Wednesday, August 8, 2018

DC trip to Burkina Faso in 2018

Through Further Still Ministries, Southeast Christian Church, and Hope Alive Initiatives, Kurt and I had another great DC ministry trip to Burkina Faso (BF) in late July 2018. Compared to Ghana in 2015 and 2016, we were in a more urban setting in a poorer country where the dominant language was not English. These differences led to a substantially different experience for us and our team.

Kurt and I want to take new people on each trip. We want to expose more people to such opportunities, giving them a chance to see God move in radically different ways and empowering them to go “further still”—to do a range of other things, from everyday life to international missions. And we want the locals to be inspired by laypeople doing ministry. This year, Clay and Marie went with us. (Clay is an attorney; Marie works in manufacturing.) Marie is fluent in French, which we knew would be immensely helpful (although we still underestimated it). And Clay had volunteered to learn French, although that amounted to wishful thinking. Still, this got him on our list and onto the trip.

The timing of the trip was interesting. We didn’t go back to Africa in 2017. Kurt’s family situation was up in the air—with a new marriage and his last child going off to college. Also, we needed our materials translated into French and we weren’t sure that it would be done by Summer 2017. (It was, but we didn’t know that until it would have been too late to plan the trip.) It turns out that 2018 allowed us to get Marie on the trip, as she got aspects of her work and personal life in order—again, important. All in all, we saw the delay to 2018 as God’s providence to get us to BF with Marie on our team.

BF has had some terrorist activity and our government rated it a Level-3 threat. The threats have been quite sporadic and the larger threats of kidnapping were hours north of the capital city. Southeast Christian (our sponsoring church) never seemed worried—whether they saw the threats as minor or were relying on the information they acquire “on the ground” through other sources. Still, we had a bit of fear going into the trip.

Early-on, we lost another team member to these concerns. And we had hoped one of Kurt’s daughters would go, since she’s relatively strong in French. So, we only had four people when we’d rather take five or six. If one more had dropped, we might have been stuck. But all of us felt led by God to go and despite some modest spiritual warfare, none of us had huge doubts.

Even so, it was good to get some encouragement from the Lord. Clay ran into someone from BF at work. But the biggest providence was what the Lord did with Marie’s vacation. She works for a manufacturing company that dictates all vacation time for line workers through scheduled furloughs to regulate production. Furloughs have been in May for decades, but this time, the furlough was scheduled for…wait for it…late July. Perfect timing! This providence was a big deal—again, for Marie to go at all, but also to signal that God was in control of the trip. 

The location of the trip was certainly not random. DC and the underlying work of our ministry partner (Hope Alive Initiatives) both involve empowerment and multiplication. We describe it in light of a popular metaphor: don’t give a man a fish; teach him how to fish. But our goals are grander: we want to teach the man how to teach others to fish. In discipleship terms, we would point to the four generations of II Tim 2:2 (Paul, Timothy, faithful people, who can teach others). Addition is fine, but we’re aiming for multiplication.

Hope Alive’s work from 2013-2015 had multiplied from Northern Ghana into the capital city of BF, about 250 miles north. So, Hope Alive formalized the training with their three-year program, working with ten different churches. As before, DC was one of the modules that Hope Alive uses to empower locals. (They also do medical, vision, dental, businesses, and schools.)

The primary Western language in BF is French, so language was a key. Going into the trip, we had to deal with getting materials translated and it dramatically impacted our team member selection. On the trip, we had to use interpreters and faced difficulties in having casual conversations—both of which were compounded by cultural differences. I had worked with interpreters in relatively static settings and that was relatively easy. I say X; they translate it; and in most cases (presumably) we catch wrinkles and problems. In this context, we had a more dynamic setting with discussion. The free flow of dialogue made the translation efforts—and our sense of whether it was accurate—more challenging.

Fortunately, we had four excellent translators for the week: Cephas, Jehojakim (the primary leader), Daouda (David), and Theophilus (a local pastor). But this is where I didn’t fully anticipate Marie’s value. She could catch problems on both ends, in a way that was not possible for us or even the native translators at times.

I took French for five years (8th-12th grade) and got to shake some of the rust off. It came in handy. I was able to bump through casual conversations, especially with a dictionary in hand. I was able to do some stuff in French if it was written out (memorizing the two DC verses, reading the Bible, and leading a responsive reading in my sermon). Especially when I knew the context (common given the topics at hand), I was able to read well and speak/listen ok.

Kurt and Clay were mostly lost, but they picked up a few phrases as the week progressed. And it was some good comic relief too, hearing them try to pronounce French words. I persuaded Kurt to read Ephesians 4:2 in French after I wrote it down phonetically. When he read it successfully to his small group, “the crowd went wild”.

The DC training was standard fare for us. On Monday, Marie led off with “Identity in Christ”. In addition to her fluency, she was amazingly comfortable for someone who had not spoken in an upfront role. Then Kurt taught on Spiritual Warfare. On Tuesday, Kurt finished and then handed off to Marie who led the group through Neil Anderson’s “Steps to Freedom in Christ” booklet for most of the day. (Clay provided an opening testimony on its effectiveness.) She did a bit more on Wednesday before Kurt and I finished the morning with teaching on discipleship. On Thursday AM, Clay taught on principles of hermeneutics and I taught through Genesis 3. We had some miscellaneous teachings on Friday and Saturday AM, but the bulk of the other times were for small group discussions.

