Dan Henry - Cabaret, Haiti - June 10, 2008

It says, "One day, a mighty angel will stand, one foot on land and one foot on the sea." It would also seem that in the long, long ago, the edge of a mighty half closed hand laid down on land…Africa…and pulled almost half the continent away into its place across the Atlantic Ocean….South America.

Landing in Douala, Cameroon July 21 was déjà vu. Across the globe and on the same latitude lies French Guiana, South America, where we are very much at home, The same jungle smells, the same soils, the same flowers and foliage, the same heat and humidity that will grow green moss on top of black moss on all the walls, the same coastline scenes. I was at home away from home. But when the continent seemingly made its inaugural voyage, the people of French Guiana were not aboard…no, on August 11 in a country down the coast to the West, in Ghana, we solemnly visited the stone walled dungeons and iron barred windows of Elmina Castle where men, women, boys, and girls were kept chained waiting boats to take them on their own odyssey to this new world. Again like French Guiana, a Department of France today, Cameroon was once a French Colony. The airport was 1970s French architecture. The hospital where Doreen Maynard (laboring in Cameroon) spent two nights during the convention week was a scene from pre-WWll Germany. It was left behind by the Germans when their claims to Cameroon and their rich rubber tree plantations were divided between France and England at the end of World War ll. These huge plantations of rubber, palm oil nut, and tea trees still are major producers in the world market. And it seems most of the population is still working for these companies and living in the same little villages and quarters of yesterday without much change. The military stood in little groups every few miles on the road and plagued the passing taxis.

 

We were stopped 7 times on the way to the airport. The skinny woman soldier, lost in a uniform far too big for her, demanded my passport and was thrilled to tell me I was illegally in the country without an entry stamp. She and two other soldiers savored their triumph in catching a criminal while the workers we were traveling with searched and researched for it in my passport but couldn’t find it either. I was beginning to wonder what jail I would wait this out in. But finally, I saw the entry stamp in faded red ink, stamped over the printed red ink of my Cameroon visa and we were on the way once more. At each of these stops, they have a 10 foot iron bar mounted on ball bearing wheels, with spikes and sharp triangles of flat metal welded onto it like the ripping bottom jaw of an alligator, and menacingly push it back and forth as cars approach ready to throw it under the tires if the driver refuses to stop.

 

Saturday morning, a young lawyer, who lives behind the volcano, Mount Cameroon (4,100 m) was to be baptized. It poured rain all night. In the morning, I woke to an infernal racket…..frogs, millions of them, were croaking, roaring like a factory….so this is what it was like in Egypt? And it was still pouring. I thought we would all be baptized. The Cameroon people have learned that to survive in the heat and humidity by not moving quickly. So that is the pace….just saunter along….until they get behind the wheel! And then the old taxis and minibuses just vibrate, differentials grinding, bent wheels wobbling, windshields all cracked…hang on! Wet slippery roads and a downpour don’t make any difference.


We came to a swollen river that Sam and Yves had chosen the day before. Sam found an eddy, the rain stopped, and we sang, shared Jesus’ words and Richard was baptized. We all went to a Lawrence and Elizabeth’s home, a young couple getting started in life, living in the laborers quarters of a palm nut oil plantation left behind by the Germans 60 years ago for a delicious dinner. In the meetings, we were translated into Pidgin English. I tried to listen to the message but at the same time was fascinated by what was happening there. I can better empathize with fluent French speakers when we turn on the blinder and mash it all into Creole. But it is the language the listener can understand.

 

Next, was war-torn Liberia. I hesitate to say anything. I left with a strong feeling that I was walking on ground saturated by innocent blood, and the fellowship that was so rich and deep amongst the brethren, behind it lies a suffering so keen in the recent past, that I would long to be careful in speaking of it in any way to open the wounds that are beginning to heal or to diminish the sacredness of its story with words that don’t really tell the story.


