Greetings From Bere!

2009 May 24

Hello from the very hot country of Chad. Over the past three weeks I have been seeing, experiencing, and learning so much. I grew up listening to African mission stories from my grandparents and my dad, but I never imagined that I would actually be called to Africa. Now, after nearly two and a half years of intensive training, my volunteer ministry in Africa has begun. I am excited to be able to share with you a few thoughts on my experience so far.

Short version
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For the past three weeks, I've been working at the Adventist Medical Aviation project in Chad, working with Gary and Wendy Roberts. Much of my time so far has been spent on two projects: the hanger and staff housing. Both projects are underway, but have a lot of work remaining. Language learning (French) is another topic of learning and study. I would like to learn the local dialect eventually, as well. On Sabbaths, we go down to a village about 5 kilometers south of here and have Sabbath School under a mango tree for the children there. We are also in the initial stages of starting a nutrition center to help with some of the severe malnutrition cases here.

Long version
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The flight from Atlanta to Paris was basically uneventful. Arriving in Paris early morning, I had time to take the subway into the city and walk around for a while to see the Eiffel Tower and the Notre Dame Cathedral. Late afternoon I boarded another commercial jet for N'Djamena, the capital of Chad. Upon landing, I negotiated the maze of French-speaking officials and made it through with all my luggage and no extra fees. Praise the Lord for that! Gary Roberts picked me up and we spent the night in the capital. The next morning we did some errands and picked up some fresh fruit and vegetables to take down to Bere. Fruit and vegetables are usually scarce in Bere, so this will be a real treat. Once we loaded the luggage, food, and supplies into the Cessna 172, we headed south toward Bere.

As we flew, I got my first good look at Chad. The vast expanse of sandy desert is sprinkled with trees and a few shrubby bushes. So much brownish dust was in the air that we could see no real horizon. The sky just turns gradually from a brownish blue overhead to a brown below to match the ground. Even though Gary had called ahead to check that the weather in Bere was good, storms were brewing. My first view of a dust storm was impressive: a wall of dust towered from the ground to several thousand feet high.

Upon landing at the dirt airstrip at Bere my brain was a bit overwhelmed with the processing of much new information. Dozens and dozens of people came to see the airplane and to watch what strange things the white people might do next. Wide-eyed and excited, they chattered away in their local language. I smiled, and they smiled back; I look forward to learning a more advanced level of communication than that! Pigs, goats, and sheep wandered around. Small mud-brick huts with thatch roofs dot the flat landscape. I see more trees than I expected, though it is definitely no forest. This is to be my new home. These people are my new neighbors. Hopefully these people will be my neighbors in heaven. This is what the local language sounds like. This is what "hot" is. This is Africa.

In future newsletters, I hope to describe to you a part of life in Africa that may be different than your normal. Although many things are unfamiliar here, adapting to life here has been fairly easy so far. Gary and Wendy have been very helpful in that aspect where possible. This time I'll talk about the heat. For now, the temperature most days climbs above 100F, and a few have reached above 110F. To avoid having to work during the hottest part of the day, I start my day well before five o'clock. During the hottest part of the day we do planning or something less strenuous. I'll talk about water some other time, but for now, I'll mention that the water here isn't really cool. The water in the tank heats up in the sun and becomes actually quite warm. I already miss drinking cool water, but that's not a big deal. The nights are cooler, but I still often wake up dripping wet. Brick walls collect heat during the day and release it at night, so it is past midnight before it seems to cool down.

Projects overview
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Some of you have asked me to describe some of the various projects we are involved with, so I will give you a brief introduction here. More details will follow in upcoming newsletters. Feel free to email me with questions any time.

Gary and I have been working on the new hanger project. Before I arrived, land had been purchased adjacent to the runway and a taxiway had been started. Now the taxiway is nearly done. If plans go according to schedule, components for the steel structure should be arriving from N'Djamena within a week or two. Building a hanger is an important priority to protect the airplane from the dust storms and from hail storms. Thankfully, not much damage occurred to the airplane from the last hail storm, but we do not want to wait to find out what happens during the next one! We mechanics will also enjoy working in the shade out of the baking sun.

While most of my first two weeks were spent working on the hanger project, this past week was spent primarily on the staff housing project. We are building a modified hut structure, trying to improve durability and stability by adding iron to the structure. Owning our own buildings will decrease our long-term operating expenses.

A well is being dug (by hand) so that we will have a good source of water nearby.

Gary and Wendy have been operating a Sabbath School in a village about 5 kilometers south of here. Last week, nearly 100 children gathered around the mango tree to listen to some singing and a Bible story. The children really enjoy putting felts up on the little felt board. Mostly children attend. We hope that adults will begin to come, and we are considering putting up a simple church structure in that village.

Another project that is badly needed is a nutrition center. Malnutrition is a big problem here, but it is largely a correctable situation. With some simple agriculture and nutrition training, many lives might be saved. Yet, I have already seen so many children who are malnourished. I have not seen the really bad cases a few more kilometers down the road.

One more need is for Bible workers. Except for a few pastors in N'Djamena, I believe there are only two Seventh-day Adventist pastors are available for the entire remaining portion of the country. Bible workers are needed who will work with the people, lead them to a strong relationship with Jesus, and train them to be Bible workers to their own people. The spiritual state of the people here is sad.

Conclusion
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There is so much need here, and so much potential for helping the people in and around Bere. Please be praying for each of these projects as they are formulated and grow. The more serious we are about accomplishing God's work, the more serious Satan gets about opposing it. God is stronger! Pray that each of us at this projects will remain faithful to God's calling. Pray that God will send more dedicated workers.

I want to give thanks to God for His direction and provision in my life. I do not know the future, but I am excited to be a part of His work in Chad. I am also very thankful for the prayers and support of my family and friends and for the donors who have helped so much to make this possible. I appreciate the notes of encouragement that some of you have sent. It is great to hear from people back home! For now, good bye till next time.

Jonathan