Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 18-05-2014

No, it’s okay, you don’t have to choose one of the above! Rather, these describe three excellent weekend events coming soon to a grassy area in southern England…

Firstly, next weekend (24th & 25th May) it’s the Big Church Day Out at Wiston House, West Sussex. It’s like a two-day non-stop open air Christian ‘rock concert’, with top names including The News Boys, Rend Collective, Third Day and Matt Redman.

Then from 20-22nd June, it’s the CVM Gathering – a blokes’ weekend in a field near Swindon. An awesome occasion with pleny of social interraction, activities, worship and teaching. You certainly don’t have to be a Christian to go, and there is beer involved, so bring your mates and a tent and come along!
CVM Gathering 2013 1

And finally, at the beautiful WEC Centre near Gerrards Cross, it’s GoFest2014 from 27-30 June. GOfest is for anyone interested in Christian missions (and, let’s face it, that should be all Christians!) More great worship, teaching and a great atmosphere. There’s also a youth and children’s programme, and in the ‘Global Village’ you can check out lots of missionary organizations and see what grabs you.

So, what are you waiting for? Book your tickets now!
Also, I’ll be at all three events (being as I’m a man, a musician and a missionary), and would love to meet you.

Here’s part of a page from the March/April edition of Idea Magazine, where my book is reviewed. (See it at the bottom of the page there?)

Book Review

See the review here (on page 31)

Meanwhile, here’s what it says:

“This is an intriguing little gem of a book. It is part travel journal, part adventure story, part musical treatise. Baker is a ethnomusicologist and the book charts his travels and experiences in Africa. We hear about various journeys and the way local Christian expressions are using local music. Baker’s insight is that we need to use the music that means something to people. Then we can add extra meaning to the cultural patterns and resonances of the existing stuff. Too often missionaries land and try to get local folk to sing American soft-rock Christian anthems – but these lack depth in a local context. Baker’s book is really good on painting pictures and showing how music and culture are intertwined. He shows how Christianity thrives when culture is involved and this is a wake-up call to evangelicals who get all sniffy about culture. What strikes you most is just how likeable and engaging Baker is. His lovely little book makes a great travel companion. This book is like sinking into a comfy armchair. It is Billy Graham meets Michael Palin. A rare treat.”

Thanks Steve Morris for the cool review!

Don’t forget, you can buy your copy here (UK) or here (USA)

Or contact me and I can send you a signed copy for the RRP (+£1.40 p&p in the UK).

Thanks for reading!

“Adventures in Music and Culture” was released on 15th December 2012 and I’m pleased to say that folk are really enjoying reading it! Below are extracts from feedback I have received so far.

Front Cover

“Excellent travelogue. Well written with infectious energy. An absorbing read with just the right level of detail…as well as some laugh out loud moments. It also has some thought provoking points on culture. Recommended!”
(Male, UK, 19th December 2012)

“The book captures very well indeed the general experiences of Western expatriates working in not just the two countries covered but the whole west African region. Laced throughout with good humour. The book lies well alongside those written by well known travellers in the region such as Gerald Durrell.”
(Male, UK, 20th December 2012)

“It was a really interesting and enjoyable read!”
(Male, USA, 1st January 2013)

“It’s a good read.”
(Male, UK, 1st January 2013)

“A brilliant book about [Rob’s] experiences in Benin & Togo. If you have an interest in music, travel, mission or African culture then I’d suggest you add this to your reading list. It’s a really fun and interesting read.”
(Female, Scotland, 6th January 2013)

“I’m really enjoying the book. It’s bringing back a few interesting memories of Africa.”
(Female, Australia, 6th January 2013)

“Very easy to read and I’d highly recommend it, especially if you have an interest in Africa, travel, music in different cultures and/or how God uses music to help people’s faith to grow.”
(Male, UK, 7th January 2013)
If you’re in the USA, order your copies here or here.

In the UK, order your copies here or here.

For other countries, try ordering from the above links, or contact me directly and I can post you a copy. Meanwhile, please share this blog post with friends who might be interested in reading the book. Thanks!

Filed Under (General, Song of the Week) by Rob on 16-11-2012

…and sorry for the long delay. This was partly due to a bug in WordPress, which wasn’t allowing me to upload the audio correctly. I’m glad to say this is now rectified and I have at least three more songs to share with you before the end of 2012!

So, here’s “We fix our eyes on invisible things”, which sounds like a contradiction in terms, but that’s what faith is all about. I just love the harmonies in the chorus!

