Seth and I joke that everything takes 7 steps (or 20!) in Africa. It’s not a funny joke. We say it with a sigh or in our worst moments, a groan. Dealings of a business nature in a Third World setting are wrought with stress, frustration, and misunderstanding.
Our search for a church “stand” (plot of land) unfortunately didn’t diverge from this pattern. We told a short version of our stand-story to our supporting churches while on furlough and were often asked for closure–“What happened?” Here is my attempt to summarize our current stand-situation.
First of all, it took years to get our church to a point where we could think about building. We had to grow the membership; we also had to grow maturity and commitment in order to have the finances and labor to build. Then we had to find a suitable site.
Our specific village was quite land-locked when we moved here in 2006 and grows more so each year. There were only a few options for land, and we experienced corruption or confusion from the tribal authority in three past attempts to buy property for our Bible Institute.
When we decided on our hopeful site, we approached the tribal authority to see if it was available. This process took several meetings, and they charged us the price of a business stand in the area (which we felt inappropriate and too expensive for our people–it was 10 times the cost of our teammates’ stand in their village just down the road, and they thought their price was exorbitant!) We didn’t think the tribal authority corrupt in this charge, simply not thoughtful.
We didn’t buck the price but agreed to pay it off monthly, which we did through selling Bibles and cookies, as well as emptying our savings from the past few years. We were happy with how quickly our church paid it off. It allowed us time to begin putting a fence up before our furlough.
As a people group, Africans are not often touted for their management skills. Seth tried so hard to “finalize” the purchase as officially as possible without annoying the tribal authority. Three tribal members, including the leader, approved our property, in person and on site. An Afrikaner friend (the white language group here) chuckled when hearing how the tribal authority decided on the perimeters of our land, saying, “Ya, they just kind of throw a stone and say, ‘There it is.'” [for the boundaries] Right. Pretty much.
Not knowing exactly where our boundaries were, we moved through the building process very slowly (which is all our finances allowed anyway!) We cleared the land a bit. Waited. Had a bulldozer come in and change a road. Waited. Dug post holes. Waited. Dug more. Waited. Started putting up posts. Waited. Etc. We had no opposition for these seven months of baby-step-building.
The last week before we left for America, we were thrown one of those stressful curve balls. I wrote about it here:
“TIA = our acronym for This Is Africa. A TIA moment (actually several!) happened this week. On one of the busiest weeks of our year, Seth happened to pass a member of the tribal authority council, who told him that our church “stand” (plot) was too big, and we needed to go see Mr. __ to have it measured. You’ve got to be kidding! We already cleared the stand, dug holes, and have almost finished putting the poles around the perimeter—all tasks that drained our time and money. Now with only one work day left before we leave for four months, they want to cut our stand.”
On one of Seth’s busiest weeks of the year, he took time out to measure his stand with three Africans. The Director of Stands drew a general picture of our stand with the (mis-measured) dimensions on his hand. To make a long story short, they approved the stand’s size. We were relieved. I wrote this ironic statement: “The stand is now measured and recorded on paper, and we are 94% sure that no tribal authority members will bother us about it again. 🙂 ”
We planned to finish placing the last few poles on Seth’s very last weekend before furlough. As the boys were just preparing to mix the last batch of cement, the head of the tribal council walked up and with only a handful of sentences ruined a month of work, taking away a portion of our stand–a complete side that had taken hours of labor from our teen boys (since we had no men outside of Seth to work) to cut through difficult brush (with incredibly itch-inducing flowers), dig holes, and cement them in.
Furious and frustrated are two good adjectives for Seth and me that day. Cynically unsurprised (a good adjectival phrase) and worried–for the four months we were gone. We knew that they had given part of our land to someone else to build and were worried that this unknown-body would take too much from our stand, build while we were gone with us unable to protest his dimensions, leaving us unable to get reimbursed if we wanted to renege on the property.
Well, we now know what happened! Our first Sunday back, we drove by our stand and were so discouraged. Our neighbor businessman had indeed taken too much land, built right next to the fence between our properties (used our fence poles for himself), and would not be moved. We wondered if he would open a liquor store, which would just be the limit! (He plans to open a bakery, thank the Lord!)
The following day, Seth measured our remaining stand with a church member and decided that although the bakery owner did take too much land from us, it wasn’t too too much. We still had an adequate piece of property. In the past, we probably would have tried to fight against this more at the tribal council. But we have learned that pushing for our understanding of our rights rarely avails much except unhappy stress for ourselves and some dislike of us for the Africans.
Our church members agreed to live peacefully with all men. After time, we ourselves have adjusted to the idea and are satisfied with what we have. God is our comfort and strength. We will put our energies toward more profitable things than quibbling over such things as land dimensions. 🙂 We truly hope and believe that we will not be troubled further about our stand. But–who but God knows for sure? Ita Vita African!