Show­ing how to live thank­fully

The Covington News - - RELIGION - JONATHAN SCHARF COLUM­NIST

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! In Christ, Pas­tor Scharf

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.

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