Christmas Eve 2001
Dear Friends and supporters:
Merry Christmas from Ndu! Though we know you won’t receive this until after Christmas, we want to share with you some new Christmas lyrics, along with some events from yesterday.
First of all, you must understand that for the last few weeks, when the power has been on we’ve heard Christmas songs blaring from some of the shops in town, including ones that seem singularly inappropriate to Cameroon, such as “Jingle Bells” and “Silver Bells.” To the tune of the latter, Beth, Erin, and Jonathan have written lyrics that fit our situation perfectly (note that we have had no measurable rainfall for 47 days; also note that any of the eight of us can be referred to as “white man”):
Dusty footpaths, busy market, full of holiday cheer,
In the air there’s a big cloud of red dust,
People shouting to the white man, “Come and greet me, my friend!”
And on every street corner you see
Clouds of Dust, clouds of dust,
It’s Christmastime in Ndu
Cough and sneeze in the breeze
Soon it will be Christmas Day
Sunday, December 23, 2001, 5:30 AM. The alarm goes off. I pry open my eyes, to little effect, having been awake for much of the time between 3:00 and 4:30, trying to get comfortable on our old foam mattress. The air feels chilly. “Maybe I can pray in bed instead,” I think, and begin to ask God to open my mouth later in the morning at Mbipgo, a church about 5 miles away. I pray through the Scripture passages that will be used, and the sermon outline . . . Beep-beep-beep-beep! The 5:45 alarm goes off, waking me again. “Up this time; no more lounging in bed,” I tell myself. I need a shower, but we have had no running water since Saturday afternoon; apparently there is an electrical problem with the school’s water pump. So, using water our younger boys carried up from the spring yesterday evening, I fill two tea kettles and put them on the stove. While they heat up, I return to my neglected prayers.
By 7:15, after washing my hair in the sink and grabbing a bite to eat, I’m ready to go, along with Beth and the three youngest boys. Victor Ndusho, the student who invited us to this, his home church, arrives, so I walk down the hill to get Gary Stephens’ car. Victor and I had planned to walk to Mbipgo, but given that the younger boys wanted to accompany us, and given the knee pain I’ve had the last few days, driving seemed a better option. But Gary’s 12-year-old Pajero has acted up some of late, and it chooses this morning to act up again. At first, turning the key has no impact on the electrical system. I open the hood, jiggle the battery wires, and try again – the starter turns, but then the car dies. No problem, it always acts this way when cold. But 15 minutes later, the engine has never turned over, and the battery is now dead. Furthermore, the car is pointing downhill, up against a fence. To push start it, we’ll have to push it uphill quite a ways.
I return home and declare that Victor and I will have to walk; the boys will have to remain at CBTS. Joel cries, he is so looking forward to going. Victor also really wants to take the vehicle, so that his wife and 2-week-old baby – who has not yet been to his grandparents’ – can accompany him. Victor asks, “Can we try pushing it?” I answer, rather gruffly, “It will take at least 5 men to push it up the hill.” Victor gathers 7 within 5 minutes – most of whom have walked that way to get water. On our second try, the car starts and we are off.
The road is rough but passable, and we arrive at the church in about 25 minutes. Upon pulling up, I have a sense of déjà vu; but how could I have been here before? Then Beth realizes that this church is in Gary Steward’s video we showed at our support meetings; the many steps and strong stone structure make it easily identifiable. I recall that in that video, Gary states the service lasted 3 hours . . .
I am able to spend some time in prayer before the service, asking God to center my thoughts on Him, and to put the drive and the stresses of the morning behind me. Sitting in front, looking out at the congregation of only 50 as the service opens (it will swell to over 300 an hour later), I begin to prepare to preach using John Piper’s acronym APTAT: I Acknowledge my inability to have any impact on these people apart from the work of the Holy Spirit; I Pray that God would enable me to fulfill His commands, such as those in 1 Timothy 4:13-15; I Trust God to fulfill His promises, particularly this morning the promise found in 1 Timothy 4:16; then I Act and, afterwards, will Thank God for answering my prayers. I feel ready to preach.
The service moves right along for a while, but the 3rd choir number ends up being a youth drama instead. This lasts almost 25 minutes . . . and, while the heavy pidgin is hard to understand, as far as I can tell the drama is completely moralistic, without spiritual content. “Lord, prepare the hearts of your people despite this drama; do not let me be discouraged or disheartened.”
