30 January 2002
Dear praying friends and family:
The holidays and school break have come and gone since we last wrote; of all that we could talk about, let’s begin with pets.
Our menagerie has gone through several transitions, accompanied by joy and mourning. We did get the guinea pig referred to last time, now named Oreo. But our boys have had to face death several times. Our two little rescued birds, Pippin and Merry, both are no more; Merry died suddenly and peacefully one day, and Pippin (pictured above) was killed by our cat – Andrew was so upset that we almost lost the cat too! One of our fluffball chicks was injured in an accident and later died; another was attacked by a hawk and bled profusely from the head. The boys nursed her back to health and, while smaller than the other chicks, she is now fine and growing. Our cock Chester died after suffering a serious injury during a fight; he lingered for a few days, but didn’t make it. Many times we have had to sit with crying boys, comforting them through the loss of their beloved pets.
Others have suffered much greater losses. Two students Coty taught last term lost children during the break, one newborn and one two-year-old (in this part of Cameroon, about 20% of the children die before their fifth birthday, usually through a combination of poor nutrition (mainly the result of poverty), lack of medical care, and disease). Many students report other deaths in their villages during their time at home; the student who took us to Ngeptang (discussed in our December letter) tells us he conducted four funerals for members of that church. The Baptist Health Center here in Ndu is about 200 yards from our house; more than once this break we have heard great wailing arise from that direction, and we know someone has just died. While trekking to Mbipgo, a village about 5 miles away, Beth and the boys stopped with their student guide at a death ceremony for his aunt; Beth was asked to say a few words of comfort from the Bible, and did so.
When people must confront death so often, what a privilege we have to be able to preach and teach about the One who rendered powerless him who had the power of death, and set free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives (Hebrews 2:14,15)! Though the needs are overwhelming, what a privilege to be able to give a few cups of cold water to those who thirst! Let us tell you about some more of those privileges.
As many of you know, Thomas is the most outgoing of our children, and he has made friends with boys his age on and off campus. He has learned much about hunting, building with bamboo, carving, and other skills. During a hunting trip, the boys told Thomas not to go one direction, "Because that's where the flying juju is and if you see him, you will die." (A juju is sort of like a witch doctor. There is much slavery to superstition, and there are also clear cases of demonic activity nearby.) Thomas replied to the boys that he didn't believe their story. He always questions them about such ideas, and tries to get them to see the greatness of God’s power, and how they are being deceived.
One day, Beth asked one of the boys who took Thomas hunting if he could read. Though Viki (age 12) has completed six years of school, he said he could not (this is not uncommon; elementary school classes frequently include 60-90 students, and few students learn. And the system continues to deteriorate). Beth said she would teach him – he comes to the house every day and is always eager for a lesson. It is a real pleasure both to him and to us to see him now able to read simple sentences. Please pray that God would work through this time to bring Viki to Himself, and that we would be able to encourage him for the long haul to live a life of honesty and diligence.
We mentioned last letter the needs at the seminary for small group interaction with students. Beth will continue meeting with the eight women in the upper degree programs, and Coty’s plans to take a group of five men through Biblical Eldership are gelling. Beth also hopes to meet once a week with the six women in the second year of the lower degree program, a wonderful group of bright, serious, fun, and outgoing students Coty taught last term. Beth visited in the kitchen of the women's dorm a few nights ago, and much enjoyed just being with the women where they seem to be most themselves. Now, realize, these kitchens are not like American kitchens. They are small mud brick rooms outside the dorm with shelves and several low stools to sit on. There is no running water, no chimney, no table, no oven or stove, just small depressions in the mud floor for wood fires, and three stones around the fires to support pots. It's small and smoky – but also the place where the women talk, laugh, and relax, and Beth felt privileged to be able to talk and laugh with them. They almost jumped up and down when Beth suggested she meet with them regularly.
Lillian Shey (pictured above) is one of the eight women in Beth’s original small group. She grew up as the only child of a single Mom, then was passed down to her mother’s younger sister when she was eight. Lillian attended church regularly (although her aunt did not), yet did not know the Lord and was involved in considerable blatant sinfulness as a teen. The Lord brought her to Himself through a youth retreat six years ago, and almost immediately placed a burden on her heart for the lost. She started several Bible Studies in her home area, which have born much fruit. She has a passion to reach the lost, and when she completes her diploma in June hopes to be involved in ministry to unreached people groups. She spent much of the break between semesters ministering to such a group with a CBTS graduate from last year, in addition to leading the music at crusades. God has gifted her in many ways; please pray that He will use her mightily. Indeed, pray for all three of the small groups we will lead this spring, that all those students will bear much fruit.
We enjoyed our Christmas in Cameroon, celebrating on the 24th at a 3-hour church service in which our four younger boys each had parts in the nativity drama. Thomas doubled as the narrator and donkey, Andrew was Joseph, Matthew and Joel, wise men. After family time at home on Christmas morning, we had a houseful for a potluck dinner when the Lokker and Olson families, missionaries working with Fulani in Binka, joined us. What a delight to sing carols together after dinner and read some of our favorite Christmas stories with our new friends.
As many of you know, Thomas’s birthday is the 27th and our anniversary, the 29th. We had the Olson and Lokker boys with us for Thomas’ birthday; he was delighted with his gift of 10 15-foot bamboo poles (already he has made toys and small chairs). Since there’s not really any place to “go out” we celebrated our 22nd anniversary by taking a long walk in a direction we had not yet explored. We enjoyed the long, uninterrupted time to talk, as well as the opportunity to get away from town and see the houses, forests, and farms.
We close this month asking you to pray for yourselves. Why did God call you to support us this year? Why are you reading our letters? Could He be calling you to come and meet some of these overwhelming needs – in Cameroon or elsewhere? Could you be called to offer cups of cold water – or to offer the ability to read, or comfort to the grieving, or the good news of the gospel – to those who so desperately need it? Could you be called to play a much more active role in supporting others who go?
We’ve used the word “privilege” four times in this letter. Whatever we may have given up to come here, God has repaid a hundred times over. We have pursued our deepest joy in coming to Cameroon. As J. Campbell White said almost a hundred years ago, "Fame, pleasure, riches are but husks and ashes in contrast with the boundless and abiding joy of working with God for the fulfillment of his eternal plans."
I believe some of you are called overseas. Will you consider it, seeking God’s face with prayer and fasting? Will you seek your own greatest joy?
Partnering with you in the greatest of all causes,
Coty, Beth, Erin, Jonathan, Thomas, Andrew, Matthew, and Joel