Monday, November 29, 2010

Visit to Nigeria, November 4-16

Our visit to Nigeria earlier this month was a little like a whirlwind - it went much too quickly. Indeed, we accomplished our main goals, to visit and work with our graduate students, but we certainly would have liked more time to visit friends and former colleagues.

Streets and roads of Jos near the Unijos campus

The trip started somewhat inauspiciously, because our flight was scheduled to leave Banjul around 2am, but did not leave until about 4.30. So we arrived late in Lagos and thus missed the connecting flight to Jos. With some coaxing of the airline staff, Adrian managed to change our ticket to fly to Abuja that same afternoon, and Mary McCain helped arrange for a taxi to take us to Jos. Although we left the Abuja airport at about 4pm, Abuja traffic was heavy, and we had not yet gotten to the stretch of highway leading to the Plateau when it was already getting dark. Needless to say, we were praying the whole way to Jos. Going up the Plateau there were numerous roadblocks to slow us again - we counted at least 20 before we got to Jos, even though the evening curfew is no longer in effect. The police or military at the checkpoints were invariably friendly, and the taxi driver was professional about his work, but we were really grateful to arrive at the McCains around 9pm! They greeted us warmly, and even had some food for us before we transferred to the house where we used to live on campus, just a few minutes walk from the McCains.

We were tired, since we had hardly slept the previous night on the flight from Banjul. But the next day with the use of our cell phones we lost little time to get in touch with our students, to let them know we arrived and were ready to work with them on their projects. It was Friday, so it was a day when we would not ordinarily go out, certainly not in the afternoon unless it was necessary for marketing and groceries to get us going. But on that score Mary really helped out by having us over for the hot meal.

Zaria Road

This double road is a wonderful new feature in Jos, finished in the last months, and passing through the city from north to south; it makes for a much smoother transition through the city.

During that day, Friday, our department hosted external examiners for master's students, and one of those defending was Wendy's former student, Sunday Gwomna, who had completed his thesis on Ephesians with Danny McCain. When he dropped by that evening with one of the elders of his congregation, we were happy to congratulate him. He in turn took advantage of the occasion to ask us to join him at his church on Sunday, and for Adrian to preach. It was not hard to agree to that request, especially on what would certainly be a festive occasion, at the completion of work on the thesis.

Adrian with pastor Sunday after the service

Sunday school classes between the two services, held outdoors

We joined pastor Sunday for two services, first the English, attended by about 50, most of them students, and then for the Hausa service, for which the hall was packed. Adrian's message on suffering as an integral and not abnormal part of the life of the Christian, was well-received. This was the congregation whose church, located not far from the university, in a predominantly Muslim area, had now been burned three times. So they were meeting in a community centre not far from their own location.

The entry to the community centre; the structure is made of local bricks, widely used.

But after the service pastor Sunday proudly showed us a new compound nearby, acquired by the church, with a much more secure wall. This will be the location of the parsonage and the chapel for English services, while they are rebuilding the walls of the older location.

Sunday, Adrian and Wendy, in front of the new gate

The new property will not be accessed until after Christmas time; but the high quality wall and gate are very important for this congregation.

The important thing is that we did get to work with most of the students for whom we came. Although Cosmos had presented his proposal in an initial seminar at Unijos, there was still much to be settled, and Adrian had a few sessions with him, to get this proposal for research on a stronger footing. He also was able to contact Dennis, who is now teaching in a city at some distance from Jos; since our last visit Dennis managed to present the requisite number of seminars, and was ready for upgrading, and is thus at the same stage as Wendy's student Rebecca.

To help prepare Rebecca for this upgrading procedure, Wendy especially helped her strengthen the theoretical framework, a segment of the first chapter, which needed some work. We had time to go through a few versions, and were able to complete this far more efficiently than through email; so Rebecca was especially grateful for our coming. When we had completed the bulk of the work we celebrated the event with herself and her husband Sam by going out for lunch in a restaurant not far from Bukuru, where they live on the campus of the Theological College of Northern Nigeria.

Adrian, Sam, Rebecca and Wendy

Wendy's other PhD student, Dauda, had in the meantime transferred the actual work on the thesis to a supervisor at the university of KwasuluNatal in South Africa. He had recently submitted the entire thesis for defence, so at this point Wendy only took the time for a careful reading, providing him some comments which will hopefully be helpful when the time comes for defence.

