Africa, Ten Years On

Seems like only yesterday, as the overused cliché goes, that I stepped off the plane in Nairobi, Kenya and began, what has now become, a 10-year (and counting) ministry.  Actually, it really does seem more like ten years – and certainly not like “yesterday”, for certain.  I ask that you forgive me for not only citing this cliché, but misusing it, as well.

Indeed, upon arriving in Kenya – and then flying on to South Sudan, the following day, I found myself in a whole new world.  Okay, so yeah, I know, Africa, for many Americans, is a whole new world, in itself. A big, adventurous, harsh, yet beautiful new world.  It surely was that for me, as well.  But that’s not what I mean.  I was referring to the world of mission, of charity – that of helping one’s fellow man in whatever the chosen necessity.  For me, it was then, and remains today, that of providing access to water.  As I watched, with child-like fascination, adults – some quite elderly – celebrating unabashedly, as clean, fresh water emerged from the simple handpump that they were operating, I felt the tug on my heartstrings, inviting me into a story so much bigger than the one I was struggling to live out.  The one that I had allowed life to choose for me.

I actually had little to do with those first wells I watched the contractor drill.  I was there to monitor his work, as the (one and only) “staff engineer” for Crossway International.   It was a volunteer position.  One in which I had little to do with finding or even engaging this drilling contractor from Kenya.  I was just there to see that the work was accomplished and that the community received fresh water.  The actual drilling and well construction work was not totally foreign to me.  Nonetheless, I was still on the lower incline of an ever steepening learning curve, I could see.

But as with many things in my life up to then, I did not let my lack of knowledge about well drilling keep me from plunging in – head first, as they say.  After overseeing more wells being drilled by contractors – in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Kenya, I had enough.  I told Dean (Chollar) founder and lead missionary of Crossway International, that we needed to buy our own drilling equipment and get it to Kenya.  It was there that we were now assisting another ministry, Real4Christ, to get wells installed at their new church-school plants.  Dean, who does not allow his blindness to keep him from traveling the world (many times alone) and sharing his amazing story – to win new souls for the Kingdom, simply made appeals to his many supporters.

In relatively short time, we had received enough donations to purchase the necessary equipment and transport it to Kenya in a shipping container.  After drilling a well at Real4Christ’s latest church-school, we moved the equipment from the coastal area to Nairobi.  From there we began drilling wells near Nairobi, but also far to the west, near the Uganda border.  Eventually I came back to the coast and have been drilling wells there ever since.

I quickly learned that this process of screwing pipes deep into the earth,  in search of clean, fresh water, was not at all easy.  At least not with our somewhat undersized equipment.  Parts were always breaking, or we would encounter rock too hard for our light equipment to penetrate.  But that never stopped us from trying, just because it was too difficult.  And in the end, we always succeeded. Sometimes it required several tries, drilling and re-drilling.  Sometimes our drill pipes and bits got stuck, deep in the earth.  When that happened, we would have to start all over – sometimes months later after replacing the lost parts and shipping them all the way to Kenya again.

Through all of this we never stopped experiencing God working through us, helping us to complete the task – every time. We never quit and we never gave up.  Sometimes He would send us an angel or two to help us out – to fix stuff or retrieve our drill pipe.  My teammates may not have recognized them as angels.  But I knew they were.  I had no doubt.

I have to say that through all of these “setbacks”, I learned so much about patience – a concept that is difficult, I believe, for Americans to ever fully grasp.  But I had to learn it the hard way – by experiencing it – many times over.  I had good teachers, however, which made the training acceptable.  These were my Kenyan rafiki (friends), the guys I worked beside on each project.  When our truck would break down in the middle of nowhere, too often in the middle of the night – or worse, the heat of a day of relentless sunshine – they would just start figuring out what to do or where to find help.  That might take a few hours – or a few days.  No matter.  It would get done, and then we would move again – continuing on to our goal.

In the America that I know, that’s just not acceptable.  But in Kenya it is, or in any developing country, I suspect.  What is not acceptable – at least not for us – is failure.  I have just told you that sometimes our setbacks caused us to have to start all over again.  If you’ve followed my blogs over the years, you may recall that on occasion, that can be months later.  That’s not failure.  It’s delay.  Eventually we always complete the well.  We have to.  People’s lives are depending on it.  Failure is never completing the well – or finding some way – to provide water to a community.  We cannot fail.

With each well we get better at what we do.  We improve our process, become more efficient.  New equipment helps, of course.  With our new air compressor, which just arrived in country late last year, we can now easily clean our wells, old and new, making the pumps work better, longer.  It’s all about providing water for the people – God’s precious water – for God’s precious people.  To God be the glory – always.

As I look back on these past ten years I feel so blessed to be doing what I so love to do.  A blind missionary asked me to help him with one small project – to complete a promise that he had made to some people in the middle of nowhere, South Sudan.  When I said yes to him, God opened my eyes to a whole new world of adventure, beauty, and grace.  I cannot imagine my life now without this part of me.  I pray that I can continue to do this for many more years to come.

In closing, I have to thank so many of you that take the time to read my stories and drop me a note of encouragement.  And also, to the many that have come alongside me in this ministry, both financially and supportively, through your prayers and your kind words of encouragement.  It takes all of us, of that I have no doubt.  Please know – and believe – that I carry you with me on every new journey, every new well.  Truly, you bless me in so many ways, even as you bless the many people that, together, we have been able to provide for.  Asante sana (thank you very much).

 

So, until my next adventure .   .   .   live blessed,

Bob