Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Fragile Peace

Jos was quiet today. We thank God.

Bayo was able to return from Abuja to Jos today. He said there was no sign of any destruction as he entered Jos from the south. Most of the destruction was on the north side of town and in the center. Bayo says it's probably for the best that he was stuck in Abuja; had he been here, he would have had to fight the temptation to go out and see what was happening. For me, that's not a temptation! As it was, Bayo knew more about what was happening in Jos than I did! He had kept in constant phone communication with people all over Jos.

I have not heard of any foreign missionaries or expats who were directly affected by the violence. The mental stress and the tension certainly affected us, but we did not suffer loss of life or property.

One of these days I hope to write a post about the 2001 crisis in Jos. That rioting also began on a Friday, but lasted for 6 days. We are very thankful that this one was curtailed in 2 days.

I'm trying to figure out what I've done for the past 4 days. Why are some areas of my house such a mess when I've been here all day? Well, I've been doing lots of cooking. Thankfully Angela has helped me a lot with the clean-up. I've been doing a fair amount of emailing. In 2001, I found that I had a hard time getting things done even for months after the crisis. That was how my mind reacted to stress. I'm feeling a bit of that now, but trust that I'll be able to work through it better this time.

Our hearts go out to the families of those who lost loved ones, both Christian and Muslim. Now begins the process of reaching out to those who were severely affected. I have not heard reports yet on the more than 100 women in our sewing program. So many of them live in the areas that were affected.

We may have peace right now, but it is fragile indeed. When that much blood has been shed, people don't forgive and forget. Continue to pray for God's peace to prevail and for genuine healing of hearts to take place.

Day 3

It seems that the worst of the crisis is over. We heard a few random gunshots from 6-7 a.m. There is a lot of traffic on the main road outside our compound.

Some friends from the north side of town made it to our compound on the south side early this morning. We are so grateful that the violence in their area did not continue through the night.

We now have a city-wide curfew from 6 p.m. til 8 a.m.

Angela, who sought refuge with us, briefly returned to her home this morning. By the look on her face, I knew the devastation was significant. Her home was not burned, but so many homes around her were still burning this morning.

So far we have heard that two of our staff members had their homes torched.

We are being creative with the food that we have. I have actually enjoyed the challenge of coming up with nutritious meals from the bits and pieces of food in my kitchen and freezer. We had banana muffins and Russian tea for breakfast. For lunch we'll have 5 bean soup with some bits of meat from the freezer. I just dumped in what was left of our taco salad (mainly minced meat and beans) from a few days back. I did pick the wilted lettuce out. (I'll see if my in-house food critic notices. Tobi is extremely perceptive when it comes to food. He's only 8, but he can tell if I've used margarine or butter in food preparation. He much prefers butter.) I'm also making whole wheat dinner rolls. We'll have a tasty deep-red Nigerian drink called zobo with our meal. We had made it for Thanksgiving and had a lot left. I think we'll eat outside on the picnic table. Serving lunch to 12 today.

I will send food out to the guards as well. Normally they buy lunch from vendors who are close by. They probably wouldn't think much of the above soup I mentioned. In Nigeria, soup is something you eat with your fingers, not with a spoon! We made okra soup last week and I have just enough for two people. We will serve it with a starch called gari (made from ground cassava).

In Nigeria when eating at someone else's house, it's not polite to completely clean your plate. You're supposed to leave a little bit on your plate. A few days ago when I gave Angela's son a plate of rice, I told him to finish all of it because we can't waste food. When he had a bit remaining, I saw him ask his mom with his eyes if it was really ok to finish all of it.

Bayo is on his way from Abuja now. He has been there for the past 6 days. He had planned to return Friday morn, but was unable to due to the violence. I texted him my shopping list. Stores are starting to open in Jos, but some prices have quadrupled. Prices will come down somewhat, but will probably remain high for quite awhile.