We had four small group sessions led by each of us. In terms of material, we use questions from DC material on unity/conflict/fellowship, leadership, marriage, and stewardship. The plan is always to model an effective small group with avid participation, facilitating more than teaching, striving to empower rather than teach at folks. As the week continues, we look to move from modeling to shepherding—having them lead the groups while we provide counsel. This was especially important given the language barriers: having them lead (with little or no translation) was far more efficient.

Interesting details from the small group discussions: 1.) As in Ghana, there was a lot of interest (and trouble) with “leave and cleave”. In Ghana, it was driven largely by tribal/cultural influences; in BF, it had a big chunk of (limited) personal finance driving young people to remain too connected to family.

2.) Going through our “warm-up questions”, I was struck by how often they (and we) use basic definitions without being able to explain the terms. Sometimes, this works well enough: we know what unity and stewardship mean and can operate without formal definitions. Other times, the lack of definition leads to a lack of specificity—and sloppy thinking which leads to various errors. A bigger problem: terms can reduce to jargon for newcomers who are left to infer the meaning (hopefully well, but good luck). We encouraged them to define their terms carefully and then to use small groups to discuss the intricacies and applications of important concepts.

3.) In discussing Moses at age 40 (kill an Egyptian) and 80 (after 40 years in the Wilderness), I noticed that fear and humility can look the same, even though they’re driven by wildly different priors. And I was led to ask folks whether they struggled in their approach to leadership in terms of the brashness of young Moses or the tentativeness of old Moses.

4.) The most memorable moment was Clay speaking during a rain storm. We experienced three levels of rain—light, medium, and cats/dogs. Thursday opened with a mix of medium and Biblical—as in, it was time to look around for Noah. With the metal roof and a large concrete building with few people in it, the noise of the rain ranged from a nuisance to hilarious. Clay opened the training in these conditions—and alternated between talking loudly into the mic to taking a break when it was too much. It was bad enough where we took video to remember it. And it was so bad that it was actually funny. We were joking afterwards about Clay as Job—and wondering if we should play the role of Job’s friends.

Two observations came out of this session. First, our numbers were lower, since they were mostly coming by bike, scooter and motorcycle. But most of them eventually got there, showing a resolve that few Americans would have matched. They came in sopping wet many times. Second, Clay’s struggles informed my approach to the next session, as I was going to teach through Genesis 3. Already concerned about relying on translators—and wanting far more interaction than in Clay’s session—I decided to move to a small group format. So, we huddled in two semi-circles of French speakers around me and the English speakers on a third row—and we were able to get through it well.

The small group move was also helpful in that it modeled something different and probably better for them. Instead of the expert teaching up front from the stage, I was sitting with them and we were piled together as we studied God’s word. It was also an occasion to bring the men and women together in one tight group. They seemed comfortable and equal throughout, but it was a different level to have us all crammed together. (The women also enjoyed my teaching on Genesis 3:6 about the “sin of Adam”—in particular, his sins of omission!)

BF was similar to and different from Ghana. But it was difficult to tell where the differences arose: A poor country (BF) vs. a less-poor country (G). A capital city (Ouagadougou in BF) vs. villages near a large city (Tamale in G). Differences from tribal or cultural influences. A different mix of denominations (this time, largely Christian Missionary Alliance which hosted). BF is poorer, but the capital city seemed to put us in a more prosperous and cosmopolitan setting. The BF’ers didn’t dance nearly as much. Perhaps BF’ers dressed a bit better and were a bit busier, coming and going more often. BF had a nicer church building, but we were told it had been built by outsiders and its non-church buildings were not as nice. The airport in Ouaga was about the same size as the airport in Tamale, indicating a trade-off between the country and the cities.

It seemed like there was less spiritual warfare in BF, but there was still plenty. Likewise, we still heard many testimonies about miracles. One of the challenging theological questions is how God deals with “those who haven’t heard” the Gospel. If one is only saved by Jesus, how can I be justly judged if I never hear about Jesus? There are various answers to this question. For example, the “inclusivist” view observes that one can only be saved by God’s grace—and that all who are saved by faith in God’s grace will be saved through the work of Jesus, whether they’ve heard of Him. John 14:6 says that nobody comes to the Father except through Jesus, but does this require knowledge about the bearded God-Man from Galilee?

Another answer is that God will give everyone a fair opportunity. And one way this could occur is through miracles, visions and dreams. We heard testimony about many of these in Africa. Where God might move through His word and His people in the “Christian” West, He might be more likely to use supernatural means in a non-Christian context. At the worship service, six visitors stood to introduce themselves during the appointed time to give their life to Christ. In the West, we often go to church and then become a Christian; in Africa, people often come to Christ and then go to church. If this is how God works, I think the African has the advantage: I’d rather have one clean shot at hearing and accepting the Gospel, than trying to get past the baggage of having Christianity all around me, especially if I imagine that I’m a Christian already. 

