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Geoff MacNeill

An African Tapestry

By | 2011 - Kenya | No Comments

On February 28th we were soaring through the skies on KLM airways, our travel time was coming to a close and it was time to start our descent into Kenya. This descent was accompanied by the sheer beauty of an African sunrise that was climbing up beside the heights of Mount Kenya—a warm welcoming for our SSU team traveling to the foreign (to us) lands of Eastern Africa. This  would be our classroom for the next two weeks.

Our Kenya Team Learning on Site

In my undergraduate degree, I have studied books that explain certain practices and principles for effective international development. But in Africa, these pages have come alive and taken the face of real people, and current struggles in this area of the majority world. Being here, it has been so intriguing to hear accents of indigenous workers administering development wisdom that I have  thankfully gleamed from. Furthermore, among other things, our team has visited many development projects; some of these include: newly built water wells, agricultural development that seems to be quite revolutionary, and a community center in a Somali refugee camp that is holistically bettering the people who live there. Positive change is happening and development is happening!

On this trip I have been doing my best to be a good observer. To look and to see the people surrounding me, trying to understand this tapestry of poverty and beauty that has been presented before us. And as I observe I have ask myself many questions. But one I would like to ask the reader of this blog is: “What is our responsibility toward the majority world?” As we grow and get older, as we walk through peaceful and majestic nature trails and take time to smell the beautiful red roses, may we also remember the majority world. And may we ask ourselves and wrestle with the question, “What is our responsibility, we in the wealthy west, to the majority world?”

I am so appreciative to God for this opportunity to be here, and to SSU as well, for valuing this form of education–I feel I have learned a lot of (essential) practical education. Also, I want to take this time to thank all those that have worked so hard to help this band of SSU pilgrims go to Kenya. And finally to all those that have helped us through prayer and finances, my deep gratitude goes out to you.

Geoff, Laura & Nicola

In Christ,

Geoff

Professor Anglais

By | All Things Travel | 2 Comments

Teaching English – I knew that it would be one of my major challenges in coming to Iris. Limited school supplies, no curriculum to rely on, and very little teaching experience.  I wondered “how can I effectively teach African children English?” I knew that this would have to be a work of grace.

Two months into my internship there is good news. English lessons have been going great! Teaching has been one of my favorite activities here at Iris.  I developed a curriculum, and with each new week comes creative ideas for lesson plans. Like I mentioned above – it has been a work of grace.

In preparations for classes, God has been helping me to think creatively. In a small but meaningful way, I am witnessing the promises of Proverbs 3:6, “in all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” (King James language – it ‘s a favorite of mine).  If anyone would like, I’ll tell you about  these ideas, and timely provisions, when I get back.

My students range from toddlers to teens; but they’re all (mostly) infants in their understanding of the English language; yet are progressively learning quite well.  They have acquired the ability to speak or recite: basic conversational skills, numbers, body parts (head and shoulders song – they love it), identifying common objects,  meal times and food dishes, etc. Seeing their growth in  language skills is one of the most rewarding aspects to this internship.

Before and after classes is one of my favorite times of the day. The kids have been teaching me some of their sweet indigenous dances (I teach them to break-dance),  games, and language skills. They also like to hang off of me, lots of them, I am their jungle gym at times. Ha.

But what really gets me about these kids is their ability to laugh. They don’t get upset with little annoyances, they giggle. These kids, who have become my friends, are teaching me the importance of letting life’s little annoyances go, and releasing them over to laughter. Why get upset over the little stuff when we don’t have to? Life is better when we try to embrace it with more joy.

OK, I would like to make one final note. Does teaching English really make a difference to these kids living in a village on the outskirts of a city in the Northern Parts of Mozambique, Africa? Definitely. Mozambique is a developing nation, and their educational system is weak but getting better. The kids are taught both Portuguese (a remnant influence of their colonial past), and more recently, English  in their public schools. This is great, for in an ever increasing globally connected world the universal language of communication is English. This opens doors like the possibility of getting a higher education in their own country, as well as abroad. This in turn opens the door for job opportunities and leadership positions in their own county and in the world around them.

