March 2010


This week being Holy Week, I’ve found myself thinking about the crucifixion and Jesus’ preparation for that dreadful event. But as this season of Lent winds down, I also found that my heart was yearning for a glimpse of beauty that was out of the ordinary and not something I would encounter in my rvery day New York City life.

So this weekend a friend and I went to see the Orchid display at the New York Botanical Garden (www.nybg.org). God created more than 30,000 (no, that’s not a typo) of this single kind of flower! Just because he could. Just so he could delight in them. And give them as a gift to us to enjoy.

They come in an endless array of colors. And if your heart needs a lift, I would highly recommend a visit. Don’t be disappointed if the exhibition feels a bit lean at the start. They definitely saved the best for last and the final hall is nothing less than spectacular.  And don’t wait too long to go either. It closes on April 11.

Definitely a slice of heaven and a glimpse of God’s extravagant beauty and grace.

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          We misunderstand God altogether if we think he deals coarsely with our souls. If we consider what has really influenced our lives, we will find that it lies in a few silent voices that have preached to us, the winds which have passed across our soul so gently that we scarce could tell when they were come or gone. Even in the midst of the battle, when coarser weapons fail, let us not forget the lesson of Elijah: “A great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lond, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper” (I Kings 19:11-12).    When God speaks he speaks so loudly that all the voices of the world seem dumb. And yet when God speaks he speaks so softly that no one hears the whisper but yourself. Today, perhaps, the Lord is turning and looking at you. Right where you are, your spirit is far away just now, dealing with some sin, some unbearable weight; and God is teaching you the lesson of himself – the bitterest, yet sweetest lesson of your life, in heartfelt repentance. Stay right where you are. Don’t return into the hustle and bustle of life until the Lord has also turned and looked on you again, as he looked at the thief upon the cross.        

– Henry  Drummond, The Ideal Life, 1897.

In the wee hours of Monday morning, several villages a few miles south of Jos in Nigeria, the town I was born and raised in, were attacked. Reports are that the victims were mostly women and children, many hacked to death by machete. Up to 500 were killed and one village was apparently entirely destroyed. It is reported that the perpetrators were Hausa Fulanis (Muslims) and the victims in this instance were Biroms (Christians) who are considered indigenous to the area. Some weeks back, in January the reverse happened between these two groups, so this latest set of killings are viewed as revenge.

This is nothing short of heartbreaking.  While the issues are framed as religious and ethnic, like any situation it is far, far more complex, and is also intricately linked to poverty, a chronic lack of resources including land and water, the historical legacy of the British, the migration of rural people to urban areas, a lack of good governance, and ongoing struggles for political power and domination.

Jos is a town on a plateau in the north central part of the country where the Muslim north and the Christian south converge. It is common in many families for both Muslims and Christians to co-exist and to live side-by-side. At least that was the Jos of my youth. My grandfather, a Christian from the southern delta area came north to be an educator and married a young Fulani who was a Muslim; they settled in Jos. Consequently my father became a Christian and my aunt, his sister, followed her mothers’ religion becoming a devout Muslim.  By the time she travelled on a pilgrimage to Mecca, which she did more than once, we stopped calling her Auntie Iris and she simply became known to everyone as Hajiya. Papa and Hajiya, the only two siblings of both their parents, were extremely close and after several failed marriages, Hajiya too came to Jos, and eventually  lived in an apartment adjacent to our home.  She and Papa spoke everyday, their conversations often conducted by weaving three Nigerian languages together!   Sadly, both my father and Hajiya are no longer with us.  Though I continue to grieve them both, the silver lining for me is God’s grace that they didn’t live to see Jos deteriorate along religious lines in the way that it has.

Violence between Christians and Muslims in Jos first erupted in the same week as 9/11 in 2001.  Significant numbers of both Muslims and Christians lost their lives and charred cars and bodies were reported being seen in the streets.  Order was restored and an uneasy calm was maintained more or less for the next 7 years.   Then, the same week of the bombings in Mumbai in the fall of 2008, more violence erupted.  My father’s younger sister, A, also a Muslim, told me that in her mixed area, the home of a Muslim neighbor was doused in petrol and burned because despite her faith, she was not a northerner.   This made A, similarly a Muslim but not ethnically from the north, feel increasingly vulnerable and so she moved to an explicitly Muslim area.  It is much less convenient in terms of public transportation for this single mother with 3 children and it doesn’t solve her ethnicity issue but she feels a bit safer.  Then, this January, days after the terrible earthquake in Haiti, there was another outbreak of violence in Jos, this time Christians were reported to have killed Muslims.  And now this latest report weeks later.

Just yesterday when I came home, there was a letter in the post from A telling me that  the internet cafe she used to use near her workplace has been burned.  (Hence, the letter in the mail.)  And in the area she moved from following the 2008 crisis, no Muslim house or property was spared!  She describes her move out of this area following that outbreak of violence as nothing less than a miracle.  But she continues to feel vulnerable and would like to move to the (Christian) south -where she is from ethnically – if she can manage to find a job there.

So these issues are very, very close to my family. And very close to my heart.

Please pray for peace to be restored in Jos, and for forgiveness , reconciliation and courageous, honest leadership to be the way forward.

Oh Lord, have mercy.

For more info about the complexity of the situation in Jos, see this Q & A on the BBC website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8555215.stm