Saturday, 14 November 2009


Seby (SAY-be) was about fourteen years old when we first met him. It shortly after we went to live in the village of Gogo in the summer of 1987. He was the only Loron boy in the region to have spent more than a couple of years at school. In fact he had finished primary/elementary school and was planning to go return to secondary school at the end of the summer.

As Seby was the only Loron person in the village who could speak French as well as his native language, I asked him if he would help me as I made a start on learning the Loron language. He eagerly agreed and over the next few weeks he was a great help as we worked together on a grammar survey of his language. He was very intelligent and quickly grasped what I was looking for.

At the end of September he left the village and went back to school, sixty five miles away, but every summer he would come home and spend his school break in Gogo helping the missionaries with language study and, as we progressed, with Bible translation and developing Bible lessons and literacy materials. We taught him how to work on a computer. During one of his summer breaks, Seby became a Christian.

When he finished his education, he returned to live in the village with his new wife, Eri, a Loron believer. He built a mud house with a straw roof, just like all the other Loron folks. He planted a field, helped with Bible teaching at the church in Gogo and, when he had time, he worked with me on Bible translation.

In 2000, while we were on furlough in Northern Ireland, he was offered a job as a trainee nurse at a small Baptist clinic in Doropo, about 15 miles from Gogo. At first he was reluctant to take the job because he said that he could not stand the sight of blood, but he gave it a go anyway, and after a while began to really enjoy the work. There was no formal instruction with the job and so, in 2006, he decided that he would trust the Lord to help him take a three-year nurse’s training course at the University Teaching Hospitals in Abidjan in southern Ivory Coast, over 400 miles from where he and his family were living.

During the next three years he faced numerous trials and disappointments, including teacher strikes, sickness in his family and long spells of separation from his wife and children. But he persevered. Together with members of his own family and a Christian couple in Holland, Marina and I assisted Seby to pursue his studies. We were thrilled, in August, to learn that he had passed his final exams and was returning to northern Ivory Coast to resume working at the Baptist hospital, this time with a nursing diploma under his belt!

We heard this week that Seby came first in a class of over five hundred students. As I'm sure you can imagine, we are really chuffed about that!

Seby with his wife, Eri

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Would You Go Back?

If you had been to heathen lands
Where weary souls stretch out their hands
To plead, yet no one understands,
Would you go back? Would you?

If you had seen the women bear
Their heavy loads, with none to share
Had heard them weep, with none to care,
Would you go back? Would you?

If you had seen them in despair
Beat their breasts and pull their hair
While demon powers filled the air,
Would you go back? Would you?

If you had seen the glorious sight
When heathen people seeking right
Had turned from darkness to the light,
Would you go back? Would you?

If you had walked through Afric’s sand
Your hand within the Saviour’s hand
And knew He’d called you to that land,
Would you go back? Would you?

Yet still they wait, that weary throng
They’ve waited, some, so very long.
When shall despair be turned to song?
We’re going back. Would you?

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Edinburgh Marathon, 2009

Peter and Kyle ran the Edinburgh Marathon this year. Peter raised money for the school and clinic in Gogo, Ivory Coast, and Kyle raised funds for MacMillan Cancer Support.

Around 17,000 people took part.  

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Video - The Loron People (3mins)

To download video: click here

(Download button located at bottom right-hand corner - simple 3-step signup)

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

We should have called her Patricia!

Our oldest daughter, Laura, was born just a few hours before Saint Patrick's Day in the beautiful Peak District of Derbyshire in a quiet little hamlet called Two Dales right on edge of the village of Darley Dale. We were studying at the New Tribes Mission Bible school in nearby Matlock Bath at the time. We left the area at the end of 1982 when Laura was only nine months old, and she had never been back to the place where she was born. 

Not until today, that is!

Thanks to a special offer from the low-cost airline, Ryanair, Marina and I were able to bring Laura and her husband, Andrew, back to her birthplace for the princely sum of eight pence. That's right, one penny for each flight from Belfast to East Midlands Airport. Mr O'Leary might annoy some folks with his antics, but he definitely knows how to give away genuine bargains.

