Thursday, 11 June 2015

June Update

The rainy season has begun in Togo, bringing much needed water for farmers and for generating electricity.  The trees have been turning back to green, though in part this is because the rain washes the brown dust off the leaves.  However here in Lomé, in some parts of the city the infrastructure has not coped with the heavy rain and again many streets and homes are flooded, mostly in the poorer areas where houses are built on land with no drainage.

Srijana and her fellow graduating students
Work wise, Michael has finished his formal work, ending with a workshop exploring chaplaincy and opportunities to develop this ministry.  We currently have chaplaincy activity in hospitals, schools prisons and markets with a relatively new addition of industrial chaplaincy in the port of Lomé.  The workshop focused mainly on the implications of a change of approach from being at home in the church to being in the community where we are a guest being welcomed by another.   This change of context brings with it a change of status where chaplains, rather than being in charge as in the local church, need to become vulnerable seek permission to minister at both organisational and individual levels.

Srijana has graduated from secondary school with a weekend of ceremony and celebration where she gave the valedictory speech.  She is pursuing her applications to study social work at university while awaiting her IB exam results. 

Six years in Togo all boxed up
Our six years in Togo draws to an end this month.  We are currently busy with packing, arranging shipping, closing bank accounts and countless other administrative tasks which are all proving to be more complicated than they need to be.  On top of this are good byes to friends, colleagues, classmates and neighbours.  We will be moving to Newcastle-upon-Tyne where Michael will return to circuit (local church) ministry in September.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Preacher Training

Michael writes: Recently I’ve been spending some Saturday mornings training preachers at Aného 30 miles east along the coast.  Meeting with about 30 pastors, lay preachers and evangelists of widely varying experience we’ve been exploring Walter Brueggemann’s thinking on the practice of prophetic imagination for preachers, (see also post of 24 October 2014).  Brueggemann’s idea of a dominant socio-economic, political and cultural narrative competing with an alternative narrative of the Kingdom of God enabled us to explore more deeply the life situation in which our congregations find themselves and the application of the Gospel message to our own context.  

In our time together we saw how the biblical story of God’s interaction with his people is not always straightforward and easily expressed and understood but is often ragged, torn and untidy as we seek to understand the character of God as a real and active agent in our world today.

At a simple level we looked at contrasts such as: the world says that but God’s Kingdom says this.  For example, the world says get all you can while you can; the Kingdom of God says, feed the hungry, clothe the naked visit the sick and prisoners.  The world tells us to wear our Sunday best to church; the Kingdom of God invites everyone to come as they are and then be transformed.

Using this image of competing scripts we were able to identify, explore and critique tensions in our lives and communities and even the socio-economic and political situation of the society in which we live that constantly seek to draw us back into the dominant narrative that God’s alternative challenges.   We noted our ambivalence, being caught in a place of having to choose between the narratives, which we do not want to do as we want to keep a foot in each.   

Naming and describing the competing narratives enabled us to develop the depth and relevance of our preaching and teaching making it more relevant to the issues our congregations are facing such as corruption, poverty, poor access to good health facilities and the oppressive use of power in a multitude of contexts from families, communities, workplaces through to political life.   In doing so our response, our preaching and discipleship are transformed to become more relevant, more pastorally sensitive of the needs, joys and sorrows of our people and at the same time more challenging.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

New General Superintendent for the Korean Methodist Mission in Lomé

Pastor Tofa after the ceremony
I have over the past few years done some work with the Mission Méthodiste Coréenne pour l’Afrique (Korean Methodist Mission for Africa), including teaching an introduction to Methodism to their trainee pastors.   It was a pleasure this last week to be able to be present at and participate in the installation of their new General Superintendent, Rev’d Tofa Amouzoun.   He has been elected by their synod to head this Methodist mission for the next four years. 

Attending this event, I noticed that the Methodist Churches of Togo, South Korea and Great Britain were represented, and also a Free Methodist Church Pastor.  It was good to see so many different nationalities and churches represented; all of us bound together by our faith and our Wesleyan heritage and our desire to engage in mission and deepening discipleship.

I will be back at the Korean mission later this month leading a session for pastors on Christian leadership.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Garden Safari

I don't know how many of you associate Africa with safaris searching for magnificent animals.  Togo is not blessed with the same fauna you may find in the Serengeti, but there are lots of interesting animals if you care to look, even in the city.  Here are the big five from a recent safari in our own small city garden .
Guarding its territory

These lizards are everywhere.  We've seen the less brightly coloured females laying and burying eggs in our garden.

