Obstacles, Obstacles, Obstacles: some can be avoided with a little detour, others you have to jump over. And then there are those that, well, just need to be patiently endured. Our life and work here in West Africa, can often be described as pure persistence, creative adaptation, and a deepening trust in our faithful Father in heaven that keeps us going in the face of countless obstacles. The last week of teaching that we had planned was such a week. Nothing that we had planned took place as we had anticipated.; and yet we can honestly say it was a good week, a God orchestrated week.
My Australian colleague and I took off early on New Years day in order to have the time needed to bounce our way along the rocky and rutted dirt roads to the region where we had set up our teaching sessions. Not long after we started on our way, I noticed the car making a slightly different noise. We stopped and got out in our African robes to find that one of the lug nuts on the back tire had stripped and the rest of them had worked their way loose. The tire was about to fall off! So we tightened up the remaining lug nuts good and snug and then continued on our way. Not far down the road, the noise reappeared and sure enough, they were all loose again. Needless to say, we stopped several times on our two hour trip to check and retighten the nuts on that tire. Somewhere along the road, the wheel strangely decided on its own to stop coming loose, and we managed to get to our first destination right on schedule, but without any time to spare.
Our first stop was at the regional headquarters, where we needed to check in with the regional leadership to get the needed paperwork and to find out if there had been any changes to the program that I had set up with them the previous week. After searching all around town, we finally found two of the leaders we were looking for. They were just outside a little shop, busy trying to solve a heated argument between a middle-aged woman and an elderly man. Fortunately, one of the leaders saw us cautiously approaching, and left the animated scene behind to come greet us.
Sometime later, with the paperwork we needed finally in hand, and two people to accompany us on the hour and a half trip to our first teaching session, we made our way back to the car, which we had left by the regional office. As we approached the car, I realized that we weren’t going to go anywhere fast. Our troublesome tire was now completely flat. “Alright,” I thought to myself, “this is getting a bit ridiculous!!!” Not wanting to risk going even further out into the bush without a full spare tire, we spent the next three hours finding someone who could repair the punctured tire using some crude hand tools, sap from a rubber plant, and a dilapidated hand pump. While I oversaw the logistics of the tire repair, my colleague, Bruce, sat by a water pump near the car, visiting with a number of men, women, and children who came by and listened while he read Scripture. Obviously God was already turning obstacles into opportunities. Praise God!
By the time we finally arrived at the village after all these delays, we had missed our first teaching session. The people had more or less dispersed, except for a few of the leaders and one young man in particular who had been waiting for us all week. The young man, who we’ll call Ali, was born in this particular village, but now lives in a town quite far away, where he has been significantly influenced by a particularly strict religious sect. I knew him, because I had met him the week before on the front steps of the regional headquarters. As I stood there on the steps that day explaining to some older men that we were followers of Jesus and teachers of the Old and New Testament, Ali began to interrogate me and tried to start up an argument. The mention of Jesus seemed to really set him off. Eventually, the appointed regional leader came up and interrupted the awkward and rather one-sided discussion and called the young man and his friend into his office. The regional leadership strongly supported us and at the end of the conversation everyone shook hands and left in peace. We had a feeling that God had His hand on this young man, and we prayed that God would use this encounter to touch his heart. It seems though that Ali still felt uneasy about our presence, because when he heard that we were coming to his home village to teach he decided to extend his stay and wait around to put a stop to it.
So there he was, waiting for us: an obstacle sent by the enemy or perhaps an opportunity sent by God? Shortly after we arrived, I noticed him slowly walk up and confidently position himself on the edge of the group. Although I knew that he was up to no good, I intentionally got up and went over to him and greeted him warmly. As evening approached and a few more people had gathered, we sat down in the yard of one of the village leaders and explained what we were about, and apologized for keeping them waiting for so long. After some discussion about our work, the leadership asked to be excused so that they could have a private meeting in the leader’s home to talk about our teaching proposal. Although not invited, Ali walked right into their meeting and told them exactly what he thought. They didn’t appreciate it, or his attitude, in the least, and eventually called for some of his family elders to come and kick him out of the meeting. When the leadership came out, the spokesperson of the group said in a very loud and confident voice “We want you to come!! You are welcome here!!” God used Ali’s hateful attitude to make the elders even more convinced that they wanted to learn from the Jesus people.
We spent the night there and were able to share some Scripture with them the next morning before we left for our next teaching session. We also had an opportunity to help the elders and Ali in the process of dialogue and reconciliation. Praise God!
Due to a death in the family of our host, our teaching session in the next village didn’t happen quite as expected either. It started late, and we weren’t able to get through all of the material. It was however well received by the 40 or so men and boys in attendance and they asked us to please come back.
Our final two days were to be spent in a village that the women had taught in earlier. However, the death of the leading elder in that village made the regional leadership scramble to find an alternative location for us to teach. When we showed up at the new village, one we had never been to before, it was clear that they were not at all ready for us. They were very suspicious and wary, and asked if we could wait since a number of the key leaders were not there. We said we were fine with that and could come back at another time to discuss things more thoroughly with the appropriate people. They asked us to come back a week later, following the Friday prayer time, to talk with the whole group.
Before we left there last week, people began to gather for Friday prayers. As we passed by the mosque on the way out, a distinguished looking older man sitting by a tree asked if we would stay until they were done praying. He wanted to have us over for a meal. I replied that although we had just eaten, we would not refuse the respect that he was offering us, and so he asked us to come and sit down on his mat while they went in to pray. This older man, clearly the most respected in his district, showed his approval of us in a very public way. Suddenly, the whole atmosphere and attitude of the people there changed.
As I sat down on his mat, I realized that this was a man I had met earlier in the regional center. He was a good friend of John, a man of peace who had recently passed away. Was this man going to pick up John’s mantle and be a new man of peace for us? Praise be to our God who is able to take any obstacle and use it for our good and His Glory. Thanks for your prayers.
In His way, In His time,
C***** and J*****