Wednesday, September 10, 2014

No, man...I live here!

Despite being an introvert, I (Chris) enjoy a little bit of small talk with random people from time to time.  When we lived in Virginia, I got into the habit of talking a bit with grocery store checkers, bank tellers, whomever.  It's kind of fun.

While in France for language school, I really went out of my way to speak even more because I was always looking to improve my conversational skills.  The French are generally less outgoing than Americans, so sometimes I caught people off-guard with the attempts at conversation.  Sometimes I embarrassed myself with silly mistakes in the language.  But all in all, it was beneficial.

And now that I'm in Cameroon, I've discovered that people enjoy friendly chit-chat quite a bit more than in Europe or even the US.  It's still an opportunity to practice my French and now maybe I can also pick up some new cultural tidbits with each conversation.

Yesterday, I was in centre-ville Yaoundé with a friend going to look at a car.  It's the busiest part of town with tons of traffic and people going in every direction.  It can be sensory overload.

Rond Point de la Poste, or Score Circle...the center of Yaoundé.
While my friend was looking for his contact that was going to take us to see the car, I was approached by a man wanting to change money.  He asked me if I had Euros or Swiss Francs or US Dollars that I'd like to exchange for Central African Francs.  The best moment was when I responded (in French, but I'll loosely translate here), "No, man.  I live here.  I only have Central African Francs."

He smiled and wasn't sure he understood.  So he asked if I needed Euros before I went back home (I took this as a compliment of my French, that he thought I was European).  I said, "No.  This IS my home!  I live here!"  And then we shook hands and laughed a little.

As a man trying to conduct business (not sure if it's legal, doing currency exchange on the street like that...but whatever...), he certainly made a logical assumption that I was a good person to approach.  It was fun for me to be able to trump the typical and share a laugh - and then a bit of conversation.  And it was fun, even if in the context of a joke, to call Yaoundé home.  It doesn't quite feel like that yet, but it's getting there.  A few more days like yesterday and it will soon enough.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A thousand+ words about a lack of pictures

The old saying that, "a picture is worth a thousand words," is a gross underestimation, especially for the observant and/or loquacious.  There's so much to see and describe in the world around us, especially if an image includes people.  People are far more complex and I believe that just about everyone could have a pretty interesting book written about them.

After one month in Africa, I wish I could say that I have a ton of pictures to tell the story of what our life is like here.  But I don't.  Last year in France, I must have taken at least 1,000 pictures in the first month (digital photography is so different from the film era).  By contrast, I think I've taken less than 10 here except for a couple dozen inside our apartment at Kristin's birthday party Saturday.  Lori has taken a few dozen pictures, which for her is an incredibly low amount, and only a couple with Cameroonians in them.  Why so few?

Because I can't.  I cannot bring myself to photograph much of Cameroon for several reasons - not yet.

The first reason is very practical.  In Cameroon, and particularly in the capital city of Yaoundé, where we live, if one photographs any government buildings, police officers, military personnel or other official apparatus, your equipment will be confiscated if you're caught - even if it's just the camera on your phone.  Lori & I really wanted to take pictures during our first shopping trip into downtown on our fifth day in Cameroon.  But the president was going to be passing through our part of town and there were military and police everywhere - on roof tops, balconies, every little street that came off of the main road.  It would have been a dangerous situation.  So we ended up with only a couple of blurry shots that Lori took very discretely out of the taxi window in a different part of town with less police hanging around.  On the whole, we've been advised to be very careful about where/when we take photos around the city.

The other, much larger reason is about walls.  Cultural walls.  We're in a situation where walls (literally and figuratively) abound.  But at the same time, we're trying to eliminate or at least reduce the number of cultural walls because they prevent us from getting inside the culture.  We will always be cultural outsiders here, but it's necessary to get as close to "insider status" as possible to best do our work here.

So the first obvious wall is skin color.  An unfortunate part of being human and having an inherent sin nature is that we are automatically suspicious of those that appear differently than we do.  Yes, we can learn to overcome this, but it's been there since the beginning of history and it is very real.  In Cameroon, I've already got one hurdle to overcome because of my skin color.

And because of my skin color, I am automatically defined as rich because I am obviously European or American and most Cameroonians believe we're all rich.  The truth of the matter is, while we as missionaries are notoriously poor in our home culture, we are, by comparison, quite rich here.  Another wall.

