OK-so our team of seven experienced so many things while gone.
I wanted to give you a few visuals today to help you get a better feel of what transpired…
Thank you for all of your prayers and support! A more thorough report will be given at Edinbrook Church on the evening of January 3.
The blog will continue for passionate Christ-followers. Come back tomorrow!
It’s our last day in Gembu. We leave at 6AM tomorrow morning (Friday), so all of our goodbyes must be done today. We have made so many friends and connected so well with many people here at GECHAAN. We have been reminded of the incredible bond there is between brothers and sisters in Christ. There is truly a Spirit which binds us together in a way that is beyond human understanding. Consider this…
“Put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful,” Colossians 3:14-15.
Honestly…the love we have experienced from the GECHAAN staff and so many Nigerians in the last two weeks has been overwhelming. As a result, there has been a palatable sense of unity among us. Love is the bonding agent that makes us one in Christ! And yes…it makes us very thankful to have spent these days with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
NOW–don’t stop reading the blog.
I will still post some final pics and thoughts from our African Adventure, but I will also continue to blog every day after I return. The blogs will be shorter (most of the time), but will be written to encourage you to become a passionate Christ-follower.
Oooh! What an experience we had in Mbamga! This village is located about two hours drive from Gembu through rocky mountains, perilous roads, beautiful valleys, and a river raft crossing. The village is packed with little children, 160 of them that are orphans in the Foster Parent Program. The twinkling eyes and contagious smiles from the crowds of eager children melted our hearts…and made us so grateful for GECHAAN’s passion to help these vulnerable and needy children.
Check out a few highlights of our day in the bush:
- Meeting with the Jaro (village chief) in ceremonial fashion as we exchanged greetings and some important information. And then seeing him hop on the back of Art’s all terrain vehicle for a ride through the village.
- Having lunch in Miriam’s house. She was the first lady to take in orphans into her home and led the pilot project that has now become the model for orphan care in all of Nigeria. She fed us fu fu with chicken. Fu fu is a corn based paste that you eat with your fingers by dipping it in the chicken and seasoned sauce dish. Delicious.
- The open-air meeting with around 150 village people present. In preparation for subsidizing the foster parents for their care of the children, some important announcements were made while moms, dads, and gobs of pretty-faced children looked on with anticipation. What fun!
- We walked across the village to see the home of the Baptist Pastor in town — he is also a foster parent to two boys. We were inspired by his faithfulness to the Lord. Our team prayed blessing upon him in his home before we left.
- We visited the local hospital and met numerous patients in their beds — mostly babies and mommas. We were amazed at their good work with so little. We prayed for a good number of the sick and tried to bring them a little joy.
Mbamga is a place very few people in the world have ever heard of. We found so many people who are quietly and faithfully living our their authentic faith in life-changing ways. God sees…and today, we did too. We have been inspired in ways that words cannot describe.
Lord–bless these faithful, simple, and dedicated people as they serve you in their remote corner of the world. Thank you for seeing them…and blessing them…and reserving a special place for them in glory.
What a day! There were so many things we experience on this Tuesday in Gembu…
- We witnessed an HIV/AIDS education competition that the high schools participate in. This was the championship contest. Beyond the actual competition, they presented dramatic sketches, original songs (on HIV/AIDS), dancing, special presentations, and of course, they honored the American guests. It was inspiring to see how so many young people are learning the facts about his devastating disease and choosing to live wisely. All of this originated with GECHAAN.
- We visited the house of a foster child. In this simple clay brick abode, momma was roasting ground nuts (like our peanuts) to make oil for the market, while brothers, sisters, and friends shelled piles of them on a mat on the ground. It is so inspiring to see the joy amidst their simplicity of life.
- We all visited a Grandmother’s House. Grandmas often need to care for grandchildren when their parents die, or they will even take in orphans as their own. In this culture, however, these women have virtually no rights. GECHAAN has initiated a program to purchase and deed land to grandmas and then build them a house (for around $3000 each). According to our standards, I cannot describe how simple it was. But this grandma told us that she “cannot put words together to describe her joy and gratitude. It’s like living in a palace,” she exclaimed. We prayed a blessing upon her and her home and went away humbled and amazed.