Some of the miracles were done in the life of a former imam—from an opening vision to some miraculous deliverances from persecution. Very cool stuff! Another interesting modern technological miracle: Google Translate (which I used to prep for this trip) and Word (which allows entire documents to be translated). How close is the translation? Of course, I don’t know. Google Translate is reasonably effective. If Word is equally so, I’ll have a good draft of an Arabic version of DC28:20 in about five minutes. Crazy! (Stay tuned!)

For now, we’re excited about having a good translation of DC28:20 in French—and we’re hoping that it will be used in France and French-speaking countries. Since Christianity struggles in France and since French is relatively minor among Western languages, there are few Christian resources in French. We’re hoping that this effort will be multiplied—as ministries across the world use DC as a discipleship resource.

Worship was excellent. A little over three hours long, including tons of music and four choirs in three languages (French, Moore and Dyula). I preached on the Holy Spirit for a little under an hour, wrapping up with a responsive reading in French that I was able to do reasonably well. (Kurt deferred on preaching, allowing Marie and Clay to preach/teach.) They observe Communion once per month, so that lengthened the service more than normal. Bread was taken together; a cup of hibiscus juice was taken one at a time.

Miscellaneous things:

On Saturday afternoon, after the last training session, we went to a market—or at least, a large set of shops. I got to do some bargaining as I picked up souvenirs for the fam. I bought a wonderful bronze sculpture for Tonia. Most of the bronzes were of women, but I found a piece with a man and a woman reading a book together. It’s on our mantle now.

Travel was easy this time: no delays/hassles with airplanes. In town, our van had AC and we enjoyed short little trips around the city with Saul as our driver. In Louisville, we had two interesting little providences: a French women checked us in at the Delta counter and we got to see the Marcums at our gate (just back from leading a month of family VBS in Beirut). On the way back, I was just trying to survive early-on, but that was my illness not the airlines. (Note to self: start the Cipro much sooner next time and pack powdered Gatorade for the trip.) We did have a strange little moment with the customs officer in Oauga—where he slowed us down and might have been asking for a bribe—but it worked out without an incident.

On the way to Africa, I sat next to a young German who was between jobs and relationships—and wanted to visit his father in Ghana and get entrepreneurial.  He said his customs officer increased the assessed value of his goods by threefold, leading to a tariff that would have been three times higher. After some negotiation and a bribe, he was able to get the rate down to 70% of the original assessed value. Not good for economic development, but a terrific story to use in the classroom. We also talked about Christianity and he was under the mistaken impression that it is “religious”. I told him that Jesus was anti-religious in the same way he was and asked if he had read the Gospels. He said no. I laughed and said you can’t critique something/someone unless you’re willing to give them a good-faith reading. I encouraged him to read Luke and/or John—and will prayerfully hope to see him in Heaven.

The food was good—at least in terms of taste. (That said, I got quite ill on something, so who knows?) Breakfast was solid—mostly PBJ on French bread, but also mixing in some yogurt, eggs, and bananas with nutella. Lunch was at the training site—very hot and tasty, always with a bit of meat. We had cassava one day—heavy compared to the lighter couscous they would serve at dinner. We had half of a fish one day: heads (as mine) or tails. The lunch conversations were always good. I got along relatively well with my broken French, their broken English, and my dictionary. Dinner was back at the Guest House with Tina as our cook. She took both style and substance seriously, with great presentation and a nice effort at a variety of dishes. Some were a stretch—like tacos. Her potato/ham soup was delicious and her beef bourguignon was a nice little taste of France. We had salad with most meals (that might have caused my intestinal troubles) and fresh mango for a few meals.

We had lunch out on Sunday and I vomited after my ham/papaya pizza. It may have been the accumulation of trouble plus a rich lunch, but more likely, it was just the lunch. For eight hours, from mid-afternoon until we got on the plane, I was in rough shape. I had struggled with diarrhea for two days, followed by the eight hours of this very rough business, and then two more days of diarrhea. I’m still not sure I’m back to full strength/stamina. But once I was on the Cipro, I felt better quickly.

The bugs were only a minor issue again. After the rains we experienced, I’m guessing that the bugs were worse the next week. They were fortunate to have two days of heavy rain; we were fortunate since it drove the temperatures down! The weather was quite similar to Louisville. The day of the heaviest rain will probably be their coolest day of the year—with a high in the mid-70s. The weather was like Louisville—a bit warmer without rain and cooler with rain. It was awesome to see the big clouds rolling in and the rain storm preceded by a tremendous dust storm. It was funny/amazing to see people biking and scootering home, many with goods they were selling on the streets.

The CMA Guest House was small, lovely and utilitarian—comfy with A/C, hot water, and functional beds. After each evening’s debrief session, we played quite a few games—mostly Splendor, but also some Love Letter, Double or Nothing, and Star Realms. We missed having Sampson and Zak with us. In particular, I was hoping to hear Zak and Kurt yell at each other again over games of Star Realms. But it was certainly good to be with Elolo and Francis again. And God willing, it’ll be good to see them again in Africa and/or America in the near future!


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