Friday, 10 December 2010

Disputed Election Results in Ivory Coast

The red/pink regions on the map voted for Ouattara; the blue for Gbagbo

The result of the recent presidential election in Ivory Coast has been
disputed and political confusion reigns in the country.

The Independent Electoral Commission declared Alassane Ouattara
[watara] to be the winner of the poll with 54% of the vote. However,
the current president, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to allow most of the
votes from the northern part of Ivory Coast to be counted, claiming
intimidation, and a constitutional court subsequently overturned the
initial result and declared Gbagbo to be the winner.

The UN, EU, African Union, IMF, World Bank and numerous individual
countries have stated their support for Alassane Ouattara. The Ivorian
military is supporting, at least for the time being, Laurent Gbagbo,
so, he is still the de facto president.

Both Gbagbo and Ouattara have been sworn in as president of the
country and they each have created a government.

Please pray for a quick and peaceful resolution to the current stalemate.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Crisis in Conakry

What an eventful trip! What started out as a regular 6-monthly, 3-day gathering of NTM’s West Africa leaders in Guinea Conakry ended up taking two full weeks of our time, culminating in a rather tense exit from the country’s capital as widespread political violence swept the city.

On our way to Guinea earlier in the month, Marina and I were held up for several days in Bamako after our flight to Conakry had been cancelled at the last minute. The final round of polling in the presidential election in Guinea was rescheduled to take place on the very day we were supposed to arrive and the authorities belatedly announced that they were closing the airport, so we had to quickly make new plans. We eventually got to Guinea three days late.

We enjoyed meeting the missionaries who work at the MK school and NTM centre and also some of the new NTM folks in Africa who are learning French and African culture. After our committee meetings finished we travelled to a village to visit the missionaries who live among the Baga Fore people. Marina had spent a week with these folks earlier this year, helping them get their literacy programme off the ground. She had really enjoyed her time with the missionaries and wanted to visit them to see how the teaching was progressing. It was a thrill to hear that the first class had completed the course just before our arrival. We had a great time with the two families and single lady as we discussed their plans for Bible translation and starting Bible teaching in the local language. The next day we left their village to return to the Guinean capital, Conakry, for our flight back to Burkina.

The four-hour trip to the capital was rather uneventful, although some of the views, especially the mountains along the road, were quite outstanding. The ‘highlight’ of the journey was when, at a security checkpoint, we were brusquely ordered out of our taxi by a young, over-zealous soldier and told to open our suitcases. I’m not sure what he was looking for, but after a thorough inspection, and satisfied that we had no contraband, we were allowed to continue on our way. For Marina and me, it was no big deal, but our taxi driver was very angry at the way we had been treated.

We wanted to avoid the street demonstrations that been taking place in various parts of the capital since the election had taken place, so we arrived at the airport about 5 hours before our flight was scheduled to leave. We found a couple of seats in the corner of a large, rather dull waiting room on the ground floor and settled ourselves for a long wait.

After about two hours a police officer came over to us and told us that our flight had been cancelled. We were incredulous and wondered what we were going to do. Due to the political tensions in the country we have no missionaries living in Conakry, and we didn’t know where we could go to spend night, so we contacted Idrissa, a Guinean man who helps our missionaries with business in the city. He said that he would come to the airport to get us and help us to find somewhere to stay. We eventually got a room at an Assemblies of God mission station. The French couple in charge of the guesthouse were extremely friendly and helpful. We had a comfortable night, despite several power outages during the night when the fans stopped turning and it got quite warm and sticky.

At 7am the next morning, Idrissa went to the Air Mali office to rearrange our flights. He was first in line and was able to get us seats on a flight apparently going out that afternoon. However, events were taking a nasty turn in the city. Counting of votes from the November 7th poll had been going on for eight days and activists from one of the parties claimed that massive fraud was taking place. They were becoming increasingly angry and frustrated. Just before noon they started to block roads and burn tyres. We were supposed to leave for the airport at 2pm.

The French missionaries at the guesthouse had invited us to their home for lunch. As we sat chatting, we heard a burst of automatic gunfire and then sporadic gunfire echo around the city. Things were getting serious. The French embassy contacted its citizens and told them to remain where they were, including children at a French school.

We phoned Idrissa to try to find out what was happening and he assured us that despite the violence – two people had reportedly been shot dead and many wounded - he would still be able to get us to the airport by avoiding the trouble spots. We assured our French hosts that we would be fine and said that we from Northern Ireland and had some experience with this sort of thing. Nevertheless, we were beginning to wonder if, indeed, we were going to be able to get our flight out of the country.

