Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rain and help

In case it’s not a hot topic on the nightly news where you live, filling your airwaves and enthralling listeners curious about this corner of the world, I thought I’d tell you...

We are at war here, complete with airplanes and bombs!

Well, one airplane, a single-engine four-passenger Cessna. And the bombs are not actually weapons, although some of them are heavy. But we do have our very own refugees, trudging barefoot and everything! Just like National Geographic pictures. Like Darfur, but without the violent government issues.

The rains, unaware that this should be the end of rainy season, are continuing here. The waters recede, then advance again, swallowing up entire villages and leaving roads completely underwater. Currents, slow but distinct, run vaguely from south to north, although the river, normally 30 yards across, is now closer to 30 miles across, flowing from rice paddy to rice paddy, from hut to hut, simply blowing across the entire plain with nothing to stop it.

Villages from all around the district have been displaced to Bere, most of them living on the floors of the local schools, often more people than there is floor space. Remember, a school here does not have running water. So toileting/drinking water are a real danger.

But there are other villages who can’t or won’t come to Bere. They try to make a place above the water to sleep and cook and they stubbornly eke out an existence for a month or two. Sanitation is even a bigger problem in those places, where the well is under water, as is the toilet. Whatever you’ve put into that toilet during the last year is now free to float up through the hole and drift over to your open and underwater drinking well. The risk for water-borne illness is no longer a risk. It’s an inescapable certainty.

To us, it’s a little inconceivable that people would stay in their homes. Their homes are mudbrick, built without cement and with a thatch roof. Their homes are prone to collapsing every year anyway. Besides, they could probably carry all their earthly belongings on their heads. I don’t understand why they stay in their village, except that they feel forced to.

So how do we help the flooded folks? We don’t have boats. Our cars can’t go there. Our motos can’t go there. It’s too far to walk with supplies.

Then Gary and Wendy Roberts had an idea. How about bombing the families from the air? Not real bombs. The villagers aren’t THAT desperate yet! But wrapped up packages of food and supplies.

Wendy and Gary gathered supplies of millet, rice, peanuts and other food items to put in one watertight bundle. They got together another bundle of bleach, to treat water, and charcoal and lighters, to cook their food with.

We tried convincing Gary and Wendy to put little notes inside the bundles, saying, ‘From your friends at the Seventh-day Adventist church.’ But then we wondered, ‘What happens if the package dropped from the plane crashes through their roof. Or bonks a kid on the head. Or lands on a spoon which has a pebble balancing on the handle, causing the pebble to soar into the air, striking a passing butterfly, causing the butterfly to get disoriented and vomit, at which the vomit strikes the family’s favorite goat in the eye, causing the goat such severe pain that he goes delirious and runs headlong into a tree, falling unconscious into the swirling floodwaters and drowning.’ You gotta consider all possibilities.

After a lot of reflection, we decided that we didn’t want to be ‘That church of goat-killers,’ so we opted out on the idea of notes in the bundles, choosing the more Chicken-Soup-for-the-Soul-worthy random acts of kindness approach. Anonymous is hip. Plus, everybody here knows that the only plane around belongs to the Adventists. And when you’re only 30 feet off the ground, people can just read ‘Aviation Medicale Adventiste’ on the side of the plane.

Now for loading the airplane...

Zane assisted Gary to take the passenger’s door off and remove all the seats save the pilot’s. Lyol assisted Cherise with carrying the bundles of goods to the airplane. They loaded up and strapped everything down, including Wendy, so she wouldn’t fall out the open door.

Gary and Wendy flew over many flooded villages. They had 30 drops of 2 bundles each. Wendy’s target was somewhere close to the hut, most likely a water landing.

People fell into one of two categories. The first and more plentiful group, the half-full sort of Tchadian villagers, would run out into the water and pull the bundles triumphantly out of the water. It had all the makings of "The Gods Must be Crazy 3." They would then re-evaluate the last dance they had done and forever cement it into their local culture as the Dance of the Rains of the Metal Bird. And that day would forever be known in their village as the Day the Sky Poured Watertight Care Packages. I think that’s how you’d translate it. Well, except for the villages with satellite dishes. They just called it Friday.

The second category of Tchadian villagers were of the more timid, fearful and half-empty sort. They would go into MacGyver-like slow motion when they saw the plane dropping packages, running away and leaping headlong behind bushes at the exact split second the package touched down. Unlike the A-Team, however, the packages weren’t accompanied by awesome exploding special effects. Just a little bit embarrassed, they would hesitanty go poke the package with sticks until they felt confident enough to pick it up, open it and look inside.

All in all, a pretty awesome ministry opportunity for Gary and Wendy down there at the airport. Just so long as you’re not making butterflies vomit on anybody’s favorite goat.

Olen and Lyol, Gary/Wendy/Cherise check on the flooding
Today it is not raining.
A village in need of help received a "drop"  Their mud huts dissolve during the rain.
It is blurry as Wendy had to lean out of the plane to take this picture.
Gary, Lyol and Olen remove the plane door to prepare for the "drops."
They pack the plane

Lyol helps pack the plane

Almost full, except for the "drop lady"
Wendy is seat belted but without a seat.
She is the "dropper" for the flooded villagers.


  1. Well done you guys! That's an awesome ministry opportunity!

  2. What an excellent idea! Glad all went well.

  3. Sweet. Tell us more stories about Gary and Wendy! I miss them!

  4. AWESOME!!!! You guys rock!

  5. you never cease to amaze me... what a wonderful team God has put together there for you

  6. That is awesome! Really cool idea and great way to reach out. I'm just jealous I'm not there... I miss the rainy season; although I'm sure you all would be happy to be done with it for several months :)

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