At the King's Bite: Danfulani and his wife, the external examiner, Wendy, Adrian and Kangdim

Elias Lamle, Danfulani and his wife

Our visit also gave a pleasant opportunity to catch up with Elias Lamle, whom Wendy had helped with his thesis on joking relationships among the Tarok of the Plateau, a thesis he had defended successfully at Leuven in Belgium this past June. We appreciated the invitation of colleagues in the Religious Studies department, Umar Danfulani and Jotham Kangdim to join them for supper, together with Elias and the external examiner for the department that day. At the moment Elias is still examining various options for work including a position in a center for peace and conflict studies, a position that would certainly allow him to implement the work for his doctoral studies.

Aside from the discussions with our graduate students we also discovered that our department of Religious Studies has a new name; it is now the department of Religious Studies and Philosophy. To date no faculty has been hired specifically to teach philosophy, though one recently hired Master's graduate does have a background in philosophy from St. Augustine's Major Seminary, where philosophy is taught for three years to prospective priests, before they begin the work in theology. We did take some time to talk with our former graduate students, who were hired in the department at the junior level, with the understanding that they acquire a doctoral degree which will help qualify them to teach philosophy. It is difficult, of course, for a student to write a thesis at that level, when they are lacking in the necessary preparatory courses. We tried to advise them on a program of reading; but we also knew that St. Augustine's does have faculty members well qualified in philosophy, and so we took the time to the visit with our former colleagues at the St.Augustine's Seminary, so that there might be the necessary cooperation.

Our friend and dean of the Seminary, Fr. Peter Kamai.was happy to receive some of our dictionaries and reference works for the Seminary library

On our last Sunday in Jos we attended the NKST Anglo-Jos service, one of the few congregations of the Tiv church which has an English service. Many of the Unijos students attend. It was wonderful to worship there again, and to meet former friends and colleagues. During the ethno-religious troubles earlier this year the church and parsonage had been attacked, and although the church did not suffer much damage, the parsonage was still without a roof. In fact in that neighbourhood there were whole streets of houses still without roofs, and with considerable indication of fire damage.

At the university one of the benefits of the recent troubles is that the university has finally put a solid fence separating the campus from the main highway, giving at least some slight protection for the campus residents when troubles arise.

Entrance gate and the new fence of the Permanent Site campus of Unijos

Although most of our days in Jos were packed, our last day was particularly interesting. Rather early in the day we walked over to the building which houses our department.

We hardly recognized the campus where we used to teach; many new buildings are being added.

Our expectations of meeting numerous colleagues were not disappointed, for this was the day when our faculty was to hold its election for a new dean. Our good friend and colleague Danfulani was standing for the position. Aside from the importance of the occasion for our department, we were happy for this chance to meet many old friends and colleagues gathered for the election, especially Gwamna as new head of our department. But it was special treat to meet Timothy Tseror, with whom we had worked in Tanzania; although he had stayed in Mwanza a year after we left, he was now back in Jos, teaching once more in the history department of Unijos. He invited us for supper that night yet, and honoured us by having pounded yam with a special meat soup!

Timothy's wife and his youngest daughter joined him for the second year he taught at St. Augustine's University in Tanzania, in Mwanza. It was a special treat for us that after we left he and his family was able to occupy the house given us, and which we had helped to furnish at the time.

On Tuesday morning we finished up what needed to be done at the house. Aside from work with students we had also taken the time to make decisions on a number of things we had left in the house in 2008, like books, thinking that our IICS colleagues who would be staying at the house could use them.

So it was time to do some "housecleaning". Alongside books and equipment we found materials for teaching that had only been collecting dust. Some of these we managed to pass along to our graduate students, some to friends and colleagues at Unijos and TCNN, and finally. some ended up in a smoky fire in the pit behind our house! It was really time to say goodbye! So, we were off to the airport shortly after 10.30am, in time for the Arik flight to Lagos, which arrived a little late, but this time it was not a problem, since the flight to Banjul was not scheduled to leave until 8pm that night; it actually left on time, and after a landing at Accra in Ghana, flew straight to Banjul - not stopping first in Dakar, Senegal as we had anticipated. So we arrived at 11:30pm, about 30 minutes earlier than expected!

Although we were tired from a rather hectic schedule of visits and consultations, we had enjoyed the cooler air of Jos on the Plateau, and really appreciated the opportunity of meeting many friends, along with our students, encouraging them, as well as being encouraged ourselves by the good things which are happening in Jos, in spite of the troubles of these past months.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Finishing our first courses

Last Friday and Saturday, respectively, we managed to finish the first two courses (Introduction to New Testament/Wendy, and Introduction to Christian Theology/Adrian), with students at the Gambia Theological Institute (GTI).

