Two Witnesses, … Two Words, … One Message

April 24, 2007

Today, I was talking with DR Ronke Ajai, anaesthetist, prayer partner, branch women’s co-ordinator and wife of the area secretary of our local branch of the Overseas Fellowship of Nigerian Christians. She said that on Sunday, her pastor had stated that some research says that about 3 million British people would go with someone to church, if they were invited. She was pondering this as she got to work this morning, when a nurse asked her about the Alpha course. Wow, someone wants to know about Jesus!

“Well”, I said, “your pastor said it, someone proved it. In the mouth of two witnesses, a word is confirmed”. That’s what the Bible says.

We carried on talking, then she told me that someone had walked up to her today and said “are you a Christian? I’m a born again Christian”.

In response, DR Ajai simply wondered if it was written on her forehead. But the story stopped me. On Sunday, Keri Jones, the head of Ministries Without Borders had been preaching at our church. He’d said something like “you’ll be in a bus one day, just smiling away. If you look around you and see someone who’s got the light of God in them, you’ll notice. Just walk up to the person and say “I’m a Christian”.

Keri had said it, she’d proved it. In the mouth of two witnesses, a word is confirmed. But it happened twice in one day. Wow!

Her pastor said that Jesus went about telling people of the kingdom of God, openly, without thinking anyone was unworthy to hear it. Keri said how Jesus went to parties, … and was invited back, again and again, because he enjoyed himself without compromising the truth.

Her pastor was talking about evangelism. Keri’s theme was that God is for us, so much that He sent Jesus to die for us. God is with us, in anything that we go through, and God is in us, transforming us, so the world can see His glory in us.

It’s interesting, how two different speakers, addressing different congregations, with different themes, can bring such similar messages. So, in the mouth of two witnesses, the word is confirmed. Let’s let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works and Glorify our heavenly father.

Challenging Perceptions: Celebrating the Ordinary … and the special!

April 24, 2007

I confess that when I first thought of challenging perceptions, I aimed at challenging perceptions about visual impairment and disability. God knows there are so many challenges in disability, but an equal number of perceptions need to be dumped. If they had been, things would have been so different for many disabled people. But it’s not all about challenging perceptions. After a while, even such things become monotonous, boring and impersonal. Perceptions have to be linked to people.

Let’s try that. I have a friend. He’s been my friend since I was in primary school. He first appeared on television when I was 9 or 10. It was like a magic show. They’d give him two numbers, and he’d add them. It’d go something like this.

128 plus 332 (he’d answer) plus 419 (he’d answer) … and it would just go on. But long before his first television appearance, I used to play a secret game with myself. It all started when the class was asked to add up our scores. The teacher would list the scores each person had, and we’d add them up. As we did that, I noticed that Wale was quick as lightning, and I decided to try to beat him., I failed each time.

This is a true story, and if you lived in Lagos and watched children’s television in the mid70s, you might remember Adewale as one of the star attractions, when the Pacelli School for the blind was featured. His chance to shine ended when he left primary school. But the publicly displayed mumeracy skills was not the sum of Wale’s intelligence. If he’d had my opportunities, maybe he would also have had a doctorate.

I guess it’s not rocket science to suggest that if a person is not encouraged, or if he lacks opportunity, his talents will remain in his head. Similarly, but less obviously, the ordinary people you walk past everyday may have special gifts that are hidden behind the frustrations of lost opportunities. Or they may look so ordinary that you miss what they really have to offer. When I read through my blog, I realise how ordinary people have influenced me, because we connected. Lara threw me a surprise birthday party, Chriss died at such a young age and pulled a percentage of Lancastrians to his funeral, 91 year old Olive told me about pre-war and post-war life in the Northwest of England, Rob Davies and his wife Catherine had a vision and set up an e-community for blind Christians, David and Rachel Prince tell a remarkable story of God’s power to heal. These people are not famous, but they should be. Some of them have done little things, which have had a surprising effect on ordinary people like me.

