February 2007

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There is a pathos and brutality about life in Africa. In this letter we share a short vignette of a situation which struck us close to home. On the Flip Side we share our vision for a Kwong church will will endure for the generations to come and what such a vision entails for us today.

His name is Kalbat, or Christopher if you prefer - a genial chap whose adventures in Nigeria earned him the reputation as a sort of jack-of-all-trades in Chageen. Mark first made his acquaintance 12 years ago when he did some plastering on our house. Shortly after nightfall on January 21, he began a trip which was to take him from the village of Norni, near Chageen, to a the town of Mesire, some 30 miles away with a load of firewood he hoped to sell. What he could not know as the truck trundled along the track through the thick African bush was that the steps he took to climb to the top of that truck were to be his last in this life. A low hanging branch in the darkness was going to sweep him off the truck, drop him 12 feet to the ground, shatter his spinal cord, and leave him paralyzed from the chest down.

Shortly before midnight, Diane heard our names being called out. It was the Pastor Pierre, Djarma the nurse, and some of Christopher’s family members. Someone had brought him to Chageen on an ox-cart and the nurse very quickly concluded that he needed serious hospital care. As the owners of the only vehicle in the village our services were required for the evacuation. At first light, we drove over to the clinic, loaded up Christopher and his wife Pauline, and began the tedious trip to the hospital, easing slowly through the huge holes in the road lest we cause further damage to the spinal cord. When we arrived at the river, he was taken across in a dugout canoe (the ferry was broken down) and finished his journey to the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital in a rented pickup truck 18 hours after he began it on an ox cart.

Dr. James, the American surgeon, did his best to try to save the nerves. But too much damage had been done, and too much time had elapsed. There was nothing to do except begin the long journey back to Chageen and a bleak future as an invalid in a forgotten village on the back side of Africa.

 Such is the pathos and brutality of life for of a man or woman living in rural Africa. They live their lives on the edge, obliged as they are to tempt fate each day just to stay alive - whether riding on top of a 10-ton truck instead of inside it, or walking with abandon through snake infested swamps to cultivate their fields, or leaving their children to play around their cooking fires. They live on the edge, and it takes very little to push them over. And there are no second chances. 

Christopher’s story would be depressing enough in the West where a social safety net, all manner of specialized equipment, physical therapy, and just plain old civilization are there to help a man make the best of a bad situation. But for Christopher, the only specialized equipment at his disposition is an old East German stretcher once intended for WW III, and the therapy we have to offer is little more than to have his family carry his stretcher out of the dark room where he spends his days and put it under a shade tree. Whatever the shortcomings of life in general and medical care in particular in our home countries, it bears no comparison to what Africa has to offer her citizens. 


The Flip Side

The Achilles heel of the Kwong church is its almost complete disinterest in passing on the gospel to the next generation. And if we fail to change things, we will potentially see our efforts in this generation come to naught in the next.  There are in fact tribes in Chad where precisely this has already happened. 

We do not have anything like a natural affinity for children's ministry – though we greatly admire those who do. But be that as it may, we have been for the past few months feeling our way through this unfamiliar territory. The key to our effort is one of the elders in the church named Jonas who, besides possessing an immensely engaging personality and considerable respect (he is a village chief), is a story-teller par-excellence.  Give Jonas a yarn to spin, and he'll catch even a corpse's interest.

It works like this. Mark prepares a cassette, in Kwong, of a Bible story - Daniel in the Lions Den, Joseph or whatever. Jonas comes over to our house on Saturday afternoon and we listen to the cassette and talk about the story, then Jonas takes the cassette home where he internalizes the story. (You must understand that neither Jonas nor virtually any of the adults of the Kwong church know these stories - which is one reason the otherwise wonderful notion of parents teaching their kids is, for the time being, impractical in Kwongland.)

Sunday morning is show-time. Clement, one of the young chaps from the village leads the kids in some raucous (there is no other word) singing with drums and then Jonas stands up and lets rip. By this time he knows the story well and the kids are very shortly spell-bound - something amazing to see given their short attention-spans. Even so, he does occasionally miss a bit of the story, so Mark, who stands next to him through the story as a kind of dumb sidekick, pretends he doesn't quite "get" something, to which Jonas dutifully corrects the story, usually without skipping a beat.

The end result is a very, "Kwong" rendering of the story which is vastly superior in diction and idiom to anything either of us could possibly concoct. And it is a mostly dead-on true rendering of the story. Once the story is over, Mark asks the kids questions about what they heard, and frequently one or another of them will retell a huge section of the story in every detail. 

Such a performance would be a pity to waste, so we record each of them, and Diane does her digital wizardry on the recording, taking out Mark's feigned confusion and rearranging those parts of the story that may have gotten mixed up. The result is a high-quality recording which we hope will form the basis of a Kwong kids' program on the radio sometime later this year. And good as these stories are, we expect not a few adults will be listening too!

The wells have been drilled

As you may recall, we made an appeal last August for funds to drill two new wells in Chageen to replace the old hand-dug well which is drying up. That appeal was fully met and even oversubscribed - which wasn't a bad thing since the project went over budget. Many thanks to everyone who participated. There were some surprises. We thought we had hired a drilling rig but got a bunch of guys in a pickup who drilled the wells by hand with a kind of turnstile contraption. It seems to have worked, so no complaints. We have doubts that a drilling rig ever actually existed. (They said it was broke). The one well at our home turned out perfect. The other well which we drilled at the Evangelical Clinic, hit a very rich layer of water 100 feet down, but the sheer quantity of water presented the pickup-truck guys with engineering problems they were not able to handle very well. It remains to be seen how productive this well will be.

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