Wednesday, March 28, 2007

What a Difference a Day Makes

Within 24 hours, two very significant yet completely unrelated events occurred which will have an impact on our lives. One event took place in Northern Ireland, and the other in Ivory Coast.

In Northern Ireland, British unionists, who want NI to remain part of the United Kingdom, and Irish republicans, who want NI to unite with the Republic of Ireland, have agreed to share power in the day-to-day governing of Northern Ireland.

This is, undoubtedly, a seminal event in the history of the province.

For about 30 years, starting in 1969, the terrorist organisation, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), conducted a campaign of murder and destruction in Northern Ireland which left about 3,500 people dead, and tens of thousands injured. (Percentage wise, in US terms, that would be around 700,000 people dead)

It took the Irish republican movement, consisting of the IRA and the political faction, Sinn Fein, almost twenty years to come to the realisation that their terror tactics were being counter productive to their aim of a united Ireland. The more they made the unionist people in Ulster suffer, the more steadfast and unyielding the unionists became.

My first recollection of ‘The Troubles’, as the IRA terror campaign is euphemistically referred to, is as an 11 year boy having to flee the Republic of Ireland, where we had been holidaying as a family, and returning to Northern Ireland because serious rioting had broken out between Protestants and Catholics in major cities in N. Ireland, and there was a real fear that a civil war was about to start on the island.

The IRA, which had originally been formed in the early 1900’s, used these civil disturbances in 1969 as a pretext for reorganising and launching a renewed terror campaign against the British ‘occupiers’ of the six counties that made up Northern Ireland. These ‘occupiers’ were the protestants and unionists of British extraction, as well as descendants of French Huguenots, who had lived there since the beginning of the 1600’s, and had made the north of Ireland their home. The IRA’s war against the civilian population of Northern Ireland gathered momentum with indiscriminate murders, and bombings of restaurants, hotels, pubs and bus stations.

Over the next couple of decades the IRA’s armoury was continually replenished by, among others, Libya, eastern European countries and the PLO. These weapons were purchased with finances from well-meaning, I’m sure, but rather gullible Irish-Americans who ensured that the IRA bombers and gunmen never lacked the military hardware they needed as they attempted to restore an Irish Utopia which, believe it or not, has never existed.
So, the meeting last Monday between the Rev. Ian Paisley, leader of Northern Ireland’s unionists, and Jerry Adams, the leader of Irish republicanism, reflects a definite watershed in the affairs of the province. Hopefully, this agreement marks the beginning of the end of political and religious violence on the island of Ireland. We’ll have to wait and see if that indeed is the case.

The second important event occurred in Ivory Coast. Guillaume Soro, the leader of the armed rebellion which attempted to overthrow President Laurent Gbagbo in 2002, but which instead led to the division of Ivory Coast, has been named as the new Prime Minister of the country.

A few weeks ago the President of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaore, helped to broker a deal between President Gbagbo and Mr. Soro, and as a result a new government is in the process of being formed, and elections are being planned.

It is very heartening to see the progress being made, although, it is good to keep in mind that in the past, quite a number of UN sponsored agreements have been signed, but have all failed to break the deadlock.
What makes this agreement different and more promising is the fact that the two main personalities in the conflict, President Gbagbo and Mr Soro, have voluntarily agreed to the mediation efforts led by the president of Burkina Faso, and both men seem to have a genuine desire to bring an end to the political, military and economic stalemate that currently exists in Ivory Coast, especially in the north. A new joint military command centre has already been created, as a first step towards unifying the government and rebel forces in the country.

It will take a few months before we see if this new agreement is really going to work, but the signs are encouraging. Please continue to pray for peace in Ivory Coast, and that life in the country will soon return to some semblance of normality.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Prospective Literacy Student

We visited another Loron village yesterday to check up on progress in the literacy classes.

We had never been to this particular village before, located along the Burkina/Ivory Coast border, so it was exciting to find over 30 enthusiastic students struggling to master this new skill of reading and writing.

There are twenty adults and ten children taking the course. Ten of the more capable students are racing ahead and have completed almost half the lessons. The three teachers, Jacques, Katherine and Honoré are doing an excellent job.

We brought a new blackboard for them and we also left some money with them to get a couple of tables made.

We have now visited all 6 Loron villages where literacy classes have started over the past couple of months. In total there are about 85 students currently working through the course, with over 60 more waiting their turn to start.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


A couple of years ago, when Marina was helping out at Portadown Independent Christian School, she did a project with her class about Saint Patrick. On a school trip, Marina and her class (I drove the bus) visited a church graveyard, located on a hilltop in Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland where Patrick is supposed to be buried.

I have no idea if he is buried there or not, but there is little dispute that he died on March 17. There is less agreement, however, on the year that he died, but evangelicals prefer the earlier date, 465 AD. Not matter when he died, his 60 years of ministry had a tremendous impact on the island.

So, who was Patrick, and what is his legacy?

It’s sometimes difficult to decipher fact from fiction when it comes to the origins of Christianity and the role of Patrick in Ireland. The Irish love their myths and fairy tales, and Patrick is surrounded by them.

