Monday, December 29, 2014

My Eye-Opening Experience At A Nigerian Boarding School

Doing the wash at a Nigerian boarding school.

I wanted to share a link to a post I wrote for my missions work over on another blog I've launched with the Transformational Education Network. It's an inside look at my eye-opening experience at a Nigerian boarding school. It was one of those experiences I will never forget. It's something I believe can be a call to action for those of us who follow Jesus Christ.

Check it out here: Boarding school

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The BEST Seafood Chowder Is My Christmas Present To You

We have a favorite Sabo family Christmas tradition that dates back to when the number of our kids was in the single digits, which is approximately the 2002 or 2003 time frame. It's soup. But not just any soup. This is a seafood chowder that the family looks forward to waaaaaayyyyy more than opening Christmas presents. Sort of. Maybe. Ish? Okay, so my seafood chowder takes a close second to the whole opening Christmas presents thing. But don't let that dissuade you from breaking out the heavy-bottomed stock pot and giving this seafood chowder a whirl in your kitchen. You will not be disappointed. I promise.

I found this recipe in The Oregonian and it's called "Portland Seafood Chowder." It makes 10 cups, which means I automatically double it. Or so. And I've modified it by adding more seafood to the point that basically if it swims, or crawls, or scampers, or filters in saltwater, it goes in this chowder. As a disclaimer, due to the nature of the ingredients it's an expensive soup to make. Which is why we only make it once a year. Which is also why I'm seriously considering launching separate Kickstarter and Gofundme campaigns to support our seafood chowder habit so that we can enjoy it more than once a year.

Without further ado, we give you the "Portland Seafood Chowder" recipe in all its gastronomical glory. Go forth and be a Pacific Northwest foodie aficionado.

12 oz. diced raw bacon
1 1/3 C finely diced onion
1 1/3 C finely diced carrot
1 1/3 C finely diced celery
1/2 C diced roasted red bell peppers
1 1/2 t dried dill weed
1 1/2 t dried basil
1 1/2 t dried marjoram
1 1/2 t cajun spice mix
3 T all-purpose flour
1/2 C lightly hopped ale
1 10-oz. can baby clams
2 8-oz. bottles clam juice
4 C diced raw potatoes
6 to 8 fresh mussels, scrubbed & debearded
1/4 lb. cubed firm white fish such as snapper or cod
1/4 lb. smoked salmon, flaked
1 C whipping cream
salt & pepper to taste

* Among the seafoody items I add with liberality (one of the few times in my life I'm a liberal):
crab meat
baby shrimp

In a heavy-bottomed stock pot, cook the bacon over medium-low until it is brown. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook over medium-low heat until the carrots are almost tender. Add red peppers.

Stir in the dill weed, basil, marjoram and cajun spice mix. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes. Add the ale, the juice from the clams (reserve the drained clams for later), and the bottled clam juice. Stir until smooth and then add the potatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the mussels, white fish, smoked salmon, reserved clams and any other additional seafood, cover and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes or until the mussels are opened and the white fish is done. Discard any mussels that do not open. Stir in the whipping cream and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

My Nigerian Experience

Things I won’t miss about Nigeria:

--Hearing the muezzin or whatever he was blaring from a nearby mosque in the pre-dawn hours. I can deal with the roosters, the car horns and anything else of a noise variety. That one alarms me, though, and the first time I heard it I thought a terrorist attack was imminent;

--Rice. Whether it’s white, or jollof, with red sauce, with beans, or in some other form, I’m ready to explore other culinary dishes;

--Driving. As near as I can tell, there are no rules to driving in Nigeria. Nor are there even guidelines, let alone suggestions. I don’t know what it takes to get a traffic ticket here, but let’s just say road cops in the USA with a monthly quota of traffic tickets to fill could get ‘er done in about an hour here. I’ve been on divided highways with a raised median and if traffic is stopped in one direction, why they just hop the curb and start driving against traffic in the oncoming lanes. Right by cops. Why is this okay? And passing is always an option, even going uphill, past a tractor-trailer on a blind corner. I feel like I cheated death on the roads for two weeks;

--Showers. Picture a faucet, a small bucket and cold water. You’re feeling my pain. Like any spoiled American, I like my showers long and hot. The struggle is real, man;

--Electricity that constantly fluctuates. It’s worse than being in a relationship with Taylor Swift – the power is on again, off again. On again, off again. On, off. It makes it really hard to recharge my cell phone. Oh, the horror of it!