The highlight of the day, however, was dedicating the guest house and restaurant that Edinbrook has funded. The guest house has been named The House of Hope. I was taken by surprise at my emotions as I sat there, waiting to give my message, witnessing the exuberant praise of the 60 or so Nigerian staff-members present. Each of these individuals have risen above the peril of their nation to become significant ministers to the weak, sick, disadvantaged, and hurting around them. They are making their lives count for something eternal. I was deeply moved.
This is a beautiful and much needed facility. It will provide:
- Opportunities for growing GECHAAN as more long and short-term workers can come to help in this ministry
- A standard of excellence in a community where this is rarely seen. It truly honors the Lord.
- Healthy Helwigs! They will hopefully have a few more opportunities for solitude and silence since the guests will now be able to live and eat in a venue NOT in their home. How wonderful that will be!
- God honoring hospitality. This is such an important piece of being Christian.
Thank you, Edinbrook, for your faithful support of GECHAAN. We have truly honored the Lord in this effort and are continuing to profoundly affect lives by our involvement in this little corner of the world.
Injustice is a huge issue around the world. It can be described as “people in power taking away the rights that God has given to others.” This happens in Gembu so often — men taking away the virginity of women, landowners stealing homes from widows, and adult predators hunting and abusing vulnerable and orphaned children. Injustice is everywhere! And you do not need to be in Africa to see it. It happens everyday in high school hallways, for instance, when bullies exert power over the “nobodies”.
Listen to God’s declaration from Amos 5:
21 “I hate all your show and pretense—
the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.
22 I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.
I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.
23 Away with your noisy hymns of praise!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,
an endless river of righteous living.
Do you see what matters to God? If we act out all of the religious rituals and practices as well as possible, but fail to DO what God expects us to do, our religiosity is disgusting to Him. And God has great compassion for the disadvantaged and weak.
I want to learn more about what it means to stand for justice…and then do it well. It’s what God is looking for in each of us.
PS — Our team is preparing for the Guest House dedication tomorrow. It looks like it will be named “The House of Hope.” So fitting for Gembu.
Two highlights stand out about our Sunday in Gembu…
First, we worshiped on a hillside in Kakara with a convention of Baptist churches. After driving for 75 minutes, we arrived at a remote location on the outskirts of the village. Most of the people sat in make-shift shelters (most with grass tied to the roof to provide shade) in a large circle…maybe 80 yards across. Art Helwig and our team were honored by the leaders (Susan even needed to address the crowd of hundreds because they wanted to hear her voice) and we had a wonderful time. The wind was quite stiff, however, and waves of dust blew through the crowd on a regular basis. It was so bad at one point in time that we could hardly see the worshipers on the other side of the circle. But it was wonderful to worship among brothers and sisters of a whole different culture. Our team especially enjoyed the offering! (You don’t hear that too often.) That’s because it was a dance offering…you shake and jig while you move toward the baskets to give your money. We joined right in. What a time!
Secondly, we worshiped long distance with our Edinbrook congregation. With a live Skype link, we surprised our church by addressing them on the big screen during the Sunday worship services. I can’t say what it was like on the other end (I heard it was a little choppy), but it was a blast to “drop in” unexpectedly and briefly report about GECHAAN in Gembu.
We may have our preconceived ideas about what worship should be. In our western culture, what we think is right is often lacking biblical support. We tend to rely on tradition a little more than truth.
Jesus clarified a few things about worship when he conversed with the worldly woman at the well in Samaria: The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship,” John 4:19-20. Like this woman, we erroneous believe that worship should look like this, sound that, and take place in a certain type of venue. We often have very strong ideas about what worship should NOT be, too. But listen to how Jesus simplified worship — “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth,” John 4:24.
Being authentic and Spirit-filled is what matters most. We need to stop judging worship by our preconceived ideas and make sure our own hearts are right and truthfully lifted up before God in our expressions of praise. That’s what really matters.
Real worship can happen on a dusty hillside with a dancing throng…or in the back-room of a house through high-tech internet connections. Trust me…I know.
Our team went for a long walk through the mountains of the Mambilla Plateau today [minus Jim…he stayed back and made balloon animals and handed out candy to little children who walked by]. It was beautiful and invigorating! The scenery was exquisite, the experience memorable, and the exercise challenging. Some of us went three miles down to the river…and it’s a long way down in elevation. The kicker is that when you go down, you also have to come back up. Oooh! Let me just say, Art needed to do a four-wheeler rescue for some who were “overcome” by that high-elevation climb. What an experience!
