Saturday, February 27, 2010

Johnny Cash

This week I downloaded the latest release of Johnny Cash's music from - American VI: Ain't No Grave - 10 songs for $3.99 (I only paid $.99 thanks to the $3 credit I forgot about). This is the sixth and final installment of Cash's critically acclaimed American Recordings album series. Cash sings about the pursuit of salvation, the importance of friendship, the dream of peace, the power of faith, and the joy and adversities that entail simple survival.

My favorite is Ain't No Grave, a hauntingly fearless and strong proclamation of his resurrection from the dead -
There ain't no grave can hold my body down
There ain't no grave can hold my body down
When I hear the trumpet sound
I'm gonna rise right out of the ground
Ain't no grave can hold my body down
Guitar, keyboard, percussion, and church bells combine with Cash's signature sound to give voice to the certainty of resurrection for the follower of Christ. You can hear the personal conviction evident in Cash's singing of these resurrection lyrics.

Following Ash Wednesday, in the beginning days of Lent, on our way to Easter Sunday morning, Ain't No Grave is now part of my Lenten experience. Check it our for yourself.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


This is a picture of Gav, the team's "child magnet" in Africa. We walked down to the beach one afternoon below Sam and Josephine's house. These boys appeared out of nowhere. They loved having their picture taken. When you showed it to them they started pointing at the camera, eyes growing bigger, laughing, and talking to each other in their native language (since Sierra Leone was a British Colony, the people speak English).

Even though Sierra Leone has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, young children are everywhere - walking to or from the school in their uniforms, playing on the beach, running between houses (fences don't exist in Lungi), playing soccer, congregating under shade trees talking and laughing, or carrying food or water on their heads (mostly girls).

Children in Lungi, a town of about 20,000 across the bay from Freetown where Sam andJosephine live, have the run of the town. It's not uncommon for them to take off from home, roam the neighborhood, and be gone for hours at a time. Everyone feels (is) safe. It reminded me of my childhood where on a summer day I could disappear with my friends for most of the day and wander all over my part of town and it was no big deal. Moms didn't worry back then like they do now. It was a safer time.

When Gav and I took our afternoon hike down to the beach a little six year old boy tagged along. I didn't notice him at first. But as we made the big turn and started walking back to Sesay's by another route I pointed him out to Gav who told me he had been following us the whole way. Sheku told me his name was Alpha and he was Hawanatu's son (Sheku is the pastor of the Susu Gospel Ministries church in Lungi and Hawanatu runs the ministry's preschool). Alpha had wandered away from home and made his way to Sam's and then he came with us. He was a long way from home. His mother didn't know where he was and it was no big deal.

I was struck by the freedom Lungi afforded Alpha. Lungi was a safe place. I saw Hawanatu at church the next day and mentioned how Alpha followed us to the beach and hung around with us for a couple of hours. She smiled and reported that it was common for him to disappear for hours at at time like that. She wasn't worried because she knew he was safe. Everyone watches out for each other's children. In this sense, Africa felt like a welcome step back in time.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Africa impressions

After we hit the ground in Africa the first thing I noticed was the unrelenting heat and humidity. Sweat drips down your forehead and runs down your back. I remember new waves of sweat appearing as I dried off from my shower to wash off the sweat. Any breeze of almost any kind is welcome relief. A fan brings a smile to my face. And air conditioning, the little that seems to be available, is like entering into another world. One afternoon we took the temperature a few feet away from the shade tree we were sitting under - it was 108.5 degrees in the sun. The shade measured 94 degrees. We didn't venture out into the direct sunlight unless we had to.

Since there was little or no electricity in the parts of Sierra Leone and Guinea we visited the nights were pitch black, blacker than anything I can remember experiencing back home. Both nights we stayed in an African motel in Tanene I stayed outside after the others had gone to bed. I wanted to peer up at the night sky and feel its vastness and awesomeness. There was literally no man-produced light anywhere. The stars seemed bigger and brighter. The striking contrast between light and dark, black and white was stunning. I saw clusters of far-away stars that I had never noticed before. Orion lay straight above me and shined brilliantly like it was lit up by neon lights. I felt like a pin head, a grain of sand, a speck of dust.

I will never forget the taste of cold water. In the African heat drinking lots of water is a necessity in order to avoid dehydration. We drank filtered and bottled water. Ice is hard to come by because electricity is hard to come by. What you end up doing is drinking lots of lukewarm water on hot, hot days to quench your thirst (or at least attempt to). I have a memory of drinking a cold bottle of water. The situation surrounding the cold water is blurred in my mind. I know it was at Sam and Josephine's. The generator was running. This meant the refrigerator was running and the water was chilling. We walked into the house and were handed bottles of cold water. I quickly opened mine and took a long, deep drink. I will never forget that moment and how good and sweet and cold the water tasted. Simple things in Africa are huge.

While in Africa you eat like the Africans, at least we did for most of our trip. I developed three categories of food - the dishes I enjoyed, those that I was slowly learning to enjoy, and those that I wasn't sure if I could ever enjoy. The one thing I looked forward to eating most when I returned home was a Honey Crisp or Granny Smith apple. Either one would do. I craved a sweet, crisp, juicy apple. And to my great delight, when Heather and the girls picked me up at the airport, they brought me a cut-up Honey Crisp apple!

