It was mid-morning when I found Mamadou Traoré at his restaurant, a six-foot-square plywood kiosk painted baby blue, its shutters propped open with sticks, bar stools lined up at the window. His eyelids were drooping, and he was falling off his chair. He had worked all night selling omelettes and glasses of sticky-sweet Nescafé. In West Africa during the month of Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from food and drink all day, nights are good for business.
We hadn’t seen each other in four years.
I sat on a bar stool while he stirred sweetened condensed milk into a glass of coffee for me. He set a square plywood coaster over the mouth to keep out the flies and took out his cellphone to snap a photo. “Now all my customers will believe me when I tell them I have a white friend.” Continue reading The Way We Give→
A dozen children pressed their noses against the screen of our porch staring into the white people’s house. “Look”, one of them said, “They have five kerosene lamps burning!” Yiin–Lampa mɔ́n kwɛŋl! At their homes a family had only one lamp burning. These white foreigners were very wealthy indeed! Our kitchen stove, kerosene refrigerator, library of schoolbooks and our pickup truck set us apart from our neighbors in the village.
The result of our lifestyle also meant that we often had excess material belongings that we wanted to get rid of. Usually, it was when we were preparing to go back to Canada for a furlough that we sorted our stuff and came up with bags or boxes of household goods we wanted to clean up.
We had lived and worked in a particular country for several years and had learned and adjusted to much of the culture. Most days we loved being there, sharing our lives and the gospel. But there were also occasions of difficulty. Some of our new friends seemed to often need financial help along the way. We wanted our friendships to be genuine and free from the complications of lending and borrowing money. So, we decided right from the start of our ministry that we would not give out loans. After all that would put our friends under the burden of debt and paying us back. Continue reading Misunderstandings of Patron/Client Relationships→
Recently, I was surprised by the story of Cornelius in Acts 10. The angel appeared to him in a vision and said, “Your prayers and charitable gifts have ascended as a memorial offering before God” (Acts 10:4 NASB).
The imagery reminded me of when God gave instructions about the tabernacle to the Israelites in the wilderness. “And when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense. There shall be perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations” (Exodus 30:8 NASB). Then, in Revelation, “the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people” (5:8; also see 8:3–4). Continue reading Beautiful, Perpetual Incense→
There is an old story about a king, watching his blind servants gathering around an elephant trying to figure out what this object is. Each blind servant gets hold of one part of the elephant. One grabs the tail and thinks the elephant is a ropey thing. Another grabs the leg and claims he’s found a tree trunk. Another touches the side of the elephant and declares it’s a flat wall.
This story has become a modern-day legend often used to show how all of us only have a part of the truth. All religions are like these blind servants, we are told, holding their elephant-y body part, loudly proclaiming their view as the whole truth. The lesson we are taught is that what we think true is only a body part—a tail, but certainly not an elephant. Continue reading Jesus Is the Elephant and King!→
Kerry Saner-Harvey is coordinator for MCC Manitoba’s Indigenous Neighbours program and attends the Aberdeen EMC in Winnipeg, Man.
We are talking today about how we, those of us who are white Canadians, work among ourselves to process what we have been hearing over the years about residential schools, and particularly since the unmarked graves were identified near so many of these former schools.
GT: Thank you for joining me today, Kerry.
K S-H: I’m happy to be here.
GT: To start with, can you tell us a little about what your work with the Indigenous Neighbours Program is about?
K S-H: Often the way I’ll refer to the work, even though we’re called Indigenous Neighbours is I’ll say Indigenous/settler relations or Indigenous/non-Indigenous relations because I think that’s really what it’s about. We’re part of this equation.
One of the areas where MCC’s been involved for a long time and I continue to work with is in hydro-impacted communities in the North. In Manitoba there has been a long history of hydro affecting Northern communities as many of us know.
You mentioned working among ourselves and I think that that’s a really important question and important part of what I try to do. It’s important to look at things like residential schools and especially now that that’s in the news and taking a step back and seeing how it was part of a bigger trajectory and how we as churches are part of that history whether we would like to believe that or not and how do we unpack that. Continue reading Working Among Ourselves→
When the discovery of unmarked graves near the Kamloops residential school hit the news, I did not know what to feel, or think, or whether I wanted to process this at all. Why do we need to be reminded of this terrible segment of our history? And yet an overwhelming sadness came over me; a sense of sorrow, grief and a dark cloud of depression. I could not block it from my consciousness.
