The following emails were sent from Orodara, Burkina Faso, in the course of my four weeks there (Feb. 10-March 8, 2011).
Sent: Tuesday, February 15, 2011 10:17:25 AM
Subject: hi from burkina faso
Aw ni wula! That’s good afternoon in Jula. I just heard it outside the office where i am typing this, along with the sound of roosters crowing, sheep and goats bleating, the caller at the mosque calling people to prayer, children playing, and the balophone sounding. Its a noisy, lively place, Orodara is. But here its also cooler by far than Ouagadougou, the capital city, and even Bobo-Dioulasso, the 2nd biggest city to the southwest. The flight to Ouaga went well except that i didn,t get much sleep.The self-styled Chardonay Club in the row of seats behind me was going to town and got quite lively thru most of the flight. Then they nearly had to be shaken awake when we landed at Brussels. The first 2 days in country I spent in Ouaga with Jeff and Tany Warkentin and their 3 delightful children. Tany gets a kick out of negotiating the crowded and chaotic streets in her minivan with the standard transmission. I was glad she was driving and not me. I attended the evening bible study with a mostly young college age church. I will see them again and share on the Sunday before i come home. I spent another 2 days with Siaka and Claire Traore in Bobo-Dioulasso and preached that Sunday morning. They clapped after I read them the letter of greeting from Emmanuel Mennonite Church. I also had a lengthy visit with a wonderful young man who is studying at the French language seminary in Bobo, to be a Mennonite pastor. Young people predominate here, in the church as well as the society. I am now in Orodara and have greeted many of the people who remember the Sworas from years past, as well as many new people. There has been a very fortunate change in schedule, in that I will teach my class on the history of Christian mission next week and not this. That gives me more time for the language to come back, which it has in chunks and pieces, though i still stutter and hesitate a lot. I will also visit some of the outlying churches where i used to do theological education by extension. Most of my former students are alive. As i meet these old friends, we marvel and exclaim our gratitude to God that we are yet alive to see each other again, something that cannot be taken for granted in one of the poorest countries of the world. Imagine a country the size of Colorado, with a soil and environment like the hard scrabble country of West Texas, with 13 million people on it, and you’ll understand why daily survival is heroic and why relationships matter more than things.
I spent the morning and lunch time with Norman and Lillian Nicolson in the lovely village of Tin–pronounced tan, like a suntan–where they are learning the incredibly tough tonal language of Siamou and translating the Bible into it. After so many years of study they have determined that the language has 7 tones, though you would not know that from asking a Siamou person. That”s like asking a fish what water is like. I sat in on some of the recording work, although i only understood the French part, before it got translated into Siamou. Then we talked about the difficulty of finding and living a balance of availability to your friends and hosts and neighbors, and of sustainability, so you don’t get burned out by the intensity of African village life. On top of that, they have a lovely 2 year old daughter, Nadine. Try juggling parenthood, family life and work in a foreign and all-absorbing culture, and you can see how tough that balancing act is.
They lent me time on this computer. Just one more sweet reminder of how being here is all gift, one for which I feel responsible to people here and back home. Thank you for your time, love, support, prayers, care, and more.
Sent: Monday, February 21, 2011 10:17:30 AM
Subject: more news from Burkina Faso
Hello friends and family,
Thanks to Norman and Lillian Nicolson I have some computer time again, and on their computer. It is hot today–one can hardly drink enough water. And dusty. Everything is a rust red color, including me. Its the dry season, and will be until June. But that makes getting around easier than when it rains. So with the help of Nicodeme Coulibaly I have been to visit some of the churches and people where I used to do basic Bible teaching. One visit was to the home of his parents, Philipe and Marte, in the little settlement of Badara. I recorded their greetings and testimony on my camera. We also went to Banzon, where Pierre Drabo still lives, though he is the only one remaining whom we knew there. But many new people have joined them. Both churches now have a part-time Burkinabe pastor who is primarily farming, like they are. They have also grown much, and have even planted other churches. This is their doing, not so much that of the missionaries. We foreigners now play more of a supportive role, under the direction of the national church.
The Jula has been coming back to me in chunks, so on Sunday I preached in the Orodara church, in Jula, while my former language tutor, Kalifa Traore, translated. We had to stop and straighten things out a few times, but it worked. Today, I started the class on the history of Christian mission. A few people helped me out the few times I got stuck, and I blundered big time over the words for haircut. It came out more like head cut–or decapitation. But we all got some good laughs. Otherwise, they said it went well.
Two Jula words explain a lot here: Barika and Bonya. Barika is related to the Hebrew word Baruch for blessing. It is in Arabic, too. I asked the class today to define it, and they said, blessing, power, grace and wellness. Bonya means honor. Bonya is both an expression or result of Barika, as well as a channel of Barika. So people here carefully and constantly cultivate a crop of honor, or one might say there is an economy of honor, and thus, barika, by the ways they treat each other. There are greetings for each part of the day; you acknowledge and thank people for the work they are doing, even if it is in their own house or field, you give blessings for each time of the day and for every stage of life, and you return them in kind, as well as saying Amen and May God catch that blessing, while touching it to your heart or your head.