Idrissa turned up for us a few minutes earlier than planned. We quickly loaded our bags and started our journey through the city to the airport located on the southern end of the Conakry peninsula. The roads, which had been bustling with people and traffic the previous day, were eerily deserted, apart from a few desperate taxi drivers looking for a fare. Idrissa raced along roads and through districts that he knew to be calm, avoiding areas of the city that had seen the worst of the violence. At one junction he showed us a spot where, earlier in the day when he had been going to get our tickets changed, he had seen a man being severely beaten. The whole thing seemed rather surreal.

Thankfully, we soon arrived, without incident, at the airport. We were first in line. Slowly others trickled in from various parts of the city. It was not long until we were all sitting in a beautiful new elevated departure lounge looking out on blue skies and an empty runway. The peace and calm of the air conditioned lounge was in sharp contrast to the heated tempers and high humidity of the rest of the city. We were still not sure for certain that we were going to get out of the city, so it was a relief to see the 50-seater Air Mali Bombardier plane arrive at the airport. The check-in staff promptly set up their stall and the passengers were smoothly and efficiently processed, and we were soon belted in to our seats ready for take-off. Thirty minutes ahead of schedule, the high-pitched engines roared into life and the wheels speedily and gently lifted off the tarmac.

One hour and fifteen minutes later we touched down at Bamako airport in Mali, just in time to get checked in on a connecting flight back to Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso.

Meanwhile, back in Conakry, Idrissa was trying to make his way back home from the airport. Unfortunately, he got caught up in a mob and his car was slightly damaged as he tried to get away. He was able to get to a friend’s house where he parked his vehicle in the courtyard. He remained there until the trouble had passed, and was able to return home later in the evening. 

Our connection flight from Bamako to Ouaga was delayed for several hours because they had to replace the plane we were supposed to take, but, eventually, just before 2am, we pulled up in a taxi at the SIM guesthouse in Ouagadougou.

We thank the Lord for His grace and protection. We would ask you to continue to pray for the country of Guinea, and also for the missionaries who live there as they endeavour to bring the light of the Gospel to the unreached people groups in that country.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Ivory Coast Election Results

Long-awaited presidential elections took place in Ivory Coast last Sunday (October 31).

None of the 14 candidates received over 50% of the vote, so another poll will take place on November 21 between the two candidates who got the most votes in the first round: Laurent Gbagbo, the current president; and Alassane Ouattara, a former prime minister of Ivory Coast.

Over the next couple of weeks the two candidates will be vying for the votes that the third placed candidate, Henri Bedie, received.

We are praying that the second round will be as peaceful as the first; that stability will return to Ivory Coast; and, as a result, normal missionary activity will resume among the many unreached tribal groups in the country.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

IT Workshop in Gogo

Can you believe it? Last week we had our first computer training course in Gogo!

Five literate Loron men and women learned some basic computer skills, working mostly in Word. We were able to rustle up a number of second-hand laptops and we borrowed a small generator and power regulator from the village, and, hey presto, we had afternoon classes up and running.

At the same time we had a week-long seminar for new literacy teachers from a number of nearby Loron villages, and Marina also introduced a new numeracy course to some who had completed the reading course. We had a very tiring but profitable week.

We have now returned to Burkina to wait for the elections results in Ivory Coast at the end of the month. Pray for free and fair elections on October 31.

Loron Bible teacher, Donald, with his new motor cycle

Benoir with his pet monkey

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

October Events

Amazing cloud formations at the end of rainy season

 4 miles through tall grass on a narrow, bumpy track on the road from Gogo to Boba

Hovare Elijah giving a word of exhortation as Kyle is baptised

Kyle was baptised on Sunday along with 20 new Loron believers

Kyle, Leanne and Jennifer (Kyle’s fiancĂ©e) painted the school in Gogo as part of the aid4gogo project They also presented a new ball to the students.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Back to Burkina

Marina got back safely on Monday from her trip to Mozambique. She spent a week with NTM missionaries who are working with the Moniga people, helping them to get their literacy programme off the ground. Pray for the team there as they prepare to start teaching the Word of God to the Moniga people at the end of the year.

While Marina was in southern Africa I spent time with family members here in Northern Ireland. During that time we went to see the RAF Red Arrows display team. It was a excellent show. Watch video highlights that I took of the show here: (85 seconds), longer version: (5mins)

After a slight hold up because of  the possibility of airport strike action in the UK, we were able to book our flights yesterday to return to Burkina Faso next week. All being well we will be returning to BF on Friday, August 27 to continue with the work among the Loron people. We have a full programme planned for the next several months including a Bible conference for the Loron believers and a literacy training seminar for new teachers.