Art and Dorothy then took us to see the traditional Chief in Gembu. The Chief is head over all of the Jaros (village chiefs) in the villages around (maybe 200 of them). The Chief is highly respected and a key figure for GECHAAN to have favor among the outlying villages. It is a very high honor to be found in the palace of the Chief.
While there, we participated in various formalities before the Chief expressed his highest respect and absolute assurance that GECHAAN would always have favor under his leadership. It was a privilege to see the strategic support Art and Dorothy have secured from people of all classes and religions. They are deeply respected and appreciated on the Mambilla Plateau.
I mentioned yesterday (in my Tweet) that I was thankful for big bananas and pebbles of various sizes. Cement footings have been laid around the compound for a much needed fence. Larry Petersen and I have been helping the resident Nigerians, Timothy and Benjamin, put steel posts into those footings. Here’s the deal—when the cement is laid, they place a banana tree trunk every eight feet so that when it is time to put in the posts, you break a thin “seal” over the “banana” and pull this rotting piece out. You have a perfectly formed hole for a pole to be inserted. I’m thankful for big bananas, as they call them here, because if the hole is big enough around, we have no problems inserting and perfectly plumbing a fence post. Small bananas create lots of problems. That’s where the pebbles of various sizes come in. When we need to adjust and wedge the post, we use pebbles of just the right size to wedge in between the post and hardened concrete to get the pole perfectly positioned. Cement is added to permanently keep the post in place. This on THANKSGIVING! I’ve never been thankful for either of these things before. On this Thanksgiving day, I am. What a memory!
Timothy my friend in Gembu
Timothy came to GECHAAN with AIDS several years ago. He was very weak and had no hope…until Art and Dorothy took him “under their wing” and went the extra mile to provide drugs for his recovery. Five years later, he is strong, vigorous, praising God, and making a very valuable contribution as a staff member to this ministry. As he said yesterday, “If it was not for Art and Dorothy and GECHAAN, there would be thousands of graves in Gembu…and mine would be one of them.”
Samson is 16. He was just a young boy of 9 or so when Art and Dorothy found him homeless in Gembu. Both his father and mother died of AIDS. He was entrusted to a Christian family in the Foster Parent Program, came to know Christ, and is a quality and grateful young man. As he shared with me yesterday, “If it was not for Art and Dorothy, I would have no life and I would not have faith in Jesus.”
A grandmother in a remote village outside of Gembu was ready to take her own life–she had 9 grandchildren and could not take care of them. She had reached her wits end and felt she had no way out. GECHAAN was informed of the situation. Someone rushed out to save the grandma and rescue the children. Today, all nine children are in Christian families where they are being cared for and raised in the same community where they were before. Some time later, the grandma was so grateful for GECHAAN’s help that she walked miles through the mountains to say thank you. When she saw Art, she did something that Nigerian grandmas never do to other men — she gripped him and hugged him…and kept on hugging him. Even though her children were lost to HIV/AIDS, her grandchildren have life!
Multiply these stories, literally thousands of times, and this is life in Gembu through the ministry of GECHAAN…
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope you have a wonderful day.
Even though Thanksgiving is very different in Gembu (it is not a holiday here), we are choosing to celebrate anyway. The work here goes on unfazed by this holiday across the ocean, but in the Helwig house, we’ll be eating more than normal. I smell the aroma of fresh-baked pies and aromatic dishes cooking as I write. Oooh–I can’t wait.
A few things I’m thankful for while in Gembu:
- Faithful servants, like Art and Dorothy, who have literally given their lives to save those here in Gembu. They have no privacy and are overwhelmed with a constant stream of BIG needs all the time. We are in the presence of champions.
- For a great team of seven on this trip — Lynne and Larry Peterson, Judy Elftmann, Barbara Kosiak, Jim McKinney, Susan and myself. This group is upbeat, flexible, hard-working, and a lot of fun. What a great “substitute” for our own families on this Thanksgiving.
- For the people who come for help at GECHAAN. These people are poor, often sick, in survival mode in so many ways, humble, and very grateful. I am learning great lessons of life from these gentle people…and meeting Jesus through them too.
- For my family and a church who would let me go to this far away land and represent them and Jesus in this beautiful place.
God bless you on this Thanksgiving. My you be renewed in your gratitude for all that God has done for you. I know that I am…