Hi, this week i posted two new links on my blog, i’d love you to have a look if you havent already. You’ll find them on the left under ‘newsletters’. the first is the most recent edition of Beyond the Horizon, a vibrant collection of stories and interviews with youth and community workers on the front line in the countries across the two thirds world. the second is an exciting report of the last 18 months or so here in the UK with Fusion. i KNOW you will be inspired by one or other of these and i will be suprised if you’re not encouraged by both!!
The organization I am part of, Fusion International, is a global network of kingdom hearted teams of social entrepreneurs, of all ages, from all backgrounds, working to bring young people and their communities together with hope. Its kind of hope in action, a practical outworking of the ‘good news’, without the bible bashing. I love it!
A week or more ago I shared about Nentawe in Nassarawa. As I write he is in the midst of an annual interschool tournament in Nassarawa that he and the team have organized for the last three years. On the first day they had 2000 kids and about 150 adults including dignitaries, the police and the press, all thrilled with the day! Here’s how he describes it:
‘the kids were all dressed smartly in their various school uniforms and were ready for the march pass and other ceremonies, I asked some of them how they felt, and they were so excited answering me, it was very pleasing to hear the kids expressed themselves about what the tournament meant for them I shed tears when a kid told me that he felt so proud of himself and he will want to join Fusion and want to play a role in making Nassarawa safer and friendly! I was very grateful to God that the tournament was making a huge impact in the lives of these kids… The team in particular were in their best working real hard to see how to make things happen, everyone delivered at his duty post and crowd management and control was superb, the police were just having a nice time playing (with) the kids and they learnt a important lesson from us, be an example to the kids and don’t use the whips. And it was so nice how the crowd was managed – We had over 2000 kids and about 150 adults at the events.’
Someone gave a donation of $5000 to help finance the project, and we were able to get Francis across from Ghana to help:
‘It was so nice having Francis from Ghana come over, we thank God for granting him a safe trip over and his presence motivated the team loads!’
I’m looking forward to hearing how the rest of the tournament went!
I also wanted to introduce you to some other friends of mine. Dave and Liz have been working in Trenchtown, Kingston, Jamaica, for a number of years, Dave for over 20 years. Both their kids were born in Jamaica! Trenchtown has one of the top murder rates per capita in the world, but is home to some of our precious team who are giving their lives to make a difference in their community.
Here’s a bit of their story:
Not long ago I caught up with a colleague of mine who heads up the work in Nassarawa, Kaduna (Nigeria). I first met Nentawe in 2007, I think, he may have been part of the first Foundations course we ran in June or the training I did with the team in August of that year. At any rate, from the time Dave and Jo Ireson relocated to Kaduna to establish the work in October 2007, Nentawe was part of the core team they were working with.
He is a quiet, respectful, unassuming man in his late 20s with a love for his people and a dream for his country. Well before I met him, he had become active in a number of youth forums and had already earned at least one scholarship to travel to the UK, representing his country. By 2008 doors were open for him to earn a reasonable living which would enable him to support his younger siblings, as is expected in the culture there. But it was during that year that he chose two things, firstly to stay with the community in which he grew up, Nassarawa, one of the poorest suburbs in that part of the country, and secondly to serve his community as a full time member of the Fusion team with no salary.
More than three years later Nentawe is still there with a small team of volunteers, and they are busy as ever. Running a Kids Club in the community each week for the last three years has helped build trust and credibility in the community with parents, community leaders and schools. Each year they run a primary school soccer tournament, advent pageants and other events which bring the community together. The team from Ghana, led by Francis, makes the two day road trip to join Nentawe and his team for the tournament. But a new thing seems to have emerged over the last 18 months or so.
At points of crisis, where the community would ordinarily look to local government services that often fall short of delivering what’s needed, both the community and church leaders come knocking on Nentawe’s door. Earlier this year an epidemic of cholera swept through Nessarawa taking the lives of many, at least one of Nentawe’s close family was lost to the disease. But it was Nentawe and the team that the community leaders and churches looked to in order to facilitate a way forward in dealing with the outbreak and preventing a recurrence. Within a few weeks the national elections were held and violence broke out both in the lead up and afterwards. I was in South Africa at the time receiving emails sent out by Nentawe, together the team there and I joined many across the world and prayed for safety for Nentawe and an end to the violence. But once again it was Nentawe and the team that the leaders approached seeking help in the aftermath of the violence and further loss of life in community.
When called upon at these times, Nentawe often feels inadequate, mostly he feels as if he doesn’t have the answers. Usually what he does is bring the leaders and stakeholders together and facilitate a discussion from which a strategy for a way forward emerges; sounds pretty all right to me! Some times he can assist with navigating government departments or editing letters to officials, but mostly he just turns up for work and does what’s needed as best he can. And so Nentawe’s faithfulness to his God and his people has meant that hope and life has come to his community; on $50 a month, barely enough to support one person, he supports himself and his volunteers and keeps taking each day as it comes. He has become one of my heroes.
(you’ll find Nentawe Gomiyar on Facebook, linkedin, youthpolicy.org and even on U-tube, posted by ‘trust entente’)
Last time I meant to share about my experience of Nigeria since becoming part of this fellowship ‘Fusion International’, but I ended up sharing about my childhood and the last time I saw Dad… there are reasons for that which I may share another time.
