Living Water For Thirsty Souls
mtl Note: Paul Wonderly has devoted his life to sharing Christ and living Christ through the grace of Christ. This devotion is what recently led him to the country of Africa. After spending nearly a week among the people of Nigeria, his heart was broken for them and their country.
The first time I caught sight of the district of Makoko, we were traveling on one of Africa’s longest bridges over the Lagos Lagoon. We slowed down just long enough to take photos of it: hundreds of shanties built in the shallows of the water with an unhealthy, smoky haze permanently hanging over the rooftops. We were headed on business elsewhere that day, but I sat in awe. I had seen the photos, but nothing prepared me for the specter of poverty that sits on the edge of this metropolis.
The next day, however, we made our turn down a busy side street that wound through a market toward the slum. I still have no idea how our vehicles were able to fit through some of the tight squeezes, but we eventually found ourselves stopped in front of a narrow alleyway just wide enough to walk through.
As a steady rain falls under a grey sky, water pours off the rooftops, turning the center of the alley into a flowing stream. We leave the crowded street, making our way past women and children, and weave through the buildings until we reach a bridge of boards. With each step, the ground underneath the boards slowly turns into mud. The acrid smell of smoke assaults our nostrils, but there are hints of things far worse mixed in.
Our tiny bridge soon terminates at a makeshift dock surrounded by a flotilla of small boats and garbage floating in the water around it. Children smile and wave at us, shouting “Oyibos!” (white people). The older people wear no smiles, as though their harsh life here has slowly destroyed their ability to smile.
As we wait, I take several pictures and show the photos to the children, who rapidly pick up on the fine art of posing for the camera. A short time later, our guide, a young man ironically named Noah, greets us and we begin loading into one of the boats.
I eye the murky water uneasily as I step off the rickety dock and into the boat. The boat dips uncomfortably close to the water line as we push away from the dock. I do my best not to dwell on the kinds of things that await us if the boat capsizes. Noah maneuvers us through several rows of houses. Children peer out of windows everywhere, shouting at us and waving. Many of them are playing in the mire. The stench occasionally causes me to wrinkle my nose, and I shudder to think of the diseases these children are exposed to daily. Impossibly large amounts of people greet us from every shanty. The average shanty has ten people living in it and survives off the equivalent of ten dollars a month.
The steady drizzle continues as we approach the chief’s house, a two story construction situated somewhere in the middle of the village. Noah docks us next to the wooden platform and we briefly gather underneath the outdoor balcony as runoff from the roof drips onto our heads.
After Noah secures the boat, he leads us up the rickety stairway to the upper room where the chief awaits us. Once inside, I notice uncomfortably that the building is swaying and moving as we walk. I quickly put it out of my mind when the chief walks in with a smile on his face and insists that we sit down. He and his friends look to be in their thirties. I note soberly that I have seen no one who looks much older than forty. The average life expectancy cannot be long here.
We introduce ourselves one at a time, each of us pledging our help and love for his village. Though I have only been here fifteen minutes, the immense needs already weigh heavy on my heart. Jonathan, a local well digger, briefly explains that he will be taking water and soil samples to see if it will be possible to build a well for the village. The chief sincerely thanks us for our help, and we are soon back into the precarious boat as we make our way slowly toward the community’s only school.
We approach the schoolhouse, a rickety two story structure. Children pour out of the building like a flood and stand waiting in the rain just for a chance to meet us. As we step off the boat and onto dry land, we’re soon surrounded by the outstretched hands of a hundred children waiting just to touch us, and we are more than willing to embrace them. When Christ calls us to be His ambassadors, He means that we follow in His footsteps and embrace children wherever we go, no matter how important the errand we are on. The kingdom of God really does belong to such as these.
After the children return to the school building, we turn our attention to the building itself. One of the first projects we will attempt here is to reinforce the failing wooden beams that support the second story of the structure. The entire second story is already leaning, and I don’t want to think about what another year or two of wear will do to the building.
The school was a project undertaken by an international aid organization which was unable to finish. We hope to be able to finish what they started and provide Noah and the other teachers with the resources to be able to give the kids here a quality (and safe) education.
When we return to the car, Jonathan remarks that his experience in the village was “like the day I was born.” He is stunned by the extent of the poverty in his own country. It’s a sobering reminder to me of God’s grace in my life. People live their entire lives here: no trees, no shelter, no sanitation, and almost no hope for any change. And the thing that stunned me the most is that there is no outlet for the people and no source of recreation, not even for the chief. There is no soccer field, and there are no games to be played in the filthy water. In short, their lives are unbelievably difficult, and there is no escape.
The chief recognizes the plight of his people. He is so touched by our hearts for his community that he has already donated the land (water) to build a church, medical clinic, community center and extension to the school. In all of the places I have been on missions, this opportunity is the most open door I have ever seen.