October 2007

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Where is a new generation of missionaries? We can't help but wonder. They say that Gen-X and Y want to "do something with their life". In this letter Mark and Diane observe that a life-time of missionary service has been (at least for them) one of the most honorable, fulfilling, history-making callings there is, even if it does come with a price. On the Flip Side, we tell of the revival of the Chageen clinic ... and one of the horrifying hazards of living in Chageen. 

No news is not always good news. We should be hearing of the impending arrival of the first long-term missionaries born in the 80’s. But so far, except for some folks born to missionary parents, silence. And it is the same story for the 70’s. We can’t help but wonder at the silence – and what the future holds for the missionary endeavor in Africa.

To be sure, being a missionary in Africa has some strikes against it. None of us would deny it is a stressful place to live – the “decompression” we feel when we arrive back in the States or Canada or Europe is almost palpable. “I didn’t realize how wound up I was” is the common refrain a week after getting home.  Living with little or no medical care on a continent renowned for its deadly diseases – malaria, topping the list, followed closely by dysentery, tuberculosis, and deadly snake bites – does that to you. Even an old-fashioned x-ray is hard to come by in the capital. Forget about CAT scans and MRI’s.

Driving long distances along rutted tracks hundreds of miles from anything like a two-bit mechanic, much less an AutoZone franchise also does that to you. One is always conscious in Africa that internal combustion engines are indeed a form of black magic over which we mortals have no power, still less the wherewithal to fix. And then there are governments. We grew up under the illusion that the government was there to help you live securely a well-ordered society. Maybe somewhere else in the world. But aided and abetted by the legacy of French colonial bureaucracy, African governments contrive to give missionaries headaches equal to any bout of malaria. So, to be honest, we can excuse those kids born in the 80’s for not being exactly eager to come here.

Who can gainsay the awesome privilege of standing at such a great watershed in the history of a tribe?

But having said all that, in what other occupation might a man and woman raised in the Midwest of America become the locus of the real, best hope a tribe of 15,000 men, women and children has seen for centuries? When Diane spends half a day with adolescent girls, building into them the self esteem and character which will keep them from wasting themselves as some man’s second wife or worse, she is not just saving a few girls from heartache – she is almost single-handedly challenging centuries of diabolic, twisted thinking which has made these girls ashamed of everything they should be proud of (like being smart), and proud of everything they should be ashamed of (like losing their virginity at 14). She is telling them things that neither the church, nor their mothers, and certainly not society are telling them. God willing, Diane is changing the course of feminine history among the Kwong. We will not likely be alive to see the full bloom of her efforts, which will come in another generation, but who can gainsay the awesome privilege of standing at such a great watershed in the history of a tribe? It hardly bears mentioning that such an honor – and it is an honor - is purchased at the price of living with these girls’ parents, becoming part of their community, and learning their language over many years.

Likewise, when Mark spends the better part of his adult life searching for just the right vocabulary and metaphors with which to convey the gospel to the Kwong in the most coherent, compelling way possible, he is in a very real sense defining that benchmark of Kwong Protestant spirituality against which all future expressions of it will be measured, for better or for worse. And when our small FM station broadcasts this material across the length and breadth of Kwongland, the entire tribe is made to reckon with a Christian vision of life and the universe – a vision of beauty, poignancy, and yes, horror – such that nothing in their traditions nor in Islam is even remotely comparable. God only knows what the accepted teaching and temperament of the Kwong church will be 50 years from now, but as things stand today (and a malignancy or cantankerous Kwong pastor can change them at any time), Mark has more to say about it than perhaps any other person, Kwong or otherwise, on the planet. It is a weighty thing to hold history, even that of an apparently insignificant tribe, in one’s hand – and an indescribable honor. Why young men and women in America are not attracted to such an honorable, history-making calling in Africa for the sake of Christ – and why they are not willing to pay the price that comes with it – is more than we can tell.


The Flip Side

Averting a Medical Catastrophe in Chageen

We are pleased to announce that the medical catastrophe, which seemed to be the all-but-certain result following the  closure of the clinic here in Chageen, has been averted in the most unexpected of ways. You will recall from our last newsletter that the church medical bureaucracy which supervises this clinic pulled the plug on it, citing its apparent lack of economic viability (a view we did not share). Almost immediately thousands of Kwong eyes were fixed on us, awaiting the wave of our magic wand which would surely make the problem go away. We were, as you can imagine, in a very uncomfortable position as we envisaged the sick people who would soon be turning up on our doorstep at all hours.

To help us find new staff – whose salaries we were ready to guarantee with our own money if need be – we enlisted a short, irrepressible, and somewhat rotund chap by the name of Lambert.  A native of Chageen, and brother to our chief, Lambert was in the process of retiring from many years of service as a nurse with World Vision.  To make a long story short, after several false starts at helping us find a new nurse, Lambert decided that lacking anything better to do with himself in retirement, he might as well exercise his medical gifts in Chageen.  We were overjoyed to have snagged not just a qualified nurse, but one with a personal interest in Chageen, and one who, having worked with World Vision for so many years, has no patience for the foolishness that frequently characterizes these enterprises in Africa.  The only shortcoming in the arrangement is that so far, Lambert is still living at his home in Lai, 45 miles away, and commuting to Chageen on a motorcycle once a week – a situation which Lambert anticipates rectifying in the coming months.

Now, after 4 months of operation – and a thorough overhaul of the management of the facility – we have proven the clinic’s viability, and have moreover proven that if need be, we can get along without the bureaucracy.

Lost and found – dead

It happens several times each year in Chageen – a man or woman ventures into the vast reaches of “bush”, forest, and prairie that surround the village for 20 miles on either side, gets disoriented, loses their way, and eventually dies of thirst, curled up under a small tree. Sometimes, the body is found after a few days – such was the case of the elderly, mostly blind gentleman whose wake is happening as we prepare this newsletter. He had gone out to his peanut field when a wind-storm made him lose his bearings.  Four days later they found him.  In other cases, such as that of the mentally handicapped daughter of our dear friend Jonas, whose name was Anne, the bleached bones are not found until many months later after the range fires have burned off the tall grass.  In her case, she had gone out with her sister to collect firewood, and was separated from her.  Scores of men searched for her for days. 

Most often, it is the weak or old who suffer such a terrible fate. But not always.  One of our strong, middle-aged, bush-wise neighbors tells the story of getting disoriented while riding his horse.  One would normally suppose that being lost, you would only have to follow the sun due-east or west, and eventually you would intersect with the main dirt road that runs from north to south through the whole region.  This is in fact exactly what our neighbor did – three times no less – and each time he crossed the road he somehow failed to realize that having found that road, he was no longer lost, and so kept right on going on the other side of the road.  Finally he ran into someone who led him home.  If he had not been on the horse (who apparently was none too bright either), his bones, too, would have been found under a tree.


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