Sunday, April 13, 2014

Beyond the Peephole

There is a people group here in Togo called the Fulani (or Fulbe).  Actually they are a nomadic people group across West Africa numbering over 26 million.  Taken as a whole, they are the largest unreached people group in the world and are "credited"with bringing Islam to West Africa.  I think my heart grew for these people over 10 years ago as a heard a missionary telling his story of working alongside a group of Fulani in Northern Nigeria.  Arriving in Togo and finding that this people group was here was  like opening a present you didn't even know you were getting.  It's hard to explain why I love them so much, but I like to think that the Lord put it there.

You might be thinking, "if she loves them so much, why doesn't she ever talk about them in her blog." Good question.  Honestly, the Fulbe people are a very private people and experience a lot of racism within the countries they are in.  The majority of them live out "in the bush" and don't learn local language dialects.  They keep to themselves and are usually heard from when fights break out over their cattle trespassing or ruining someone's farming land.  Although I have tried to learn as much as I can about their culture, worldview, and language during my time here, it feels like I am trying to explain their world using my view through a peephole in the door!  We don't even have anyone at our hospital who speaks their language and communication is often done through made-up sign language and/or translating into 2 to 3 different languages to find something someone understands. 

Generously, God has another missionary in Mango who loves the Fulani people.  She is about the same age as me and has been learning the language and building relationships with several families during her years living in Togo.  Through her, I have also become friends with a couple of these families and visit them during my trips to Mango.  Since my time in Togo is fast coming to an end, I took the 8 hours trip to Mango to visit my Togolese and missionary a last time before heading home.  

My first morning in Mango, I wake up to find that we were invited by one of our good Fulani friends, Awa, to a infant baptism ceremony out "in the bush".  Although our friend Awa lives in town, her extended family lives out about 30-40 minutes by moto, in a traditional Fulani camp.  I was giddy with excitement as this would be only the second time I had been to a Fulani camp, and the first time ever being part of an official ceremony!!  An infant baptism for this group has nothing to do with water, but instead is the time where the men choose a name for the infant and the child's head is shaven.

When we arrived, the men and women were separate: men gathered together under a distant tree while the woman were passing the time in the huts ("huts" for the Fulani are VERY unique in style.  Think summer igloo. Seriously.)  One hut had the younger woman and another was filled with the older woman with children all around.  The inside was surprisingly spacious, cool (well, cooler than the 115 degrees outside) and welcoming.  About 20 minutes into sitting, chatting, and meeting the yet-to-be-named infant boy, a young girl pops her head in the door and says, "Ya-coob"(I wrote that phonetically of course), or Jacob.  All the woman nodded their heads and just kept talking away.  My missionary friend and I said, "That's it? That's the naming ceremony?!" We were shocked by the casual nature of it all and just laughed at our previously held expectations for the day.  About an hour later, our friend Awa entered a hut we were in with Jacob and pulled out a razor.  It was just the three of us there and she had decided that she would be the one to shave his head.  This was also so informal and struck us as hysterical.  Meanwhile, I enjoyed petting the calves that were wondering around and we shared a meal together.  We kept thinking what a gift it was to be invited in this tribes family gathering.  We also kept saying how we felt like we were in an episode of National Geographic!!

Over the last 2 years in Togo I can recall countless experiences, both rewarding and devastating, but few experiences come close to those of when I am no longer looking at a culture through a peephole, but instead, someone has opened the door for a short time, and let me walk in. 

Please join me in praying for the Fulani people of Mango and around the world.  It doesn't take much effort to search the news and find "fulani headlines" discussing the murder of christians and other difficult issues involving this people group in various nations.  Overall, they are a beautiful people created by God who need Jesus--no different than all of us.  Also please pray as I might have an opportunity to be living with a Fulani family when I return in December to Mango to work at the Hospital of Hope.  This could be a unique opportunity in language learning and sharing the love of Christ to people I love. 

Grace and Peace