I’ve met famous people too. In January 1977, Stevie Wonder was in Nigeria for the Festival of Black Arts and Culture, (FESTAC ’77. He came to visit Pacelli school for the Blind, and I read a prepared speech to him. He played for us on the piano, and just before he left, he took off his cap and gave it to me. I’m sorry, in the unlikely event that Stevie Wonder reads this, and in the even more unlikely event that he remembers me, I have lost that cap now. I was a lot older when I met Prince Charles and gave him a vote of thanks in March 1990. At least I still have the picture. But that doesn’t mean he remembers me.

I once read that most people won’t remember who won the Oscars two years ago, but will remember the teacher who encouraged them. That is true, but even if neither Stevie Wonder nor Prince Charles remembers me, they will remember those to whom they are just ordinary family members or friends. I believe that each person is both a superstar and an ordinary guy. The reason why you all don’t yet know me is that there are billions of people jostling for superstar status with me. So, if I treat everyone like the superstar they are, I might just discover the Olive Newby who has amazing stories to tell, or the David Prince who can make a grand piano sing in his lovely Yorkshire cottage. When Olive told me those stories, she could easily have been one of those radio 4 historians. And when I heard David play, I felt that a superstar was giving me a private concert. And they both sounded the part.

And if superstars treated ordinary people like superstars …! I’ve met a lot of other famous people too. I’ve been most impressed by those who took the time to treat me well. I’ll tell you just one more story. It was of meeting the ‘90s gospel singer Ron Kennoly. I met him once in Birmingham, and just before his concert, he took time to talk to me. The next year, I went to another of his shows in Manchester. As I approached him after the concert, he shouted across to me, “Hey, you do get around don’t you?”

It’s great to be able to say that I’ve stood next to both Stevie Wonder and David Prince, and they both played the piano beautifully for me. I don’t know Stevie Wonder that well, so I can’t speak for him. But the people who have most impressed me have been those who have been both famous and ordinary. In the mid to late 80s, I was madly in love with a young lady. She was so beautiful, she went for beauty contests in Nigeria and abroad. It was interesting seeing her again quite recently. She still had the poise, she still looked gorgeous, but she was just a regular mother. Most of the other mothers picking their children from the suburban school would not have known that 15 years ago, this lady was doing her thing on the world stage. Yet, she was perfectly comfortable with being a great mum.

I found out that my dad became the president of the Nigerian Society of Engineers from friends who read about it in the papers. Actuallly, I enjoyed his presidency. I was a student at the university of Lagos, and he had lots of reasons to be in Lagos. I became the most visited student, but I loved it. In 1991, I was a student at Lancaster university. My brother had come to spend the summer with me when we got a postcard from my dad, saying that he’d been elected as vice president of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations. We knew he was going for the meeting, but not that he was running for office. He might as well have been writing that he was on holiday and having a great time. We were both in shock, because we hadn’t seen it coming. My mum was worse; it was in her obituary that I learned that during all those trips to Harare and Washington, she’d been giving papers on women’s issues in Nigeria. All the time everyone was electing her to this or that position, we just thought she was a great mum.

There are lots more stories, but enough of the name dropping. It’s just wonderful to be able to celebrate greatness and ordinariness, because both are merely two sides of a coin. In fact, how do we measure greatness? Have we got the criteria wrong? I’m sure that William and Harry think of their dad in the same way as I think of my own dad. In 1977, Stevie Wonder told us about her daughter Aisha, and he sounded every bit the proud father … at least to my 9 year old ears. The point is that to us, they’re celebrities, while to their children, they’re great fathers. And if in some things, they can be such superstars, in others, they’re quite ordinary. And this also means that there are many people who are so ordinary, but who could be superstars.

The interesting thing is that we’re constantly judging people immediately we get in contact with them. If someone’s scruffy, they can’t be intelligent; if the’re blind, they can’t read a report, use the computer or travel from one country to another; if someone’s deaf, he can only compete in the paralympic games; (ask Terrence Parkin, South African silver medallist at the Sydney Olympic games … he’s deaf). I suppose the good thing is that we’re in good company; in the Bible, we read of Samuel, who could have anointed the wrong person as king, because he was looking at the outward appearance. If we could get past the preconceptions, we might see Wale as a superstar, recognize the wealth of knowledge that Olive had, and enjoy the great successes of the echurch or Newday-Prince websites. As they say, great oaks from little acorns grow, and both websites have grown astronomically from such small and insignificant beginnings.