My health has stayed well (Alla Barika, the Burkinabe say), and if anything, I am on track to come back heavier than when I left. The Burkinabe are very generous, and they are always convinced that I can always eat some more, even when I am not.
A special treat was visiting (and of course, eating) at the home of our former host in the nearby town of Dieri, Gaousou Barro. Soon after, he fell very ill. I visited him in the hospital. It seems a stomach infection also opened the door for a malarial flareup. But I hear he is doing much better today. Some of us helped him buy working cattle a few years ago, but they died some time back. Things are hard, especially in the tropics.
By knowing that you are thinking about me and praying for me, that helps me make my tiny little contribution here all the more. Maybe the biggest contribution I am making is simply to honor them by being their guest, and by the way I am their guest, thus increasing their supply of Barika. In all their greetings they ask, How is your family, because people come in chunks and groups, not just singly, or alone. I give the customary response: They are in peace, and they greet you. I greet you for them, too, with some customary blessings:
May God give us peace.
May God let us see each other again.
May God give us Barika.
Peace and Barika,
March 3, 2011
Dear friends and family,
In less than a week, Lord willing, I shall be home. I am thankful for
how well my health has held up, with the exception of some
respiratory-allergy stuff, not uncommon for dry season: sniffles,
coughs, occasional congestion. My time with the church has wrapped up
with the exception of sharing twice in the Ouagadougou church this next
Sunday. I have also just finished up my input for the missionary team
retreat. What a difference a few decades makes! On the whole, the
average age of the team is older, and the members more experienced than
when we were here.
My host and I counted up visits to 10 churches during this sojourn.
Back in 1988, there were four. I could have visited 13, plus small and
interested groups in about 5 other villages. Of particular joy to me is
to see how many Burkinabe are moving into leadership, and those, like
Siaka and Claire Traore, and Abdias Coulibaly, and Mahdou Traore, who
are teaching the next generation of leadership. Mahdou is also a
missionary, sent by the Southern Senufo churches, to partner with the
missionary linguists reaching the Northern Senufo.
ENTHRONED UPON THE PRAISES OF ISRAEL……
In my visits to the churches, the music and dance during worship put
chills up my spine and brings tears to my eyes. No one, Thank God, ever
told the Burkinabe that they could not dance in church. So they worship
from the feet on up. None of the Western dualism for them that
separates body from spirit. Women who will barely look a
stranger–especially a man–in the eye give themselves over in
unself-conscious abandon together, beating the earth with their feet,
shaking their shoulders, bowing, shaking their heads and rising to raise
their arms, as their voices raise the roof, to the support of the
balaphon (like a xylophone) and the drums, tapping out multiple but
overlapping rhythms. The words from Psalm 22:4 come to mind: God is
enthroned upon the praises of Israel. Depending upon the tribe and
culture, some men or a man might also take his turn to lead a song with
similar physical and vocal abandon, but universally, the women, in
coordinated and well-rehearsed choirs call down the power–or BARIKA–of
heaven, and everyone is blessed. Body, soul and spirit are thus united
in a foretaste of the mighty raucous, rolling clouds of joy around the
throne of the Lamb, in The Revelation of John, chapter 7. It is also in
keeping with the worship notes of the Psalms. If the mountains, seas
and forests do not join in the praise of their Creator, it is not for
lack of trying by the worship choirs of African women.
On a more somber note: Everything you hear about rising global food
prices is true, at least in Burkina Faso. And everything you hear about
the degradation, exhaustion and impoverishment of tropical soils is also
true. Few now are the big black-skinned yams, the length of your arm,
that used to fill trucks to the point that their axles protested with
loud squeals as they lumbered down the road. The soil is too poor now,
I am told. Everything you hear about rising fuel and fertilizer prices
is also true, at least here. Burkinabe farmers are adapting and
scrambling, doing such things as intercropping grains among their fruit
trees or doing intensive gardening, but it’s a scramble to stay ahead of
needs and challenges. On top of that, the former-and-somehow still
current President of Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo is doing everything he
can to punish those who insist that he lost the last election there,
which is just about the rest of the human race. So he has ordered
electrical power cut off to Burkina Faso, because the northern tribes
who oppose him and his crew are related to the Burkinabe and the
Malians. Ouagadougou now has a regular schedule of daily blackouts by
neighborhoods. When power or phone service or internet get cut here in
Burkina Faso, it is now often blamed on the chaos in Ivory Coast.
But as the Burkinabe say, Am be deme-deme, Alla Barika la–We muddle
along by the grace of God.
Peace and Barika to you,