A Day with Pastor Joseph

Whilst the wonderful team have been fulfilling their duties, teaching and preaching the gospel, I have been working with Pastor Joseph to try and find the miracles needed to open the school in the beautiful village of Mageragere. I will post a full update in due course, but I thought you might like a glimpse into this world through a typical day in the life of Pastor Joseph.

The day begins early being awoken by birdsong and sunshine and I move to a local hotel where there is good internet access so I can work while I wait for Pastor to arrive. His first task is to get his car started. It is a blessing to have a car here because it is essential to access the people we are serving. However, like many, it is an old car and needs constant attention. The battery is failing and he needs to call the mechanic who arrives at his house on a motorbike with a spare battery in a cardboard box and two pieces of bare wire. Somehow this is enough to get things going and Joseph arrives to collect me from the hotel to begin the day’s adventure.

The car is left running and our first task is to get mazutu (diesel). It is rare that the needle on the gauge ever leaves the red zone as fuel prices are the same all over the world and money here is scarce. There is a lot to do today, so it is a privilege to provide him with a full tank and off we go.

Our destination is an open day at the new school. The building is ready and people have been invited to attend this event so that we could recruit our first intake to begin their studies at the end of February. But first there are the errands. If you are pastor in Africa you have to look after everyone. And if you have a car, you are an even greater asset. And if you are Joseph you don’t say no to anyone. I want to help him, but sometimes I am more of a burden. It is like this: people see him with a white man, a muzungu, and they assume, therefore, that he is connected with a limitless supply of cash. This intensifies the number of demands made on his time and he cannot turn down the people he is called to serve. He bears this asset (burden) gladly and we arrive at a small hotel where a group of church workers have arrived to distribute bibles in the area. They need the key to the church where they are being stored so we stop in the car park and are faced with a tough decision. Do we switch the engine off? I agree to stay with the car and leave the engine running to avoid another ninety minute delay in today’s programme. It is hot now but we are soon on our way again and the air in the car as we rush up and down the hills is both beautiful and very welcome.

We are now heading straight for the land, the site of the new school, and we soon leave the lovely tarmac road and engage with the challenge of the mud tracks which requires all passengers to hold on for dear life and try and anticipate the various lumps and bumps of our well-worn path to avoid head injuries and broken backs. Former travellers have helped by leaving tyre marks outlining the best route, but our speed is cut to an average of just 15mph and we need a full 40 minutes to complete the relatively short journey to Mageragere.

However, this is not wasted time. Joseph’s phone never, ever stops ringing. He takes call after call from all the people he is engaged with, gives them very clear and concise advice and then fills me in on the issues of which there are many and I reflect on how relatively simple tasks to most of us are small crises here. But Joseph is a solution focused man. He takes the impossible in his stride and knows that God has already provided the solutions. So we must relax and watch our Father at work. I am also solution focused, but my methods are to fling resources at the problem to make it go away. The challenge here is that there are none. Even with all the money in the world many things remain well out of reach. Solution focused here involves God inspired tactical astuteness. And we are learning fast. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and here we are in the land of a thousand hills, so why are we worried? Actually, we are not. It is exciting, inspiring and deeply fulfilling to be totally at the mercy of Jehovah Jirah.

Joseph prays, thanking God that we are alive to see this beautiful day. I rarely thank God for my life. I see that as a given in ‘entitlement’ Britain. But what a beautiful prayer. God decides whether we live or die, we decide whether we live well or settle for mediocrity. Today is too good to settle for anything less than the best. So we start singing our songs of praise in whatever language seems appropriate.

We are driving slowly and the phone calls are punctuated by local people arising from their seats to greet us as we go past. We are several miles off the main road now and a car is a rare thing. A car with a white man inside is a very rare thing. A bus with twenty white children in is cause for a street party – but they will come along later.

People rush up to shake hands, they wave, they get excited. Who visits them? Not many, so this is a great day. The smiles and the greetings alone make the journey worthwhile. Some stop the car to make their demands directly to Joseph. He smiles, laughs and then we go on our way. “How can you help everyone?” he reflects. I go into deep thought and try again to come up with the global solution that no one has yet found. And yet again, it eludes me. So I laugh as well. Back to Plan A. Let go and let God. Anyway, who says we have got it right? These people are really happy. And here we are, wanting to spoil everything in the name of progress. The more you think, the more you realise how life is about relationship, not possession.

We arrive at the new school, a beautiful building standing alone in about 16 acres of land. Across the valley is the most amazing view. We all pause and just look. Take a good look because in a few years this outstanding natural beauty will all be tarmac and concrete. None of that has reached here yet and so we have a chance to meet the lovely local people who need our help but do not do school fees. We begin with a prayer and then look at a few draft budgets. And then we pray again.