–> I have included some pictures from my Meize morning class.

Touch your head, touch your foot, now jump up and down and turn all around.

Meize morning class.

Part II: Pemba Highlights

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Iris Ministries was founded by Rolland and Heidi Baker back in 90’s. Both of these people inspire me in their Christian faith. The ministry in Pemba operates as an orphanage/church plant/ indigenous pastor training/missionary school/ village feed/ and a lot more. I am staying at their main base, but they have many throughout the country.  This base is approximately 75-100 acres in size and is located right next to the Indian Ocean.  How neat is that?  I love the ocean! I am happy to be here during the rainy season (even though it has rained very little) as the land is now green.

The missionaries here inspire and encourage me by their walk with God. They are spiritual, but very down to earth.  I have been able to meet lots of missionaries and become friends with them because it is a slower time at Iris.

My duties include helping out in the kitchen and teaching English to children.  In the kitchen, I mostly hand out plates to the children and collect them at the end of meals. I have also been going to a nearby village called Meize.   Meize is where I am teaching English to 35 kids so far.  The kids seem excited to be excited to learn English, and I am happy to help them learn. However, I am a bit nervous as there is no set curriculum so I’ll need more of God’s grace for thinking outside of the box.

In a surprise turn of events I’m also helping with prison ministry. I forget how this all came about, but last week I found myself in a truck headed for jail. We were there to preach, pray for the sick, and give food. This was a bit of a stretching experience, but God is good and was faithful to give me strength.  I enjoyed my time there. The inmates weren’t intimidating, more welcoming than anything. Being in prison and praising God with the inmates was an amazing blessing. African’s have great voices and love to sing.

The last thing that I’ll mention involves hugs. The kids here . . . love them, especially the little ones. Sometimes when kids come up to me they open up their arms and smile, as if to say, “pick me, pick me.” Their needy eyes make picking them up such an easy decision.

Blessings,

Geoff

Part 1: Pemba

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“And let the glorious majesty of the Lord our God be upon us…”
Psalm 90:18a

“Salama!” This is a greeting from the local Makuwa language.

After approximately 36-40 hours of travel, I finally arrived in beautiful Pemba, Mozambique! Exiting the plane, I was instantly greeted by African weather; hot and sunny!  Dr. Don Kantel (founder of SSU), met me at the airport.  He and his wife Elizabeth are the base directors here at Iris’ Pemba location. I am also blessed to have him as my internship supervisor.

Setting out for Iris was a short drive, but the lack of time did not hinder African culture from revealing itself. Women dressed in colorful attire, usually a parcel on their head, balancing it oh so well. Men and boys walking to and fro as well, some sell things, others are just going places. Fish is a fairly hot item on the markets here; you see lots of it for sale along the main ocean drag to Iris. Cars, trucks (with an over-load of people in them) and motor bikes cruise the narrow roads. And palm trees and baobabs (big trunked trees) root themselves in the country side.

When Don picked me up, he had a young girl with him – Talma. Let me tell you a little about her, it will help you understand a little about Iris Ministries….
She was born in Tanzania but her parents had sent her away to her aunt’s house in Pemba; they didn’t want her. In Pemba, she was abused severely and her aunt used her as cleaning aid. She eventually ran away and came to Iris looking for help. And it was here that she found help. But recently she has been in danger of returning to her family in Tanzania; her aunt’s crooked desires. Don and others have been trying to stop this. As of yesterday, I found out that after prayer and practical effort, the mother of this little girl has allowed her to stay with Iris! Praise God. Talma is very happy. Like Talma many of the kids here at Iris (approx 170) have disturbing pasts, but God is restoring them. Amen.

Thank you to all of those who made this trip possible; especially Dr. Kantel, Dr. Gregg Finley, the Kadatz’s, and my very supportive and loving parents. I would also like to thank Jesus, the Great Shepherd, for loving me and leading me here.

Also, thanks to all those who wrote in my send off journal – reflecting on your words of encouragement has been valuable.

