A Church Building for Dabgue

2011 May 19

Dear friends and family,

A short time before I arrived in Tchad in early May 2009, the Bere church had put on an effort in Dabgue, a small village about 7km south of where we live. A small group was meeting there under the shade of a mango tree, and that was where I spent my first Sabbath in Tchad. With rare exception, we drive down to Dabgue every Sabbath and conduct a program of singing, Bible stories, nature object lessons, and a short sermon. Usually children are the majority in attendance, but over time more adults have been attending.

We've switched to a nicer mango tree now, and members have contributed some funding to make a few benches. I really enjoy meeting under the tree in the open breeze. Yet during rainy season, there is no roof to keep us and our Bibles dry. Thus arose the need for a church building. Some time back, the chief of this village generously donated a piece of land upon which to erect a church structure.

After a long wait, the date was finally decided: we would begin construction of the Dabgue church Sunday, May 15. Melody and I had a Bible study scheduled for that morning, so we decided make preparations before lunch and leave after lunch. We loaded gravel, a barrel of water, cement, picks, shovels, foundation stakes, string, hammer, levels, and other things we would need into the borrowed van. Just in case the work went a bit past sundown, we decided to pack some flashlights and headlamps. Several church members came along to help, along with a few adventure-seeking kids.

Arriving at the site, we started looking at the property boundaries to help us determine where to clear the brush and lay out the foundation. Soon the chief arrived and began showing us the official boundaries - from the end of this row of trees to that bush over there to just past the termite mound to the edge of the road... We were not finished yet when we heard the sound of an approaching mob led by two very angry men yelling at the top of their lungs simultaneously, non-stop. One man's eyes looked like they were bugging out. They were obviously drunk. The shorter man picked me out and started shouting angrily in French things like, "I'm the chief of so-and-so and you didn't ask me for permission." "We don't need you missionaries; go build somewhere else; we don't want you here." "You are absolutely denied permission to build here." Surrounding him were a bunch of other very excited people each shouting to each other and mostly agreeing with the angry man. He would switch to local dialect for a while, shout with the crowd, and then switch back to French for me. From the very start I sent up a prayer to God for safety and a spirit of peace and He answered that prayer. I determined to let the angry man rant until he was tired. I looked at him, gave him some smiles, but didn't say a word. Glancing over at the chief, I saw a distressed and angered face.

Finally the shorter angry man let up and gave me a chance to speak a few words. Everybody hushed for a bit to see what the white man would say. Remembering that a soft answer turns away wrath, I breathed a silent prayer and said in a calm manner, "I have talked with the chief before, and we have received the proper permissions. Today, I have come to give a gift to your village. Furthermore, this is not my church. This will be God's church and your church all at the same time. I do not understand why all of you are upset at God's work." People know how to fight with angry words. But they found it hard to fight with my tone of voice. Soon, however, they erupted into more shouting and the chief of Dabgue and us white folk and church members walked a short way out into the field to regroup and talk things over a bit where it was quieter.

A good friend and seeker of the truth we'll call Moise (not his real name) in this email. He asked me, "What should we do? Should we pack up and go back? There are many problems here." In reply I explained, "This is God's church. I believe He has led us this far. I cannot turn my back to this crowd. If the chief will still allow us to continue, I think we should start the work." "This is truly the work of the Devil," Moise said. I agreed with his insight completely and encouraged him to remain strong. Moise went over and talked to the chief, and then we decided to walk back over to the van and begin the work.

Another chief ran off to get his hoe to chop the first bush. After the first wheelbarrow and a few buckets were unloaded, the angry crowd led by the two drunk men came in to protest and cause trouble again. As the first hoe was lifted, the people overflowed with loud talking and energy, following the lead of the two drunk men. They picked up the hoe and shovels and threw them off into the field a short distance, showing their utter contempt for the project. "Absolutely not. You will not."

The chief called out, "Everybody, stop the work. Just wait." He was getting to the end of his rope, and was out of ideas. He told me that he still wanted the church, but I could tell he was discouraged. Then followed more heated arguments and discussions among the crowd.

All the time, I am lifting up to God requests to control the situation for His glory.

Soon the shorter angry man gets super mad. He confronts the chief and says, "Come, let's go out into the bush alone and fight." Those in the crowd who side with the chief plead with him not to go out. The chief gives the angry man a large shove. Tensions are building. Everybody is now watching to see what will happen. Then, Moise steps between the two, calmly pushing them apart. And so Moise leads the angry man off a ways as the chief returns to the crowd where I suggest that we pray before beginning the work. He likes that idea. But wait, there is another hurdle to face before beginning our work!