During this crisis we have never felt personally threatened or in harm's way. If we had any trauma, it was mainly just the mental stress of having our city under seige and having to plan ahead in case the crisis escalated. The general population of Jos has faced incredible hardships. Unfortunately there has been much loss of life and untold property damage.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

God Willing

When I first came to Nigeria, I noticed that many people ended their sentences about future plans with 'God willing.' I thought it strange that the tailor would say, "I'll have your dresses ready in 2 weeks, God willing." In my mind I was thinking Just get it done on time, ok?

I do enjoy making plans, but I am learning a lot about surrendering those plans to God. A few weeks ago I was having an awful time because my daily plans were not working out at all. I would start the day with Plan A, but by the end of the day it was pretty close to Plan J, and I was completely frustrated. Through this, I became aware that God is more concerned about how I react to changes in my plans than to whether the plan works the way I want it to. That was a humbling lesson to hear. I can't say 'learn' because unfortunately I haven't learned it yet. I'm just aware that I need to learn it.

We tend to have a fair amount of external factors that are beyond our control so it's actually quite easy for plans to go awry.

Friday morning I was up early, handling a bit of email, getting ready for a normal workday. Suddenly all plans came to a halt as I started receiving text messages and phone calls about chaos in Jos. It became obvious that ALL plans were going to change that day.

I was hoping to attend a ladies' brunch on Saturday. No way.

We had planned to attend a 4 hour Thanksgiving service at our church on Sunday. Then later in the afternoon, we were planning to attend another Thanksgiving service for a newly married couple. All of those plans have now been cast aside.

Maybe it's not such a bad idea to tack 'God willing' on the end of my future plans. I just don't want to become fatalistic in my thinking. Maybe I can put it this way: I'll work as hard as I can in the work God has called me to do, and if plans change along the way, I'll ride out the adventure and see what God has in store.

Day 2 and Holding

We had a fairly peaceful night, although the guards told me they heard gunfire throughout most of the night.

My phone rang at 1:45 a.m., and I was instantly awake. Turns out, the person just wanted to know if we were safe. I was wondering why he was calling at that time. Later I remembered that calls are free between midnight and 4 a.m. He probably didn't have any phone credit so he took that opportunity to check on people.

You can find quite a bit of news on the internet today if you google "Jos election violence." For the most part, I think the reporting is quite fair, although I think they have greatly decreased numbers of those injured and dead.

We are actually seeing hundreds of people fleeing from the Tudun Wada area which borders the area we live in. It's mainly women and children. They are not quite running, but they are walking very fast. They are all trying to get to the Air Force base which is a trek of about 2-3 miles.

I saw a family of 6 plus the driver get on a motorcycle this morning. The four children were quite small. I have never seen 7 people on a motorcycle before! The traffic I was able to see appeared to be mainly heading south out of town.

Of course, rumors are abounding. We heard this morning that our church was burned, but just now a member confirmed that only windows are broken.

Tobi just asked if he could play outside. I said no, but that he can watch another video--he sure was surprised. Letting the kids 'veg' out on videos seems somehow appropriate these days. They do know what's going on, but I try not to let them hear details.

Amazingly, we have had uninterrupted power for 36 hours now. I always feel better when we have power. I know I can do email, the kids can watch videos, the lamps provide a warm, homey glow even in the middle of the day, the limited food in the fridge & freezer is not spoiling...

I have had to get very creative with meal planning. It's a good mind-stretching experience. We have food; it's just not in the quantities and types that we would normally have. We are now feeding 5 extra mouths plus our family.

One woman who is with us now went to the hospital at 5:30 a.m. on Friday to line up to get her anti-retroviral drugs for HIV. That hospital is in the area of town where the fighting was quite heavy. She had to stay in the hospital all day because it was not safe to go out. She said many people were taking refuge within the hospital compound. She also said many people with injuries were coming in. By 4 p.m. she was able to trek to her home about 2-3 miles away. She said there were many soldiers on the main roads.