Blessings,
Geoff

There and back again, a student’s tale.

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So I thought the last post was the final and concluding one, so here’s to P.S’s…

Travel terms, yeah they are pretty great. I suppose they just kind of match my personality. I love being in airports, sleeping on uncomfortable chairs in the lobbies. The anticipation of who the heck is gonna be sitting next to you on the plane is usually exciting as well.

Side note* On the return journey from Bangkok to Hong Kong, I sat next to two young hip Jewish Israelites. One of them even recited from the Torah, or another piece of Hebrew literature, out loud (but somewhat softly to himself) during the flight. I thought they were pretty neat guys.

I also like getting on long bus rides and reading or listening to music, contemplating the events that had just happened and of the things to come. And then getting off and realizing that your earthly possessions can be packed into a suitcase or backpack. It’s pretty freeing.

And then there’s walking through foreign countries; sights, sounds, and smells are all new experiences these are also great aspects of traveling. It’s this I think I like most; the cultural exposure. Seeing how others live their life helps me understand my neighbor and their culture a little more, it makes them a bit more familiar and less like the unknown stranger.

And yeah, education.  This also helps with the understanding process. I left SE Asia feeling like I could emphasize and maybe even sympathize with their struggles and hardships. Some of this came from seeing injustices in the streets, but to get a better understanding of the root causes behind these social issues comes mostly from class room lectures.

My hardest struggle about traveling; meeting people. Kinda weird eh, sometimes I think I am a people person but most of the time I am not. It takes me a while before I can actually warm up to friends and new acquaintenances, I’m a bit of an introvert. I hope over time that this can change… but for now, it’s one of the aspects that makes travel a growing process 🙂

So now we are back, and it’s life as it was before, but I am thankful. I love traveling but having a home-base to come back to makes the uncomfortable airport beds/chairs all that much better and worthwhile. I know I have a roof over my head, great food, and a comfortable bunk bed to come back to! Although I really like traveling, I also love my culture and it’s familiarities. We have it pretty good in Canada, it’s a great “home-base”.

So maybe I’ll leave this blog by challenging myself and others. Canada isn’t perfect and terrible things are happening here that we have to address, but comparatively to other countries we are pretty much living in the land of milk and honey. So pray about it and try and see if God is leading you to spread His justice and love in places that are lacking it right now. Micah 6:8.

Bangkok and Beyond

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So the ship’s about to sail and this SE Asian travel term is coming to a close (plane leaves march 24th).  Soon we’ll all be back in the comforts and familiarity of the big yellow house in the river side town of  St. Stephen’s, N.B.  This has been a journey to remember.

On Feb 3rd we left the cold and probably snowy weather in the Maritimes and were welcomed by greenery, palm trees and hot sunshine in Manila, Philippines a day or two later. That alone was awesome.  It was also great to go on the many adventures that would soon await us.  This included an island hopping beach day, white sandy beaches, snorkeling, mountain hike, 4×4 sand dune jeep runs, jungle adventures, waterfall swims and so on. Yes, most of us got to do all of these things and much more throughout our time in SE Asia! But hey, this is the agenda of most run of the mill tropical tourists. We came here for other reasons.  And though I’ll remember those experiences with joy, and gladly partook in it all, I valued what I consider the heart of this trip more so: cultural exposure, education, God and community – not sure how to properly order that list.

This included: living with home stay families (different cultures doing life together, including spending 2 days in a Muslim village), eating their local/ethnic food.  Attending SE Asian universities, learning about their political and economic struggles, and observing the effects of these first hand. Seeing the aftermath of European colonialism, its benefits and catastrophes. Venturing out into the agricultural lands, seeing an organic jungle/forest farm operational and producing well, going against popular thought. As well, researching and doing presentations on  current events/human rights issues that are  impacting this region.  Being exposed to extreme poverty and riches all in the same neighborhoods.  Exploring the remains of ancient kingdoms, sitting down and talking to Buddhist monks, walking through historic churches, visiting orphans, group devotions, and standing under the stars on hotel roof tops contemplating how God is moving in these foreign lands. Experiencing it all with good friends and leaders.