In brief, Liberia’s civil war lasted over 14 years. One in every 17 Liberians died. Many buildings in Monrovia are still pocked with bullet holes, including the children’s hospital. Amazingly, even the aluminum light poles are riddled. It was a nightmare. But one lived by everyone there. Alan Cooke and Wyngrove Carter stayed behind when the last plane left. They moved from their batch to a home vacated by friends who were able to leave on the last plane. Later, three young friends displaced from their own rooms sought refuge in the batch waiting out the war. But one morning, soldiers wanting the apartment for themselves came and took them away down to a lagoon, and on top of a pile of executed bodies, shot them there.


One morning with Wyngrove, I walked down to the spot. My heart ached all the way as I thought of these fine young men, loved by all, and what their final thoughts were as they were carried to this dreaded spot. Alex fell with the others but didn’t die. After the soldiers left, he gathered enough strength to rise up and stumble to Joseph and Webie’s nearby home. Because of the shooting, no one would answer his knock. But finally, he made them understand it was their friend at the door. They took him in and laid him on their bed. He told the story and closed his eyes and died. Some cruel person sent a message to the soldiers that one of the boys had gotten up and left their carnage. They came through the block of houses searching for him. A smart neighbor woman invited the soldiers in and treated them to food and drink and sent a child to warn Joseph and Webie. She kept them there until he could find a wheelbarrow and carry Alex’s body back down to the pile. And then in the dark, they washed the blood from the steps, the door and the floor and hid the soaked sheets. Two years later, Tom and Alan returned to the spot. The United Nations had taken the bodies away and erected a memorial. But as they stood there…..they saw something….and discovered the remains of all three boys left behind. A Bible in Joseph’s shirt pocket with his ID card, Nat’s wedding ring…and Alex’s shirt that they remembered positively identified them. Their families were notified in Liberia and America and the remains (bones) were buried.

 

Joseph and Webie, like everyone else at that time, had to scrounge for food, crossing lines between the rebels and the military. They were both blocked away from the home one day while foraging for food. The grandmother, two daughters, and baby were left behind. A rebel commander found and took the two girls to his home village and kept them there. Two months later when Joseph got back through to the home…he found the remains of the grandmother and baby. They starved to death. Two years later, the workers with the help of the Red Cross and UN were able to trace the two girls and they were eventually returned to the family unharmed. Today, the younger of the two, Lorpu, is in her third year in the work. This year, her field is Benin where she is happily learning French. She and her best friend, Kebie, had heard of convention in other countries during the war. They were in their last years of high school when they decided to save their money and go to Accra, Ghana for the convention. Lorpu gave her money to Kebie and said, “You keep it for me, you’re stronger…even if I cry and beg don’t give it back to me.” So for a year, they often skipped lunch at school to save for their journey. Convention time came and they counted up their savings…..not enough. “We’ll just keep on saving!” So for another year, they saved and dreamed. And this time, they had enough. They learned it would be a three day trip so they prepared food for three days, leaving Monrovia, crossing half of Liberia, the country of Ivory Coast, and finally across Ghana to Accra. The workers and friends were joyfully awaiting their arrival in Accra. But they didn’t come. Four days passed, five, six ….and no word of their whereabouts. Finally after 11 days, the pour girls arrived, hungry, no bath for eleven days, sitting on the bus afraid to get off, until their feet and legs were swollen. The military had harassed the driver for bribes all the way, stopping them and threatening them, but at last their dream came true. They were at convention. The friends in Ghana persuaded them to stay and go to school and work. They did. After a year in baking school, they returned and opened a very successful bake shop in Monrovia. Lorpu had offered for the work but it was the one thing that was she could not bring herself to tell Kebie…because of the cost of separation. Whatever Kebie saw that was special she bought two, “You pick, Lorpu!” And Lorpu would do the same. They never ran out of things to share.  But the week Lorpu had to tell Kebie that the door had opened and she would soon be leaving for the work, that very day after she had prayed so hard for help to tell her dearest friend….Kebie fell sick. Lorpu spent the week doing all she could to save her. Kebie passed away from a very aggressive form of hepatitis and was buried. I will always wonder if she didn’t have a secret of her own for her friend, they had shared so much. Eternity will tell. Lorpu’s father has worked for the American Embassy the past 15 years. This year they offered him United States residency in return for his faithful service. But he and Webie have chosen to stay in Liberia where they wish to do all they can to while they can. His colleagues cannot understand. Each one in Liberia has a very tender story to tell. This is only one.