But there's some relief for that one.  I've been taught, and experienced, that in Africa, titles and status are very important.  This is very anathema to Americans because we try to be a "flat" society, where we place extreme value on equality.  But in Africa, I am perceived to be rich, probably well-educated and by extension perceived to have status.  The good news is that I can make this wall less significant by carrying myself as the person that they think I am.  As such, we in our organization do our best to dress very professionally all of the time so that we appear to have the status and credibility that the people around us assume we should have (dress is a very powerful outward image of status to Africans).  If we were to dress in shorts or jeans with a ragged T-shirt, we wouldn't be taken very seriously and due to the societal construct here, people would be at a loss of what to think of us - "He's a rich, white American who claims to be here to help people, but he dresses like a common lackey.  Where's his self-respect?"  That thought process is very opposite of America in 2014, and we can debate right or wrong all day, but the bottom line is that it's the reality in this place and time.

I digress...OK...why almost no photos yet?

In an effort to aspire toward eliminating/averting/more easily traversing walls and becoming a cultural insider, I realized that I can't pull out my camera right now because I would effectively construct a nasty, slippery, thorn-covered wall.  If I went just 150 meters down my street and took pictures, not only would the "perceived as rich" wall become a bit higher because of the value of my camera or iPhone, but I would then objectify the people that live on my street.  They would be nothing more than an exhibit at the zoo.  They are well aware that a powerful person (me, in their eyes) wouldn't take a picture of them or their living condition out of envy.  They would immediately know that it was out of pity because they know that the house I live in has a wall around it to keep out bad people and wild dogs.  They know that my house has two toilets that flush.  They know that a woman comes to help my wife with household chores and goes to the market for us.  They know that my kids go to the school that costs a lot of money.  Why would I be interested in them?

Until I show them the true answer to that last question, "Why would I be interested in them," I can't just snap away at will.  I have to become genuine to them.  I have to show them that I am interested in them beyond just having pity - that I am their neighbor, that I am navigating life just like them, that this is my home right now, that I'm trying to parent my kids well - that I want to see a fruitful increase in their lives and purpose.  I have to demonstrate that I am a person of integrity that isn't out to take advantage of them, even though I may not get to know them on a truly personal level (I have a lot of neighbors).

We'll see how it all plays out, but my hunch is that a formula of consistency over time will be key in establishing credibility in my neighbors' eyes.  And when it finally comes, I hope that being able to take some photos of our neighborhood, our street, and inevitably our neighbors that live there, will actually help to remove some walls.  However, until then, I will only lock the images in my mind as best I can.

As a parting thought, I see a bit of the life of Christ in my conundrum.  Jesus came to save a people in need but He didn't do it as a conquering hero.  He did it as a humble servant.  He left the splendor of heaven to muck it up in our broken world.  By no means do I make this analogy as if I'm some kind of savior or even comparable to God, nor do I want to equate America to heaven and somehow superior to Africa.  But Jesus gives an example of ultimate humility that I need to re-study and model.  I need to follow through on humble servant before I pull out a camera, lest I be misperceived.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Coming Together

There's a lot going on right now and it's good to see this whole thing coming together.  For the past couple of years, it's been a lot of steps always leading to something rather far off.  And now we're about to see the biggest of steps and it's pretty near.  In our last newsletter,  we asked for prayer over lots of things that needed to happen and in the last month, lots of things have.  Here's a summary of our recent victories:

We finished our exams and we're done with French language school.  Exams at our school are by far the most stressful thing we've dealt with in many years.  Monday, June 30, we had our closing ceremony and received our diplomas followed by a small party at our school.

Chris, with his French professors, Cécile and Anne-Marie

Lori, with her French professors, Anne and Catherine
We have started selling off some items.  My bike was the first thing to be sold.  We have two other bikes spoken for already, so that's a huge load off of us.

We have already received our Cameroonian visas.  The paperwork and fees were sent a couple of weeks ago on a Wednesday and we received them back three days later!  We were blown away by the promptness and seamless service from the Cameroonian consulate here in France that handled our visas.

We finalized (read: paid for) our plane tickets.  We got a pretty decent deal and the flight times are as ideal as one can get for flying into Yaoundé.  We'll be leaving from Geneva on the 29th of July and flying through Brussels on our way to Yaoundé.

