Saturday, August 2, 2014

Village Life

I recently read an article posted on Facebook about a mother who laments her loss of “the village I never had. The one with mothers doing the washing side by side, clucking and laughing hysterically, tired in body but quick in spirit…We’d laugh…we’d be skilled at finding the joy in the mundane…We’d cry…We’d love you, not with the sappy love of greeting cards, but with an appreciative love that has full knowledge of how your colors add to our patchwork…The [village] we traded for homes that, despite being a stone’s throw, feel miles apart from each other.”

Despite its particular focus on the loneliness of mothers in western society, it also resonated with me, for I too have sensed the loneliness that comes with “locked front doors, blinking devices and afternoons alone.” We have traded the vulnerability and responsibility of community living for the comforts and conveniences of private living. The article opened up my eyes even more to the sweet simplicity and intimacy of this village life in Cameroon.

Last weekend we went up to a Fulani village to celebrate Sallah, the feast at the end of Ramadan. I got to share in their village life for a  couple of days—sitting on a stool in the grass to wash dishes that held the bread and milk tea served for breakfast, grinding handfuls of garlic and ginger to add to the pot of Jelof rice balancing over the open fire, talking and singing with other women in the dark and smoky cookhouse, running to a nearby compound to borrow some salt, painting swirls of henna on hands and feet, and greeting women in their new and colorful Sallah dresses as they carry various dishes of food to the neighboring compounds to share with family members. Who knows where all the children came from, but far removed from any need of computers, tablets, or TVs to entertain them, they delighted in dancing, jumping, running, and laughing amidst the balloons and bubbles we brought for the celebration.

These characteristics of village living are not unique to these compounds in the mountains of Cameroon, far removed from electricity, running water, and indoor plumbing. These characteristics of village living also hold true to the Jacksons’ home, frequently called the ‘Jackson Village”. While computers, tablets, and TVs often provide us with entertainment and even sometimes distract from simpler pleasures, and while we do have indoor plumbing, certain benefits of village life still hold true in the house. We laugh together, we cry together, we love each other “with an appreciative love that has full knowledge of how your colors add to our patchwork”. While baking cakes, washing dishes, fixing broken phones, and helping with schoolwork all demonstrate care, completing tasks is not necessary to communicate love in the village. Just being there, just sitting, listening, encouraging, laughing, is often enough. In contrast to a western society that so emphasizes being useful to have value, village society communicates that you have value regardless of what you do.

Even after living in Cameroon for two years, I still cling to those American values of usefulness and productivity. It was somewhat challenging for me during this past month to not always see evidences of how I was making a difference. Without the typical and even expected stories of running a VBS or building houses, how do I communicate why I was there? Yes, I helped with some formatting and printing of the children’s ministry curriculum, I organized some ministry resources, and I helped the girls with their college application essays, and I praise God that I could help in those ways. But I was primarily there to be there. I was there to laugh, to cry, to love with the Jackson Village. To share lunch on the veranda, to sing and dance while washing dishes, to play game after game of Monopoly Deal, to hike through a creek to a hidden waterfall, to share in their rest and healing from the past year and a half.

Thank you so much to all of you who prayed for me and who made it possible for me to go. While there are very few numbers to share that prove my “usefulness” from this past month, and while even I struggle to see all that God was doing this summer through my presence there, I am confident that he brought me there, and I am so blessed by the opportunity I had to share again in their “village life”.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” Ephesians 3:20-21.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


Last week, the Jacksons and I traveled to Limbe, our favorite beach retreat spot. We checked into the hotel we have stayed at before, which is more like a semicircle of round houses than a hotel. After checking into our room, asking one of the workers for towels, soap, a working air conditioner remote, and new light bulbs (after Karissa asked, “Um, is the light supposed to turn on?”), we settled in and talked about what a quality hotel it is. Carolin took a shower, and when I asked her how it was, she said, “Oh, perfect! There is hot water and good water pressure. You just have to hold the shower head, since the piece holding it to the wall is broken.” That’s when I took a mental step back and realized the oddity of our definition of quality, which includes beds, blankets, air conditioning (very rare here!), and hot water, but not the most basic commodities anyone would expect at a western hotel, including lights and shower fixtures.