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

We fix our eyes on invisible things
Looking to God for the strength that He brings
We walk by faith and not by sight
Touched by his power, and bathed in his light

We live in a world
of many distractions
Always filling our minds,
Bb___________Asus4 A
Controlling our actions

We shall walk by faith
and walk not by sight
Always trusting our God
To know what is right

He works in all things
As He promised he would
Not to cause us harm,
but all for our good

We live every day
in the hand if our Lord
He deserves to be praised
Worshipped and adored

…so make sure you ask Santa for a copy!

Yes, I’m thrilled and excited to be able to share my African travels with you all, and to open people’s hearts and minds to the fascinating world of ethnomusicology. It will be available on the Ambassador International website soon, in paper and electronic form. Meanwhile, here’s an extract from the introduction to whet your appetites:


At last – I have an interesting job! One to which people respond: “Oh, how fascinating,” or: “Tell me more about what you do!” Although there’s not much money in it, it’s a job which is exciting, enriching, pioneering and intriguing. At times it can be frustrating, exhausting – even dangerous, but is never boring, tedious or repetitive, like some jobs I’ve had.

I used to have a job which I enjoyed, but which nobody else found particularly exciting. I would almost dread the inevitable party question: “What do you do for a living?”
“I’m a French teacher,” I would reply, shamefully.
“Oh, right. Where do you teach?”
And that was one of the more interesting responses. The bravest (or most foolhardy) would reply: “Ah oui! Un kilo de tomates, s’il vous plaît!” Others would merely reel out a string of random French words, presumably in an attempt to impress me: “Ooh là là! Gerard Depardieu, Arc de Triomphe, Joe le Taxi, tarte aux pommes…” However, by far the most common response inflicted upon me on such occasions was the likes of: “I was rubbish at French in school,” or “I had a terrible French teacher who wore corduroy, smelt of garlic, and gave me a ‘D’ grade even when I did my best.” How can the conversation spontaneously evolve following such a statement? And so my job was the definitive conversation stopper; I may as well have said I watched paint dry for a living (which would, in fact, probably have sparked off more interest).

So, this is why I’m delighted to have a job which is not only interesting to me, but for which other people show a genuine interest. It’s a job they can scarcely pronounce, let alone define or describe: I am an ethnomusicologist. “What does one of those do?” you’re asking yourself. See, you’re doing it too already!

Without going into too much boring detail, there are two main types of ethnomusicologist. The first is the secular type, who studies world music for the same reason Sir Edmond Hilary climbed Everest: because it’s there. Of course, this kind provides much vital information about music in culture and many useful anthropological insights along the way. The second type is the missionary ethnomusicologist or ethnodoxologist, who does the same kind of research as the first, but then applies this to Christian mission. “So, I’ve found this fact out about their music, how can I use it to help encourage local Christians and their churches?” The results – as I hope you’ll see – are often stunning, as people begin using their music, rather than something pertaining to a foreign culture.

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 28-08-2012

Recently I posted this article, listing dos and don’ts for churches welcoming missionaries back from the field. I’m now going to do the opposite: a set of tips for the returning missionaries themselves. Having been through the transition back to the home culture several times, much of what I write below is based upon personal experience.

(NB Most of these are applicable to any returning ex-patriate).

Here we go…

1. Expect to feel like an alien for the first few weeks back home. Feeling disorientated, lethargic, confused, detached exhausted and frustrated is quite the norm at this time. The only completely effective cure is time: the longer you are back, the easier it will get, but expecting the negative feelings – and preparing for them as best you can – will help ease the way.

2. You are likely to be shocked by the ignorance of many folk regarding the country you’ve been working in, the work you’ve been doing or even how mission organizations work. Expect this (you’ll be pleasantly surprised if it doesn’t happen) and try to be patient and realize that everyone has busy lives here and that most have not been absorbed by your comings and goings as much as you might like to think. In fact, most people will probably stop asking you about where you’ve been after a week or so. I’m really not sure why this is the case – maybe it’s a desire to see you ‘fit back in’ and become like everyone else again. This is not what you want, and you know it will never completely happen!

3. Driving, even if it is technically easier, will be harder to start with as you relearn a whole new set of road rules. Also, if you drive on the opposite side of the road, don’t expect to readapt instantly. For the first week home, I like to always have a passenger on board, who says “LEFT!” at every junction (and particularly at roundabouts). Once, I actually drove 50 yards on the right before realizing! You will probably also get into the wrong side of the car, maybe for months after returning!

4. Plan your ‘escape’ soon after your arrival. The initial days back home are both exciting and stressful at the same time. You’re pleased to see friends and family again, but the constant attention is likely to wear you out. You will also be asked the same questions by almost everyone – here are the usuals:
• How was the journey?
• Are you pleased to be back?
• What are you going to be doing next?
• Did you live in a mudhut?

