February 2016

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News Update from Mark and Diane Vanderkooi

February 3, 2017

Dear family, friends, and supporters;

After our short visit to the USA over the holidays, we have resumed our ministries here in Chageen among the Kwong. In this edition of our news update, we offer a brief update of our work, and then reproduce an essay which those of you who receive our paper newsletter have seen already, but which will be new to our electronic audience.  We hope both the news and the essay will help you better understand our life and work here in Chad and pray accordingly.

Your fellow servants,   Mark and Diane

Crossing off one more item on our to-do list

It is fair to say that during this season of getting the Kwong Bible school operational, we are juggling quite a few more obligations than is either comfortable or good for us. That’s just the way the chips fall and you can all tell your own stories in that regard. However, a few days ago, the load got quite a bit lighter when Mark and his tradesmen finished the roof of the Bible school. There is quite a bit of interior finishing to yet do, but none of the remaining tasks have quite the same “ominosity”  that the roof carried on Mark’s to-do list. The task was difficult. It was 106 degrees for most of the week that Mark and his tradesmen were on the roof, and the galvanized coating on the corrugated iron was like a mirror reflecting the sun straight into their eyes. (We intended to finish the roof before hot season, but hot season showed up a month early. So much for strategic planning.) However, the finished product is very satisfying, and some measure of the admiration of local population can be gauged by the fact that the blind guy from the next village down the pike (see side bar below) was exclaiming about it merely on the merits of what he had heard from other people.

Essay – Missing the Poor

In much the same way as a new missionary can’t help but reflect on what he or she misses most about his or her own country, the veteran missionary begins, as the years go on, to reflect on what it is about his or her adopted home that he or she will miss most should ever the day come when he is obliged to leave it. Some of those things are quaint – the rich flavor of a bush chicken, the cooing of the doves in the palm tree, the thrill of a tropical thunderstorm, or the fragrance of a frangipani flower. Others, such as dear friends or co-workers or an adoptive daughter are only what you would expect any well-adjusted human who lived in a locale for decades to miss. But there are other things for which the anticipated loss is not quite so obvious, and might even seem counter-intuitive. One such thing for us is life among the poor.

When that day comes (and we hope it will not be soon), we will miss the opportunity afforded to us here to “be there” for people who are at their wits end and have nowhere else to turn.  Now we must hasten to add that while to the uninitiated observer (which would be just about everybody who reads this missive) everyone in Chageen is poor – after all, they live on 2 or 3 dollars a day – this is not whom we refer to as the poor. No, most of the Kwong are “middle class” in the wider scheme of the rural African economy. But there are among them those who are genuinely destitute. They and their families go days at a time with little to eat, and thus weakened, they succumb to dysentery and chronic malaria rendering the hard labor of growing crops increasingly difficult. And so a vicious cycle sets in which perpetuates their destitution. Their children suffer most – and die most – their parents having nothing with which to buy the 2 or 3 dollars’ worth of medicine they need. They exhaust the good-will of their neighbors and friends and they have nowhere to turn, and no one to help. Sometimes their misfortune has its origins in a bitter Providence, and sometimes – all too often – in their own foolishness. But that is a moot point when a child’s lungs are filling with the fluid of malaria induced pneumonia and her eyes are wild with the terror of being unable to breath.

It is these people whom we will miss living among. Not, we again hasten to add, because helping these folk affords us a kind of catharsis for a rich man’s guilt complex, nor because we need to make up for some kind of personal insecurity by being the heroes that save the day, nor because we find the simple gospel of Jesus and the cross an embarrassing anachronism in the 21st century, nor still because “the poor” is a currently fashionable missionary buzz word that millennials apparently swoon over, but rather because we have discovered quite by accident that there is simply no blessing quite like being a blessing.

Should ever the day come when we must return to the USA, we despair of ever enjoying this blessing. It is not of course that such people don’t exist there, but rather that American society being sliced and diced the way it is (think suburbs and inner city), renders it unlikely that a WASP couple like ourselves would find ourselves in such close contact with a community like Chageen. And no less significant is the reality we enjoy here of an intimate knowledge of who’s who in the community such that it is usually quite clear whom we should help and how, and when. We doubt we will ever be the beneficiaries of such insight in the USA, and without it, would be doomed  to being gullible fools rather than a blessing to anybody.

But for this season of life and in this place, we have this blessing, and it is hard to overstate just what a blessing it is. One could almost say that we humans were made to bless, and when suburban geography and social barriers deprive us of that opportunity, we somehow become incomplete as people.


The finished product. The building has two large classrooms – one for the pastors and one for their wives, two offices, and a central lobby. The 360 degree clerestory windows allow maximum airflow and light, while the wide eves should keep all but the most violent rain storms from blowing in.


Mark built his own sheet-metal bending brake to fabricate the ridge-caps.


Demander André is blind, and he and his family frequently go hungry as a result. He is also a talented harpist whose music is a regular feature on our radio station. We do our best to help him and his family, but his case is one where a culture of dependency is becoming more and more of an issue. In years past, he actually did some pretty serious farming even with his handicap. We don’t want him to lose that.

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