Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The 80th good thing about Lagos: Seniors from 3 religions giving of themselves to help Nigerians

Last week at Bible study, we had a visiting speaker, a white woman from Atlanta, Georgia. She and her husband, a pastor (probably Baptist, though she didn't say specifically), were spending 6 weeks in Lagos volunteering at the West African Theological Seminary. While here, they had experienced real Nigerian life, first living with a Nigerian family who had no electricity or running water and in very primitive conditions. After the "guest house" at the seminary became available, they moved over there, but she said the title "guest house" makes it sound a lot nicer than it really was. They drove around Lagos in a car without air conditioning and in bad repair. She spoke of it breaking down on the mainland bridge and being surrounded by the "area boys" -- local gangs of kids out to make trouble. She said she had never been so scared in her life -- and her fear was justified. But she and her husband had spent their time teaching and ministering and helping repair the physical conditions of the building. They will go back to Atlanta and try to raise funds to help the Seminary improve their buildings and they will return in January. She gave a stirring talk about facing our trials in life and using them to make us "better" and not "bitter."

On Sunday the Mormon expatriates in our congregation invited the senior missionaries and mission presidents over for dinner. We all enjoy getting together occasionally. We were especially anxious to bid farewell to the Rawlins, who were finishing up their 18-month term as office missionaries -- leaving the next day to return to Washington State (this is either their 4th or 5th mission for the church). We ate and sang some hymns together and asked the Rawlins to share some of their memories. Brother Rawlins talked about how driving here was such a challenge. They once went to a meeting outside Lagos and spent a half-hour at the meeting (they missed most of it because of the bad traffic) and 22 hours total on the road -- most of it just sitting in a "go-slow" -- the local term for traffic jam. Sister Rawlins spoke about how Nigeria is the dirtiest place she had ever seen and she thinks so many people here are very selfish, which contributes to the problems in the country -- but she realizes their selfishness is a survival mechanism. She made friends with local children and taught at least one neighbor child to read. She said despite all her frustrations with the country and the people, "there's something about them that grabs at your heart, and makes it very hard to leave them." They said they wouldn't have missed their experiences here for the world, but they think they'll have an easy adjustment to being home!
Today I went to the American Women's Club general meeting. One of the speakers was a Catholic nun who manages one of the charities that the club helps to support. She teaches skills to women who have dropped out of the public school system and helps them learn skills so they can support themselves. This white-haired Irish woman has spent her life in Africa -- she came to Ghana in 1958 (the year of my birth) and helped establish a school there and then came to Nigeria in 1961 and has been working in this country ever since. She has established schools and worked with a leper colony and this latest effort kind of fell in her lap when she was ready to retire. But she said it is so rewarding to teach these women skills that will better their lives. She was asked about being in the country during the Biafran war. She said it was so awful that she hates to even think about it -- she has put it out of her mind. But their school was on the road where the military convoys were moving east and every day there were long lines of trucks and soldiers. They had to hide the Ibo girls at the school and get them carried off to safety. The Ibo workers who remained at the school had to hide in the bush every day and the four nuns who stayed during the war had to secretly get them food. They were burdened with caring for the school as well as many injured from the war. She also said that there have been other uprisings and problems over the years that have been very difficult and frightening. But she said the biggest problem they face is the constant search for funding to support their programs. She said they fill out reams and reams of forms asking for grants. The Catholic church (in Italy) gives them some support (they get no support from the local diocese), but they get money from wherever they can. Like the Rawlins, she made a comment about how the people here just tug at your heart. Helping them has made for a very rewarding life and it was obvious to all listening that she has made a big difference in the lives of many Nigerians.
Three different religions -- all people giving Christlike love and service to benefit the people of Nigeria.

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