Preaching in Bimo
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We woke at 5:30 am to the sound of a steady rain. Not the sound I wanted to hear with a trip out of town on the day’s agenda. We were headed to Bimo, 35 km north of Bangui.
I switched on my cell phone – three messages, all from Jeff.
Are we still going this morning?
Josue says – game on!
Bring your boots.
Jes and I made a big breakfast, packed a simple lunch, and made our way over to the construction office, where we met Jeff, who was loading the LandCruiser. I pounded a fist on the spare tire and asked, “It has a jack, right?”
“Yep, I checked it last night.”
At the hall, the rain continued to pour down. Friends were wandering in at various times past the 7:00 a.m. meeting time, cleaning the mud from their shoes at the gate. “Are you sure this is a good idea?” I asked Josue. He reassured me that often, rain in town meant sunshine out of town and that we would have a great time. My experience thus far in the rainy season was that cool, hard rains lasted about two hours and warm, steady rains lasted all day. This was warm and steady and had been going since two in the morning. Whether or not it would obey the city limits had yet to be seen.
Rain in equatorial Africa is unlike any other rain I have ever seen. I’m used to storms in and around New York City, which follow predictable patterns manipulated by the bay and the mountains. Tom, the branch committee coordinator who has been in RCA since 1971, assures me that the rain in Bangui is also predictable, or at least it was until this year. We don’t have a bay or any mountains, just hundreds of miles of trees in all directions and a big pile of sand to the north we call the Sahara. We also sit in a spot on the earth that puts us closer to the sun than most people, the orchestra seats if you will. This fills the atmosphere with energy that discharges every few days as spectacular lightning that snakes across the sky. Sometimes it is so far away we can’t even hear the thunder. The night we landed, I awoke at one in the morning to one of these light shows. Light was flashing through the windows several times a second; I thought a line transformer was burning up. This continued for three hours solid with no thunder. Then we heard a few claps and the rain came down on our little tin roof like a tsunami. In the States, we would have said it was raining cats and dogs; in Kentucky, like a cow peeing on a flat rock. Here, they say it rains mbana. Mbana is an interesting word – is encompasses all of the English words wickedly, maliciously and purposefully. It rained hard because it wanted to.
Back to Bimo. Several miles outside the city the rain continued without letup. Thankfully, we were going to a town that was privileged enough to be along the 300 miles of asphalt that exists in the country. The drive was easy, and the brothers in the LandCruiser lightened the soggy atmosphere by singing kingdom songs with their beautiful voices. I found myself forgetting the rain and anticipating the next song. Number 15 came up, “Life Without End at Last”. Behind me was Joseph, a Central African brother who is the proud father of a 5 month old chubby baby girl. Regrettably, his beloved wife of one year did not survive the delivery. An inexperienced doctor had performed a cesarean and did not sew her up correctly. The internal hemorrhaging never stopped and she was dead a few hours later, a story all too common in this part of the world. I heard Joseph pause after the song began, clear his throat, then join the brothers to finish the stanza. Those words probably had more meaning now than ever before.
My attention was jolted back to the road with a sound from the rear tire. We had picked up a nail and the tire was going flat. We pulled over quickly and radioed Jeff ahead to stop. No problem, that’s why we have a spare tire and a jack. I threw on a raincoat, unloaded my passengers, and began rummaging around for the jack, which was nowhere to be found. LandCruisers are solid, heavy vehicles and come with a little bottle jack that lifts the vehicle hydraulically, with ease. We would have to defer to the screw jack in the minibus Jeff was driving. We stopped a passing truck and asked for a block of wood to place under the jack whose stroke was barely adequate. After a few tries with different positions, we got the tire changed and headed off to the territory (click the link to see a video).
We arrived in Bimo a few minutes later and found a large paillote, or straw shelter, that the chief allowed us to use to wait out the rain. The timing was good, it was difficult to preach in the sticky mud and we needed to get our tire repaired. One of the cardinal rules of traveling in Africa is never, ever, ever be without a spare. Depending on the distance you travel, you might take one spare on the back and two on the roof. Your life could depend on it.
Jeff and I set out to look for a shop that could repair the tire. Meanwhile, Jes stayed with the preaching group which eventually made its way out of the paillote to a few houses. I’ll let her pick up the story.
Maman (what we affectionately call all the older sisters) and I stopped at the most humble of homes, no floor, no furniture and barely a roof over us. We’re sitting on four pieces of wood barely nailed together and trying to keep ourselves out of the rain. I can’t help but respect the man who sits in front of me. He has so much dignity and tranquility despite his poverty. I worry about his son who sits, no sags, on his lap motionless. In my broken Sango I ask if the boy is okay and try to get a laugh out of the little guy with a silly face, but he doesn’t stir. The father proceeds to tell us his story, the same tale of sorrow that we hear from everyone. They are all hurting, yet each day they wake up and continue. I pray that Jehovah will soon tire from the everyday silent cries of the desperate people who live here in the middle of nowhere. I want to teach this man to cry out to Jehovah.