But when our standards for comfort are basic, it’s easy to relax in what might be otherwise somewhat frustrating conditions. Limbe is incredible. It’s almost like having our own private beach. The hotel is in front of a rainforest at the bottom of Mt. Cameroon. Right across the street from the hotel is a large gazebo on a strip of grass, and there are steps from the grass right down to the black sands beach. Limbe is right next to Debundscha, the second rainiest place on earth, and we went in the middle of rainy season, so it was a little wet while we were there. The rain, and even getting stung one day by jellyfish, didn’t stop us from playing in the waves! But we spent quite a bit of time in the gazebo, talking, reading, eating grilled barracuda, and playing Monopoly Deal.

It was good to have so much time together, and it was clearly beneficial for the Jacksons to take a break from the emotional drains of their work in Bamenda and recuperate. Chris said one morning that he was feeling the most relaxed he has felt in a long time.

The trip back to Bamenda on Tuesday was anything but relaxing, with police checks once or twice every hour of the six-hour drive. The police seemed determined to find something wrong with us at each stop, whether it was fining us for not having traffic triangles or a working fire extinguisher, or questioning the expiration dates on our car or our visas. But at least the road was nice! There was only about an hour or two of pothole-riddled roads, rather than the 4-5 hours of broken roads on which we had previously needed to drive between Limbe and Bamenda.

Since getting back, I have been able to do a little more work for Chris with the children’s ministry curriculum development. I cleaned up the formatting of a few more lessons and printed most of them out for Chris’s supervisor to approve. I updated some of the signs used in their teacher training.

I also went through several boxes of children’s ministry resource books and organized them on shelves to make them more accessible for Chris and his ministry workers. I’m hoping to do a little more organizing while I’m here to make it easier for Chris to access what he needs as he works on the lessons and teacher training programs.

Praise God for our relaxation in Limbe, and for the progress of the children’s ministry curriculum. Please pray that the peace and rest we had in Limbe would sustain the Jacksons for the work ahead, particularly for Chris, who was especially drained by the drive back. Please pray for peace in Cameroon this weekend and the coming week, as there are plans for a taxi strike, which would make any traveling unsafe and might necessitate a change in my flight home. Please pray for continued building of peaceful relationships between those of us in the house as well as with the Fulani we are planning to visit this weekend for Sala, the end-of-Ramadan feast.

Thank you for your prayers and support! God is sovereign and provides for ALL our needs!

Thursday, July 17, 2014


This past weekend the Jacksons and I visited a Fulani village a few hours away, high up in the mountains of the North West. It was my first time up there, and I was blown away with the unique beauty and sense of freedom there. There are miles of open fields, untouched forests, vibrant green hills, and very content cows and horses. It is the most exhilarating feeling to race horses through the bush to the top of a mountain and overlook the breathtaking beauty of the land.

I love the simplicity of life there that slows us down long enough to notice the clouds, the wind, the flowers, the stars. We finally disconnect long enough to connect with each other, sitting in a circle on the grass or around a lantern, sharing about past experiences, hopes and dreams of the future. Having nothing to do makes even the sounds of the women talking and cooking delightful entertainment. The colors, the roll of Fulfulde, the rhythm of the stick pounding the rice fufu, and their generous hospitality is beautiful.


But there is a deep freedom and beauty lacking. Their ties to the Islamic religious practices restrict them from experiencing true grace and freedom. Their homes and land are threatened by the government’s claims of ownership. If their hope rests on Allah showing them favor for their devotion, then how shaken must they be when it seems they are losing favor with him?

Over the weekend, I wondered again what is the good of coming to visit the Fulani. If they are so set in their ways and have apathetically accepted that we are Christian, then why come?