But one thing is certain; Patrick was a Christian, in the biblical sense. His writings and a hymn attributed to him, but which was probably written by someone else at a later date, clearly show that the early Irish church reflected more the beliefs and practices of Christianity as found in the New Testament than that of the rest of Christendom on the island of Britain and the European continent, especially as it came more and more under the influence and control of the Bishop of Rome.

Much of Patrick’s message, and that of the early Celtic church in Ireland, was in fact at odds with the extravagances and extra-biblical teachings that were beginning to characterise the Christian religion elsewhere. His belief in the Atonement, sovereign grace and salvation by faith comes out clearly in the extant writings.

Patrick left behind two documents that are accepted by all as genuine: the ‘Confession of Patrick’; and his ‘Letter’.

In these documents he writes in plain language. He describes, among other things, his life in a Roman home in Britain, his capture by Irish raiders, his years of slavery in Ireland and his escape. He recounts that his eventual call to Ireland was from God, and he makes no mention of any human agency. His understanding of Christianity was a lot different from that which came to hold sway on the island in the 12th century when pope Adrian gave the Emerald Isle to the Catholic king of England.

One of the most common myths about Patrick is that he drove all the snakes from Ireland. Not true, although, he did do tremendous damage to the greatest snake of them all!

Another ‘myth’ may very well be true. They say he used a shamrock to explain the Trinity. His writings mention the Trinity a number of times, so there is every possibility that he used this common plant to illuminate the truth of the triune God.

There is little doubt that Christianity had reached Ireland before the appearance of Patrick, through traders and the like, but it is Patrick who is credited with the widespread dissemination of the message of Christ and His love. Praise the Lord for Patrick.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

If you would be interested in hearing a nonconformist view on Patrick, and not just the one-sided official stuff that you find in most history books and encyclopaedias, drop me a line, and I’ll send you an informative article. (briggsntm at yahoo dot com)


Extract from Encyclopædia Britannica

…He was born in Britain of a Romanized family. At the age of 16 he was torn by Irish raiders from the villa of his father, Calpurnius, a deacon and minor local official, and carried into slavery in Ireland, where, during six bleak years spent as a herdsman, he turned with fervour to his faith. Hearing at last in a dream that the ship in which he was to escape was ready, he fled his master and found passage to Britain. There he came near to starvation and suffered a second brief captivity before he was reunited with his family. Thereafter, he may have paid a short visit to the Continent.
The best known passage in the Confessio, his spiritual autobiography, tells of a dream, after his return to Britain, in which one Victoricus delivered him a letter headed “The Voice of the Irish.” As he read it he seemed to hear a certain company of Irish beseeching him to walk once more among them. “Deeply moved,” he says, “I could read no more.” Nevertheless, because of the shortcomings of his education he was reluctant for a long time to respond to the call. Even on the eve of reembarkation for Ireland he was beset by doubts of his fitness for the task. Once in the field, however, his hesitations vanished. Utterly confident in the Lord, he journeyed far and wide, baptizing and confirming with untiring zeal. In diplomatic fashion he brought gifts to a kinglet here and a lawgiver there but accepted none from any. On at least one occasion he was cast into chains. On another, he addressed with lyrical pathos a last farewell to his converts who had been slain or kidnapped by the soldiers of Coroticus.
Careful to deal fairly with the heathen, he nevertheless lived in constant danger of martyrdom. The evocation of such incidents of what he called his “laborious episcopate” was his reply to a charge, to his great grief endorsed by his ecclesiastical superiors in Britain, that he had originally sought office for the sake of office. In point of fact, he was a most humble-minded man, pouring forth a continuous paean of thanks to his Maker for having chosen him as the instrument whereby multitudes who had worshipped “idols and unclean things” had become “the people of God.”
(Encyclopædia Britannica 2007 Ultimate Reference Suite.)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Living Dangerously

Friday, March 09, 2007

Literacy Schools in Ivory Coast

After a break of almost four and a half years we have at last been able to spend a few days, and nights, in Loron territory in northeast Ivory Coast. Up until now we have made only day trips to the village, leaving our home in Burkina at dawn, and returning again before nightfall.

The main purpose of this trip was to see how the new literacy schools were functioning in 5 Loron villages. We were very encouraged with what we found.

Saturday, March 3, 2007
We left Gaoua shortly after 10am and as usual we enjoyed the scenery along 40 miles of hard top road surface down to the Burkina /Ivory Coast border. We registered at the last Gendarmerie and Police posts in Burkina before leaving the hardtop and going unto the dirt roads of Ivory Coast. The officer at the Gendarmes checkpoint was reading a book in English by Michael Crichton, the creator of the ER series. We got into an interesting conversation about English and he asked for an English Bible and other books in English that we could give him. We are constantly amazed at the opportunities the Lord gives to bring the word of God to people here in Burkina.

After lurching around for about an hour on rutted and sandy roads, and crossing over some very precarious looking bridges, we arrived in the town of Doropo just shortly after noon. We went to the Freewill Baptist hospital, where we stayed during our trip. The hospital is now being run by Ivorians. There are no doctors, but there are a few nurses. In its heyday, in the mid 90’s, there were three ex-pat doctors and any number of nurses.

