A few weeks ago while discussing some of the economic realities of our Fu*be friends, our language helper suggested that perhaps we ought to offer some help and teaching on managing money and businesses to the commnity we were planning to visit, as this generation in transition has not seen how to do this in their parents. As cattle owners, the Fulbe essentially had a live savings account, and when substantial needs arose they would simply sell a cow. Business among the herdng Fulbe was simple- men bought, sold and looked after cattle; women sold the milk. Budgeting, capital, stock, inventory, saving, investing….all were foreign concepts they had no interest in or need for. The proceeds of a sale of a good sized cow would generate something like $600-$800, a sum which is now just about equal to the value of the entire corn harvest of their children and grandchilren, who are now depending on subsistence farming to support themselves.
We accepted the challenge, and once the community took us up on our offer, I began to wrestle with how to adapt my usual teaching on budgeting etc for a subsistence farming, largely illiterate crowd. We travelled out to the community a couple of days after Christmas and Jeff and I shared about 8 hours of teaching of a godly view of money and giving, basic budgeting, a few simple business principles, and a long discussion on how they might improve their farming. We did have a lot of fun with it and God was gracious to give us a few inspirations that allowed the material to connect with the people. I had a lot of fun drawing pictures of my budget envelope categories on the chalkboard rather than writing very much, and our audience had fun figuring my poor artwork out. Questions and discussions indicate that although we couldn’t cover everything, and have more work to do on this, people understood how these principles could make a difference for them. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that even if they applied the budgetting principles extremely diligently, the contents of their budget ‘envelopes’ was woefully inadequate for many of the basics of life.
In the middle of this, we had a head-on confrontation with the reality of one of the budget ‘envelope’ categories- medical expenses and emergencies. Suleymanu got a request around 4 am Saturday morning to come see and pray for a little girl. She had been taken to the hospital earlier that day, diagnosed with fairly serious malaria, (for toddlers it can get serious pretty quickly) and medications dispensed. However around 4 am she started seizing and shaking. Suleymanu prayed for her and told the family that although he was no doctor, he was pretty sure that they really needed to take her back to the hospital. We found out around noon, when we broke from the morning session, that they had not done so. So we went to see her, and I modified their technique for cooling her body, managed to get a dose of fever medication (liquid Paracitemol) into this semi-conscious child, Jeff prayed for her again, and he and Suley prepared to take the family back to the hospital. We were pretty sure at that point in time that the reason that they had not taken her back in the morning was that they simply had no more money. So Jeff dipped into our benevolent fund, and gave the father 20,000 cfa (about $50 Cdn) for fees when he left them there. After returning and resting a bit, we finished our 3 pm afternoon teaching sessions, happy for their understanding but wishing that I could do more.
Early on Sunday morning we heard singing and wailing, and by breakfast time we heard that the little girl had died in the middle of the night, and the family had brought her body back and were preparing her for burial. We were extremely saddened, although not terribly shocked, given the child’s condition when she was taken back to hospital. But as I packed and prepared for a low key departure, to get into my nice Hilux truck and go back to my fairly comfortable temporary ‘home’ in Banyo, I felt a familiar twinge of guilt. I took a few minutes to read my Bible on my phone and decided to check Facebook as well. I found this post shared by Susie Hohn, Meet Me in the Middle which does an excellent job of articulating this tug of guilt and joy while serving in the ‘two thirds world’ and how debilitating it can be if we don’t learn to manage it. I have saved her post in my facebook because I think I might have to read this a few more times. And as friends and supporters, I suggest you read this post as well.
As I sit here writing this, I am eating some corn chips made by Elsie’s househelp that I splurged on while in Bamenda. I felt similar conflicted feelings whether to enjoy it or cringe. I am simuntaneously proud of being able to whip up 3 jars of homemade salsa for the grand total of $2, feeling cranky about not being able to get good sour cream, frustrated that I couldn’t make proper guacamole because I couldn’t figure out how to ask for limes in the market, and cringing because the $4 cost of this yummy bag of chips would have paid for a pound of beef, vegetables and corn enough for a fairly deluxe large family meal for many of our friends here. I turn up the music on my (very nice) computer so that I can drown out the sound of the mice/rats scurrying around in my attic and contemplate her words…
“So, I don’t have this battle won, but I think the answer is learning to live well within the “middle” rather than fighting it. Those of us who live in the “middle” aren’t comfortable on either side anymore, but that is exactly where God has placed us. So, we continue to feel the discomfort, the pain, help the hurting, cry with and sacrifice for those in need, fight for contentment in our own need. When we are there on that side of our “middle ground”, in those moments, we need to be all there and not looking to the other side. Let’s not compare or justify or defend or run or allow guilt to overrun. Enter into pain and allow ourselves to hurt with those who are hurting, weep with those who are weeping and find contentment in loss and in need or in abundance.”
Meanwhile, I’ve finished my quota of chips, and am preparing to go early tomorrow on another extended trip to a village, and I pray that I can take this tug-of-war to my heavenly Father and be ‘all there’ where I am going.