Monday, September 10, 2007

Summer's end

This summer of 2007 has been unusual, even for our typically erratic schedules of teaching, traveling and varied speaking engagements. Originally we planned to leave Nigeria for a two month break from early August, just in time to attend the conference in patristics or early Christianity held every four years in the UK, at Oxford. But a Nigeria-wide strike at the universities (probably connected to the April elections for all levels of government), changed those plans.

Wendy had already prepared a paper, “Solovyov’s Sophia as a Mediating Principle”, for the conference on ‘Sophia’ at the University of Nymegen (the Netherlands), and rather than send this paper to be read for her, she decided she might as well go in person to present it, particularly because the topic was close to the theme of the book she is now preparing for publication with Slavica (Sophia, Beatrice and Mary. A Study in Personification of Wisdom based on Solovyov and Dante). After the conference she wanted to stay in Europe, to make use of excellent library facilities in preparing the papers to be presented in Oxford.

Key to this decision was not only the approval of the head of our Department of Religious Studies but also the concurrence of her sister, Pat Verbrugge, who lives just outside Amsterdam near Utrecht, that she could stay with them during the intervening weeks.

At the Verbrugge’s, a place of peace and quiet near Utrecht

While Adrian went on ahead to Toronto, and was able to attend the annual Vision Conference of IICS/CSI in Kansas City, as well as spend special time with family, Wendy stayed with her sister, and took the time to renew acquaintance with the family too. By the end of July the necessary papers had been written, and she was ready for the trip to England. The Oxford conference was the main purpose for the trip, but she also managed to visit dear friends and supporters of our work, Mel and Vera Macleod in Manchester.

Mel and Vera
Vera and Wendy

And she took a few days to travel to Durham and visited friends and former colleagues (while we were in Moscow), Robin and Penny Minney. Durham cathedral was especially impressive.

Robin and Penny

Wendy at Durham Cathederal

The Patristics conference at Oxford is the single most important international conference for those who are specialized in the study of early Christianity, and Wendy values the opportunity to attend. This year there were close to 800 registered. It is a wonderful occasion to hear good lectures, meet colleagues in one’s area of specialization, find out about new publications, and particularly to have one’s ideas challenged by others who have similar interests.

Wendy in Oxford

Wendy gave two presentations, first a paper on the fourth century Augustine’s work on the Trinity, examining his argument for attributing ‘Wisdom’ to Christ (as in 1 Cor. 1.24). The second paper was based on our teaching work in Jos, and discussed the special challenges of a course on early Christianity, taught to all incoming students, Christian and Muslim alike. But a very special bonus of attending was her meeting longtime friend of IICS Thomas Oden, and hearing about a special project of IVCF publications which he is spearheading, to publish stories of the earliest years of Christianity in Africa.

She was no sooner back in Toronto, and it was time to prepare for another special highlight of this unusual year, a weeklong gathering of our family at a cottage in the Kawartha’s, about an hour’s drive from Toronto. It had been five years since our family was last together, all of us in one place, and we planned this week as a belated celebration of our 35th wedding anniversary (October 2006).

Celebration couple

It was a special time of gathering, celebration, walks, playground activities, swimming, fishing, and canoeing. Oma and Opa were happy for extra time with the grandchildren, while Pauline appreciated a chance to catch up on all the reading she never gets around to except on vacation.


The first few days were a little cold, and we took some drives and long walks.

At the Fenelon Falls playground, Chris loved that turtle; and Gracie the slide

Sharon, who found this cottage for us, also did the lion’s share of preparation for this week. it really did take some effort!

We also took time for games inside the cottage.

We are truly thankful to God for this opportunity to be together and celebrate His goodness to us in these past years.

The Helleman family

In just a few short weeks we hope to be back on our way to Nigeria. We know that the strike at Unijos is over, but it appears that the process of students returning to the classroom is somewhat delayed. Over the summer we are grateful to have maintained email contact with a number of students who continued to work hard at their projects and dissertations, in spite of the strike and our absence. Please pray that there will be no further obstacles in starting the new academic year at the university.

We have heard of some heavy storms in the Jos area. Although such storms are not unusual for the end of the rainy season, we know of friends of ours at the college in Gindiri (just outside Jos) who suffered significant damage to property and destruction of the bore hole, which means there is no safe drinking water for the students. Please pray for our colleagues as they deal with these emergencies, and particularly for health concerns raised by these storms.

As we look back over the summer, we are thankful to God for His protection through the many stints of travel. We do not take this for granted. But we are not finished yet, and ask your prayers for upcoming travel to Calgary and Edmonton, where we hope to visit friends, a number of churches and participate in an all-college interdisciplinary studies conference at the the King's College (September 19 and 20). We will present aspects of our work in Nigeria in the workshop, "Heartbreak and Hope in Interfaith Relations in Nigeria.” We certainly would appreciate your prayers for effective communication as we share the joys and challenges of our ministry at Unijos.