Going back to Wale, he could be a superstar if he had the chance. He could be doing his act on television. Who knows, by now, he could have progressed to adding 6 figure sums and beating calculators. All the great actuarial firms and scientists would be calling on him when their powerlines were down and they needed quick sums worked out. If that ever happens, remember I told you, we were in school together, and I did try to outcalculate him. All right then, I confess that I failed on every occasion. Hey, but that’s why he’s a superstar in that area, and I’m not.

Where are all the mobile phone users on our trains?

April 18, 2007

I was returning to Lancaster from London on Monday, when I started to wonder why all the mobile phone users had disappeared. You don’t see much of them on the West Coast mainline anymore. In London, you still hear people discussing the next party on the commuter services. If you travel during working hours, you might even hear one end of a multi million pound business deal being discussed. Why not on the West Coast mainline?

There was a time when Virgin had to designate two quiet coaches, one first class and the other standard class. That way, people could sit quietly, and not hear the latest family gossip, or even when the husband would be back home, or how delays have meant that the wife can’t get home on time, and the husband would have to content himself with something from the freezer. Being an avid phone user myself, and a great listener, I just couldn’t sit in a quiet coach.

So what happened? I first noticed this when I realised I was getting more impatient every time the line went dead. Maybe we were going under a tunnel, or just in a bad reception area. I noticed, (or I felt) that interrupted calls were getting more frequent. It seemed impossible to complete a 3 minute call. Actually, I started to tell my friends that I didn’t like talking to them while I was on the train. Me! Maybe it’s these new 3G phones. Of course they have the latest technology, but we all know how latest technology succumbs to little glitches. By the way, I’ve also noticed that there are fewer interruptions in the London commuter area.

Maybe there’s more. These days, there’s probably no need for a quiet coach. Virgin should reverse the process and designate two mobile phone usable coaches. It’s so quiet, except for the occasional brief call … and me of course!

Maybe we’re finally getting tired of our mobiles. I hear that phone companies are worried that the take-up of 3G phones hasn’t been as high as expected. I’m actually a late convert to the mobile phone. In the mid 1990s, when all my friends were boasting of its qualities, I used to say it was just a fad that would soon fade away. Their phones boasted several different ringtones, (each sounding just as screechy as the next). You could even make up your own ringtones. But none of that internet or MP3 stuff at that time.

In December 2000, I finally succumbed to the huge pressures, when BT raised the cost of calls from their payphones. Long before then, I’d had this ambivalent relationship with the mobile. I remember meeting a friend at Preston station in November 1993. When it turned out that we were both going to London, he upgraded my ticket, so I could join him in first class. I enjoyed the upgrade, the waiter service, and everything else, but more than that, I used his walkman sized mobile to ring my friends in London. The real treat was to say “I’m ringing from the train, I’ll be in London at …”. About that time, I also remember reading an article advocating that American parents should buy mobile phones for their children, so they could always keep in touch. I couldn’t believe it, some people were hungry and others were thinking of such luxuries as mobile phones for their children! Hey, don’t get on your high horses yet, that was in the early 1990s.

When everyone started to buy mobiles, I wanted to be different. London caught the craze first, with those 1 to 1 promotions that gave you free evening and weekend calls to numbers in the London area. Every Nigerian had one; and the jokes started flying, about meetings that were regularly punctuated by calls. You’d hear a phone ring, then a Nigerian would pick his phone in the middle of a discussion and say “Hello, I’m sorry, I’m at a meeting of the (whatever the town is) Progressive Union”.

Lancaster was well behind in the mobile phone revolution. I remember sitting in a bus, on the way to the University. There was this embarrassed student, explaining to someone at the other end of the phone how it was an inconvenient time, because everyone could hear what he was saying. Having seen the things in London, I was going to tell him that a mobile phone was invented for such a purpose, to be used at any place.