We stayed in a house once occupied by an American doctor and his family. Dr Kenneth Eagleton and his Brazilian wife, Hejane, spent many years serving the population of northeast Ivory Coast. In 1999, Dr. Eagleton came to Gogo and held a week-long seminar on basic medical issues. From the transcripts of the seminar we developed a series of health manuals which have been very helpful to the Loron people ever since.

We brought our mobile phones with us to Ivory Coast because we had been told that, in Doropo, in certain places, and at certain times, it was possible to get coverage from Burkina for our cell phone. After asking around we discovered that if we went to a particular mango tree, preferably after dark, we would be able to get a good signal.

So, 30 minutes after the sun had gone down, we got our torches (flashlights) and made our way to a strategically placed concrete block about half way between a gate and the mango tree. Once we arrived at the block, the indicator on the phone showed 3 bars, not the best reception, but, as it proved, quite adequate for the task. We successfully transmitted a couple of text messages to let folks in Gaoua and Northern Ireland know that we had arrived safely in Doropo.

About 50 yards from the house we are staying in, there are two headstones. One is the grave of a Freewill Baptist nurse, Glennda Kay Leatherbury, who died in 1994; the other, the grave of a little girl called Stephanie whose parents were missionaries. Stephanie died in 1977, just four months old.

We were awake bright and early on Sunday morning after a so-so night’s sleep. A flock (?) of noisy turkeys wandering around outside ensured that we didn’t get any sleep from dawn. We left Doropo around 9am and travelled 15 miles to Gogo for church. It took about an hour. After speaking from James 4 at the morning service, we went around the village and greeted a few folks, and then at noon we went to see how things were progressing in the literacy classes.

At present there are 34 students in Gogo and Gogo 2, who are learning how to read and write. There are also quite a number of younger ones anxiously waiting until the first group of older students finishes the course. The ages of the current group of students range from 18 to 40. Marina was able to give the teachers, Joel and Joseph, some useful tips on how to teach more effectively, and she was very encouraged that the teachers have been sticking closely to the lesson plans and are doing a good job in their teaching.

While Marina was helping in the literacy classes, I took a walk around the other two missionary houses to survey the effects of four and a half years of neglect. It was sad to see the condition of the houses. One had most of the screening ripped off the windows and front porch. With exterior doors missing, and the straw ceiling hanging down in many places, it had basically been taken over by the village goats and a colony of bats. The other house was missing quite a number of plywood sheets from the ceiling, and some interior doors, but was still quite secure.

When classes finished we went to Joel’s house for rice and okra sauce, and some strong sweet tea, and then made our way back to Doropo.

Today we went to a Loron village located along a little creek a few miles northwest of Gogo. We left our pickup truck in Gogo and made our way out to the village on a motorcycle. It had been over four years since we last visited there, so we didn’t have any idea how the road would be. As it turned out we could have taken our vehicle right in to the village because the dirt track was wide enough almost everywhere to get through without any problem.

The church here is thriving. Many of the folks have already learned how to read, but there is an obvious weakness in writing skills. Only four children are currently going through the literacy course, but there are others who are showing some interest.

After a good night’s sleep (which we really needed) we left Doropo, and again passed through Gogo on our way to the next two Loron villages that we needed to visit. The teacher in the first village had struggled quite a bit at the literacy seminar we held last year, but he seems to be developing into quite an effective teacher. His procedures and techniques were good, but he was unsure about what to do with some half-hearted students who were obviously holding the rest of the class back. Marina helped him divide the class up so that the more enthusiastic and capable students could move ahead.

The next village was way out in the sticks! After leaving the main dirt road, we drove on the motorcycle along a deeply rutted track for 40 minutes or so. We had to carefully negotiate our way up and down the sides of two large gorges, which fill with water during rainy season, making them impassable.

We took a wrong fork in the track at one point, but quickly discovered our mistake and got going again in the right direction, and finally arrived at our destination. The smaller children had never seen white people before, so they were keeping their distance, but we got a warm welcome from the rest of the villagers. We had never been to this particular village before, so it was a delight to visit these folks.

The literacy class here is going very well, and after eight weeks they are already up to lesson 30. (There are 115 lessons altogether in the literacy course.) Donald and Michel are doing an excellent job in team-teaching. There are five students rapidly moving through the course. All of these young men have had some exposure to reading and writing and they are keen to complete the course. When they are finished there are another 38 new students waiting to start. Hopefully, some of these original five students will become student teachers. There is a pressing need for us to develop another complete set of materials for these folks, as well as help them get some adequate tables and a good blackboard.

Today’s was the most exhausting trip so far. Two hours bouncing over bumpy roads in the pickup, about two hours on the motorcycle avoiding ruts and exposed to the sun, four hours working with the literacy teachers and students, and an hour or so greeting folks in the different villages all take their toll. But it was well worth the effort!

We are really encouraged with the progress being made in all of the villages. There are currently 54 students taking the literacy course in these five villages, with between 60 and 70 people waiting their turn to start. In a couple of weeks we hope to visit a sixth Loron village in a different area where literacy has also started.