My organization has an annual conference every September , it’s a special time and we are about to start this year’s one on Saturday. At conference we have a special service during which we welcome those who, after prayer, consideration and confirmation, have chosen to become staff members. It’s a solemn, prayerful occasion where we make promises to each other before God to encourage and support one another and serve Christ together in fellowship. It is these vows to God and each other that undergird our fellowship with one another.
As a staff member you can be asked to consider any placement anywhere – long or short term; the commitment is to be open to and seriously consider any such request before God and in fellowship with others. In either 2004 or 2005 I knew that for the first time since my parents split up, I was open to consider traveling to Nigeria on ministry business if God so wished. That was when I knew I was ready to become staff.
So when, in 2007 I was on the training team for the course that was to launch our work on the ground in Kaduna, Nigeria, it was no small thing. Aside from two ‘western’ girls navigating Lagos traffic and taxi system between the international and domestic airports, and then traveling one of the most dangerous roads on the CIA’s travel advise sheets, I had a mountain of attitudes and memories to climb over. But it was an amazing time! We had about 30 people and the work in the country was brought to life. I learnt a lot about transferring authority as I worked with Mal and he set me up to teach some of the senior small group sessions! Then six weeks later I made the trip on my own from the UK and spent another 10 days with the team doing some extra training with them. It was during this second trip that I got in touch with my Dad and told him I was in the country.
I haven’t been back since then, but I have travelled in other ways with the Nigerian team as they have grown and the work has developed. Initially we had Dave and Jo, an Ausie couple, on the ground in Kaduna working with the young team, and I had the privilege of connecting with them (from the UK) each week. In January 2008 Ghana hosted the African Cup of Nations, so we turned it into an opportunity for the Nigerian and Ghanaian Fusion teams to pilgrimage together. I flew over to Ghana and Dave and Jo along with 19 of their team made the three day road trip down Nigeria, across Toga and Benin, then up Ghana to Yendi in the north. Having the two teams work together to build the work in Ghana was an incredible experience. Since then the Ghanaians have headed across to Nigeria for a similar mission and a strong connection is building between the teams. In June that year I was asked to run an 8 week intensive internship course in Europe, 4 of the Nigerian team were interns. Six months later, in 2009, I was in South Africa and two of the four interns came and joined the team for nearly 18 months.
When I think of our Nigerian team, I think of young men and women who love God and come alive when they are sharing that love with others and seeing God’s will being done in and through them. They love to sing, preferably with others, and seem to have an innate ability for harmony and rhythm and simple celebration. I am grateful to these guys for the part they have played in enabling me to welcome home an important part of my history and to begin discovering the redemptive narrative that God has been writing through my life all along.
The last time I saw my dad was in August 2007. It was the second time I had been in Nigeria that year. The first was in June as part of a crazy three week West African die hard training marathon. We did a week long Foundations course in Ghana, then flew to Nigeria to do the same, then Sarah and myself returned to Ghana to deliver a course in Community Development Education. That middle week in Nigeria was the first time I had been there since I left at the age of 7.
We used to live in Ile-Ife, a university town near Ibadan which in turn is just north of Lagos. My childhood memories are of wide open spaces, large houses and gardens, a giant mango tree next door, busy highways, bustling market places. I think much of the scale in my memory is a factor of my relative size at age 7! Both my parents were faculty members at the university – my father was dean of the medical faculty and professor of paediatric surgery, while my mother was part of the faculty of public health – also a medical doctor. Life was comfortable but the marriage was tense, which effected things. I do remember having Muscovy ducks and geese – my mother cared for them all, the gander was particularly attached to mum! Some times when she was sad, mum would go and sit at the gate to their enclosure and the gander would come and rest his head on her shoulder. I recall holding one of the first batch of eggs that was about to hatch. We only had chickens at the time and their nesting conditions are too dry for duck eggs to hatch. So when the ducklings are ready they can break the shell but they need some help with the inside membrane. I held the egg ever so carefully as mum cut through the membrane with a pair of nail scissors. And in my hands a small duckling emerged and was welcomed into the world. It was a beautiful moment.
Mum also grew sweet corn and pineapples and we had banana trees, and I recall mum’s pride and joy, the avocado tree that bore its first fruit the year before we left. Our gruff old next door neighbour who we nick named the grizzly bear, had a massive mango tree in his garden that he let us climb and pick the fruit off from time to time. I loved hanging out with my big brother Richard – he and his friends had chopper bicycles that they spent hours riding around on! Occasionally we had a family outing to the zoo and we played hunt the thimble – the zoo was set in a bamboo forest with seats and shelters dotted around made of bamboo – very handy for hiding things like thimbles!
When I was seven we left Nigeria so that mum could have the medical care she needed as she gave birth to my younger brother Chris. Within a year the marriage had broken down and Dad left, that was in 1980. I saw Dad three or four times over the next 27 years. The last time was at Lagos airport, when I spent a couple of hours with him before catching my plane home to the UK. I don’t recall what we talked about, but it was special to meet as adults, each with our own story, life and choices. I remember going through security and having a cordial interaction with the customs officer who thought it was great that I had two Nigerian names on my British passport! I got on my plane and haven’t heard from Dad since, my brothers say he’s OK.