Some faithful friends from Lynchburg delivered our items for shipment to Cameroon to the JAARS facility in North Carolina about ten days ago.  This was weighing on our minds, worrying about how we would engineer the delivery from afar, but we are so thankful for those that took care of this for us, as well as for a fellow missionary at the JAARS center who met them and helped get it all taken care of.  We had all of this stuff stored in Lori's mom's basement in Virginia during this past year.  It will be included in a container to be sent to Cameroon in late July.  We hope to see our things in about two months after that.  In the shipment are several kitchen items, some school materials for the kids, my tools, some audio recording gear and some of the kids special items (lego, stuffed animals, etc.).  And going above and beyond, the faithful delivery drivers also added some mosquito nets to our shipment.  Amazing!

Some of our things headed for Cameroon.
Thanks Kelly!

We sold our car, "The Silver Bullet."  It was a bit of a process, having to get it inspected (required here before a sale can happen), having some work done on it, dealing with government paperwork (this part reminds us that language learning will never end…).  We had a ton of fun with that car, but it's nice to have the sale wrapped up before we leave.  The Silver Bullet will spend the next year in the Paris area with one of my colleagues, a fellow missionary who will be interning at a church of African expatriates while taking some theology classes in French before heading to Ivory Coast in a year.

Our faithful friend that climbed
 many a mountain this year.
Some other faithful friends arranged for us to have some things shipped to Cameroon.  One family facilitated the shipment of a crockpot and a clildren's Sunday School class from Grace 210 EPC of Hampstead, NC is going to send some school supplies for our kids.  Also amazing!

I've arranged the closing of our bank account, internet/phone account, and mobile phones.  This is hard because of having to do this over the phone (talking on the telephone and understanding jokes are the two hardest things in your second language).  But we're getting through it.

What remains is to arrange our transportation to the airport for the 29th of July, sell a few more things, and pack.  But in the meantime, we're grateful for answered prayer in seeing many things checked off of our list before parting.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

T is for Translation

Again it has been way too long since our last post…this whole life in language school thing is difficult. Nonetheless, I want to share with you all the concept of Translation, which is at the heart of what Wycliffe does.

I wish it was possible to sum up in a simple blog post the extent of what I have learned in the past few years of being with Wycliffe, especially about the process of translation.  But that's not possible, so understand that, like a picture of the Grand Canyon, this post or the links at the end WILL NOT do justice to the complexity of the process.

One might think translation is pretty easy - substitute this word for that and voila - it's done.  But anyone that has become fluent in more than one language will tell you that it's not that simple.  I understood this and believed it intellectually before French study, but now, it's so much more real.  Some things simply don't translate easily and require a circuitous explanation.

Additionally, language is not just a different set of words.  It also encompasses a logic set/progression and contains within itself a different mode of thought - even in languages that are relatively closely related…like French and English.  My teacher is constantly reminding us, "Don't try to use English logic to form this phrase.  You have to think in French," or something like that.  Or in frustrating moments, there's the reminder that, "There's not really a word or phrase to express that in French."  Or even more frustratingly, there are things in French that don't exist in English…and one must absorb the nuance of meaning through time and experience.  Now imagine negotiating the relationship between two languages of totally different cultures.

Translators have a tough road of training that certainly includes a lot of linguistic study.  When Lori and I were at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics in Dallas, we were amazed at the difficulty of the courses for the linguists.  They study phonetics (sounds of a language), grammar (how grammar systems function and the possibilities therein), semantics (discovering the different levels of meaning in language), research methods and so much more.

But know that their job is not just mechanical.  To know a language and to understand the nuance well, it is essential to involve oneself in the culture.  This facilitates understanding the logic contained in a language.

We were also amazed at how smart the linguistic community at GIAL was.  Absolutely brilliant, these people.  To do what they do, with so many variables to consider in how languages might operate, demands creativity, patience, and frankly, a truly gifted intellect.  I can assure you that people out in the field doing Bible translation are very, very smart and do a job with so many facets that most of us would become frustrated before we started.

In conclusion, as I re-read this, it so doesn't capture the depth of what I'd like to express.  I knew it wouldn't, but it's still frustrating.  As such, I'm putting links to two videos that Wycliffe has put together.  One of them gets at the complexities of translation itself.  The other tries to develop the whole process from initial contact with a language to final product and all of the other activities that accompany Bible translation in order to make it more effective for a community.  Enjoy.