Our GCC classroom

Wendy teaching

Praise God with us, as everything went smoothly, and we have not found it difficult to translate skills acquired in teaching in Nigeria, for this new setting in West Africa. And thank you to all who prayed with us; the Lord heard and answered us!

We have enjoyed working with the GTI students, who come from a wide variety of backgrounds! Although some have barely finished high school, others have finished teacher’s college and are working as teachers; most are pastors or working in some kind of Christian ministry, though we also have two lawyers.

Three students

We have discovered that they are not shy in class, and ask lots of questions, just like our students in Nigeria. That is a blessings, for we quickly got a sense of whether or not what we were teaching was helpful and appropriate.


Room overview

By God’s grace, we hope to begin the second set of courses (Augustine’s Confessions/Wendy, and Christology/Adrian) by mid-November, when we return from Nigeria.

So we would ask you to pray with us for safety in the travelling planned for the next two weeks, as we hope to visit Nigeria (leaving November 4, to return to the Gambia on the 16th). Our main concern is to work with our Unijos graduate students.

Please pray for constructive sessions as we help them more effectively than just by email. Pray also for colleagues at the University of Jos, both our IICS colleagues who continue their ministry in that context, as well as our Nigerian colleagues, who carry on their work under considerable obstacles, whether provision of light, water and internet, as well as ethnic/religion tension, which can still so easily erupt in violence.

CVM in the Gambia

During the past two weeks we have also taken time to do some "sightseeing" beyond Banjul, and we want to share with you some views from our visits, as well as typical views of the roadside, first from our visit to Brikama, about forty-five minutes drive south of Kololi (where our compound is located).

Brikama roadside photos

For the first two weeks of our stay here we were the only guests at the CVM compound, but by mid-October we were joined by Stephen Wik, CVM staff worker from British Columbia. The next day we were joined by two pharmacists from Edmonton, Katie Wong and Rosanna Yan, who came to help out at the pharmacy of the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital for two weeks.

Katie and Rosanna in front of the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital

With Stephen, Katie and Rosanna we took a trip to the village of Jidda, south of Banjul, beyond Brikama. This village is special for CVM work, because it has been a focus of their wholistic ministry here in the Gambia, Typical of rural areas, the cultivation of groundnuts, or peanuts, as we know them, provides a staple crop.
Groundnut field

Groundnut plant

Cleaning plants

We also visited the plot of ground, and small house which the people of Jidda have allotted to CVM driver/assistant Martin, in thanks for his considerable help to their community. He lost no time in digging the well, which has been a real boon to his numerous neighbours. He was certainly a hero to the children, and the centre of attention when he showed them his new Canadian laptop.


Children with laptop

As we waited for tea at Martin's house, we discovered that the day of our visit had been designated as a Gambia-wide day for immunization against polio. Although the immunization was given by mouth and not painful, the "strange" procedure elicited a fair amount of tears!

Polio immunization

Katie and Rosanna have already left the Gambia, since they planned to continue their visit to Africa with an attempt to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Before they left we said goodbye to them with a restaurant dinner with the entire CVM team here, including not only Martin, but also Joseph, the night watchman, Ibrahim, and our cook, Victoria, with her little daughter, Agnes, who enjoyed herself immensely on this occasion.

Dinner with CVM group


CVM group photo

New programme at the University of the Gambia

An important reason for our coming to the Gambia this year was to meet with some officials of the University of the Gambia, particularly to greet them, and to discover the status of the proposed programme in Christian Studies, which will be held on the Brikama campus of the University, approximately 35 km from where we are staying.

Courtyard of the Brikama campus, with the building for the Department of Arts and Humanities

About a week ago we were able to establish contact with professor Gomez, who is head of the Department of Arts and Humanities, and also now acting deputy dean.

Meeting with Prof.Gomez

Prof. Gomez is hopeful that the approval of the new programme will be given soon, in an upcoming meeting of the university senate. Please pray with us that this will indeed materialize.

Since that meeting we have also met with the bishops of both the Methodist and Catholic Church, while we had a lovely supper with the Anglican bishop on our first night here in the Gambia.

Meeting with the Rt. Rev. W.P. Stephens, bishop of the Methodist Church of the Gambia

Bishop Stephens, together with his Anglican and Catholic counterparts, are very important in directing the affairs of the Gambia Christian Council, the body which will oversee the new programme. Please pray with us for these leaders, and their various contributions to this process.

GCC secretariat

The GCC secretariat is located across the road from the University Law Faculty, not far from where we are living. The Brikama campus is further away. Another new campus is being built even further from Banjul.

Faculty of Law