Thursday, September 15, 2011

Prayer note--September 13

“From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people.” Ps. 3.8
Thanks so much for your prayers for the situation in Jos! The outbreak of violence expected after mosque prayers that Friday a little over a week ago did not materialize, and we recognize God’s mercy in response to the many requests raised in prayer.

In general the situation has calmed down. Even so, we must not relax our prayers. The spiral of violence and revenge killings has not abated, though it is no longer on the same scale as before.

Since the weekend there have been a number of attacks in villages close to Jos, where whole families of nine to fourteen have been massacred. It appears that there are some relatively well organized groups, using army uniforms, who come to the villages after dark every second or third night and attack innocent people, mainly to avenge earlier death.

Just a few days ago there was another bomb attack in the centre of Jos. Praise God that no one was seriously injured, since the first bomb, thrown out of a car window, landed in a gutter, and the second, sent a few minutes later, also caused very little damage. But you can imagine what this does for tensions in the city.

So, the prayer requests posted earlier remain very much relevant: 
1. Safety. As word of deaths gets out, there is often reaction and retaliation. Pray that this will not happen.
2. Pray for wisdom to know what Christian leaders can do to encourage and enhance peace.
3. Pray that pastors and elders are able to bring violent youth under their control.
4. Pray for the families of both Christians and Muslims who have lost loved ones.
5. And continue to pray for all involved in the peace process, who attempt to build relationships on a different footing. May their efforts be blessed, as Jesus promised (Matt. 5.9).

PS, a special thanks for those who responded to the last prayer note. Our apologies for those not already on gmail, for the trouble it caused in joining the gmail contact groups. But we do hope that the letters will continue to come through more effectively.

Prayer note--September 1

For a few days already violent confrontation has returned to Jos. This time it is connected with celebrations for the end of Ramadan.  On Monday a church was burned, and a pastor killed. A mosque was also burned. Since then tension has escalated, with considerable gunfire in various places in the city, including  the university quarters where we used to live, and a number of market places in that area. There are no clear figures on just how many people have been killed to date.

Just what exactly started the trouble this time is not entirely clear; there are some indications of conflict and division among Muslims themselves on the date to start celebrations.  Unfortunately it appears also that “Christian” youth have ignored the pleas of their elders and determined on retaliation for last December’s disturbance of Christmas celebrations . With modern technology, rumours about an (attempted) attack fly quickly, and most do not bother to check them out before acting on them. 

   We have received the following requests for prayers from our colleague at the University of Jos, Dr. Danny McCain:
1. Safety. As word of deaths gets out, there is often reaction and retaliation. Pray that this will not happen.
2. Pray for wisdom to know what Christian leaders can do to encourage and enhance peace.
3. Pray that pastors and elders are able to bring violent youth under their control. 
4. Pray for the families of both Christians and Muslims who have lost loved ones.

We would add to that there are now rumours circulating of serious attacks by Muslims tomorrow (Friday) after the mosque prayers. Pray that these may be unfounded. Although the military presence has been of considerable support for our friends and colleagues, to protect, and calm things down, they must continually be on their guard, and careful. Pray that those who are trying to build peace will not become too tired and discouraged themselves.

PS, we  have made some attempts to send email prayer requests in a different format, but keep running into various obstacles. A big problem with the present system is that we have no idea whether you are actually receiving these emails, and/or whether they are blocked as spam. 

PSS, As we work on this, we would appreciate hearing from you if would like to have your address removed from these lists. Simply respond with ‘Please unsubscribe’ in subject heading.
Of course, we also appreciate hearing from you, if you’d like us to continue sending these prayer notes.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Book launch and art show

Thanks to all of you who joined us yesterday (Thursday, May 19) for the Crux bookstore launch of Wendy's two books, Solovyov's Sophia as  a Nineteenth-Century Russian Appropriation of Dante's Beatrice  (2011), and The Feminine  Personification of Wisdom:  A Study of Homer's Penelope, Cappadocian Macrina, Boethius' Philosophia and  Dante's Beatrice  (2009), as well as the exhibit of Sharon’s artwork.

The two book covers

It was a wonderful occasion with friends, family, and a wider supportive community to cap the years of thought and writing which came to expression in these two books on feminine personification of wisdom. For those of you who could not join us at Crux Books, we want to give just a little indication of a lovely event.  

Melissa Kuipers and John Franklin

Books display

Doug Blomberg and Bob VanderVennen
As some of you may know, when we first planned this event in March, we hoped to do a combined event, to introduce Wendy's books, but also exhibit Sharon's work, particularly because she had done the illustrations for the book covers. She was in hospital at the time, but was able to work on a collage there, and she hoped to put together a new series, so that we would combine an art exhibit with the book launch. She was working on the theme of resurrection, of new life breaking through the bonds of earth and death.