Anyway, we left Belfast early this morning and rented a car at East Midlands airport. We visited the old Bible school at Cromford Court in Matlock Bath (now moved to North Cotes, Lincs) and then we went in search of Darley Hall, the maternity home where Laura was born. With the help of the folks at the tourist information centre in Matlock and the Darley Dale Town Council, with whom we had corresponded a few weeks ago by email, we were able to locate Darley Hall. It has since been changed to a retirement home, and a new housing development has sprung up in the immediate vicinity of the building, but it is still surrounded by trees and a large grassy area. Laura was thrilled to see it.

We were on a tight schedule so we continued on a few miles down the road to see the splendor of Chatsworth House. 

Click picture for larger image

After lunch we hastily made our way back to the airport, just south of Derby City and we arrived back in Belfast this evening just in time to catch the evening rush hour.

We had a great day!

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God

No, I'm not an atheist, the title is from an article I recently read. I was amazed at Mr Parris's candor as he described his attitude towards missionaries working in Africa. Hope you enjoy it.

As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God

Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset

Matthew Parris

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it's Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

First, then, the observation. We had friends who were missionaries, and as a child I stayed often with them; I also stayed, alone with my little brother, in a traditional rural African village. In the city we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world - a directness in their dealings with others - that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.

At 24, travelling by land across the continent reinforced this impression. From Algiers to Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Central African Republic, then right through the Congo to Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya, four student friends and I drove our old Land Rover to Nairobi.

We slept under the stars, so it was important as we reached the more populated and lawless parts of the sub-Sahara that every day we find somewhere safe by nightfall. Often near a mission.

Whenever we entered a territory worked by missionaries, we had to acknowledge that something changed in the faces of the people we passed and spoke to: something in their eyes, the way they approached you direct, man-to-man, without looking down or away. They had not become more deferential towards strangers - in some ways less so - but more open.

This time in Malawi it was the same. I met no missionaries. You do not encounter missionaries in the lobbies of expensive hotels discussing development strategy documents, as you do with the big NGOs. But instead I noticed that a handful of the most impressive African members of the Pump Aid team (largely from Zimbabwe) were, privately, strong Christians. “Privately” because the charity is entirely secular and I never heard any of its team so much as mention religion while working in the villages. But I picked up the Christian references in our conversations. One, I saw, was studying a devotional textbook in the car. One, on Sunday, went off to church at dawn for a two-hour service.

It would suit me to believe that their honesty, diligence and optimism in their work was unconnected with personal faith. Their work was secular, but surely affected by what they were. What they were was, in turn, influenced by a conception of man's place in the Universe that Christianity had taught.

There's long been a fashion among Western academic sociologists for placing tribal value systems within a ring fence, beyond critiques founded in our own culture: “theirs” and therefore best for “them”; authentic and of intrinsically equal worth to ours.

I don't follow this. I observe that tribal belief is no more peaceable than ours; and that it suppresses individuality. People think collectively; first in terms of the community, extended family and tribe. This rural-traditional mindset feeds into the “big man” and gangster politics of the African city: the exaggerated respect for a swaggering leader, and the (literal) inability to understand the whole idea of loyal opposition.

Anxiety - fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things - strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won't take the initiative, won't take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders.

How can I, as someone with a foot in both camps, explain? When the philosophical tourist moves from one world view to another he finds - at the very moment of passing into the new - that he loses the language to describe the landscape to the old. But let me try an example: the answer given by Sir Edmund Hillary to the question: Why climb the mountain? “Because it's there,” he said.

To the rural African mind, this is an explanation of why one would not climb the mountain. It's... well, there. Just there. Why interfere? Nothing to be done about it, or with it. Hillary's further explanation - that nobody else had climbed it - would stand as a second reason for passivity.

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the know how that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.

And I'm afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.

(From The Times, 27 December 2008)