Saturday, 16 March 2013

At the End of a Perfect Day

And all I really want to do
Is sing songs for you,
Then it's been a perfect day,
Yes it's been a perfect day.

                                                              Chris de Burgh, 1977
Alright. It wasn´t a perfect day. It was hot and sticky as only the tropics can be. We missed the people we love as much as we do every day. It´s lonely being the only Europeans in West Africa. It´s frustrating having to communicate in French and lacking the wherewithal to express all the nuances a language deserves. And when we finally sat down to relax, and started to share our feelings, we were once again emotionally overwhelmed by the vast divide between what should be and what is.
And still, the phrase kept coming to mind: at the end of a perfect day.
We ate broiled fish, buttered peas and carrots, rice with mustard sauce, and fresh rucola salad (from our own garden), with a mango-pineapple fruit salad for dessert. Was that at least not the perfect end of a day? Temperature inside has dropped to 33.2, outside has just reached 30.0. Dishes are done and in about half an hour we will tune in to the same (Dutch) news broadcast we regularly watch at home.
This morning was meeting of church council. When I arrived at 9.45, the brothers were meditating on Romans 12.1,2: “Je vous exhorte donc, frères, par les compassions de Dieu, à offrir vos corps comme un sacrifice vivant, saint, agréable à Dieu, ce qui sera de votre part un culte raisonnable. Ne vous conformez pas au siècle présent, mais soyez transformés par le renouvellement de l’intelligence, afin que vous discerniez quelle est la volonté de Dieu, ce qui est bon, agréable et parfait.” The beauty of the moment was that they we doing so in Adja. Normally, the meetings are conducted in French, for the benefit of the Pasteur Missionnaire, who is also usually asked to lead the Bible study. But since Romain has returned to the Mono-Couffo, after recently graduating from the Bible school in Bangui, Centrafrique, there is someone who can lead the elders in devotions in their own language. And behold: Victor and Guillaume, for the first time in my memory, were actively participating! I sat and observed, understanding not a word, but enjoying every minute.
During the meeting, I was pleased to be able to announce the decision of DVN-GoWa that there would be a contribution towards the present food problem. It being the time of the year that the harvest is still some way off, the people of the region are dependent on what they have been able to store up from the previous season. And because the harvests at the end of 2012 were meagre, there are many people who aren’t able to 'manger à sa faim', that is to say: eat to their fill. True, said Pasteur Théophile, when I asked him. Look at the pale reddish hair colouring of many in the villages, a sure sign of malnutrition. Two years ago, there was the same difficulty. And it seems to be endemic. Too many people living off too limited productive capacity of the land. The dilemma: what does it help to provide food (short term) when it is not possible to provide real productivity solutions (long term)? But when all is said and done: malnutrition kills faster than you might think. Long term is too long. I was happy to be able to offer help.
But there were more happy moments. For instance, as the brothers were discussing a pastoral problem in Ayomi. There was an issue between a man and his wife. One of the elders (not the elder from Ayomi, but a teacher at the school there) knew more about the situation. This elder had invited the woman to meet with him at school, alone, in order to look for a solution. General approval around the table, it seemed. But then one of their number spoke up: not a good thing, he said. For you to speak with someone’s wife without her husband being involved. You need to respect the relations within the family unit, and you need to protect the woman against gossip. I’m not really sure of all of the complexities involved in African family relations, but I was impressed. This was seriously well thought through, and properly addressed, I thought.
Then this afternoon we went to Kpodaha. Twenty-three young people, from 16 to 27, eager to be trained in church work, have been attending our Saturday school. Faithfully, actively, and decidedly with an un-African determination to be there on time. We begin with a Bible study or sermon outline, then we have two lessons in a program covering the various aspects of church life: worship, mutual support, community service and evangelism, church government and administration. Since the start of the school year, we have covered General Introduction to Theology, Knowledge of the New Testament, Church History, and Principles of Worship. And today we started with two new modules: Christian Family Life and Church Education. As an educator in my previous life, I have been really, really enjoying setting up the program, working with the teachers, and teaching the students. And once again, today it was a real joy. The sermon outline was based on Deuteronomy 6. 4-9: Teach my children well… Romain, in his first lesson, surveyed the rather complicated extent of the African family, and its various possible permutations: with still hugely common polygamy, exceptionally high mortality rates, and the ever-present pagan/Christian divide. And I explored the Scriptural foundations, the distinct purposes, and the general contents of Sunday school and of catechism class. Okay, at this point, you’re bored. But for us it was a rewarding and worthwhile afternoon.
But very, very tiring. Which brings me back to the possibility that it was a perfect day after all. But then in the Biblical sense of ‘made perfect’. That is to say: accomplishing its intended purpose. No, it’s not at all easy to be here. For all the reasons I have enumerated above, and plenty more. But there are moments when, hugely tired, we have been so energized by the day’s events that there just needs to be a blog.


  1. The journey creates the people we become, and it becomes the legacy of what we did or failed to achieve in the short time we walked this planet.

    Well done Bro, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

    1. You're right, Reinier; I think our short time here is the 'practicum' which forms us according to God's purpose for eternity.
      Remember when we buried Dad Kanis? Rev 14.13.
      "How do you measure the meaning of a man's life? The most common answer is: look at what he leaves behind. It will show you what he lived for. Look at what he has achieved. Listen to the words of appreciation for who he was. Cherish the memories in which he lives on. As long as even one single person lives and sees and remembers, there has been purpose and meaning to this life. And I fully agree: there is comfort in that. Let none of us deny it. We may look back at Dad's long life. Remember and be thankful for everything he meant to us and to others. There is no shame to honour and celebrate his memory in this purely personal way. To pick the capucijners which he himself planted last spring. To wander through the museum in his basement and smile with pleasure at his slightly eccentric love for rocks. To read his memoirs once again and wonder...
      But all those comforts eventually fade like old photographs. The last of us to survive will one day be gone. And then no-one will remember, Ecclesiastes suggests. Meaningless! Meaningless! If a life is lived only under the sun.
      But our text, Rev 14.13, offers us another comfort. One which is designed to last long after memories fade and appreciation falters and achievements crumble. Comfort: concerning those who die in the Lord. And that, we may believe, is the measure of Dad's life. He died as he lived. In the Lord. Not his own. But body and soul the possession of his faithful Saviour Jesus Christ."