The first major piece in Sharon's new series, Resurrection 2011: 
"At the crack of dawn"

Although she came home for much of April, her energy levels did not permit her to advance very far with that project. Just after Easter she went back to St. Michael's hospital with a major flare-up of her auto-immune condition (Wegener's granulomatosis). So an exhibit as she had hoped to give was out of the question. In fact, she emerged from ICU just a little more than a week before this event, and was in no shape even for any decision-making on what, if anything, to present for an exhibit of her work. At that point she turned to her good friend, the Toronto artist Sharon Tiessen, who took the time to review her recent work, and put together a small collection of pieces to help celebrate the occasion.

Jonah series

Two lilies and a  dragon tree plant

We appreciated the congenial atmosphere for discussion and socializing provided by Crux bookstore. The launch was held in Leonard Hall, a room which holds second-hand books and is also used for university lectures. Aside from snacks brought by friends, Crux had coffee, tea and cookies available, altogether making a great setting for the book discussion.

The room with several paintings

Wendy and Eleanor Irwin, a colleague at Scarborough College of the University of Toronto

John Franklin wore two hats this day, for he was both chair of the board of Christian Studies International, the organization with which we have served overseas these years, and executive director of Imago, a Christian organization that supports the arts. He began by introducing Imago as the context for his introduction of Sharon's work, and then briefly introduced CSI, as the context for Wendy's academic work, and more particularly the writing of the two books that were celebrated that day.

John Franklin with two posters
In her introduction to the books, Wendy spoke briefly on what motivated her to do this kind of writing, highlighting the experience of teaching in Russia, and encounters there with academic bureaucracy, as well as the experience of wonderfully warm friendships. She concluded by expressing the hope that her work might in some small way contribute to keeping alive the memory of Vladimir Solovyov as a scholar and writer with a broad vision for Russia on the world stage. 

Wendy with her two books

View of room and audience

Chaplain Brian Walsh and Marion Taylor of Wycliffe College

We want to thank all who came to help make this a day for celebration. And a special thanks goes to Sharon Tiessen, for without her preparation of the pieces, it would not have been possible to show Sharon’s work. She could not be there, but thanks to our David’s photography and video recording, Sharon has gotten a pretty good impression of how it went.   

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Easter, resurrection and grace

With Easter Christians celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. This year we have been given special reasons to celebrate that resurrection, for we have experienced it personally. Although it has been some while since we last entered a blog, we want to share this experience with all of you who have followed our adventures over the years.

Some of you may know that Sharon, our eldest, has been affected by an auto-immune disorder, Wegener's granulomatosis. She was first diagnosed with it in 1998. Before Christmas she developed a benign mass in her lungs; this led to pneumonia and a number of infections, which landed her in hospital three times already before Easter. 

Because she was coughing up blood again at Easter time, she went to the ER at St. Michael's Hospital for some more tests on Easter Monday (April 25). New evidence of activity in the right lung led the doctors to admit her. Early that evening she started shivering. She received medication and started to doze off. Before she did however, she told Adrian, who was with her at the time, "I don't want to die!" He assured her that she would not.

Early the next morning we received a phone call from the hospital that she had been taken to the ICU because of additional bleeding in her lungs. Wendy went down right away to talk to Sharon yet before they began sedating her, particularly to stop the coughing, which intensified bleeding. At that point the doctors also began an aggressive treatment of the Wegener's disease with steroids. Wendy saw her yet during the afternoon, and then went home for a rest. But a phone-call to the ICU late in the afternoon revealed that Sharon had lost quite a bit more blood, and her condition was critical. That evening we were both at her bedside. We were afraid that we would lose her. Wendy stayed the night in a room near the ICU.

For more than a week Sharon remained sedated, while the doctors tried to stop the bleeding and give her lungs a chance to stabilize; on several occasions she was given plasma exchange to rid her body of dangerous antibodies. She was also given a new drug, rituxomab, only recently approved for special cases like hers. She breathed with the help of a ventilator and breathing tube; it seemed there were more IV lines into her body than we could count. And all we could do was hold her hand, and pray. The doctors and nurses were helpful and kind, but they did not hide the danger of Sharon's condition; until last Saturday, when she was declared out of immediate danger. Even when she came out of sedation it took some time for reality to take hold; she has forgotten much of what happened those first days, but remembers Adrian holding her hand on Wednesday. She became more and more alert in succeeding days.

