All comptetant smiles

Carol Wambui is a Kenyan. Born to a Christian family, she grew up in near Nairobi, Kenya where she went to school and fell in love with computing. She got her degree in computer science.

In her late 20s Carol became the network administrator for Mitsubishi Kenya. Not all educated Kenyans can find a job. Only about half of Kenyans graduating with a degree in engineering or computer science find a job. There are plenty of university graduates living in the slums looking for an opportunity. Someone even called the universities “unemployment factories”.

So Carol was fortunate to be making a good living. She knew that God was taking care of her. But more than anything, Carol was active in her church. She sang in the choir, went on outreach ministries, helped wherever she could and witnessed regularly at work.

Nairobi is the hub for Bible translation work in several countries in east Africa. Translators from Ethiopia to Tanzania count on services offered in Nairobi. That includes computer services. When those computer services advertised in churches that they needed a Christian with computer skills to help translators, Carol heard it in her church and God spoke to her.

My wife, Dayle, was on the committee that interviewed her. Carol told the committee: “I want to work for a Christian organization and have a ministry, rather than just working for a business whose purpose is to make money, even if it means earning less money.” She stood out from the other candidates both in terms of her computer skills and in terms of her testimony and personal integrity. She said, “I told my boss when I was hired at Mistubishi that I would not lie for him!” It was a cut in pay and in the possibilities for future advancement, but in her early 30s, Carol took the job at the regional translation office in Nairobi.

The one thing about Carol is her smile and the second thing is her laugh. Carol is the embodiment of the joy of the Lord. When I think of Carol I think of that smile and that joy.

Congolese translators headed home from the training event at which Carol taught computers

But Carol is competent too. All the computer problems I took her were solved quickly and fully. So we decided to ask her to help with computer training for Congolese translators. The problem would be language. Carol did all her work in English. The Congolese translators spoke their languages and French. But Carol and most of the Congolese translators also spoke Swahili. We had never tried to do computer training in Swahili, but we decided to give it a go.

So I traveled with Carol. It was at the airport that I learned that this would be Carol’s very first time in an airplane. That made me nervous; needlessly it turned out. You would not have known that it was Carol’s first flight. She napped! It was that joy and confidence of hers again.

Carol with Congolese translators

We ended up in the small town of Arua in western Uganda and right on the Congo border. Because of insecurity in Congo, we were bringing the Congolese translators to Arua for training. Carol was a great help at that workshop. So we asked her to help a second time, also with great results. But I did not realize how great until a year later. I was working with some Congolese translators on plans for the coming year and computer training came up. I suggested that we bring someone into Congo to work with them on site. All of the Congolese had the same reaction: “If you send someone, send Carol. She knows how to teach us computers.”

Shortly after that, Carol was traveling overnight by bus in Kenya with her church choir to an outreach along the Kenya coast. In the middle of the night the bus had an accident. It was going too fast, a too common occurrence. Seven of the choir members were killed. It was some time before the accident was discovered and hours before help arrived. A large piece of metal from the bus pierced Carol through the stomach and out her back. She probably died instantly.

I miss my friend Carol. I wonder why God took such a good servant home so early. In Carol, as in many others, I saw the missions vision of the mature Christians in Africa. There are many more like Carol who are serious about their faith and ready to give up financial security to serve. It is one of my great joys in life that I know some of them and expect to know many more.

Today, Dayle and I travel to San Francisco by car – the first leg of our trip back to Africa. We will work for a Ghanaian organization doing Bible translation. We are so looking forward to meeting many Ghanaians Carol’s mold.

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An app for that

Men loading a pickup serving as a "bush taxi" plying a route between two cities. Burkina Faso, circa 1985

A colleague of mine was traveling in rural Africa by locally available public transportation, mostly small buses and pickup trucks with benches in the back. She had traveled part way on one vehicle and was at a “bus station” waiting for a vehicle going to her destination.