Translating for Understanding:

The Road to Transformation:

Friday, September 6, 2013 for Scripture Use

Way back when...before life got a bit complicated...we were doing the ABCs of Wycliffe to relay information about the work that our organization does.  With the events of getting moved overseas and beginning language school, that got put on hold.  Well today, we will resume where we left off: at the letter S.

Scripture use is one of the three main components of what Wycliffe does in a language community.  The other components are translation and literacy.  Those two are pretty self-explanatory.  Scripture use is not too tough of a concept either.  The main idea of scripture use is to get the translated word used and in people's hands.  It's an impeccable monument of achievement to have a Bible translated into each language.  But that product becoming just another book on a shelf or a museum piece would represent failure.  It needs to be used.  How that happens is where the fun begins - and where we get involved.

After myriads of language research has been done and some scripture has been translated, the ideal situation is for scripture use teams to start moving.  One of the primary methods used is to establish Bible studies in a language community.  And in languages where literacy is not widespread, this has to be done creatively.  One of the coolest things being done is to establish listening groups.  Working with ministries such as Faith Comes by Hearing, the newly translated scripture can be recorded with native speakers reading and the recorded material placed onto digital devices called Proclaimers.  Proclaimers are pretty neat devices that can be solar powered, so that those in the most remote areas can use them easily.  Leaders in the villages will establish meeting times for groups in the community to listen together and discuss what they've heard - not so different from Bible studies that you may be used to, but done with oral delivery.

A listening group in Malawi gathered around the Proclaimer
Another manifestation of Scripture use is in the publication of educational materials for a language community.  There is a nice five minute news byte on this web-page about a scripture use project in Bundibugyo, Uganda that is getting AIDS education materials into the hands of those in need in western Uganda.  After the linguistic research has been done and translation of scripture can be done, there's no reason to stop at translating the Bible.  Other materials that address community needs can be translated as well.  And scripture use staff can facilitate the understanding of the information and help get it distributed.

Congalese musicians recording newly composed scripture songs this summer at a workshop led by some of our colleagues
Our work in EthnoArts will largely come under the umbrella of scripture use as well.  What we will attempt to do is facilitate the nexus of scripture with the expressive forms (music, dance, drama, etc.) of a culture.  It may come through workshops to spur the creation of new materials infused with scripture, or by finding local artists and asking them to create music or art and hopefully begin a trend of creativity.  The end result is that people will be able to use scripture in the most personal of ways - through the trappings of their culture.  And they will also be able to express their worship of God in the most personal way they know.  That's our goal and it's a significant part of the scripture use puzzle.

For further perusal, visit this page with some videos that answer FAQs about scripture use.

Friday, August 9, 2013

We're in France!

I must sincerely apologize for the time between posts on this blog.  The perfectionist part of me (Chris) took charge for awhile and it prevented me from posting.  How, you ask?  So much has happened in the last few months.  And every few days, it seemed, was another step.  I kept thinking, "After x happens I'll do another blog post."  And the next day it was x+1 and so on until the backlog was overwhelming.

So, I'll encapsulate the last couple of months.  And I'll try to be less of a perfectionist in the future...but no guaranties!

Since our last post...we got our visa situation sorted out.  We were a confusing case for the French government - and that's no slight on the French.  Why in the world would a married couple in their 40's with five college degrees between them and 3 children aged 7, 9 & 11 request student visas?  It turned out that our case was forwarded from the embassy in Washington to Paris for a decision.  In the end, we were steered from student visas and issued Long Stay visas - good for one year of residence in France that is extendable.  It cost less up front, but more in the long-run.  Anyway, the bottom line is that it all was sorted out and we arrived two and a half weeks before our language study began in July.  God certainly was providing for us in the process and any speed bumps that showed up were smoothed out quickly and without much stress.

We got to meet Teri Centner, a sorority sister of Lori's, in Washington, DC for dinner after our appointment at the
French Embassy.
Our last couple of weeks in Virginia were very busy.  The kids had some swim meets and we visited with a lot of folks for "one last time" before we left.  We missed some folks when we ran out of time and that was a bummer.  There was also one last hurrah hosted by the Hintons and Crowes with loads of food and fun.  Good times!

Our travel to France...was great.  We got a great deal on tickets complete with extra baggage allowance.  We flew from Washington, DC to London to Geneva, Switzerland on June 18/19.  We were met in Geneva by a very kind van driver that drove us across the border into France and on to Albertville.  We stayed for two and a half weeks in a temporary apartment until our regular apartment was ready.  In that time we were able to arrange our banking, utilities, and cover some school requirements for the kids (immunization records, etc.) as well as getting acquainted with the town.