By that weekend (May 1) our youngest daughter, Pauline, who lives near Boston, had had enough of hearing of Sharon's condition from a distance, and decided to come down, to be near her sister. She was also considerable help for her parents, who were taking turns staying with Sharon. However, Adrian has been experiencing severe problems with sciatica over the past weeks, and sitting in a hospital chair didn't help. And Wendy experienced stress in the form of a nasty toothache. Besides, it was great for Sharon to share time with Pauline, now that she was more alert and aware of her situation.

On Monday, May 9, Sharon was well enough so that she could sit up. She received another plasma replacement treatment, and a third dose of rituxomab. And late last night she was finally transferred out of ICU, back to the respirology division, where she had already spent much of March. She will probably need a few weeks to recover, and regain her strength..

We are so thankful that we have received Sharon back from the dead, as it were. For her it certainly was a resurrection experience, all the more in that it followed immediately after Easter. During these two weeks we have experienced God's extravagant grace, also in the outpouring of prayer by many friends. While Sharon's recovery so far has been amazing, she will require months of further treatment. We ourselves are also improving, albeit slowly. And Pauline's presence for almost a week, accompanied by their youngest, James, was a special treat for everyone, especially for Sharon.

At this point we simply praise God from whom all blessings flow. What the future holds for Sharon, we don't know. But God has assured us of his love. Thank God with us.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

February reflections

The end of February is a good time, perhaps, to take stock of ourselves: where we have been in the last year and where we hope to go in the future. A few snow flurries are still falling as we are writing this, but the sun is much warmer than it was only a few weeks ago, which is a sign that spring is just around the corner. The cherry trees in front of our house that are already budding are yet another sign.

The street where we lived in the Gambia

CVM House, where we stayed
In mid-December we returned from the Gambia. After our visit to Nigeria in early November, we each taught an additional course the Gambian Theological Institute (GTI), which trains pastors and other church leaders. We had many of the same students as in the first courses that we taught in October. We enjoyed teaching them, and from the reports that we continue to receive from them, they enjoyed it as well. Only recently did we finish marking the papers and exams for these courses, since we gave the students until the middle of January to submit their papers. A few papers are still trickling in, and we will have to mark them before we submit the results to our colleagues at Wycliffe College, which administers the diploma program at GTI. The students wrote their exams a few days before we left, which was a busy time for us, since we also had to pack for our return to Canada.

Adrian in class

Wendy in class

Some students

Three more students

Mary Jabang, one of two women students

The week before we left the Gambia we were interviewed on national television for a weekly program. Since this is the only TV station in the country, everyone watches it, as we found out later. We had been interviewed once before in November, when we told viewers about the courses we were teaching at GTI. This time we were asked, “What is the relevance for viewers of what you are teaching?” Adrian's latest course had focused on the nature and work of Jesus. In his response, he emphasized God's love in humbling himself and coming to us in his Son for our salvation. The divinity of Jesus is a major obstacle for Muslims, who accept him as the greatest prophet after Muhamed, but deny that Jesus can be the Son of God, since God has no children. Christmas was only a few weeks away, so that gave Adrian an opportunity to talk about the incarnation of Jesus to Muslim viewers. He admitted that evangelical Christians sometimes have the opposite problem: they find it difficult to accept the full humanity of Christ—that he was a person like us, who got tired and who wept, but who also enjoyed good food and fellowship.

The studio of Gambia Radio and Television

Wendy and Adrian at the studio

Wendy confronted the same question, and her response pointed to the theology of love developed by the 4th century North African giant of the Christian church, Augustine, who was the focus of the course she taught. In the legacy which Augustine left in church work, preaching, and teaching, his accent was on God's grace and mercy in coming to us, accomplishing for us what we could never achieve by our own efforts, no matter how sincere. In his classic work, The Confessions, he recognized the incarnation as a pivotal and irreversible point in time, demolishing the ancient understanding of time as an eternal circle, a view still prevalent today.We are grateful for the opportunity to share something of our teaching on the meaning of Christmas for viewers who might never enter a church but who do watch this weekly program.

With Rev. Junisa, the host of the program

We are also grateful for the opportunity God gave to serve at GTI for several months. We hope to be able to return to the Gambia later this year, but this time to teach in the new program in Christian studies at the University of the Gambia. While the senate of the university has not yet given its final approval to this new program, we have been informed that the Dean of Arts and Humanities, who is a Christian, has been instructed to find students for it. We are encouraged by this information, and pray it will lead to full implementation of the program.