Watch out - these ants bite!

Flying to Europe for its summer holidays, spending winter in West Africa

I mistook it for a bat flying around our terrace in the night but morning showed it to be a large moth - wingspan 22 cm 

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Dusty Harmattan

Happy New Year to you all.  Here in Togo it’s the Harmattan season.  The weather now comes down from the Sahara in the north brining a dry, dusty heat.  The good news is the humidity has gone which makes it feel much more comfortable and a little cooler, especially first thing in the mornings. 

The moon seen through a filter of Harmattan dust
The winds though bring with them dust which fills the air and is deposited on every surface.  Immediately after dusting and sweeping everything is covered again and it gets into the deepest recesses of all sorts of electrical equipment and other things. The dry heat and the dust are noticeable in the way they affect our breathing; sore throats, coughs and nose bleeds and also dry skin are common.

The dust hangs in the air like smog and the looking through this dusty filter the normally brilliant white moon has turned a golden colour, as if it really is made from cheese.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Rejoice and Be Glad!

I know that I often look as though I don’t know what’s going on, but the other Sunday I had an excuse.  I was leading the service of worship with one of our Nigerian congregations in Lomé, glad of the opportunity to preach in English.  Half way through the service, the pastor who looks after this congregation arrived and took his place next to me.  I invited him to greet the congregation which he did and one lady came out from the congregation and gave him a bottle of talcum powder.  At this point everyone started singing and dancing while the pastor went round and giving people some talc in the palm of their hand which they applied to their faces.  

As the singing and dancing and talcing drew to a close he asked me if I knew what was happening and I had to admit I didn’t have a clue.  The pastor and his wife had recently become parents again (which I did know) and this was a traditional Nigerian celebration of the birth of a child, (onu nwa in Igbo).  The white talc on the necks and faces showing clearly on the black skin was a sign (to those who understood the significance) that people were celebrating the birth of a child.  To those who did not know the significance it was an opportunity to question, “Why do you have white stuff on your face?” and with the response, to share in the joy and celebration.  I too joined in the party, though the talc just made me slightly paler than normal.
The joyful celebration contrasted with what seemed by comparison a reserved British approach as I took his hand and wished him and his family and his new son every blessing while giving a small gift for the baby.
The experience provoked the question: “What has brought you so much joy that you have celebrated with song and dance?  How have you shared this news so that others celebrate with you?

Friday, 24 October 2014

Exploring our narratives

This Saturday saw me up early to lead a training event for lay preachers.  It had rained in the night and so the journey across the city of Lomé to the quartier of Bé took longer than normal as I negotiated the floods and potholes filled with dirty water, glad of the 4x4 as you never know how deep they are until the front wheels suddenly sink in front of you and the splashing water turns to a cloud of steam as it makes contact with the hot engine block.  I arrived at the church to discover it was also the day they’d planned to have the septic tank drained, (there’s no mains sewerage).   Despite the distractions of noise and smell I set up ready for the day’s programme.

Exploring hermeneutics with 30 lay preachers we used Walter Brueggemann’s ideas of a dominant worldly narrative or script of anxious accumulation with Pharaoh in Genesis and King Solomon as manifestations of this narrative.   This script proposes that there is never enough, therefore we are always anxious and seeking to accumulate as much as we can to make sure we get our share, which leads us into a selfishness, and eventually oppression and violence.    We identified this in society here in a number of forms, from the corruption that is rife, the high razor wire topped walls encircling the homes of the well off, even polygamy!

This we contrasted with an alternative narrative, one that rejects anxious accumulation and instead is marked by astounded gratitude at the generosity of God’s grace.  This was illustrated by the exodus our of slavery in Egypt to trusting in God’s provision in as much manna as was needed in the desert, the story of Elisha and the widow’s oil and the feeding of the five thousand.   In this narrative we are constantly astonished at the abundance of God’s gracious provision and in turn we become more generous ourselves.

As preachers we then looked at how we can identify the existence of the prevailing dominant narrative in our culture for our congregations.  Our preaching then becomes a prophetic act of calling people out of the dominant narrative and into God’s alternative narrative.  Reading, interpreting and applying scripture in this way unlocked the text for us and enabled us to see new ideas, images and relevancies and application. The studies themselves even led one young preacher to rededicate her life to God.

This event has been one intervention among many in my role as Director of the Department of Training and Theological Life and Empowerment with the Methodist Church of Togo.  Later this month I will be involved in further training covering the areas of mission and evangelism, conflict management, leadership and chaplaincy.