service over status and people over possessions.

I am committed to God’s people. We declare that unity in Christ bridges all differences. We are one in Christ! Standing side by side with my brothers and sisters, I commit myself to grow spiritually, love unconditionally and serve faithfully.

To my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I say: However, whenever, wherever and whatever You ask me to do, my answer in advance is YES! I want to be used by You in such a way that on that final day I’ll hear you say, 'Well done, good and faithful servant!'”

Books


One of my main goals for this trip is to fact-check the chapters in my book. Actually, I should start calling it God’s book because that’s the truth. It’s only by God’s grace and power that it’s at this stage. Pastor Ben encouraged me today to lean into God to finish the project. I’d told him that I need strength and motivation to complete what I started two years ago. He said that it’s when we feel weak that we know God is approaching; God wants to work in our weaknesses so that only He gets the credit.

I have appointments with about a dozen people to discuss the chapters about them. So far, everyone’s been receptive and only offered minor factual changes. This weekend I hope to spend time talking with Dr. Mercy Isichei (Dr. Chris’s wife) about her chapter—there’s so much I want to write about her but need to focus on just a few scenes.

While writing a bit in the Faith Alive library last week, a staff member’s daughter came in to browse through the children’s books. It was wonderful to watch someone from the future generation find such joy from reading. May God’s book about Faith Alive bless and encourage many people.

Surgery


Can you read the list in this photo? Me neither. It’s as if doctors all over the world have a secret handwriting code. This paper lists all the items (needles, sutures, etc.) needed for a woman’s gallbladder surgery that has to take place in another hospital because Faith Alive doesn’t have the appropriate equipment. Local government hospitals charge about 100,000 Naira for the surgery (equivalent to $700 I think, far too high a cost for most people here who earn a few dollars a day).

So Dr. Mercy Isichei (Dr. Chris’s wife), an expert surgeon who voluntarily performs basic surgeries at Faith Alive for no charge to patients, connected the woman with a surgeon friend of hers in another state. He’ll perform the woman’s surgery for only 5,000 Naira. The only catch is that she’ll have to purchase and bring in all the needed supplies (apparently what all patients do in government hospitals anyway). Dr. Mercy wrote this list for the woman, donating whatever supplies Faith Alive has.

“This woman must think she’s in heaven here at Faith Alive,” I said to Dr. Mercy. “You are doing a great work.”

“Well, that is just God,” she said humbly.

Yes, I thought later, but you said “yes” to Him.

MCC


On Friday, I enjoyed sharing fattoush salad and conversation with other oyibos (white people) at a local restaurant. Mark and Brenda Hartmann-Souder, American missionaries with MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) invited me to lunch and I gladly accepted. Nigerian mission worker Matthew (also with MCC) joined us. I’d met them briefly in 2008 but wanted to reconnect with them. They are doing wonderful work supporting a variety of Nigerian partners and we praise God for their continued relationship with the Faith Alive Clinic.

It was interesting to hear the couple’s perspective on safety in Jos. They’re in their fourth year here out of five, staying despite concerns of family and friends. Much like other Nigerians, they say that things are much calmer here now and are glad to see visitors again. I’m sure it’s helped that everyone’s taking security precautions—using metal detectors, hiring guards, moving pastors out of parsonages and away from churches (so that both pastors and churches won’t be destroyed together) and even some Christians dressing like Muslims on Fridays (when most Islam-led violence begins).

My experience this trip has been safe and I appreciate your prayers that it continues to be. Let peace reign!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Disturbance"

In case any of you have read news reports in the past few days about violence in Jos, please be assured that I am safe. Apparently during the wee morning hours on Monday there were some killings; however, I didn't even get wind of it until yesterday afternoon. I should've known when there were fewer patients than normal yesterday.

When I ask people about the situation, they refer to it as a "disturbance" and assure me that this happened far from us. That's definitely a downgrade from "crisis" and makes it sound less frightening. Whatever it's called, I continue to appreciate prayers for safety.

Table for One, Please


Now that the Nativity team is gone, Baba sets only one place at the table. For me. It’s fine at breakfast, a meal I usually eat alone at home anyway. But lunch and dinner are getting a little lonely. I think I’ll start inviting friends over to break bread (or in this case, to share my yummy carbohydrates).

Microfinance 101


Don’t laugh, but I taught a segment of Faith Alive’s Microbusiness Workshop. Dickson asked me to teach about resource mobilization and I said, “What?” I think that’s also what the students thought when he used other educated phrases during his initial Powerpoint presentation.

Instead, Dr. Chris suggested that I explain SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). But I only had thirty minutes, I would need an interpreter and many of the students aren’t educated past primary school. Hmmm. So I chose to translate a few SWOT principles into simple questions.

The main thing I stressed was that each person needs to sell something (goods or services) that is a right-fit for them. Using an example I learned from my Group Publishing training days, I asked them to each take off their right shoe and trade with someone sitting next to them. I asked them to stand and walk. After Dickson took a few steps in one flat and one high heeled shoe, everyone laughed.

“How did that feel?” I asked them.

“Not comfortable!”

“That is like your business. What is right for you to sell might not be right for others to sell. Please choose wisely.”

So much for my contribution to Microfinance 101.