One church member in particular was very unhappy. He wanted the church erected on his land rather than on public land donated by the chief. This is his sincere and very strong desire and so he decided to make one last plea in opposition to this plan which has been in affect for quite a few months now. On and on he talked, probably for five minutes. At the end the chief said, "Enough! Pack your baggage and go build your church somewhere else. I'm done." And he begins to walk off. It takes much persuasion to get him to come back. More and more village people joined in calling him back and finally he turned around once more and stood near us. We were just about ready to have prayer.

And then the shorter angry man reappeared. And he was walking directly toward me. I glanced into his face and my heart nearly did a flip. Could I believe what I was seeing? Is this the same man who went of with Moise a few minutes ago? As he got close a broad smile stretched below gentle eyes. Stretching out his hand to me he said, "I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?" Still a bit shocked at this miraculous change I firmly gripped his hand and said, "Yes." Melody was next, as she reached out her hand in forgiveness to this man. Then he turned toward the chief. Poor old chief. He wore a grouchy scowl as his eyes peered through squinted eyelids. While his right hand was against his chest, his fingers almost irresistibly started reaching out to shake the formerly angry man's hand. It was a struggle. He knew he should, but couldn't make himself do it. His arm was as stiff as the knee brace on the One-day Church would be. The crowd was now giving their advice, "It's OK now, it's OK now, just shake his hand. It's over." And so, as if painfully, the old chief slowly reached out his hand in forgiveness to the formerly angry man, now calm peaceful man.

Now everybody quieted down for prayer, including calm peaceful man. I said a few words of thanks and explained that this was not my church, or white man's church, but that it is first God's church, then their church. Then followed a prayer in the local dialect, and one by me in French. I asked God to bless the work and to bless the people of the village.

We only had a short time left to work, but we decided to make the best of the time remaining in the day. That evening we had a lot of support from the village people in helping to clear the land, lay out the foundations, dig holes, and mix cement. God blessed. During the night we asked God to surround the property and the church with holy angels.

The next morning I was unusually tired, but decided to get as much work done as possible. When we arrived, we found the work site undisturbed and put up the remainder of the church skeleton except for roof sheeting. That evening, packing the equipment back into our containers at home, I suddenly felt ill. That night my temperature peaked at 103.6F. Yes, I got malaria again; but praise God, three days later, I am feeling fairly well except for a bit of weakness.

No one can convince me that there is no God or no Satan. This experience in Dabgue, while not involving much physical violence, was a clear demonstration of a great war between Christ and Satan. Satan is opposed to the work of Christ, yet Satan is the weaker of the two. If we give Satan ground, he will take it. But if God has opened the doors and said, "Go forward," our only safety is in doing so.

Please continue to pray for the little church in Dabgue. Yes, please pray for the physical structure, that it will not be harmed. But more importantly, please pray for the body of the church, the people, that they will learn to love God and become light and hope to their village.

Thank you for reading this lengthy account.

Please keep us in your prayers.

Jonathan and Melody Dietrich

P.S. Below, I've quoted a few paragraphs from an old periodical called "Signs of the Times," March 4, 1886 issue. (This periodical continues to be in print to this day.) These are commentary on the story of how David conquered the giant Goliath.

"When, in the providence of God, we are brought in contact with these revilers, and find ourselves in positions of peculiar trial, we should not allow ourselves to become irritated at their provoking taunts and insulting words, which are calculated to throw us off our guard, and lead us to reply in our own spirit. Neither should we make rash moves to free ourselves from these unpleasant positions, where we must suffer humiliation and defeat.

"In the presence of opposers of the truth, and while in conversation with them, Christians should be careful not to exalt self or to utter a word to provoke or irritate. Let them taunt and sneer if they will; but go straight forward as though you heard them not. Ofttimes the greatest victories are gained through silence. Self may clamor for vindication; but silence gives time for reflection and prayer, and for God to speak to the soul. Silence is an evidence, not of weakness, but of strength, and is often more powerful than the strongest arguments.

"The people of Christ are his representatives upon the earth. They are to labor for the salvation of souls. This is the purpose for which our Saviour made his advent into the world, and he was steadfast in carrying out that purpose. He did not allow himself to be diverted in the least from his great work. He was not swerved from his course by the opposition of his enemies, or the flattery and persuasions of his friends. In this, as in all things, Christ is our example. We must be diligent and faithful in the work that has been committed to our hands. We must reach the people, not through the strength of argument merely, but through the mighty power of God working through our efforts."