He was probably one of a very few students with mobile phones at that time. But soon, the shops were everywhere. When I went looking on December 2 2000, I was spoiled for choice. I didn’t even know there were that many. I used to accidentally wander into one, which had just replaced one or other of my usual haunts. But I never worked out that too many shops were disappearing from the main street and being replaced by mobile phone sellers offering great deals on the latest phones.

I was also late to the text revolution. I got my very first phone with the specialist software in 2005, 3 or 4 years after it was available to other blind people. And now, nobody can stop me, as my fingers tap away. And nobody is using the phone anymore. I was the one who said it was a fad, and now, I’m bemoaning the fact that it’s no longer so well used on the trains. Oh well, what’s the next fad, give me 10 years, and I’ll catch up.

Diversity FM

April 12, 2007

Diversity FM is back online.
Their website is:

Whirlwind Theatre’s Easter Week

April 12, 2007

Last week, Whirlwind Theatre had another session with the children. This was only a short programme for the Easter, so the aim was different. We didn’t have a play to act, but more on that later.

As usual, there was no audition, anyone interested could participate. For some reason, the older children didn’t really join. The oldest were a group of about 4 10 year olds. It was still great fun though.

The plan was that I should tell them an African folk tale and the children should work on the dramatisation. Oh, and I was also supposed to sing them a Yoruba song. I chose one with only four lines. Because of my lack of Yoruba literacy, I won’t even try to write it down; if you’re Yoruba, you’ll probably recognize the song which is translated to mean
Under the orange tree
Is where we play
We’re happy
We’re well
Under the orange tree.

So, I told them a story. It was one about our famous tortoise, crafty and selfish, but always failing to achieve his major objective. This time, he’d decided to follow the birds up into the sky for a huge party. The kind birds had lent him their wings; but greedy tortoise wanted to eat all the food, so he devised this cunning strategy. He told the birds to change all their names, and when they asked him for his new name, he said he’d be called ‘all of you’. So, every time the food was served, he’d ask who the food was for, and the server would reply ‘it’s for all of you’. Well the hungry birds decided to collect their wings, so he begged them to tell his wife to put all the soft things down and he’d jump. But the animals had the last laugh; they told tortoise’s wife to put all the hard stuff down, and out of loyalty to her husband she does. When tortoise jumps from the sky, he has a rude bump, and his shell gets cracked. This is why tortoise has a rough cracked shell.

I told it better to the children, and with a few adaptations, it was ready. We wanted to have as many animals as possible, so we agreed that the waiters would be insects, that there’d be other guests like monkeys, but most important, to allow for their participation, the party would be situated up in the trees. And they children made puppets of the various animals and even scripted the plays themselves. It was a remarkable achievement.

Adults helped of course. For one thing, my simple Yoruba song proved too difficult in four days, so I sang the song at the beginning of the play and the children did a rough English translation. For another, our producer (and the husband of the duo who run the theatre) produced a remarkable looking orange tree which the children decorated. It looked beautiful.

By the end, they’d learned to make puppets and to produce stories. And they’d learned to work together. As usual, there were golden rules at the beginning of the week, among which was that each person would help others, that they’d all work together, and that they’d always be ready to try anything.

Helping one another was quite interesting. There was this lovely six year old girl who was determined that I’d participate in all activities. When we were asked to run around, I tried to move away, because I didn’t want to run into small children. But she wasn’t having any of that. She’d take my hand and lead me round the room, missing little bodies as she ran (and I walked briskly). For that, she got a green sticker, (this year’s mark of excellence).

Then, there was the 7 year old who wore hearing aids and lipread. When I’d first heard of him, I asked questions. I wanted to be sure that everyone knew what they were doing. They did. I asked to see him that morning. Not to worry, he came to find me by himself, and we became firm friends. By the first day’s debriefing, I was sure they were handling him well. Why? Because he was mentioned, and someone pointed out that he had a habit of shutting his eyes if he didn’t want to hear something. He’d been found out, and I was glad they weren’t just patronising him by leaving him alone if he didn’t want to participate. He too used to seek me out and sit next to me. Every now and again, he’d say to me “I like you”. I liked him too. I wasn’t surprised that of all the children, he was the first to know the words of the Yoruba song, and long after we’d abandoned the plan to sing it, he’d be heard singing the song at the top of his voice. Lipreading is an impressive skill, and disabled people work harder than most to get things right.