P.S. the picture is of me and Alliance missionary Phil Stombaugh standing outside the Alliance Guest House in Conakry, Guinea

Monday, February 15, 2010


Joseph is Sam and Josephine Sesay's youngest son. He is in his second year of pre-med studies at the medical school in Freetown. He dreams of one day becoming a medical doctor and joining his father in the Susu Gospel Ministry as the director of the medical clinic in Lungi. In addition he also has a vision for taking a mobile medical clinic to Sierra Leonean villages that lack medical facilities. Like father, like son. He has caught Sam's burden for reaching the Susu people with the love of Jesus Christ.

Academically Joseph is making a name for himself at the medical school. Intellectually he is extremely bright and gifted. Professors have cited his work to his classmates as an example of how assignments are to be done. But he is frustrated and discouraged by the social, political, and financial challenges he faces from his fellow students and professors - he is not from one of the leading tribes in Sierra Leone, Sam is not a medical doctor or a government minister, and his vision is not to become wealthy but to help the poor and needy in the name of Christ. Daily he faces prejudice and discrimenation at school. As students advance in their medical studies professors lean upon them for large bribes in order to stay in the program. Joseph knows of students who have been forced out because they either could not or would not pay their professor a bribe. In light of this, Joseph is ready to quit medical school and pursue an engineering degree if he cannot find a way to pursue his dream of becoming a medical doctor.

As I spoke with Joseph his eyes lit up as he told me about his new dream. The nearby West African nation of Ghana has the best medical school in the region. Ghana is more developed than Sierra Leone, the medical school is older, stronger, and more advanced, and Joseph could easily be accepted into the program given his academic credentials. He could enter their seven year program this fall and not miss a beat in the pursuit of his dream and calling.

Here is a young man with a heart for serving God among the Susu people of Sierra Leone. He is gifted by God intellectually and academically. He not only has a vision for medicine; he has a vision for using medicine to share Christ's love with the Susu people in uniting the treatment of both body and soul.

Pray for Joseph. Pray for God's clear direction. Pray for God's abundant provision. And pray for our CAC leadership as we consider his needs before our God.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ministry of Presence

I met Fode for the first time in October of 2006. He was all decked out in Nike clothes and jewelry (African look-a-likes). Of the eight Susu men I met from the Hafia Church in Conakry, Guinea - former Muslims who were now Christ-followers - Fode stayed in the background and avoided the limelight. One morning he came to us very upset. I later learned from Phil Stombaugh (Alliance missionary) that Fode's grandmother had refused to acknowledge him the night before because of his faith in Jesus Christ.

Fast-forward thirty-nine months later. I meet Fode for the second time. One week ago today I spoke at a retreat that he attended with four other Susu Christ-followers. Our team joined them for two days and nights in the little village of Tanene about two hours north of Conakry. We stayed in an African motel. The accomodations were unlike any I have ever encountered before. A Motel 6 located on I-5 would suddenly become a 5-star motel in comparsion. Enough said.

This time Fode was decked out in his Adidas wardrobe. I immediately observed that he was a leader among his peers. In fact, he played a big part in planning most of the retreat - schedule, food, activities. Our last morning I was up early and met him outside at 5:45am - his had already been to the market and was setting out fresh bread for breakfast.

He listened intently to everything I shared. I watched him scratch out notes in his journal. He was articulate whenever he shared and evidenced a maturing understanding of his faith. There was a sense of self-confidence about him that was missing earlier.

The last evening of the retreat we walked into town to visit the market and grab something to drink and eat. The night was pitch black because of no electricity until we arrived in town. The night sky was bursting with star light. Orion was directly above us.

I started out walking with Fode. He understands very little English and speaks even less. We tried to have a conversation. I expressed my deep appreciation for his leadership at the retreat. He understood. And then he said something I'll never forget with excitement in his voice and a spring in his step, "I am so happy. I am so happy." I looked at him and caught his smile by the light of my flashlight which pointed forward. It was like he was saying "mission accomplished" or "we did it." I realized at that moment that our coming from Oregon to attend this retreat meant far more to Fode than I would ever know.

The ministry of presence is unbelievably important in Africa. Our presence at the retreat meant more to these Susu men than anything I said or could have said. They felt noticed, valued, affirmed, and loved. As Fode and I walked together into town I felt the same in my heart - "mission accomplished."

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Our plane touched ground in Portland Sunday at 7:30pm thirty-six hours after we left Sam & Josephine's home in Lungi for the airport. Ten days in Africa are now history. It is virtually impossible to communicate the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of West Africa. We were in two of the poorest countries in Africa and the whole world for that matter. The heat and humidity are suffocating. Air conditioning is hard to come by. Think 'sweat' for almost a solid ten days! One afternoon Pam used her clock-therometer to take the temperature - 108.5 in the sun. We ate African for the majority of the trip. We stayed with Sesays in their new home overlooking the ocean while in Sierra Leone. Josephine and their olderst daughter, Esther, are fantastic cooks. I named their place the Sesay Cafe by the Sea. Later this week I'll try to sit down and share a few memorable experiences. Right now my brain feels like it is in a thick fog.

Happy to be home safe and sound,
Fader Fader Timbo