Dick Shaw, Praise Chairman of the Board, and I just returned from a two-week ministry trip in Africa. We traveled from Conakry, Guinea to Bamako, Mali to experience the culture, to see how people live in these two countries, and most importantly, to meet as many evangelical pastors as possible and to support and encourage them. We can heartily say that we accomplished those goals.
We were profoundly touched by the great difficulties faced by these folks, as they live and work a world of extreme poverty. They seemed so humble, calmly accepting their way of life, experiencing without complaint the pains and hardships of day-to-day life. From our American perspective, spoiled by relatively extravagant comfort, even though we spent only a few days immersed in this culture, our temperament and coping skills were put to the test to the max! I’m terrible at timed-test. I’m not sure if I did well on this test. But I learned so much! God taught me so much!
These dear people live like this every single day! We went to Guinea and Mali in order to understand what pastors in Africa are up against, to verify that Praise International is indeed helping, and to inquire as to how we can do a better job. Wow! Do we ever understand things better now!
One of the very interesting things we learned about is the great significance that they attach to the kola nut. Yes, the kola nut. The kola tree is native to Guinea and a couple other countries in West Africa that have tropical rain forests. This caffeine-containing seed is used for drinks and for cooking. Yes, the original recipe for Coca-cola contained extracts from the Kola nut. It is also used as medicine. The chewing the nut (or ingesting it in some form or another) is known to improve a person’s digestive system, to increase the heart rate and to stimulate the blood circulation.
However, the kola nut has a much deeper significance. It is actually called, the nut of life. This nut is much more than a nut. In Guinea, the most life-changing events include a cultural, spiritual and ceremonial use of the nut of life. A man gives of a certain amount of kola nuts to the parents of the girl he wants to marry, somewhat like a dowry. At the birth of their baby, there is some sort of ceremony, which involves, I believe, the baby’s umbilical cord being wrapped permanently around a cola nut. The nut is also used at the christening of the child. It is used at the ceremonial signing of certain important documents. It is also used to honor an important person or to reward someone for accomplishments. There is also a kola nut ritual at the funeral.
Several times as Dick Shaw and I traveled to visit pastors, driving for miles on muddy, bumpy roads surrounded on both sides by thick jungle, we entered a tiny village full of round thatch-roofed huts and were invited into the dwelling where the pastor and his large family live. The small room is crowded with people such as church leaders, village councilmen, and maybe a village chief. We sit in a circle on hand-made wooden benches. Then there is a beautiful traditional welcome ceremony. One person in the circle has a small container with some kola nuts in it. This is past from person to person, each person taking his turn at expressing well-chosen words of welcome to us, their honored guests. When the cup of kola nuts was handed to us, we had the opportunity to thank them for their beautiful and meaningful welcome. And of course, this was one of our opportunities to honor the pastor and his family for the sacrificial work they are doing for the Lord.
For a couple of interesting reads, I suggest two articles.