We appreciate your interest in the work among the Loron people. Thank you for your prayers and support as we continue to 'declare His glory among the heathen, His wonders among all people',

Paul and Marina

Monday, 16 August 2010

Marina in Mozambique

Marina got back this morning from her trip to Mozambique. She has been travelling for three days, including an over-nighter from Johannesburg, so she is quite tired. She went there to help the New Tribes missionary team working among the Moniga people to start their literacy programme.

click photos for larger image

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Trip to eastern Senegal in June/July

Click picture for full-size image
Coming into Bamako, Mali on the way from Burkina to Senegal

Interesting views along the way

Storm racing towards us

Travelling companions from Senegal, Guinea, Mozambique and Australia

One of the scores of mosques that we saw on the 10-hour trip to eastern Senegal

Chantal Pilon from Quebec who works among the Konyagi people of Senegal and Guinea
Bonere, a Konyagi church leader

Car wash and laundry in the River Gambia

The flies are free!

A bean sandwich for breakfast - it was actually quick tasty, and spicy!

Chatting with Ron Abram who works among the Budik people
Part of a Budik village

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Children's workers seminar

Loron Children's worker seminar, June 2010 (Mina is 2nd lady from the right)

15 Loron Christians from 4 different villages attended the children’s worker training seminar in northern Ivory Coast at the weekend. Mina Savou, a WEC missionary from Fiji taught the course.

Only four of the Loron folks had previous Bible teaching experience, but we had a great time learning together how to effectively communicate with children. During the classes we witnessed some very gifted Loron believers in action for the first time and praise the Lord for the potential for the future.

Thank you for your prayers. Please continue to pray for the Loron children.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Ivory Coast - Liberia - Guinea trip

Welcome to Abidjan, Ivory Coast

Baga Fore Literacy class in Guinea

On March 31, Marina left Burkina Faso and travelled via Mali to Guinea Conakry. She had an 8-hour layover in Bamako airport on the way there. David and Rachel Burke, missionaries from Northern Ireland who work among the Baga Fore people, met Marina at the airport and brought her to their village.

Marina was introduced to the villagers outside the mosque after Friday prayers and that evening the ladies from the village performed a welcome dance for her.

She was thrilled with the progress that the team had made in preparing their literacy materials and how things had been organised with the villagers for the start of the teaching programme. The village had picked a group of students to form the first Baga Fore literacy class. After taking a couple of days to finalise the literacy materials with the members of the Baga Fore team, on Monday, April 4, a new literacy school was started for the villagers.

Pray for Gene and Judy Bacon as they head up the literacy campaign in preparation for evangelism and church planting.

The same day that literacy classes were starting in Guinea I met up with NTM missionary, Dan Rabe, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Dan’s parents were among the first New Tribes missionaries to come to Africa in the 1950’s and Dan is now the chairman of the new NTM leadership team in West Africa. From Abidjan we travelled to the town of Tabou in the extreme southwest corner of Ivory Coast.

There we spent the night with Pastor Anatol and his wife. The pastor was excited to discover that I was from the same country as a missionary, William Brown who works with UFM, that he had met last year.

Canoeing on the Cavally

On Tuesday morning we travelled with Lesley Wolfe, an NTM missionary who has been working among the Glaro people for many years, in her Toyota 4x4 pickup to a little village near the Cavally river which forms the border between Ivory Coast and Liberia. Lesley is working on Bible translation in the Glaro language and has been making steady progress. This summer she will be getting some more translation checked in preparation for publication.

After greeting the village chief we asked him if we could leave Lesley’s pickup at his house while we crossed the river and spent a couple of days on the Liberian side of the river. Permission granted, we said our goodbyes and walked the several hundred yards to the water’s edge where we crossed the wide but gently-flowing Cavally river in a dugout canoe.

The Ivory Coast side of the river is highly cultivated with huge plantations of coffee, cocoa, palm and rubber trees, but when we stepped off the canoe on the Liberian side and climbed the steep sandy slope to the tree line, we came to the edge of a virtual rainforest.

After just a short distance we came to the first Glaro village. Most of the folks were away working in their fields but those remaining greeted us and led us to a small grass shelter where we explained who we were and the purpose of our visit.

