I want to tell you a story. This is a story about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. This is a story about ordinary people doing extraordinary things over a long period of time. It is a story about people who started with very, very, small success, and seven years later, their lives were completely transformed.
Here is the story.
In Africa, there was a group of villages. The gospel had come into these villages and a growing number of Christians were coming up. For centuries, these villages had lived in almost complete isolation. It was 15 km to the nearest market town, and to even get to the main road into the market town, they had small path into the jungle which was for 5 or 6 km. The people had no cash. The only thing which they had was the ability to grow a few crops, to raise a few animals, and to go hunting in the jungle for wild animals.
As the number of Christians in the village began to grow, they began to see how they are not victims; that when Jesus comes into their life, they have the possibility of being set free! They began talking to each other, because there was a kind of tribal council, representatives from each of the villages, and more and more of this leadership became Christian. And these people became increasingly aware of their poverty. They realized they had no clean water; they had to carry the water 2 or 3 hours from rivers. They had no medical facilities; the closest medical facility was 15 km, and it took several hours walking on the trail to get there. They had no education; everyone was illiterate, with nothing for their children. They said, “We have a real problem. What can we do? What do we know how to do?”
A few people every few months would go into the market town, because they had to try to trade vegetables for products that they needed in the village. So, the first idea which they developed was, “Let’s get together all of the villages and contribute a small piece of land, and then let’s have people from each village work together on this one piece of land. And none of us will take crops from this land; this land will only be for trying to sell crops in the market town.” And so they began growing vegetables and other things.
They said, “Now, how do we get these vegetables into the market town?” So they asked young men who were strong if they would carry these into the market. Older, wise people would travel with them, but the younger people would carry these on their backs. Because it was such a long journey into the market town, the young and old had to pack the food the night before, and then they had to leave before the sun came up. The first 6 or 7 km was very difficult, because it was a very up and down, twisting path through the jungle. And they found that by the time they got to the market, the market was already underway. And when they started unloading their crops to sell, they found that half of the vegetables were ruined from the shaking and jiggling on the way, the heat, and the amount of time. So when they put their vegetables out, people looked and said, “Half of it looks terrible!”
So they sold a few things, and got a little bit of money, but they came back and reported, very discouraged. So after doing this for 2 or 3 months, they said, “We have to try something else. What do we have in our capacity?” They said, “You know, we have had this path from our villages to the government road. That path has been there for over 100 years. We never had a reason to change the path. We should completely change the path. A different route. Make it wider, make it simpler, so the young men are not having to climb over trees and go through bushes.”
So all the villages came together and worked one day every week. And it took them 2 or 3 months, but they constructed a complete, new – not a path – but this time, a trail. It was much straighter, it was much leveler, and it cut the travel time from the village into the city by almost half. So now they could get their crops into the city a little sooner. They started selling more, and bringing back the money. And the money that came back came back to a central fund. It did not go into anyone’s private pocket, because they were together farming one single piece of land to which they all contributed.
After doing this for several months, the young men said, “In the market town, we see something. Many people who are selling vegetables and selling vegetables successfully have motos. We think we should try to get motos. If we had motos we can carry more food. It would reduce the trip from the village into the city to just one hour. Now we face two problems. The trail, even though it is much better than it used to be, is too narrow for motos. Second, we don’t have enough money to buy motos. This fund which has been growing is still too small.”
So the elders said, “Let the elders go into the market town and meet with the government officials, and tell the government officials we have this fund, we have this community project, and we need help. We will come together again and we will widen the trail now to a much wider trail so we can take motos. We will put up the little bit of money we do have and we will ask the government for a loan.” So they took the plan to the government and the government made a loan. And they bought 3 motos.
Suddenly they could carry 2,3, 4 times the amount, where the young men could just make one trip a day — one trip in and one trip back. A moto could leave at the crack of dawn and go back and forth 2 or 3 times. So suddenly the ability to deliver products was increased, quantity of product was increased, and the cash sales were increased.
So the elders and the leaders of the village, and the people working on this project came together, and again, not all but many were Christians, and they said, “We should be thinking about other things than just money. What are we going to do with this money? We need clean water. If we want to expand this project we can’t keep carrying water from the river; besides, we need clean water for our own health. We think we should go to the government and say, ‘We will put up some money. Will you give us the expertise to help drill wells in our villages?’” They went to the government, and they said, “We have some money. We will put up this money, but we need technical help. Will you provide the technical help and equipment to come drill wells in each of these villages?” The government agreed to do this. So now they have cash, they have 3 motos, they now have clean water, and now 2 1/2 to 3 years has gone by.
They continue to go from the villages to the market city, and after 3 years, the young men said, “You know, we see that things are changing. The market town is growing, with many more people. The market is getting bigger. And we see that in another place, a group of farmers are getting together, and they have not motos, they have a small truck. And in one trip, the truck can carry 4 times the amount of 3 motos making 2 trips. But again we have a problem. The trail for the motos is not big enough for trucks. And even though we have some money, it is not enough money to buy a truck, because we have been investing money in the crops and in the clean wells, and we had to pay off the loan for the 3 motos, so what will we do?”
Again, they say, “We have the capacity. We can change the trail. We will go to the government and we will say, ‘We will build a road from our village to meet with the government road. We will put up some money, but we need another loan from the government for a truck.’” So they went to the government and made the proposal. The government said, “Of course. You paid off the loan for the motos, and you now have clean water in your village through the wells. Why not?” So they gave them the loan. They bought the truck. Now these villages have 3 motos, a truck, clean water through wells in each of the villages, and now the agricultural project is expanding and expanding. So now they have more cash.
They said, “We need education. None of us are literate. None of us knows how to teach our children. We need a small basic school here.” So in the market city they found that there is an NGO, or a development organization. They didn’t go to the government; they went to a private organization that focused on education. “Would you send a teacher? We will provide a place for the teacher to live. We will feed the teacher, and we will pay them a small salary.” They made a 2 year contract. So, now 5 years into the project, they have a cooperative agricultural initiative, they have a road from the villages to meet the government road, they have 3 motos and a truck, they have a development fund, they have wells in each village, and now they have education underway.
Eventually, by 7 years, they added a medical facility, a kind of community center where every week a doctor and nurse came from the market city to the community center to deal with health issues in the villages. And village after village after village after village for many kilometers around watched these villages. They said, “This is amazing what is happening! How do we do this?” And the number of Christians inside these villages continued to grow.
Now, what do we see in this project?
- In the beginning everything came from inside the villages with no help from outside.
- Christians believed they were both responsible and capable of doing something.
- They saw that they did have capacity; they were not victims.
- They could donate land and do a cooperative agricultural project. They did not have to keep everything just for their family.
- They saw they had the capacity to take the initial project from a path to the trail.
- They had young men who in the beginning were willing to carry these heavy loads.
- They were able and willing to learn.
- But it took 7 years to go from nothing to completely transformed villages and a completely transformed life.
Now, partnership does not happen overnight. So, what I would like you to think about is now the next 6 months.
- What are we going to do in the next 6 months?
- What kind of capacity do we have in our district?
- What kind of capacity do we have in the villages where we are living or working?
- What are the needs and who are the leaders or influential people we should talk to about these matters?
- How can we encourage the people to start with a small place and be successful, and be willing to continue to work at this?
Note: The people in the African villages had many, many, many discouragements. It was not simple. It was not easy.
So, think about the next 6 months, and (tomorrow) come back and be ready to talk about what sort of project are you going to do. And, what practical, simple, next steps are you going to take — step by step — to make it happen?