Small entrepreneurs set up booths selling food and other things useful for travelers. Others circulate with a tray of goods like candy or cigarettes. They are the equivalent of the shops in airports and the ones I saw at ferry terminals in British Columbia.

One vendor approached my colleague, a single woman. “I have medicine for your children”, she ventured. She might have meant an herbal cure, but it is more likely that she was selling the kind of charm, amulet or grigri which one sees hung round the necks or strung on the waists of small children in the belief that they ward off illness and evil spirits. Drugs sold at the pharmacy, natural cures prepared by a local herbalist, and “magic” charms are all equally referred to as “medicine”.

Man selling goods to travelers from his bicycle at a "bus station" in N'Djamena, Chad, 2009

My colleague replied, “I don’t have children”.

Undaunted, the vendor pursued the sale, “I have medicine for that too!” My colleague laughed. The vendor made a guess, “Do you have a husband?” When my colleague confirmed her singleness, the vendor proved her tenacity and sales skills with, “I have medicine for that too!”

Young men selling cosmetics from an umbrella-shaded roadside stand, Ouagadougou, circa 1990

Reversal of roles

We had been married for more than five years and still had no children when we started consulting doctors. But living in rural Burkina Faso did not give us much contact with doctors and none with infertility specialists. The doctor we saw when we were home in the US was not hopeful.

Dayle and Ed in Côte d'Ivoire 1982

But in 1981 we were reassigned to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Being a big city, it had many more health care options. Dayle started seeing a French woman doctor certified in infertility who held out some hope for us. After tests, she put us on a regimen which we followed for over a year.

At that point, we were asked to move to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and lead an expansion of Bible translation into that country. Our doctor in Abidjan informed us that we could not continue the regimen from a distance. It needed closer monitoring than that. So if we accepted the assignment, we would have to stop.

We prayed and talked. In the end, we decided that the move was strategic and we accept the assignment. It was a very difficult choice, pitting what was best for the bibleless peoples of Burkina Faso against our personal interests. We did not suspect it then, but we would often be in similar positions and so would our colleagues. What happened gave us the faith to make many more decisions that seemed antithetical to our personal interests.

We abandoned the fertility treatments, putting on hold our plans for a family, and moved to Ouagadougou in October 1983.

The semi-arid regions of Africa experience periodic meningitis epidemics. They occur in the dry and cool season. Fortunately, there is a vaccine for the type of meningitis that causes epidemics. So we always kept that vaccine up to date. Ours was expiring and the dry and cool season was coming, so we went to get booster shots. The nurse asked Dayle if she was pregnant or might get pregnant. Without going into all the details, Dayle told that there really was no chance that she was expecting. But the nurse did not want to give the shot without confirmation because the vaccine would have an adverse effect on the baby. So she had to get a pregnancy test.

We thought that it was an unnecessary bother and we were right about the bother. At the time, finding a pregnancy test in Ouagadougou was no small matter. We searched several pharmacies before finding one. It was an old-fashioned gizmo that had to be set up in a place where it would not be moved or jostled for at least an hour. The instructions indicated that the slightest movement would cause it to fail. So we set it up in a corner of the house and Dayle went off to a meeting, leaving me at home. When she came back, we would go get her vaccination.

She was gone a couple of hours. I looked at the test after an hour and the result was clear. When Dayle came home I was given the treat of a most unusual and delicious reversal of roles telling her,

Honey, you’re pregnant!

Dayle expecting Matthew (at home in Grants Pass)

In the same month two years later we discovered that Dayle was pregnant again. So we have two miracle boys.

Jesus said “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33). We have found this to be so true, but also difficult to carry out. We have seen missionaries who were doing great work make decisions that limited – and in a few cases even destroyed – the impact of their ministries because of personal considerations.

After God, in his grace, took us through this experience with infertility, we were left with the firm conviction that we can always make decisions in favor of his kingdom and count on him to give us the things we need and want.

I like the way Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message:

Dayle with newborn Matthew

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.” (Matthew 6:30—33)