With our heap of luggage outside Dulles Airport in Washington, DC
We moved into our regular residence on July 6th.  We have a 3 bedroom flat above a Kabob shop.  The shop has been closed since a couple days after we moved in.  We're not sure if he closed for Ramadan or for the month of August (a large percentage of businesses and such close for most of August while much of the country vacations) or both or if he went out of business.  We'll find out in September!

The outside of our building.  We're on the third floor.
We did our first language school session in July.  The intensive session was focused mostly on oral aspects of the language.  The regular school sessions focus a bit more on grammar and written work.  We were happy with our teacher and had a good start to our language learning.

Noah, Kristin, and Ben in front of the Olympic torch in Albertville.  Albertville hosted the 1992 Winter Olympics.  The Olympic park is about a half mile from our home.
We've adjusted pretty well to living in Albertville.  It is a nice little town with lots of beauty, but more charm - kind of like our hometown of Lynchburg.  We've had a blast taking in local culture by exploring a bit into some small villages around Savoie.

Visiting the medieval city of Conflans, which is located on a hill overlooking Albertville.
Savoie is the "department" that we live in.  Departments in France are more or less the size of a larger than average county in the US.  And Savoie, coupled with the department to the north, Haute Savoie, has an interesting history.  This link provides a good synopsis of the history of Savoie in English, although the website is pretty old.  Wikipedia also has a good history as well as an entry with details of the local economy, demographics and such.  Savoie was a sovereign nation until the French came along and tried to integrate it into their sphere of influence during the 1500's.  It then was tossed about between Italy and France for a time before finally becoming French territory in the 1860's.  The culture here has a very independent flair to it that reminds me of the type of identity assertion that Texas has within the US.  It's been fun to explore the cultural nuance of this area while also absorbing French culture in general.
The 19th stage of the Tour de France passed right in front of our apartment on July 19th.  We had our entire class over that afternoon to have lunch and watch the cyclists pass by.
This is from our visit to the town of Beaufort, which is up in the mountains just east of Albertville.
We are currently on break from school until September 3rd.  During this time, we are doing a lot of independent study, meeting with our language helpers, taking some time to explore on the weekends, taking a week-long family vacation, having some placement testing for the kids schooling, and helping the new students arriving over the next couple of weeks to get settled.

Until next time...Soli Deo Gloria.

This was the view from Noah and Ben's room at dusk one evening in July.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Chapter Next

I’ve always loved those little milestones in life: crossing another state line on a long road trip; chapters in a book; progressing years in school.  They always seem to carry a confirmation of progress but with a fresh start on something new.  We’ve hit such a milestone in the last few weeks and it’s great to be moving to the next phase.

The milestone is that we have essentially completed our partnership phase.  We have reached our goal of monthly financial backing and can now proceed with our move overseas.  We do still have a small amount of outgoing costs to cover, but knowing how the Lord has provided thus far, we have no doubts or fears of swift completion in that area as well.

Doing the work of financial partnership has been interesting to say the least.  It has taught us a lot about our reliance on God for our very breath among all other provision.  It has taught us a lot about commitment and faithfulness.  The stories that we’d love to share about this are many. 

I can’t say that we’ve seen “everything” there is to see, but it’s been an eye-opening experience, to say the least.  We’ve visited churches that have a long and rich history of missionary affiliation.  We’ve visited some to whom our endeavor is new.  We’ve enjoyed showing the possibilities of engaging the artistic and cultural life of a community to be a carrier of the gospel message.  We’ve enjoyed encouraging people to see worship as a global endeavor and arousing curiosity of what brothers and sisters in Christ do to express their worship half-a-world away.

Many times, our methods and results didn’t line up as we expected.  We enjoyed our most prosperous times while speaking mostly to grade school kids about African arts or geography.  We saw the words of some dedicated advocates pay greater dividends than our own polished presentations.  I can say it was fun most of the time and always interesting.

The next things on our plate include obtaining visas and selling a few things that we didn’t get rid of before our move to Dallas.  After we have the visas in hand, travel plans will be made and the countdown will be on.  Looking forward to it!

Passports are for the visas.

I need those red areas at the top of my application to become green!  When they are all green, we can schedule our interview at the consulate in Washington, DC.