While standing about a kilometer form the ocean in Dakar Senegal I stretch out the collar of my tee shirt and taking a deep breath I feel the winds have finally shifted and the cool breezes are beginning to blow in from the ocean. I look around for the team from North America I will work with and all but a few have assembled near the old truck we’ll take to a village located nearly four hours into the bush of interior Senegal. Welcome to Islamic West Africa.
Rounding everyone up and getting supplies of water and gifts onto the truck our first order of the day is to commit our time to God. Visiting this Islamic village with a small but growing church of thirty people, will be long and tiring day. “All right, let’s push!” This is how we get the truck started catching it in gear as the diesel engine lets out a burst of choking smoke we run and jump into the truck, sit down and settle in for the long ride.
Two and one half hours later we pull up to Bartimee Hospital that our partnership has helped build. This is the only Christian hospital in this Islamic country and the only medical hope of tens of thousands they treat annually. As I enter the waiting area I hear the Jesus Film playing on a TV but I have to quickly take a deep breath and settle my stomach as the sights and smells of sickness penetrate my senses. I see sick people everywhere with things like dysentery, malaria, a preteen boy moaning at the end of a wooden bench… his upper chest hurts – pneumonia… you don’t take life for granted here. Every day it is a blessing just to wake up relatively healthy. Here you fight ordinary sicknesses that have been eradicated in many countries but left unchecked here, they’ll kill you. You see simple infections that grow into grossly disturbing conditions, and just having a baby may cause you to die; it’s all sobering and very sad.
I’m here to measure the construction progress made on the additional two floors of the now four story hospital. A donor sent a couple hundred thousand to complete it and I’m going to inspect the progress. It is looking good as we are down to the punch list of small items to complete. Now we just need to outfit the two new floors with beds and equipment. I make a mental note that when fully outfitted we’ll see 107 beds, two operating rooms, a radiation room, x-ray machines, and many other pieces of equipment, all things I take for granted back home. Before we leave a prayer of thanks is given to God for the progress.
“Load up”! With another push start we get the dilapidated white behemoth truck moving again. I wonder will this thing even make it another mile but this is truck is in good shape. I just chuckle to myself as I sit in my seat looking through the floor as the ground goes by. Further in the bush we go. Taking a turn off the road we head off across the sand. Passing the scrub grasses and the occasional person we travel eight kilometers into wasteland. Splashing through a water hole we head closer to our location. Suddenly we enter another water hole and the truck jolts to a stop. A sick feeling comes over me as I realize this is not a good sign. You feel the tires spin but no movement. You hear the driver let out a few words that you don’t recognize and then you see him slump in his seat. You know what is happening. “We are stuck!”
“Everyone out!” Exiting through the water my two colleagues and I size up the situation. A two ton ancient white behemoth of a truck with thirteen passengers is stuck about ten kilometers from the nearest road in 120 degree heat, no tow truck and no shovel. We did have a four door two wheel drive truck following us with three other colleagues, maybe, just maybe! So we tie up the ropes and as we gathered to push this truck out of the mud several young boys from a nearby village come to help. We place out hands against the truck, bow our head to push, and then it happened…
I noticed many of the boy’s feet had no flip flops on them. I took a long good look at their feet as they sank into mud. I had boots on, they had none. Now feet are not normally beautiful but theirs was. They were feet of gratefulness, dirty, malformed here and there, cut up, calloused, gnarled but beautiful. After several failed attempts to push the monster we decide to load up the team in the pickup truck send them to visit the village located another four kilometers away while my two colleagues and I think.
As we sat under a baobab tree for a time then decided to build a dike dividing the water and mud hole in two parts. We’ll bail the water from one part where the truck is stuck in to the other. Once completed, we begin the task of digging. Now if you can picture four men, three of us and the driver on our knees and bellies pulling mud with our hands and arms out from under the breadbox type of truck’s wheels and frame in 120 degree heat while the group of young boys from the nearby village scratched their heads and watch us. Every once in a while I would stop, catch my breath, look, smile, and wonder what they were thinking. Have they ever seen anything like this before? Maybe they were wondering what planet we were from? What would make us think about bringing a truck like this, with semi-bald tires, a bunch of “tubobs” (foreigners), driven by a Senegalese city driver out into the bush 10 kilometers from the nearest road?
What they may not know is that we were bringing Jesus to the village along with fresh water, a new church building, and of course hope.
After three to four hours of digging, pushing and pulling we got the truck out. This magnanimous feat was nothing compared to the village chief who said to the team, “Whatever you need to help bring life and Jesus to our people just ask. I will make it happen for you. Each of you has a home here and our people want your Jesus” he said. The Senegalese church planter who is working in the village said, “This is amazing and unbelievable. They are so responsive.”
My mind again rocketed back to the scripture in Romans 10: 14-15; “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"
It’s all about feet; my feet are your feet… and from my perspective, your feet are beautiful.
By March of 2010 this village of nearly 1800 will have a fresh water supply, an almost completed church building, weekly visits from a gifted Senegalese church planter and of course new life.
This is your investment. This is your joy,
Monday, November 9, 2009
Caught in Cuba!
The police flashed their lights and waved us over to the side of the road. My colleague and I along with two Cuban brothers tucked our heads down as we sat in the back of the stake body truck trying not to look to conspicuous. Since the night was clear and cold we pulled our jackets up around our faces providing additional cover. For a foreigner it is illegal to ride in an “unofficial” vehicle and as we return from a training center on the western part of the island we were hoping to get back to Havana undetected.
As the two policemen approached the truck on began to question the driver demanding to see his paperwork while the other mounted the side of the vehicle. Flashing the light across the four of us he began to shout out questions. Quickly the two Cubans began piped up and began to provide answers. My colleague and I leaned against each other trying to appear as if we were sleeping. I kept my eyes closed and prayed.
From December 6th to the 12th I will once again enter Cuba with a new colleague who will be helping me develop this partnership between thirteen North American churches and other groups and a small Cuban organization whose goal is to develop sixty new churches over the next four years. One new project I will be working on is to establish a missionary training program led by a Cuban who has personally planted 27 churches. These men of God are not content with just reaching their own people, they are praying about being sent out one day to other places in Latin America and beyond. They dream about sending missionaries to Africa and Central Asia. December we will start that process in faith by training potential leaders for this vision.
From Cuba I will be collecting data for potential partnerships in Columbia, Uruguay, Peru, and Chile. Continue to pray for these travels.
The policeman’s flashlight seemed to be trained on my face. I could see the light through my closed eyes. He kept yelling out questions and I kept still. Suddenly he jumped down from the side of the truck and as he returned to his car we started off again for Havana, a close call. If we were caught we could have been jailed, turned over to the US Immigration Authorities and prosecuted in the US. (Normally we apply for a special visa for this type of travel but this was just supposed to be a quick trip in to deliver training materials and some money). God spared us and we learned a valuable lesson.
Sometimes we take risks. We calculate the costs and trust God. So I thank you for praying for us. Also would you pray for this young movement of church leaders? They desire is to not only train more leaders to start churches in Cuba but to start the process of sending people from Cuba to other places around the earth. Cuba has good relationships with former Soviet countries like Angola, Kazakhstan and even places like Iran. Their dreams are big and their faith challenges me to keep connecting resources to them.
This is your investment. This is your joy.
PS: Right now I am in Senegal developing several partnerships for North American churches, businesses and individuals to consider getting involved in. Go to my blog for October’s news story about Senegal.