 

A good president is doing what she can. From the 3rd floor batch right downtown on the corner of Ashmum and Mehlin streets, we had a ring-side seat to the continual parade of smartly dressed Liberians shopping the clothes, perfumes, legumes, everything from their wheelbarrows on the street below. In the distance at night, the Hospital ship “Hope” lights reflected in the bay. Soccer fever is high. We passed an entire team of one-legged players (from the war) playing on their crutches. Hope is in the air.

 

We flew to Abidjan, Ivory Coast. We walked in a shanty town looking for two young men who are reading with the brothers. We walked the red sand beach that tips steeply in to the ocean. Years ago, three sister workers, Glenna Mae Terry, Kay Stout and Alethea McCrea, were walking in the same spot and a huge wave towered up and washed Kay and Alethea are out to sea. Glenn Mae called for help and two fishermen risked their lives and dove in, and after a long struggle were able to pull them out. Alethea awoke in an ambulance to hear someone say, “We’re bringing in two drowned white ladies.” They lived and after days in the hospital, were able to go again. Some years later, they looked up the fishermen in their village and spent the afternoon in their homes. One fisherman walked Alethea to a taxi and then paid her fare. She said to Beverly, “He saved me and is still showing me kindness.”

 

We were a contented little group the day of the convention meeting in that big city. We traveled by land to Accra, Ghana stopping on the way to enter the white walled fort, Elmina Castle surrounded by a moat and graceful draw bridge entrances. The sun dial formed in colored stone is still on the hill in front where Christopher Columbus and many other later sailors set their compasses for the unknown journey and discovery of the new world. But inside its walls is cold sadness. Slaves were gathered here and eventually walked single file, chains clanking, down a low narrow stone passage…the point of no return. The narrator, a native Ghanan, told his story not knowing, nor needing to know, where one of his auditors was coming from, whose soul is knit for ever with the great grand children of those who passed the point of no return. The building was splendid white against the bluest skies. The dungeons were still cold, dark, and dank. They still cried.

 

I got to go convention shopping one day with Colm McCay in Accra. We made a quick tour of the city center and government buildings and down by the old city along the ocean. An old light house caught our attention. The caretaker was happy to send his little girl with us and we climbed the spooky spiral inner staircase all the way to the top and came out on a platform with a splendid view of the old city and the ocean. The turning search light was deeply rusted. Long ago, the light had gone out. But in 1953, the eye of the old light house had witnessed two men, Willy Wilkin and Gordon Anderson, come ashore in a canoe that served the ship that had brought them from Ireland. There is no way to measure the candle power of the gospel light they brought in their hearts, and it is still shining brightly in Ghana. Later, on a blue day of homesickness, young Gordon pinned these words to the tune of Galloway Bay;

It may someday we’ll go back to Ireland

Perhaps a little sooner than we think.

If someone else for will plan our journey,

Why should we hesitate to pack our kit?


We do not utter words like these complaining,

There’s nothing here at all to make us fret.

The good God sends us sun and rain from heaven,

And we trust in Him to guide our every step



But we think of you these days back home in Ireland,

The land from which we left some months ago,

For you the feasting days again are nearing

So here, I’ll send a line for our dear Hugh (i.e. the older brother at that time).

 

If you are short of help for preparations,

Be sure and let us know in time to go.

We’ll take a flight across the Atlantic Ocean

A day or so will get us there, you know.

 

And when the days of convention will be over,

To the land of our adoption we’ll return

To bring the light to those who are in darkness

Of Jesus Christ our Father’s first born Son.

 

Accra is a clean city and modern. I enjoyed my time so much with the friends and workers. About 140 spent three days together in the small confines of a home right in the city. Neighbors offered their back yard for a tent for the women to sleep. A native, Stephen, was born in an interior village but was brought to the city to care for his grandmother. Today, down a long and fascinating story like the winding trails of the jungle he was born in, God has given him to us all as very capable and dedicated servant of Christ. The meetings were translated into three languages, Ga, Ewe, and Twi. But that does not mean there are three languages in Ghana….there are over 200.