Backwater hicks. Rednecks. Trash. Uneducated hillbillies. I have heard all these labels and more applied to people in rural areas. People dismissed simply because of their postal code.
Having spent most of my life in small towns and rural areas, I have come to love living close to nature, to farms, open fields and big skies. When I think of the many farmers I have known, there is a deeply profound wisdom that comes from their lives.
Most of the farmers I have known are simple and beautiful people. They work hard, they love their families, and they enjoy their lives and work. Due to the nature of farming, many live in rural areas near their fields and animals.
For many, their day-to-day work isn’t lived in a metropolis surrounded by thousands of people and their varying opinions. As such, given that they don’t have to watch urban homelessness every day or deal with sub-par public transportation, it can seem like they are ignorant of those matters that mean a great deal to a lot of people. So these lovely farmers get dismissed as being as unknowledgeable just because their field of knowledge is different than others. And it is true that some might remark, “I don’t know about all of that stuff” and then go back to work planting their fields or harvesting their crops.
And this really is my point. They get back to work doing what they know they should. Our polarized world has a tendency to spend a lot of time talking, debating, arguing and fighting. We try to figure everything out, to understand it all, to defend our positions and convince everyone else to be like us. We debate back and forth about the minutia of politics and ideologies and spend time endlessly quarrelling over debatable things. But what if we set aside so many of those squabbles and simply got back to the work that we know we should be doing? To loving God and loving others, to being a good neighbour, to living honestly and being kind?
Ecclesiastes 11:4–6 (NLT) says, “Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant. If they watch every cloud, they never harvest. Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind or the mystery of a tiny baby growing in its mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things. Plant your seed in the morning and keep busy all afternoon, for you don’t know if profit will come from one activity or another—or maybe both.”
No matter if we are urban or rural, a farmer or a philanthropist, none of us will know everything, and if we wait to do what we know is right until all the conditions are perfect, we will never do anything. So let’s take a lesson from the farmer. You don’t have to know everything, and you don’t need to understand or be right about everything in order to follow God. Let’s get back to work.
My “group” spans the full spectrum on politics, science, social issues, COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccinations. I actively dislike the terms “right” and “left” but will use them—because they are useful. Some of my friends seem almost as far right as you can go and others as far left and it began well before COVID. We love each other and spend time together as allowed but it has been a challenge and we’ve learned and re-learned a few things that may be worth sharing.
If you could be an animal, which would you choose?
Would it be the graceful giraffe gliding across the grasslands munching the tops of trees? The lumbering elephant who gulps down 150 litres of water per day? Or the “super” gecko? It can climb straight up a wall at a metre per second, hang upside down from the ceiling and skim across water faster than a duck can swim. It can glide through air, turn itself around in mid-flight, and swing under a branch headfirst and cling to it to hide. And it can change color. Those are super skills!
Some animals look weird. Consider the star-nosed mole. Around its snout is a ray of twenty-two fleshy feelers. These feelers wiggle constantly as the mole digs through wet soil. The mole is blind. He hunts with his star nose bopping against the soil as fast as possible. When he feels an insect or a worm, he gobbles it down faster than you can say “one.”
The blue footed booby is a bird about the size of a duck. It lives on the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean. And it has blue feet. The booby uses its blue feet to attract a mate. The bluer its feet the more attractive it is. Because the sun on the islands can be harsh, the booby has to cool itself down so it won’t get overheated. It opens its mouth and makes the skin on its neck vibrate. It looks like it’s laughing, but it’s just trying to stay cool.
Why did God create so many different animals?
First, he created them because they please him. He looked at them and “saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:25).
God made animals in all colours, shapes and sizes. Some are beautiful and cuddly. Others are strange and unusual; some are downright scary. The parts we find strange are exactly what they need to survive. Like the ray of feelers on the star-nosed mole.
Every animal has a purpose. God created them for us to enjoy and to learn from. Scientists study animals to see how they live and interact with each other, and how they fit into their environment. He created them to help us live successfully in our environment.
For example, bees are necessary for plants to reproduce. As they buzz from plant to plant, they carry the pollen each plant requires to produce seeds.
Squirrels help trees to grow. They forage, collect and stash their nuts and seeds, and often forget to dig them up again. Instead of being eaten the nuts and seeds develop roots and grow to be new trees.
Birds create balance in nature. They drop seeds as they fly, eat pests like bugs and mosquitoes, and they fertilize the soil with their droppings.
God cares about animals. He created them for us and to help us. We help them by treating them well.
Read Proverbs 12:10.
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference