Day 11 — Let Justice Roll

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.

Day 10 — A Sunday to Remember!

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.

Day 9 — A Saturday in Gembu

A Saturday trek through the mountains
A Saturday trek through the mountains

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.

Meeting with the Traditional Chief of the Mambilla Plateau
Meeting with the Traditional Chief of the Mambilla Plateau

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.

Day 8 — Stories to Tell

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 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!

Grandma's Boy
Grandma's Boy

Multiply these stories, literally thousands of times, and this is life in Gembu through the ministry of GECHAAN…

Thanksgiving! Day 7

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…

Day 6 — Our Work to Do

Let me give you a flavor of what we do in Gembu…

We meet with the staff for devotions each morning at 7:45. Afterwards, we are all warmly and respectfully greeted by every person present…somewhere around 40 people. Many of the staff are off-site working in villages surrounding Gembu. What an inspiration to hear the team emphasize each morning how dependent they are upon the Lord in order to help these people with HIV/AIDS. They are ministering to these hurting people for all of the right reasons. We are inspired by their faithful service in Jesus’ name.

After mingling for a time, our Edinbrook team of seven each go their separate ways to accomplish their tasks for the day. Today, the ladies sorted and folded stacks of baby clothes and blankets that can now be given away to those who desperately need them. It was huge job!

Larry did a combination of projects (electrical, helping on the fence around the compound), Jim is working diligently on the guest house putting in scaffolding for the floors of the upper level (very hard work), and I have been putting in steel posts for the compound fence (which will make things much more secure). There is a major problem with things disappearing around here….

Beyond the tasks that can be measured, we are here to encourage and affirm the hard workers of GECHAAN. We have the privilege of giving a smile, a hardy handshake, a warm hug, a word of encouragement, and a word of wisdom to those who serve in some very difficult circumstances treating a devastating disease. They are very grateful.

We also have opportunities to meet numerous people who come to the Life Line Center for treatment. They are always excited to meet people from the US and are eager to engage in a little conversation. Susan especially loves on the babies and warms up to the mommas. I love watching her do her “magic”.

When Jesus began His ministry, he read from Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
Because the LORD has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives,
And freedom to prisoners;

This passage capsulizes what Jesus came to do. It begins with an emphasis on compassion and care for those that are disadvantaged and hurting. And then Jesus tells us to be His ambassadors. Scripture tells us on numerous occasions to be His presence in our world. Yes–we have the privilege of actually being Jesus’ face, arms, feet, voice and presence to those that need to experience Him most. More than anything, that’s what we want to do while in Gembu.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!

Day Five — Settling In

We made it to Gembu! What a trip…what a place GECHAAN is. We slept in our new Guest House last night. It’s beautiful and still in process. But we’re honored to use the facility we have funded. It will be a tremendous blessing to this ministry for many years to come. With eight rooms on the first floor and four long-term housing units up above, the Guest House creates a ready potential for significant increase in GECHAAN’s impact. Thank you for what you have given to make this possible and what you have continued to give to support this ministry. It truly is amazing.

Let me fill you in on a few updates about the ministry here:

  • GECHAAN now is caring for 2,800 orphans in the foster parent program. Every one of those children had no hope, no future, no love, no family, no home before they were taken in by a trained Christian family.
  • There are now 150 employees on the GECHAAN staff. As recently as one year ago, they had about 15 on staff. They’ve multiplied by ten times! That’s a management nightmare, but possible in a beautiful way through God’s providence.

We began our day with Art and Dorothy over some breakfast and then joined the staff for pre-work devotions in the Lifeline Center. Many of us then mingled with the staff and met numerous patients coming into the clinic. The visitors coming for help are so appreciative of those who will help them live.

The rest of the day, we worked on the guest house, attempting some repairs on the Helwig house, organizing mountains of baby clothes, and working on a security fence. We ended the day with supper — 17 of us around the table. There are also seven Nigerians visiting this week from US AID. WOW–I don’t know how Art and Dorothy handle it all. They are incredible.

Thanks for all of your prayers.

The team is ready for a big day of work tomorrow.

[Sorry that there are no pics. We cannot get them uploaded from the internet here…yet. Keep checking!]

Day Four – Loving the Nigerians

Sunday was a wonderful day. We began our day by worshiping together. The sermon was outstanding (of course) and the fellowship invigorating. We then traveled four hours to Makurdy where we found a hotel and had some supper — chicken and noodles out on the patio. I thought that this “simple day” would be a breeze. Now that evening has come, I’ve been reminded of how much a seven-hour time change can mess with your body clock. I’m very ready for rest.