These people don’t ask us why God permits suffering, or how they can find success in life. No one thinks of anything outside of their reality. It seems impossible for them to dream of something better or simply wonder about why things are the way they are. They’ve never known anything else. I keep reminding myself not to mistake their calmness for peace of mind or their respectful manner for contentment. They need the encouragement to want something better. They need to know first not about what God’s Kingdom will do, but that there is a kingdom and there is someone who cares, that they can believe in a day when they will always be happy, always have a full belly and when their children will never be sick. We’re here not to give these people a hope but to teach them to hope.
The man with the small child wanted a Bible. His eyes brightened as we took his name and promised to return with a Bible for him in Sango. We said our goodbyes and made our way to the next house, happy that he and his son now had a hope they didn’t have this morning. At the next house was another man who had interrupted us earlier to make sure we were going to visit him as well. He had been patiently waiting over an hour and had already set out his one bench for me and Maman to share. We began this conversation like the one before, listening.
Back to the tire. We visited three mechanics, all eager for the opportunity to get a few francs work for the day, and all equally ill-equipped to change a thigh-high all terrain tire. Finally we found a gentleman that could pop the split rim and remove the tube.
“How much to patch the tube?” I asked.
“2000 francs.” About four dollars.
“Its only 500 everywhere else. I’ll give you 500.” He stuck with the 2000.
“As you can see my friend, we’re not broken down. If you want the business, take it. If not, I’ll fix it myself on Monday.” He acquiesced and started the process.
There are no tubeless tires in Africa. My first impression was that this was just another way Africa was decades behind the rest of the world technologically. But its not without good logic. A tube tire can be repaired and pumped by hand. All you need is a little patch kit. And when the tube can no longer be patched, its cut into strips. You see them in many places, binding goods to the back of motos or bundles of firewood on women’s heads, holding hubcaps on hubs, hoods on cars, and so on. These strips bind the entire country together. And when the tires are worn bald, and I do mean bald, they’re recycled too. Somewhere, someone has developed a magical pair of scissors that can cut an entire tire into one long steel belted rope. These ropes are tied to buckets and dropped into wells all over the country. Amazing.
Back to our mechanic . . . . The split hub was apart, the tube was out and it was a large puncture – about 5 inches long. He pulled out an old bicycle tube and cut a large rectangle from it. Then he rubbed both the patch and the inner tube with a pumice stone. He stitched the opening closed with some thread and pulled out a long vine that had been sitting under his bench, a rubber vine. After a few scrapes with his machete he cut off about six inches and began squeezing a white liquid out of it. When the liquid started to run clear, he threw it away and repeated the procedure with another piece. He dried both tube and patch with the heat from a smoldering log and pressed them firmly together. Time to see if it would hold air. It did, and the reassembly began. See it in action.
Thankfully, Jeff and I were able to witness to the crowd that gathered to watch the repair, so the day wasn’t a total loss. We had left literature with the few people that could read and explained the purpose of our visit. Triumphantly, we returned to Bimo to pick up the group and head home.
On the way back, the brothers and sisters alerted us to one of the side benefits of coming out of town – good produce. As we sped by in our 4 x 4, papayas, ngunza (cassava leaves), shallots, plantains, regal looking aubergines and other delectables paraded slowly toward town on the heads of vendors. Every few kilometers the friends in the back would yell “Ooooo!”, and we’d pull over to inspect the wares. Worthy of exceptionally loud ooing were the mushrooms, now in season. Termite mushrooms to be exact. There were several different varieties, some large and flat with a musky smell, others small and bell shaped with a nutty smell, not unlike morels. These grow symbiotically in termite mounds deep in the shady forest. Termites provide food in the form of poop, and the mushrooms give back by allowing the termites to eat a few of their branching mycelium. We planned to do the same, but with a wine sauce. We forked over three hundred franks (60 cents) for several bundles. Cleaning them will bring you face to face with a few soldier termites, as I found out the hard way. Back on the road, Bangui came into sight quickly. We bid our brothers farewell and happy mushroom eating for the evening.
Below, there’s a few pictures of playing cards, another dog we’ve added to the menagerie and of course, the cat, including a video of his first bath. Enjoy.
Another news item – Jes and I changed congregations to French. The Sango was going well, but we needed to improve our French to get more out of Morning Worship. So far, so good.
Love to all,
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