--Vivid dreams. I suspect it’s the anti-malarial meds I’m taking, but man have I had some vivid dreams. They’re the kinds often that make you wake up with a start and you can’t get back to sleep … then the muezzin fires up. Last night I had a dream I inherited some very valuable books in a very finely crafted wood bureau and had to get them from New York to Boston without anyone knowing it or else something really bad was going to happen to my family.  Oops … now everyone knows it;

Things I will miss in Nigeria:

--The weather. Hot, dry days in the 80s and cool nights in the 50s. It’s like summer in Central Oregon. Perfect;

--An Arabic shawarma from Jam’s, a little hole-in-the-wall eatery over by one of the other missionary compounds. Chicken, garlic, pickles, salad and a couple of other things wrapped inside a tortilla-like thing. Oh, the joys of a Jam’s shawarma!

--The sights. Every day you see something that blows your mind. Take, for example, the cargo on a motorbike, to include masses of humanity, livestock, goods such as firewood, or all of the above. Just when you thought it was not humanly possible to pack more onto a motorbike, you see more;

--The people. So friendly. I made many friends here and made them quite easily. One of the things that tickles me is how often they say, “Welcome, sir.” I’ll meet someone and greet them and they’ll reply, “Welcome, sir. Thank you, sir. Welcome, sir.”

--The children. Universally polite and friendly, if not somewhat surprised and curious at times to see a white guy. I will never forget the look on the kids’ faces when I took their photo and turned the camera around and showed them the digital copy. Priceless. I believe for many of them it was the first time they had seen their own picture. Their faces were a thousand words;

--The faith of my fellow Christians. You can hear it in the prayers. It’s a deep, profound trust and love of God that I imagine comes in part in a place where life is truly fragile. In the course of five days earlier on my trip I was with three people while they received word that someone close to them had died unexpectedly. There are no guarantees here and life is hard, very hard. The one thing you can trust is God’s love and the hope we have in His son, Jesus Christ. I have a great love and admiration for the people I’ve met here. God bless you all. I’ll miss you and look forward to seeing you again.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Thoughts On Being Caught Behind A Muslim Horse Parade And Faith

Eric Black with some of his students and staff

Nigeria can be enchanting and confounding, often at the same moment. I was returning to Jos from Biliri in Gombe State in northeastern Nigeria, riding shotgun in a pickup driven by fellow Serving In Mission missionary Mark Redekop, when horsemen appeared. Not just any horsemen either. These were elaborately clothed Muslim horsemen, somewhere around 40 of them, parading through the main thoroughfare of the city of Bauchi.
Trotting to a steady beat of drums, the Muslim men drew scores of onlookers in the Islamic city. We crawled along in the scrum of people and kids cheating death by flitting across the highway. Battered cars and trucks, drivers leaning into their horns with gusto, jockeyed for position. Motorcycles with passengers aboard – I saw one motorbike on the highway in the Nigerian bush with a man and six boys on it -- spewing thick exhaust and darting through traffic and horses, sometimes into the oncoming lanes. Three-wheeled motorized buggies that serve as taxis sped around us and between the horsemen. As near as I could tell, there had been no warning of a parade, perhaps because in the current state of affairs in Nigeria events like this might attract terrorists from Boko Haram. The Islamic insurgents do not discern between Muslim or Christian targets; the day before in the city of Kano scores of Muslims were slaughtered in a Boko Haram bomb blast and shooting timed for the afternoon prayers. Other times they target Christians, particularly churches and bombings and massacres are not uncommon here in the north of Nigeria.