So, we always try to book a couple of weeks away within 10 days of returning – this gives us long enough to meet and greet first, knowing we then have time to properly relax and reacquaint ourselves with the home culture in an anonymous context, where we are not the centre of attention.

5. There will be some conversations you will struggle to follow, even though they are in your mother tongue. Again, this is due to cultural references and ways of speaking to which you are unaccustomed. With time, you will tune back into these.

6. If you are returning long term, there are likely to be hidden set-up costs. Our oven needed a costly repair, our dishwasher was no longer working and our garden fence needed replacing. We had no DVD player, no microwave and all the spices in our spice rack had gone off! Even the very act of filling your larder/freezer will cost you a lot. Prepare for this extra cost if you can.

7. People will openly express their shock at something you don’t know about the home culture, even though they know you’ve been away for years. This is another strange one – I can only assume it’s part of the culture! Things like: “Do you mean to say you don’t know what a tom-tom is?!” “What do you mean, you haven’t heard of!” or “How can you not know what league Chelsea are in?!” All you can do is reiterate that you’ve been out of the country or (better still) make a joke of it “I know – I’m so out of touch, eh?”

8. Beware of weight gain: you are likely to put on several pounds in your first weeks back home, unless you are very careful. This is partly due to being fed by supporters and partly due to the vast range of processed and/or fattening foods available compared with the country you’ve been working in. Also (if you’re like me) some people eat more when under stress, and transitioning back into the home culture is very stressful indeed!

9. Some things you say – which seem perfectly normal to you – may shock or even offend others. This is purely due to the differing set of cultural norms you have been used to. Example: saying “You’re old” to an old person – this would be a respectful thing to point out in much of Africa; in the West it can be taken almost as an insult!

10. You’re likely to be shocked by: (i) materialistic attitudes and practices (“Come and look at my new kitchen – it cost £12,000”), (ii) moral standards and norms (ie how young women dress, advertisements, television programmes, bad language) and (iii) the cold response of non-Christians when you say you are a missionary. The cost of just about everything is likely to shock you, too.

11. If someone says “Isn’t it hot?” it’s best just to agree with their assessment of the weather, even if it’s ‘barely warm enough’ to you. This is certainly true in Britain where, culturally, you almost never disagree with these semi-rhetorical weather questions!

12. Be proactive in making church visits happen; merely putting a note in your prayer letter saying you’re available to take services is unlikely to jam your inbox overnight! Sending personal e-mails, making phone calls or (best of all) face-to-face contact are all more likely to yield results.

13. Try and do something to help you sleep well at night – insomnia or disturbed sleep are terribly common during those first weeks. Why not plan a half hour evening walk in the country, or listen to music which will relax you? You could even try herbal teas, or other natural products known to calm and aid sleep. Oh, and no computer work for a couple of hours before hitting the hay!

14. Some friends who have barely kept in touch whilst you were away will welcome you back warmly and you will pick up from where you left off, in spite of the lack of contact. Other people who you were good friends with before going overseas, you may no longer “click” with – you have changed, they have changed, your histories are now different and your values may overlap less. Don’t be surprised when this happens.

15. And finally, remember that you will generally feel more at ease with other people who have lived overseas, probably for the rest of your life.

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 06-08-2012

Coming back to the “home culture” is stressful for any missionary, and re-adaptation can take months – even years.

In her book Burn up of Splash Down, Marion Knell states that ‘more than sixty percent of former missionaries returning home find the experience negative – even devastating.’

So, to help put your missionaries into the other 40%, here are my top tips:

DO: Get up to date with their news first! If you have time, re-read their last couple of prayer letters so you know what to ask. There’s nothing worse than an opening conversation like this:
“So, how was Benin?”
“Fine, but I’ve been in Mali for the past three years.”

DON’T: Bombard them with dozens of questions too soon. Coping with readapting to the home culture is very disorientating for them, and having the ‘Spanish Inquisition’ every time they meet someone is exhausting. All they really need is a hug and the assurance that they are loved and welcomed, maybe followed by a couple of well-directed questions.

DO: Invite them into your homes, even if it’s just for a cup of tea. It’s common for folk back home to think: “They need time to settle in, so we’ll leave them be.” The first part of the statement is – of course – very true. However, what folk don’t realize is that being welcomed into other people’s homes is all part of that settling in process, as it allows the missionaries to reacquaint themselves with the home culture and to feel loved and wanted.

After eight weeks back home, one missionary was asked: “So, have you finished your epic tour of dinners with supporters yet?” Embarrassed, he replied that during this time he’d only been invited to two people’s houses!

DON’T: Expect them to do too much too soon. Besides perhaps a short introduction and welcome back at their first Sunday service home, it’s best not to even ask them to be directly involved in any church ‘work’ for their first two to three months home. If asked, they may feel obliged to participate, and may even like the idea of doing so. However, this is probably not the best thing for them during these initial weeks of intense transition and adaptation.

