Blackouts, Good Roads, & Dirty Rags
Every morning around 4 AM the power goes off in the little hotel where we are staying. This occurs about an hour before the sun starts to make its presence known on the horizon. Consequently, the entire hotel plunges into total darkness. A few minutes later you can hear the rumble of a generator sparking to life, followed by the return of power a few minutes later. I suspect that it’s a rolling blackout and, from what I am told, it’s a common occurrence. The frequency has been increasing lately due to the majority of the power here being generated by Hydroelectric. Severe droughts are plaguing the nation, so the water flowing through the dam has been reduced. It’s been reported to us that it’s considerably more problematic away from the large cities. It makes you wonder when the final straw will come to break the camel’s back. The majority of the people in this country have to put up with tremendous hardships as it is. Any additional stress becomes monumental.
The deforestation caused by necessity is creating severe ecological consequences. Many of the people in this country cook over open fire using charcoal. Every morning we see hundreds of bicycles transporting large bundles. This is their only means of income, but the government has begun a serious crackdown because of the loss of so many trees. There are many checkpoints that we go through, where guards are armed with machine guns and AR weapons. Josh noticed how carelessly they handle these weapons, jumping off barriers, carrying them by the end of the barrel, and just tossing them around, kind of like toys. Not only are they looking for people transporting charcoal without a license, but also drugs and illegal pharmaceuticals. The black market is quite extensive in pharmaceuticals, often leaving the government clinics with practically nothing.
This morning, the four of us met and loaded up Billy Goat Toyota to begin our daily journey. We’ve come to realize that intense questioning is necessary concerning the road conditions. So, several times we asked Duncan what to expect and were assured that they were good roads. And to be fair, the first hour of the journey was on a good blacktop road circulating in and out of the mountains. By the way, I had no idea there were so many mountain ranges in Malawi!
The views were quite stunning. However, I also had no idea there were so few public bathrooms… and that public urination is entirely acceptable here! In fact, Felix and Duncan were quite surprised that it’s not acceptable in the US. So, we were able to take in a breathtaking view of the mountains while… umm… participating in the cultural norms. This is only one of the many cultural differences that exist, but our level of comfort in communicating with each other is improving by leaps and bounds.
Eventually we turned off of the asphalt road, and began to be concerned with what the term “good road” might mean by Malawi standards. We, once again, called upon a supernatural blessing for the little Toyota. We didn’t have the issues of rocks this time, but instead had to navigate through gullied out roads. And I’m talking about gullies that could swallow up the little Billy Goat Toyota. I think God gave me a couple days of experience mountain climbing with the little car to ready me for this test of mud bogging skill. But then we approached two large waterholes that could swallow up 10 or so vehicles, so Josh, Felix, and Duncan got out of the car to survey the area. There were some bystanders who volunteered to do a water depth check for us by walking through the water. The path the car would need to travel was knee-deep, which, needless to say, created a bit of concern. But God really wanted us to complete our mission of the day, so we decided to forge on. I backed up, picked up a little bit of speed, and row-boated my way through the waterhole. Miraculously, little Billy Goat made it! I told Josh that maybe I should buy this little car because it’s been supernaturally anointed by the Almighty. Later, on the way back through, we decided to get a short video to demonstrate our challenge.
During the information gathering portion of this trip, Josh and I have kicked around different ideas about ways to help the communities here. For example, fish farms would be an excellent source of protein and fertilizer. The climate would be fine, but would need to be shaded so as not to overheat, so Josh came up with some great ideas for roof design and water collection systems. Another way to help would be through farm equipment, because all of the corn planting we’ve seen here is being done with a tool that looks similar to what we would call a garden hoe. A small tractor and a few implements could increase their productivity 10 times or more, but unless the tractor was endowed with supernatural Billy goat powers, it’s use would be somewhat limited due to the many mountainous slopes that are planted.
Equipping these villagers with the skill of making pottery and woodcarvings could also give them a substantial income boost, and would be fairly easy to implement and cheap to execute. In fact, there’s a possibility that EchoAfrica could become a distribution partner to sell the African made products to ensure that 100% of the profits would be returned to the local villagers. From what we’ve come to understand, there’s a high degree of corruption here. I’m not sure where it stems from, but it seems as though most of the people in the country are overlooked and have little to no opportunity to make any progress. Direct interaction with the small villages is the only way we can offer any hope. Coming up with sensible and executable solutions is imperative, and doing it quietly and as directly as possible will be the best way for these villagers to incur the maximum benefit. With God’s blessing and some creative people, we can help make a difference in their lives. I hope that even as you read these words, you feel the tug on your heart to become one of those who helps.
We finally arrived at our destination and were greeted by a smaller group of ladies singing and children welcoming us with smiles. There was a church building, slightly smaller than the one we visited for the weekend conference, and as I approached, the children seemed quite captivated by old whitey. They were timid at first, but as I shook hands with the first one the others quickly crowded in. I tried to place my hand on the head of every child, asking God to give them a chance. Very difficult to fight back the tears, but I knew that I couldn’t cry right then because I wanted to convey the joy that was in my heart to see them. The connection I feel to these children is instantaneous and deep.
Once the gathering started, we were able to enjoy some praise and worship, African style, and a variety of different prayers. This time, we had more children in the church than adults, so while Josh was preaching/teaching I had to restrain a strong urge to go up behind him and make funny faces and cause a commotion. With such a high number of children in attendance I thought it would be hilarious. But out of respect for the teaching of God’s Word, I controlled myself. However, after discussing it with Josh later, we might try to give it a shot in a similar situation while he’s discussing a funny story or something.
Josh did a great job talking about salvation, then moved on to Matthew 5 and the precious words of Jesus in the Beatitudes. In just three days of working with the interpreter, and through the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, Josh has achieved a very successful teaching strategy. During the time he was speaking, Felix pulled out a phone and began recording. I recognized the logo on the phone case and realized it was the phone I discontinued using years ago. Fortunately, I never threw it away, so now it was in service once again in Africa. Can you imagine how many things here in America we could bless the Africans with?
Just prior to Josh completing his talk I was inspired by a roll of toilet paper that I had brought from the hotel to wipe my tears. I remembered the Scripture about us being like filthy rags but through Jesus becoming white like snow. (Forgive me for the extreme paraphrasing.) So, while Josh wrapped up his talk, I went outside, found a muddy dirt area, and pushed a folded piece of toilet paper into the mud. I must say, it looked quite impressive! Had I not told you how I did it, you would’ve thought it was a runaway from the outhouse.
After Josh finished, I held up the dirty side of the toilet paper and told the group that we are like filthy rags. “Will being nice to your neighbor get you clean?” I asked. “How about church. Will that clean you up?” And they responded, no, as I shook my head and waved my hands. Then I told them there’s only one way to be cleansed of all our sins. That way is Jesus Christ.
At that moment, I quickly flipped the dirty side to the clean side. I believe when they saw the clean side the point was clear. There’s only One that can take the dirty side and make it white as snow. Praise Jesus!