Monday will be a big day of travel. Eight hours of twisting, slowing, speeding up, honking horns, avoiding potholes and good old cruising will provide another opportunity for us to chalk up some good memories on our African Adventure. If all goes well, tomorrow evening we will find our beds in the new Guest House that Edinbrook has funded for GECHAAN. And we will be its very first inhabitants! Wow.

We saw so many things today as we traveled through the countryside. Roadside markets, Nigerians carrying huge loads on their heads, entire families on mopeds, and quaint villages of little thatched huts. We had some wonderful pics and videos to share,  but our Gembu internet service would not cooperate. Sorry… maybe later.

I am reminded of the great task we have been given to “make disciples of all nations.” Jesus most literally meant “all ethnic groups” when He delivered this command. Beyond all of the strange customs, activities, foods, lifestyles and hard-to-understand accents, the Nigerians are amazing people. They have treated us with a winsome kindness, favor, and respect. Here’s another thing I know about the Nigerians—Jesus loves them, this I know, for the Bible tells me so, little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong.

We love them too!

Thanks for your prayers. It’s just about time to get to work.

Day Three – Sunday

It’s Sunday! We just had our first real sleep since leaving home on Friday evening. Oh—it feels so good! After getting settled in to our hotel in Abuja, we all gathered with Dorothy Helwig and our two drivers, Pete and Charles, and spent a little time chatting, planning, and praying. It was good.

Here’s the plan for today: We will have a time of worship together at the hotel (that’s the advantage of having a pastor along) right after some peanut butter breakfast sandwiches. Then we’re off to Macurdi (only four hours away) where we will settle in for the evening. Monday is our big driving day…twelve hours to Gembu.


Consider a few thoughts about Adventure…

Jesus began His earthly ministry by giving a simple invitation to a few people, “Follow me.” Those that accepted the invitation had no idea the adventures they would experience. They would witness miracle after miracle, a love for people that blew their minds, lepers healed, the lame walked, and the dumb spoke. The seas were stilled from storms and crowds of thousands were fed with a few small parcels of food. What amazing adventures followed that simple invitation to “follow me.”

Adventures await all of us on the other side of Jesus invitation to follow, wherever and however that may be. As Gary Haugen writes in his book, Just Courage, “If I want to stay safe and warm at the visitor’s center, I don’t get to be with him on the adventure up the mountain. But he says his power is made perfect in my weakness, not in my strength.” The challenge, of course, is to be bold, accept the challenge, get out of our comfort zones and live on the ragged edge of adventure. God is there.

Well Lord, here we go!

Day Two — Travel

First—the facts. We made it to Amsterdam on time. Five of us were a little jealous because Jim and Barbara were bumped up to first class for the eight-hour flight, mostly due to Jim’s kindness. He was given a first-class seat and then gave it to Barbara. The flight attendants were so impressed, they gave Jim another one!

 We are currently (10AM Central Time) on our way to Abuja, Nigeria (a six-hour flight) and are just beginning to fly over the Great Sahara Desert. Very cool.

 Now a few reflections.

 Rest is not over-rated. We wanted to sleep on the first leg of our trip. Most of us got very little. I feel like I’ve been drugged, Susan looks like she’s been drugged (and she’s still cute!), and all of us are functioning in something of a stupor. So many things have kept us from getting our rest—cramped conditions, sitting upright, excitement, eating at 10PM…so many things. And so we are like zombies in our seats.

 Spiritual rest is not over-rated either. So many things can distract us from getting the rest we need – busyness, a sense of responsibility, our adrenaline addiction, our false sense of self-sufficiency, driven to perform rather than live in grace, and so much more. We can be doers without being be’ers.

Hebrews 4:11 states, “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience.” The rest, as stated in Hebrews, refers to two things primarily: the final rest we will have in glory and living in the center of God’s will. It’s a heart thing not just a “do” thing. With this condition comes a peace, a restorative strength, and an intense vibrancy to the Lord’s participation in our lives. We must be “diligent to enter that rest”, however.

The flip side? We live in a stupor. Listen to this from Romans 8:11, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, Eyes that would not see and ears that cannot hear, Down to this very day.”

Who wants that? I know that seven of us on the Gembu Team want rest more than ever. And “yes”, we want to be in the very center of God’s will.


Ivan Veldhuizen