Finally it’s time to preach, more than 2 hours after the service began. Some are getting sleepy. Victor is not experienced at translating, and it takes a while for us to hit a rhythm. I wonder if illustrations are understood. But by the end, as we realize that the baby in the manger is also the final judge, as the contrast is drawn between those who hope in God and those who, through unbelief, are cast into the lake of fire, there is rapt attention – even from many who had been sleepy-eyed earlier. I finish with prayer, sit, and complete APTAT.
After the service, we are fed a meal and make our way down to Victor’s parents’ compound. Walking through the coffee and bananas, I almost feel like I’m on the southern slopes of Kilimanjaro again: red coffee berries shining in the light that makes its way through the upper canopy; coffee drying on mats around the houses; fruit, particularly oranges and lemons, in abundance. It’s amazing what a difference of 1500’ in elevation makes! Victor’s parents’ are delighted to see us, and Joel in particular loves this compound, asking “Can we come back and stay a long time?” For me, this compound is moving also, as it’s so much closer to what comes to my mind when I think “Africa” than Ndu.
We drive home, laden with oranges, lemons, sugarcane, and tree tomatoes generously given to us. I barely have time to wash up – still with water from the barrel; the pump still is not operating – and finish up a couple of emails just before the 4PM radio time slot. On the way back, a knowledgeable friend says the electricians have looked at the water pump, and the prospects are not hopeful; there is almost no chance of water before the 26th, and we may have to haul it from the spring for weeks. I wonder how long the boys will be able to keep up their enthusiasm for this task . . .
About 6:30, as I try to complete the daily reading from the Greek New Testament necessary to meet my year-end goal, the power goes off. Sigh. No water and no electricity. We light candles, then Beth calls out, “Joel’s water’s warm – could you please wash him?” “Nine more verses, and I’ll do it!” “Can you do it now? I’m trying to get supper ready.” “Nine more verses, and I’ll do it!” Happily, these last few verses are easy: with “he charis tou kuriou Jesou Christou meta tou pneumatos humw”, I’m done. As I’m about to get up from the desk, the computer beeps at me – the power is back on!
Joel is standing naked in the tub, a bucket of warm water next to him. “Do we have to wash my hair tonight? Can we set a record today?” We come close to a record, he looks as clean as he ever gets around here (meaning, not particularly so), and we two finish in time for Joel to get his hands dirty again before dinner.
Beth sends him back to the bathroom to wash his hands; Joel without thinking turns on the faucet. Seeing him do this, Beth begins, “There’s no running water, Joel; you’ll have to get it from the bucket.” But water is coming out of the tap! The pump must be fixed!
We sit down to a dinner of rice and potato curry with renewed thankfulness not only for the food, but also for running water, for electricity, for Mbipgo, indeed, for this whole year in Cameroon which God has worked out so marvelously for us. Afterwards, as we prepare to read a Christmas story and drink hot chocolate, Beth says, “Let’s go caroling!” So for the next hour we make the rounds of faculty houses and the women’s dormitory, introducing many of our Cameroonian friends to this wonderful tradition. All eight of us participate wholeheartedly; one neighbor says, “When I heard you singing, I thought it was a whole choir!” Our friends are greatly blessed, and so are we.
As we’re walking back, preparatory to finally drinking that hot chocolate, Jonathan quotes one of our favorite Christmas stories, “A Full House,” by Madeline L’Engle: “Just a typical Christmas Eve at the Austins’” So it has been: a “typical” December 23rd with the Pinckneys. Last year at this time we had not even an inkling that we would be here this Christmas; now, we don’t know where we might be next Christmas. But we know that we are and will be in God’s hands, that wherever we are, we will be praising Him in song once again.
Come, Desire of nations come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the Woman's conquering Seed,
Bruise in us the Serpent's head.
Adam's likeness now efface:
Stamp Thine image in its place;
Second Adam, from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.
”Hark!” the herald angels sing,
”Glory to the Newborn King!”
Once again, our love goes out to each one of you. May you continue to rejoice in the God of all comfort this season, and may the New Year bring you deeper and deeper into His love.