The other woman with us forgot to bring her anti-retroviral drugs for HIV when she fled. These drugs must be taken religiously, at the same time in the morning and evening. It's not possible for her to go back home to get the drugs. If the drugs are not taken properly, the body can develop resistance to the drugs in a fairly short amount of time.

Lives are simply being disrupted in every way imaginable. Some disruptions are manageable; others are devastating. We have heard of numerous homes being destroyed by fire.

Continue to join us in prayer for this situation.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Violence in Plateau State

Yesterday was the first time that I have not had to work on Thanksgiving Day since I have lived in Nigeria. It's not a holiday here, but it was a 'no movement' day due to elections held on Thursday. No driving is allowed. People are supposed to walk to the polling places and vote.

We had a nice quiet holiday at home (well, we had to be home). I took most of the day to prepare a nice Thanksgiving meal for our family and some family friends who came over. I want our kids to have an understanding of the American Thanksgiving holiday. Interestingly, most (all?) churches in Nigeria hold a Thanksgiving service on a Sunday near the end of November every year. It's an all-out 4 hour service where they truly express their thanks to God for seeing them through another year. We will be attending two Thanksgiving services this Sunday.

As we were preparing for work and school this morning, we started getting all kinds of text messages from Mashiah Foundation staff members in various parts of town. Jos is a city of about 1 million people. There were reports of fighting, gunshots, cars burning, etc. By 8:00 we heard that school was cancelled.

Elections here always come with the possibility of violence. It's too early for me to comment yet on what has provoked this outburst of violence, but it most likely has something to do with election procedures or results.

Sadly, one friend sent me an email that someone was killed just near their compound.

It is common here to live within compound walls. And we're so thankful for it especially at a time like this.

Please pray along with us that peace will soon be restored to Plateau State.

For the Love of Reading

For as long as I can remember, books have been my best friends. When I was in elementary school, I would beg my mom to let me read "just one more chapter" before turning out the light.

Maybe I majored in English because it was just a natural fit. I generally have 2-4 books going at the same time. In a way that's reflective of my life because I am normally working on a number of major projects at the same time.

In the past few years, I have made a conscious decision to read mainly non-fiction. I have found that fiction just doesn't satisfy. In one of the latest books I read, I came across an author with similar feelings, and she put it so well:

"I never can get interested in things that didn't happen to people who never lived."
--Helene Hanff in 84 Charing Cross Road

Since I was a child, I've wondered why true stories are called non-fiction. It's really not a very pleasant sounding word. It doesn't sound intriguing even though most non-fiction I've read is very intriguing. Why does it need to be defined as what it is not? The word actually means "not not true." I just think whoever coined the term non-fiction could have come up with a better term.

How do I find the time to read? Usually at the tail end of the day. I don't watch any TV at all--maybe 3 hours a month. Lately whenever we try to watch a movie as a family, I'm sound asleep after the first 20 minutes. I'm getting more like my dad!

We try to read to the kids every night. I can tell they are on their way to becoming life-long readers themselves. We are currently reading Little Britches by Ralph Moody to the kids. It's the story of growing up poor on a rough piece of land in Colorado. Recently Tobi has started reading to himself. Prior to this, he has read short books aloud to me. The other night he read for an hour in bed! Great accomplishment for a second grader.

I get a steady supply of good non-fiction from my British friend Kath. I've been reading her books for years, and I've never come across a lemon yet.

What are some books I've been reading in the past couple of years?
84 Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff
The Gervase Phinn series (5 books with anecdotes of his life as a school inspector in Yorkshire, England)
Do Hard Things by Alex & Brett Harris
Christy by Catherine Marshall (I know it's fiction, but it's based on a true story)
Little Britches by Ralph Moody (family read-aloud)
Empty Cradles by Margaret Humfreys (fascinating story of British children who were shipped off to Canada and Australia in the mid 1900s.)
Nobody's Child by Kate Adie (a history of adoption)
Eleni by Nicholas Gage (the story of why his mother was executed in Greece in the mid 1900s)
A Place for Us by Nicholas Gage (a Greek immigrant story of life in America)

Have you read a good book today?