“It’s often about being at the right place at the right time,” Carolin, a colleague who has been working with the Fulani for almost twenty years, tells me. It’s about being there when God has moved in their hearts in a way that motivates them to know more and be willing to accept more. And it’s the relationships that provide those opportunities. When we come, when we go sit in the hut of Babba Wuro, the head of the village, and hear him talk in Fulfulde about the cows and the good old days, we are showing we care. When we bring food and balloons and get to know the Fulani and their culture, we open doors for conversations.

We are establishing a reputation for Christ and His followers—one of love and care and kindness and humility—one that might prompt openness after God has worked in their hearts. We are also learning deeper humility: there is nothing we can do to change their hearts. We can be available, but we must pray for God to work on their hearts, to speak to them, to reveal the freedom of Christ to them. And as we learn that Christ is everything and enough, we can be there when they see it too.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Greetings from Bamenda!

It wasn’t until I reached the New York airport that it really hit me that I was going back. During the past couple months I have only been able to look at the task right in front of me and pray for the grace to accomplish it. So to screech to a mental halt, look around, and see that the task in front of me that day was to get on the next plane to Cameroon was slightly disorienting.

But I’m here! By the grace of God and the prayers and support of many, I made it—with all my luggage! In so many ways it feels completely normal, like I never left. The air still smells like spices, the birds still sing through the night, the cockroaches are still the size of my fist, and the taxi drivers are still two inches away from a crash. The “Jackson Village” seems so close to normal, too. We eat our lunch on the veranda, Karissa and I are roommates, we laugh until we cry at the dinner table, Katelyn and I sing at the top of our lungs as we wash dishes. There are still many people coming through the gate each day. Each night we have to re-count to see how many plates to set out for dinner.

But despite the normalcy, there is still a significant gap without “Mommy Karissa” here. Her laughter, her hugs, her listening ear, and her welcoming and kind presence are absent. How wonderful it is for her to be rejoicing in perfect peace with the Lord, but she is certainly missed down here. However, her legacy carries on. Her handwriting still covers the quote wall, her organizational systems in the kitchen are still used, and the meals still get planned. Even more than that, the Sunday School curriculum is still being written, guests still feel welcomed in the house, and the kids in the house and the neighborhood know that God loves them and that they are called to love each other.

I have been so encouraged to see how God has given each of the people in the Jackson household the grace and strength to get through each day, to keep persevering, and to keep faith in our good, sovereign, loving God. I’ve also seen what an encouragement it is to them when people keep coming through their gate, when there is noise and laughter in the house, and when we have to re-count how many plates to set for dinner. I feel so blessed to be here and be a part of helping keep that normalcy.

The plans for this month’s “formal ministry” have altered. The organization that runs the family camp at the school for the children with disabilities scheduled the camp for mid-August. The people in the village who wanted us to come lead a teacher training postponed the dates for that. I’m disappointed—I miss the kids at the school, and I was excited to help with a teacher training. But as I am confident that God brought me here for reasons of which I might not even be aware, I am looking to be intentional with each day I am here. The main reason I came has not changed: I came to be with the Jacksons and encourage them in any way I can, whether that be heart-to-heart talks on the veranda, helping prepare for Friday pizza and movie night, washing dishes, or frolicking through the mountains of the North West. Also, I already have had a couple of opportunities to help them more directly with ministries, as I was able to help clean up some details of the Sunday School curriculum Chris is so close to completing.

It looks like much of our ministry will be continuing to build relationships with Cameroonians, particularly with the Fulani the Jacksons have known for years. We will be visiting a couple of Fulani villages this month to reconnect and deepen our friendships there.

Please pray for continued strength and healing for the Jacksons as they continue to mourn the loss of Karen. Pray for stronger relationships and clear communication with our Muslim Fulani friends. Pray that during this time of Ramadan they would truly see God and accept his grace. Pray that I would be an encouragement to the Jacksons and to each person I encounter on this trip.

God is good, all the time! And all the time, God is good!