The sermon on Sunday was having confidence to meet Jesus half way by stepping out of the boat in the storm and walking on the water. Right now that seemed a whole lot easier. Nevertheless, after just a short hour crunching some numbers we work out that we can run the school for the first 70 pupils for just £19,000 in the first year. It is all in touching distance. Many arrive to say that they want our English education but no one has fees. So we pray again and again. We then get a visit from the local leaders, passionate to see their community blessed by the school. We agree that some form of sponsorship is our only choice and we ask them to come up with criteria and a short list of young people they feel would most benefit. They walk out with heads held high and feeling like kings. They are now the selection committee. A job they are going to take very seriously.

Joseph knows that success is found in letting the local people determine their future. We can have influence but not control. An important lesson he has taught me. All the local cattle and goats sound off in agreement. In fact, here, you can sense the whole of creation groaning. Waiting for the moment when Kingdom values will again determine how people live and think. Money is not the issue. The land is worth five times the amount we paid for it and if the school does not succeed, the Muslims will buy it and make a real success of it. However, our prayer is that by grace, so immense and free, we will see God’s glory here.

Time to go. We are off now to a government school in the town. They have agreed to share their English syllabus, schemes of work and assessment materials with us and we are eager to get there well before dark. And the car won’t start! In the middle of absolutely nowhere. My father would be quoting some choices phrases to describe our delicate position and without any doubt they would all be totally appropriate. I would love to tell you how we all joined hands, looked up to heaven, prayed in tongues and the car started, turned into a golden carriage and flew off over the hills like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but sadly, we had to phone the garage and wait for ninety minutes. £2 later and the man with the battery in the cardboard box went on his way having given us the life line we needed. We headed back through the local villages answering the same number of calls and smiling and waving at the same lovely people. Joseph gives a lift to some local pastors and all the way into town he encourages them to love and look after the people. They are simple men, but highly effective in their task. God bless them all.

Arriving at the school in the town, we decide together that we need to leave the car running. So we delight some 14 year old boy by asking him to stay in the car and watch over our things. I am sure he never stopped smiling for the whole hour we were there. I met the head teacher and the English department staff who told me that the man we were supposed to meet was unwell. Or is it not well? I had to pause and deliver a quick English lesson. I stopped when I got to the phrase, ‘not unwell’ because they were getting very confused. We were able to help ourselves to books, past papers and schemes of work and we even asked how much they were paid. We were surprised to receive a very polite answer to our very impolite question. It all helps. You need to know the market.

Joseph then offers the teachers a lift into town as otherwise they would have to walk for an hour or so. Everyone is used to that here, but the offer was gratefully accepted. We talked more with the teachers and their insights informed us greatly. This was a very useful visit on our journey to develop a successful English school. Joseph is so good at meeting people and getting the most out of them.

Joseph drops the teachers and then has to attend to the million or so requests that he has received courtesy of MTN (BT). The most urgent is that there is no food left at the primary school that Joseph runs. First stop is the development bank. Joseph has to negotiate a small extension to his loan and withdraws enough to meet tomorrow’s food bill. He feeds about 600 children each day through meals at the primary school. Until recently, Joyce Meyer helped with this but Joseph became a victim of his own success and they were deemed to be less needy. No hard feelings. People give and expect money to be prioritised properly. In a way it is a complement. God bless Joyce Meyer for what she has done. I have seen first-hand the difference her input has made to these children.

We arrive at the primary school to deliver the money. It is getting dark now and there are still some children staying on to learn. Their bus is late so they are making the most of the extra hour’s tuition. The head teacher at the school then lists all the other problems, all of them exactly the same as we face in the UK but with less flexibility and fewer resources to solve them. We discuss things together, come up with absolutely no solutions, but they are grateful that we came to see. Another lesson from Joseph: even if you cannot do anything, go and talk. Give your support in any way you can.

We are now very hungry as it is past 6.00pm and we have not eaten. I am eating later with the team but I offer to take Joseph for something. Hotel Rwanda is the nearest and so we share a plate of chips and some coffee. I practise my Rwandan as I am nearing fluency and everyone just laughs and delights in telling me all the wrong things to say. Not that I need any help. We discuss our day together. We get a phone call from England as someone has tracked down the supplier of the text books we need. Joseph phones them and we make an appointment to visit tomorrow. Many come and greet Joseph at our table. His coffee is replenished at no additional expense. He introduces me to important diplomats and simple Rwandans alike. An amazingly broad ministry.

We get back to the Scripture Union guest house where I am staying with the team just in time for me to join them on a night out to the MTN centre and some ice cream. I wave goodbye to my muvande mwe mwange (my brother from the same womb, as he calls me) and he returns to his home for some rest. No doubt before he gets there, he will have more calls, more errands and more car troubles. Tomorrow we begin another adventure. Or is it the same adventure? Probably a bit of both.

Paul Johnson