DO: Offer them a debriefing and/or counselling. If their mission organization is worth its salt, they’ll have already had this shortly after returning. But extra times with a caring local pastor or deacon could also be helpful. Even if they have left the field under ‘normal’ circumstances, it is still quite traumatic to return to what is now a foreign country to them.

DON’T: Focus on the future. They’re still dealing with the past, and coming to terms with all they’ve left behind overseas. This includes their home, their workplace, many wonderful friends/colleagues and – in many ways – their very identity. Until they have come to terms with grieving all of the above, they will not feel like talking about future plans in any detail. It’s a very Western trait to want to ask people this, but it is unlikely to be helpful for your missionaries. For more information on the transition process, follow this link.

DO: Ask one or two open questions which allow them to share some of what they’ve experienced with you. For example: “What is the hardest thing to get used to back here?” or “What do you miss most about Africa?”

DON’T: Use “You must be/it must be…” phrases. It’s a very British (Western?) trait, but they’re just not helpful to most people returning home. The likes of: “You must be glad to be back” (Actually, I’m not. Not yet, at least), or “You must be cold” (Correct! I just came from India. What do I say next?!) Then there’s: “It must be really strange for you, coming back after all this time.” (better, but still rather stating the obvious, and all I can do is nod mournfully in response).

DO: Show a genuine interest in what they’ve been doing oversees. Asking them to bring some photos along or to recount interesting anecdotes (they’re bound to have loads of these) will not only help them to reconcile their two worlds, but will also mean that you learn something new and understand missionary life more clearly. Saint Augustine said: “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” So, think of them as a living encyclopaedia of anthropology!

DON’T: Say, “You haven’t changed a bit!” Again, terribly common, but to many of us, that’s like saying: “The past 10 years have had no effect on your character or spiritual depth”. Living overseas changes anyone, and usually for the better! In fact, this great website states that ‘When you’ve had a mission, you can never go back to a mere job’. I agree!

DO: Pray for them and with them. Missionaries like praying and tend to do a lot of it (as do many Christians, of course!)

DON’T: Make negative comments about their dress sense, however out of fashion or outlandish it may seem; they’ve just spend several years in a culture that not only dresses very differently, but which – in all probability – puts much less importance on fashion and outer appearance than most Westerners do. Sure, your missionaries may not ‘blend in’ like everyone else, but they are probably most comfortable dressed like this. With time, they will readapt (to some extent at least), but being singled out for “dressing weird” is unlikely to help them readapt!

DO: Keep on asking questions, even weeks after they’re back. Their overseas experiences are now part of who they are; they really don’t want to have to deny this and merely slot back into the home culture unchanged.

There you go!

For more great (and even better!) tips, please take time to read – and act upon, the sound and thorough advice in this article: Welcoming Returning Missionaries.
Also, have a look at this reading list with loads of great books on the subject.

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 28-12-2011

Filed Under (General, Things to do in Bamako) by Rob on 26-11-2011

Have a couple of days break chilling out at the Hotel Woloni in Selingué:

It’s less than two hours’ drive from Bamako in a quiet location by the lake. You can play pétanque, go for a stroll, have a swim in the lake or take a boat trip (usually). And if you don’t want to swim in the lake itself, there’s always the nice L-shaped swimming pool on site too:

The hotel’s restaurant serves good food, but it a tad pricey. It is on stilts at the edge of the lake. Well, I say in the lake but it does rather depend on what time of the year you go there. It’s only really from October to December that you’re likely to find the water up that high; other times and the lake is still there, just a few metres walk away! Here it is:

Now, because the restaurant is a little pricey, we tend to take our own food (to which nobody seems to object) and/or eat at the Senegalese Restaurant just the other side of the dam (which does tasty meals from around 1500cfa). You could also try the Campement Yaala over the dam, which also has decent enough accomodation (but is further from the lake and a bit more basic).

The rooms themselves – like so many other tourist resorts in Africa – are made to resemble round huts with straw roofs. Nice and big though, with ensuite loo and shower! There is also air-con if you need it. They have one double bed in, but you can pay a little extra for them to add an extra single. We then take along two camp beds for the rest of our kids and there’s enough space to fit them all into the one hut! Have a butcher’s:

Here’s an arial view of the Hotel Woloni – you can see the restaurant by the lake near the bottom of the picture and the pool near the top:

View Larger Map

And here’s a wider view showing the Selingue dam (the hotel is in the bottom left corner):

View Larger Map

Finally, click here for another anglophone report on the place (short but sweet) and then here and here for a couple of opinions in French.

Now, go and enjoy a relaxing sunset like this one!