I think it’s fair to say that in life people have experiences that change their lives, and for me, this has definitely been one of them. Praise the Lord, and thanks to SSU for valuing this form of education.

P.S. I hope the puck is still dropping this Thursday in St. Stephen’s.

People and their influence

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We leave for Thailand today. We have visited the Philippines and are now about to say good bye to Malaysia. Time is going by so fast, there is so much to take in -it’s cultural overload. The focus of this blog will be about the people I have encountered and what I am learning from them.

Filipinos are very warm and happy people. As soon as we landed in Manila and got on the bus to Laoag, everyone was constantly staring,waving and smiling at us. They have lots of joy, and it’s contagious. Yet, as a people group, they have had their challenges. For one, they don’t really have a sense of national identity – the effects of Spanish and American colonization- Their government is the 2nd most corrupt in South East Asia.  And many of them live in extreme poverty (70-75%). Yet joy is something that remains a part of their lives. One Filipino teacher mentioned that it’s because of their faith in God (Christian) and their willingness to choose to be joyful. I find myself very attracted to joy and hope to have more of it in my own life.

In Malaysia, we landed in Kota Kinabalu on the Island of Borneo.  The day after arrival, we were off for a 2 night stay in a Kampung (Muslim village-approx 1,400 people). I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Though I have spent time with Muslims before, it wasn’t in SE Asia and I had never lived with them. Yet I was excited to see what the outcome would be . Upon arrival, they had a welcoming banner ready for us as well as a band of drummers playing away on their instruments. I think we all felt very welcomed.  Our first meal was eating inside of a fan cooled room, as the locals and hosts ate outside in the hot, mid-day’s air. They’re very hospitable and humble people.

Ali was our homestay dad’s name (Lucas, Alex, Dan and myself). We got to spend a lot of time with him.  He was a very humble man, even though he spoke fairly good English he constantly apologized for bad pronunciation, and wouldn’t accept our assurances that he spoke our language quite well. Ali was also very tender hearted, when we asked him questions about his culture he would just sit there and answer them to the best of his ability; wow, he was a great listener.

He also showed us around the city of Keningau (5 minute drive, approx 30 thousand people) and pointed out the churches that we passed by. In Malaysia, Muslims and Christians get along well together. It’s encouraging to know that the two faiths can exist in peace here in Malaysia. In Kampung I saw the hospitality and humility apparent in the village and in my home stay dad and mom. I admire them for these qualities and hope that they become more evident in my life as well.

Leaving on a jet plane…

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Wow,  Tuesday is fast approaching. I have barely had time to think about actually leaving for Southeast Asia. Studying, trying to get papers in on time, and socializing has preoccupied my mind. And it’s now Saturday night, and once again my mind is focused back in St. Stephen, there’s a send off party that I am already late for. Yet, today my friends and I went to Saint John to do some last minute shopping, and now things are all pretty much in order. I think I can finally start to relax and take in the fact that I’ll be on Southeast Asian soil, half way around the world, in less than a week.

But when I do get a chance to reflect on the fact that I’m actually going there, I get excited. Being exposed to new cultures is something that I love. It’s not that I am bored with the Maritimes, I gladly reside here. But every once in a while I like a good adventure. And, wow, I am really looking forward to this one. I am excited about the 11 hour bus ride in Manila that will expose us to the Filipino culture and scenery, I can’t wait to climb Mount Kinabalu and take in the view, or gaze over the rice fields in Thailand.

On another note, I don’t want to go over there with a Western culture superiority complex, as if I should teach them the ways of the supposed “superior” western ideals. No, that’s not my aim. I want to learn from the people, their history and culture already amazes me.  So therefore, I am looking forward to learning from those whom I will be encountering. I do not know what that will mean right now, but I hope that I’ll learn a lot, and be changed for the better because of it. I also hope and pray that the people we encounter, the locals, will somehow, through love, see God through us and be changed for the better as well.

And finally, I am really looking forward to going on this trip with so many of my friends, but will miss those that aren’t. Take care.

Geoff