Report from Mali
A couple of days ago I handed this space over to Johannah, who is a youth leader with our teenagers in Mexico. Well, now we've received a report from another mission field. Nick, who is a good friend of my son Tim, and who lives up in lovely Montreal, has just returned from Mali (West Africa). I'm going to quote his letter at length, because I think it too is very inspiring:
I admit that I had some doubts about leaving. At the time, I wondered what purpose on earth we could serve by going to this climate, this stifling, unlovely, forgotten-by-all-but-God, dustbowl of a land... How foolish. Proverbs 16:3, "Commit your ways to the Lord, and He will make your paths straight." It was the first Bible verse that ever struck me, and it seems I had forgotten it, for this truth shone through with startling clarity during the trip. . .
Yes, I have been to the far reaches of the harsh climes of another continent, held with care then hands of literally hundreds of children, with respect the hands of dozens of adults, seen the beautiful smile of another way of life, spoken languages I did not know I possessed, sweated, pushed myself to the point where I could not hold myself up for fatigue, stepped amongst poverty and there found myself befriended unaccusingly by those within it, prayed with village chiefs for health, food and rain; then seen a massive thunderstorm in the dry season. I have built at least a dozen lasting friendships, seen results where I did not sow seed, played soccer, and experienced such a number of unforgettable moments in the period of three weeks, that I find myself at a loss in trying to remember them all. I shoret, I have been transported by Grace and prayers to another world; by it I was touched, and now I have come back again.
I could tell you tales . . . tales of riding across arid, red-dirt plains with sparse, green brush, the hot wind rushing through your hair, accompanied by Africans hitching a ride from village to village. Tales of an unexpected African rain falling lightly onto your face as you stand in the back of the truck, sucking up the potholes with bent legs, enraptured by a rainbow shimmering against the background of an ominously (and beneficial) dark bank of clouds. I could tell you of soccer games played with children at rural village cement schools, played on dirt fields with goals made out of tied-together wood, , and of a hed of goats taking the field alongside you. Apparently they wanted to join the game in the second half. Tales of dancing with hands in the air chanting, "Be-yo-bee, be-yo-obee" after you score a goal. I could tell you tales of being surrounded by literally hundreds of African children and villagers in the relative cool of the morning in school courtyards, or in village centers lit by the headlights of our trucks at nightm performing a routine of skits, some humorous, some Biblical, some educational and some melodramatic, about the devastating effects of AIDS. . . I could tell you of meeting a pastor and a lay Christian, two men who had fled the civil war in the Ivory Coast (which is just ot the south of Mali). I could tell you of sturggling to grasp what civil war means through their stories, listening as a respectable man in his thirties matter-of-factly describes a rebel group suddenly appearing out of the wilderness, armed by an unknown source, and operating without any apparent leader. It reminds you of the day before when in amazement you were listening at a church to a young African man who is scarcely older than you, who is working in Rwanda to reconcile the groups that slaughtered each other, and explaining the results he and his group were getting through the blessing of the Holy Spirit. I would tell you of seeing the one Christian in a village you are visiting, a man who became a Christian before a missionary ever visited the village. "How," you might have asked. "He says," comes the careful reply, "an angel came to him in a dream and told him to follow Jesus, and that he would be blessed for it."
A memory of holding hands with a little child poignantly returns to me. He tries to talk to me in a language which I do not know as our team tours a village in the setting sun, picking mangoes, strolling with a procession of African children. We do our best to understand each other, but end simply holding hands in pleasant company, each making the other feel, somehow, of importance . . . perhaps the most miraculous event of all was that I helped someone else feel they are valuable. . . this turly was extraordinary. Yet I think I can safely say it was not me, for I have no ability to create value independently. It was Christ in me. What a miracle, to be a messenger of the love that gives others value. . .
As I look back on what we did and how much we in fact accomplished in only three weeks, I realize that we were in the skillful hands of a local expert, who was guiding our path where He knew it would be most effective for those whom we were going to serve, but most especially where He knew it would change the lives of those traveling along the path most profoundly. My ernest prayer is that He will guide your paths as well, because the benefits of such a good guide are incalculable.