Greetings from Nigeria. Of course, by the time you read this one, I should have made it back already, God willing.
But as I write, I’m sitting in the living room of our mission house with my laptop.
It’s a gray day, in the middle of the rainy season. That means it’s pretty dark in here without electricity. So, I’m thankful for the light of my laptop screen as I write this article. Of course, I won’t be able to send this for a week, since we only get to go into the big city once a week where we can hit an Internet café and go to the market.
Part of the reason is that we have to hire a car and be accompanied by armed guards because of the security issues that go along with being white Americans (whom everybody assumes are rich) in an area where they don’t see many of us too often.
I wish you could see how every cellphone camera instantly comes out and points at us whenever we are nearby.
First, understand that when I say "market," this is not one of those tourist markets you’ve seen on vacation. The "market" is several square blocks crammed tight with stalls of Nigerians hawking their wares. But it’s not souvenirs they are selling. This was their grocery/hardware/department store all wound into one. Actually — it was split up among several hundred.
The clothing stores were stalls that had all sorts of colorful fabrics displayed, and then one or two Nigerians (we saw men, women and children) sitting at sewing machines, cranking with their feet. The "grocery" stores each had just one type of item — one a bakery, another a fruit stand.
Plus, merchants sent their kids among the crowds, with food in containers on their heads, to try to make sales. There were stores with fans, liquor, toys, T-shirts that had obviously been cast aside by someone else (stacks and stacks of shirts with Chinese writing and the year 2011). This market is where people buy what they need. That’s it.
One thing we did need (or really wanted) was the Internet connection available at one store that said "Internet" on its sign. For 2000 naira, we were able to hook up to the Wi-Fi for about 40 minutes.
It wasn’t the best of Internet experiences, but it worked and I look forward to my next chance for contact with my family. On the seminary compound, cell service doesn’t support a good call, only letting the occasional text through. So here I am, with plenty of time to study, teach, read and pray … and write articles like this.
As I write, I hope it doesn’t come across as complaining about living conditions. I’m constantly amazed at how happy the people here are — even though they live in what we would call abject poverty. Our mission house is just about the nicest I’ve seen, certainly no worse than the house even of the chief. We got to meet him when he stopped by for his "security" payment — some money we give to ensure our welcome in his land.
This man is 10th generation chief and will be for life. His family has controlled this territory for longer than anyone can remember or has any record of. It has just always been.
And his house appears to be just about the same as the one we are staying in — mud blocks plastered over with a tin roof placed on the top. The rest of the people could only dream of staying in something that nice. They appreciate what God has blessed them with and find joy in such simple things. I’ve noticed so many kids walking down the street playing with their "toy," an old, beat-up tire they roll with a stick. On the seminary grounds, there is a field (bumpy and uneven, partially grassed) that is filled every night with barefoot teens playing soccer. And they are loving life. After all, as James writes, "Every good and perfect gift is from above."
May God grant to me and you the ability to see that and to give thanks for all we have been given … every day.
God’s blessings to you from Nigeria!
The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 8 and 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at abidinggrace.com.