We squinted into the low late afternoon sun at the horsemen ahead of us, fruitlessly hoping to see the display of horsemanship conclude. I later learned it was apparently something along the lines of a “Durbar” parade. These are events unique to Nigeria that commemorate the days past when guards in magnificently colored and adorned robes and turbans and armed with swords would travel on horseback in protection of the Muslim emir. I asked a Nigerian about the men and was told that back in the day if there was trouble or some sort of aggressiveness or violence directed toward the emir, the horsemen would “slaughter you.” I believe the tradition of emir protection has passed. At least I hope it has, but you never know and I rather furtively snapped some photos and video on my iPhone.

We eventually passed through Bauchi safely, perhaps culturally enriched but deprived of precious daylight. You don’t want to travel Nigerian roads at night because motorists have little regard for traffic rules – I wouldn’t’ even call simple rules such as driving on the right even guidelines or suggestions -- and deadly accidents are the norm. The delay meant darkness loomed, a harrowing thought as we passed the hulk of a smashed up truck that had recently hit something head-on. “That couldn’t have been good for the driver,” Mark said. As we traveled west toward the setting sun, dodging goats, cattle, oncoming motorists and people, we passed through a predominantly Muslim village. Inside a small mosque I glimpsed a man in a flowing white robe bowing toward Mecca, his forehead pressed to the floor.
The oppressive poverty and hopelessness is overwhelming in Nigeria, as well as the rest of Africa. Every day is a struggle. I’ve talked to many young people here and hope of a better is elusive. There’s a resignation to a hard life. Many have asked me to take them back to America, one smiling young man offering to stow away in one of my bags.

But in my talks there’s been one consistent glimmer of hope. In Jos and in Biliri there’s a hope in Jesus Christ. The hope springs from a deep abiding faith in Jesus, a trust forged through perseverance and an understanding that to suffer is to walk alongside Jesus. Peter writes that various trials test our faith, acting as a purifier the way heating gold to melt it filters out the impurities, resulting in something much more precious. The result is “praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” Peter writes.

Out in Biliri at a school started by American missionary Eric Black, who uses our Transformational Education Network computer outreach curriculum, I met a young man named Gideon as he was about to lead a group of students on an outreach. Just before they squeezed into a van bursting with people, luggage, musical instruments and Bibles, Gideon gathered the group in front of the school for a brief message. “If you really love Jesus with all of your life,” he said in his accented English, “then sacrifice your life to live for Him. Whatever it may cost you to live a righteous life, then do it.” Then he paused, looking intently at the students. “For that is a great, great gain.”
Gideon described how the journey to a distant city would be tough, the devil doubling his efforts because he knows who he is up against. “Put on all of your armors,” he said. Then he challenged the students.

“As we go out on outreach, if you’re passionate for Jesus then go out and preach the word,” Gideon said. “If you are not then I will advise you that you will stay back home. The place we are going we are really taking the message of love. The message of peace. The message of unity. Some will say that it is like we are going on vacation. That is not what we are going for. So be ready to lay down your life, whatever it may cost. It cost Jesus His life to bring you back. So be willing to lay down your life.”

He closed by telling the students that in whatever persecutions they face, to endure them without complaining. He told them that he loved them and that his prayer is that as they head out from the school they would transform the world.

My prayers are with them. As I left Biliri on Saturday afternoon with Mark and two Nigerian passengers seated behind us in the pickup, I thought back to Gideon and the students at Biliri Educational Center. It called to mind one of my favorite scriptures. It is Isaiah 9:2 and it speaks of Jesus Christ, the Messiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.”
In my travels through Nigeria over the past week, I have seen this verse played out. Despite the crushing poverty, the daily struggle simply to put food on the table and the lack of opportunities such as education and jobs, there’s something different in the lives of many of the young people like Gideon I’ve encountered. The difference is the illuminating light of Jesus Christ in their lives. They believe a better life awaits, and it may not even be on this earth. They are passionate about their faith, intent on spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ and believing that Jesus elevates lives. I believe there is hope in Nigeria.