 

When people greet you, they often shake your hand and their fingers slide down your palm and then off your own finger tips and then they snap their fingers! The first time it happened….strange! But then you appreciate the warmth of their greeting. They often cross their left arm onto their right when shaking your hand in respect and sometimes bend a knee. The babies are carried on the mothers’ back everywhere…even in the meeting. The market ladies have happy babies sleeping on their backs or bright eyed little fellows looking around enjoying all the hubbub while awake, but always tied on their mothers’ backs. They are never left alone. Men and women eat with their fingers and when it is good, their fingers just seem to get longer on the last lick. We ate sweet potato leaves, manioc leaves - it was all good.

 

We traveled north in Benin to Parakou for the convention and then over 400 gathered at Gbetagbo in the south. Ten native brothers and a sister from Togo and Benin give their strength and talents to the harvest. Being with them and feeling their dedication, their purity, their love kindled new purposes within, and new hopes. What God has done in others He, too, can do in me and our own in these fields. I could never tell how much I enjoyed my time with them. When the meetings let out, it was a kaleidoscope of color that spilled out of the tent. The native dress for both men and women is amazing, but very natural when worn by them. Togo and Benin dallied with communism, lost time, suffered but are now moving ahead. Yet in those years, the Gospel quietly prospered. One problem is their dependence on contraband gasoline brought in on canoes from next door Nigeria, a major petroleum state. The fuel seems to have been hijacked before it is fully refined, the air has an acrid and nauseating smell. Everywhere, big glass wine jars are set on stands to sell this cheap gas and the stations hardly sell any. I had always heard of the Voodoo presence in those countries and it is often spoken of with fear in the Caribbean. It is just my own opinion… it is seen in Benin…..it is everywhere in Haiti.

 

It is just a short trip over to Lagos, Nigeria. But the military stopped us every half mile until we entered the city limits. Lagos is sprawling conglomeration of one Port-au-Prince after another. Estimates are from 14 to 24 million people. Nigeria has over 140 million people. One in every seven Africans is Nigerian. Again right in the city, in a two story home, we had the convention meetings and perhaps about 80 ate, slept, and lived there those three days. Several university students came from Port Harcourt. Some faithful men came from Jos. Young and old, all were so united, so happy. My heart went out to them again and again. After the last dishes were washed and dried and everyone was leaving, the tears flowed and flowed. I felt for them. Fellowship, true, deep fellowship, what can compare? I felt it too, leaving them the next day for Paris and Haiti… friends, workers who have spent their lives there, the other visitors whom I learned to truly appreciate and admire through the weeks we were together:  John Watt from Bangladesh, Lillian Lausselet from Switzerland, Elizabeth Gunn from Scotland. Lillian was returning after having laboured in those fields some years ago. The light of love (not like the darkened, empty old light house in Accra) was beaming from the faces of the friends as they saw her again. That scene in itself was precious. I don’t wish to ever be the same as before these days amongst our brothers in Africa. I loved the time with them. And I love them. The mighty hand that separated the continents for a “time” is faithfully guiding the mission, the gospel is being preached there as well as here and though we feel the vastness of the ocean separating us now, a day will come, and there will be no more sea and no more time. What is hard about separation….you feel the “time.” And also “In the dispensation of the fullness of times, He might gather together in one in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are in earth, in Him.” (Ephesians 1.10) Something is now lifting my eyes more than ever to this day.

 

I make no apologies for the length of this….simply because the half has not been told.

 

My return to Haiti was just an awakening to the reality of the devastation of the floods after three consecutive hurricanes. Last night after the meeting, Houmanie, showed Glenn and I the six little children with her, the last not much more than a baby, and asked if I knew who they were. Their mother and father were washed away in the deluge just a mile from here. The children’s grandmother had come for them a few days before to take them to the mountains for a little vacation, or they, too, would have been gone in the night with their parents. She and her husband, who pastors a Baptist church in the same mountains, have taken them in. Slowly roads are being opened again. The opening of the school season was delayed a month because of the loss of life and means, but are to open nationwide today.

 

Best wishes,

Your brother,

Dan