On Thursday, at 3 PM, the parents were let in. I sang the introductory song, the children joined me and we all sang in English, gathered around our decorated orange tree. Their puppets, (which were so good that the local newspapers were invited tophotograph them) came out, and the 15 minute play began. After that, we had a great time showing the parents how we did warm ups. It was a good 30 minutes.

Maybe some of them will be over for the annual three week theatre over the summer. I’ll be there of course.

Happy Easter (addendum)

April 8, 2007

Our pastor didn’t greet us with those words, “Christ is risen!” Instead, he started by reading that passage where the angel said to the two women who had come to bring spices to the grave, “why seek the living among the dead?”

Then he read that passage where Paul writes that because Jesus rose from te dead, we’re risen with him. Thank God for Easter!

In his sermon, he reminded us that the story of Jesus does not end with the cross. Similarly, it is an incomplete story if we focus solely on the resurrection. Then he repeated those famous words we often hear incatholic, Anglican and other churches, “Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again.” Thank God we’re not so modern that we forget old truths.

Happy Easter

April 8, 2007

I grew up in Nigeria. Although I’ve been a boarding school student in Lagos since just before my 6th birthday, I always went home to Ibadan for my holidays.

Those who know Ibadan may have seen All Souls’ Church in Bodija. That’s the church I attended on holidays. I loved the place, it was always full; particularly on Christmas, New Year and Easter. In fact, it was so full that they’ve now built an ultramodern enlarged auditorium. When I lived in Ibadan, there was an overflow section, which consisted of a canopy to keep people shaded and dry.

I remember that Easter was such a joyful occasion, after the gloom of Goood Friday, when we all concentrated on suffering and death. We’d trace the stations of the cross, sing mournful hymns, … listen to the vicar expound on the chapters of the Bible which dealt with the manner of Jesus’ death, etc.

But on Easter Sunday, the vicar would greet the congregation with the words “Christ is risen”, and we’d all respond with a cheerful “He is risen indeed!” Wow! I was caught up in it all, even if I didn’t truly understand what it meant. Then, one day, I believed in the Lord. I started to understand. Actually, I still had a long way to go. The first thing was that I believed, partly because some people had promised that they’d pray for me and I’d be able to see. It didn’t happen, and I began to question people and things. It was good practice for me, as I was then training to be a lawyer, and I thought the best lawyers should be able to argue. Interestingly, I didn’t exactly stop believing. But better still, God didn’t stop believing in me, and He always sent people my way who helped me.

One such person was my auntie, who gave me a copy of the New Testament on cassette. This was her present as I prepared to go to the UK for my master’s. I only had a few books of the Bible, and had already decided that they’d be too bulky for my one suitcase and strict allowance of 20 kilograms of luggage. But I had no excuse with the neatly packed cassettes.

In the one or two weeks of arrival, as I struggled to make friends, find my way and generally establish myself, I started to read those portions of the Bible I’d only had a vague acquaintance with. And I started to learn, especially that it wasn’t really about me. It’s all about God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It’s all about love, grace and victory.

Good Friday was a day of horrific suffering and a really cruel death, but that’s not the whole story. The suffering was for my sins. Easter isn’t just about the supermiraculous resurrection. It’s about Jesus’ victory over death, and about His invitation to me (and any other believer) to join in the victorious procession. It’s only when I realise that it’s all about God that I come into the picture. It’s only then that I can take up the invitation; I know that I’m first a sinner and can’t approach a perfect God, but He loved me so much that Jesus went through all that suffering to make me pure and to invite me. Wow!

These days, I don’t go to an Anglican church. My pastor would probably not greet us with those famous words … and even if he did, the church wouldn’t be so full. But now, as I understand it better, the words mean a lot more to me than they did to a 6 year old … even a 12 year old Ife.

Christ is Risen!

He is Risen indeed!