Watermelon Crash

Mali Update, October 7

I am sure you are all wondering about the audio Bibles. Keep praying. The missionaries here sent "Job" (yes, like the Biblical Job) to go and handle the situation. Normally, Daniel Thera, a legal and governmental genius, would go, but he is in Omaha to connect with CCC! BTW, don't miss his message on Sunday at the 10:45 Sanctuary service! Anyway, Job is also a well conncted savvy Malian who is trying to get the Audio Bibles out of customs. Pray for him as he negotiates with the right people!

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As for us, we spent most of yesterday on the road. We woke up to a flat tire on the van that transports us, so the missionaries put on their auto-mechanic hats and got it fixed. The next 6 or so hours were spent driving from the thriving metropolis of Bamako, a bustling city of 2 million people, through the rural roadside villages to Koutiala - the place that CCC folks have heard so much about.

Along the way, we peppered "Bob the Builder", a missionary-mechanic who will lead our team this week, with a zillion question about the sights, sounds and smells that assaulted our senses. We learned everything from the roles of men and women to the people groups of the area to how long meat can be left hanging in the sun before it becomes full of maggots. We saw stuff that we did not even know existed: Fifty or so goats tied to the top of a van - live! Kids as young as eight years old with their little businesses on the road side. People with deformed limbs and faces begging for bread. More mopeds, motorcycles, pedestrians, vans, bikes and busses than you ever thought possble - crammed onto a single city street.

We learned that 80% of Malians live on subsistence farming. That is, they grow enough of their own food - corn, sorghum, millet, or melons - to feed their own family and pay for life's basics. There is so much labor available that you can hire a day laborer for about $1.25 per day. Many of us would pay a kid eight times that to mow our lawn! But here, people work very hard for every dime. If they have a job, they are grateful!

On a good year, farmers harvest more than their family can eat. The harvest that they bring in is sold in the market for a small profit. Or, more likely, the abundance of crops are brought to the roadside for trucks to drive by, pick up the produce, and haul it to Bamako - where the population far outstrips its ability to feed itself.

We are at the end of the rainy season, the time of watermelon harvest. So on our trip, we saw about a half-a-gillion watermelons (in technical terms). Nearly every village we passed had multiple mountains - 6 ft high - of watermelons for sale on the wholesale market, waiting for the Bamako-bound trucks. Men gathered in small groups of men while the women socialized with other women and the children too small to be in school. School-aged kids might be in the government run schools, or -beginning about 10 -they might be herding cattle, gathering watermelon, or utilizing a donkey/cart to do farm chores.

One sight that I will never forget is an accident. Somewhere midway through the trip, our van approached a produce truck, tipped over on it's side - watermelon had washed over the rims of the truck edges - splattered all over the streets and rolling up the sides of the road. An African man stood in front of the truck - one hand waving wildly, the other holding a cell phone near his exasperated lips. A woman about the same age stood near him, chattering passionately in his direction. Off to the side of the road was another figure under a tree - a man lying in the shade. his knees pointed toward the sky. Was he hurt? Resting? Frustrated? How long had they been there? Is there anything we could do to help?

All of a sudden, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of helplessness. Even if we did stop, what could we do? We don't speak their language, don't have any connections or any skills that would serve these people well. Turning the truck over would take heavy machinery that we sure didn't have. So I prayed a short prayer "Lord have mercy" and trusted him to take care of the situation.

I wondered about the guy and his wife as we drove on. Was he carrying a year's wage in that truck? Had he saved for a decade to buy the truck? What level of tragedy is this for his family? Would the guy under the tree be alright? This side of heaven, I'll never know the answers.

It reminded me of our smallness in the face of a vast world of troubles.

It is my instinct to want to solve every problem...to be a person who has kingdom impact. But I was reminded last night that Jesus did not even solve every problem. He could have set up shop in Capernaum and healed people for 12 hours a day. People would have come from everywhere based on his reputation. He could have spent all his time in famine-stricken lands multiplying bread to be sure every person was fed. He could have had a show-down with every demon in Israel..and won. But he didn't. He had an intentional strategy. He did what the Father told him to do.

He went from town to town, healing the sick and proclaiming the kingdom of heaven. And when the time was ripe, he set his face toward Jerusalem, to die a sacrificial death. At the end of his suffering, he was able to say "It is finished." He did exactly what the Father sent him to do.

God has a mission for us, friends. It won't be to solve every problem in the world, but it will be to live our lives in such a way that we look more like Jesus with each passing breath. It will be to have kingdom impact in the place we live and work and breathe. It will be to release resources for worldwide transformation in places like Koutiala, Mali. And by God's grace, he will weave a tapestry of his goodness and we will be able to say that we finished the work that God has given to us.