The Kola Nut

We then participated in the first of many kola ceremonies that took place in the various Glaro villages and homes that we visited over the next twenty hours or so. These ceremonies indicated acceptance by our host of our presence and friendship. The kola is a rather bitter nut, native to the rainforests of Africa, which was served to us in small pieces in a bowl along with a separate bowl of hot spice and some drinking water. I enjoy eating spicy food but I’ve never eaten anything quite as hot as what was offered at each of these village stops. However, I quickly mastered a technique of taking as small a pinch of spice as possible and quickly flushing it down with a good gulp of water. Invariably, though, my lips and mouth would still sting for quite a while after.

When we had completed the kola ceremony a small child entered the shelter with a large bucket laden with bananas and oranges to refresh us for the journey ahead. Once everyone had eaten to their satisfaction we asked permission to leave, and we were soon on our way.

We set out along a narrow but well-worn track covered with tree roots, small rocks and vines. Mawly, a Glaro man who had already walked for several hours from Liberia to the Cavally river to meet us, took the lead along the twisty track. When we had started our trip he had asked me if he could put a bag of cooking cubes that he had just bought for his wife in my backpack. I had gladly agreed but he then insisted on carrying my backpack for me as he reached me his machete.

As we walked, we crossed a number of small streams and water holes, although, as rainy season has yet to start in earnest, there was a lot less water that I had expected. We passed through several thick bamboo growths and heard a lot of birds, but we didn’t see any animals.

Hot and Sticky

After about four hours of steady walking, with a couple of short stops in between to greet some villagers, we arrived at another large river, the Doube.

Everyone, including Mawly, our guide, was perspiring profusely. My teeshirt and jeans were saturated and sticking to my body. A young Glaro boy brought a canoe from the far bank and after a couple of trips we were all safely on the other side. I hadn’t realised that we had actually arrived at our destination so it was a pleasant surprise when we reached the top of the hill and I heard someone say: We’re here!

As we entered the village, people came out of their tidy-looking mud and wattle houses to eagerly greet us. I quickly learned to say: Ao, nateera, the appropriate response to their greeting. We passed by a number of well-spaced homesteads through the east side of the village and arrived shortly at our hosts. Dan and I stayed with Alfred and his family and Lesley stayed at the home of Bligh, one of the other main men in the village. They offered us each a double bed complete with mosquito nets – another unexpected but welcome surprise.

Their greeting and hospitality was quite overwhelming. After walking for several hours seeing nothing more than a curtain of, at least, forty shades of green and the occasional glimpse of blue sky, with a thin brown thread of a track weaving its way over rocks and around trees a few yards before us, here we now were in a large clearing in the middle of the Liberian jungle being treated royally and being given the best that could be offered. It was a very humbling experience.

The purpose of our trip was to ask permission from the village elders to send a new missionary family to their village. The work among the Glaro people had started over twenty years previously in Liberia, but missionaries had to leave there because of a long war in the 1990’s. Then the war in Ivory Coast, which started in 2002, had forced the missionaries from another Glaro village, so the work has been very slow and difficult. So we arranged to meet the village leaders first thing the following morning.

For breakfast we had another hearty meal of rice and sauce. In previous meals we had chicken sauce or fish sauce with big chunks of meat, but this morning we had a choice: fish sauce or toucan. I tried the toucan. The spices camouflaged some of the taste but it seemed to be pretty much like chicken. A short time later, when the elders had gathered in a large leaf-covered structure we were summoned to meet with them. After the formal greetings and kola ceremony we presented our request.

Permission Granted?

As soon as we said that we would like permission to send missionaries back to their village, the ladies started to sing and clap and dance. One of the elders, the spokesman for the group, expressed agreement with the suggestion saying that his loud voice was not because he was angry but because he was very happy. The lady song leader came up close to us, with a chorus of other ladies in tow, and sang something specifically to each of us in Glaro. I have no idea what she was singing, but it was obvious that everyone was quite excited about the prospect of having missionaries living among them.

We also asked if the village could provide temporary housing for the new missionary family. We were assured that that would be taken care of. After a few more formalities we asked permission to leave as we had a long walk before us back through the forest.

On the return trip, Lesley led the way. She set a brisk pace, and, on some of the steeper parts of the path, it took quite an effort to keep up with her. We made the obligatory stops at a couple of small villages along the way, but we nevertheless shaved quite a bit off our walking time.

When we got back into Ivory Coast we made our way to the village where the new missionary family is currently living and learning some basic Glaro. It was my first time meeting Aaron and Amy Speitelsbach. Aaron is from Germany and Amy is from Tennessee in the US.

Please pray for this young couple as they prepare to move to their new Glaro village in Liberia in the next couple of months.