“How did I get here?” I asked myself as I wrote in my tent, by the bluish white light of an LED headlamp. It was after “Missionary Midnight” – 9 p.m., the time when the generator gets turned off. Somehow, I found myself working as an automotive instructor on a short-term mission project in the middle of rural Mozambique.
For the most part, it was relatively quiet. Traffic noise is all but non-existent there. But every now and then in the middle of the night, the scream of a bush baby would awaken me from slumber.
Fortunately for me, it was dry season when I was there in August, and the daytime and evening temperatures were much like early fall in southern Alberta, so living so close to the elements was not too much of a hardship. The terrain is rolling and often covered with flat-topped trees and bush. I shimmed up the end of my bed frame, as the whole campsite sloped slightly towards the river.
The air was sporadically filled with smoke. During that time of the year Mozambique burns, the country’s inhabitants being at the mercy of the winds. Sometimes, I breathed shallowly, trying to avoid the inevitable aftertaste that comes with murky air.
Quite a contrast from Calgary and it often seemed very far away.
I was on the Strategic Action Mission Ministries (SAM Ministries) farm in Mozambique for a month, working through an organization called Mercy Tech Mission (MTM). Its goal is to work alongside and train local workers so that when the short-term mission team leaves, new skills are left behind that will improve the quality of life in those communities.
But despite anyone’s best intentions, it is not possible to arrive in a foreign country and immediately make a difference. First you need to learn about the country and its people and they need to learn about you.
When I arrived, I was warmly greeted by Dwight Lagore, SAM’S mission director, at the airport in Chimoio. “This is a long way from Canada,” I quipped.
“If it were close, everyone would be here,” answered Lagore, with a smile.
He and his wife, Lynn, both come from missionary backgrounds. They initially sought positions in the secular world – Dwight in a food distribution company, and Lynn as a nurse. But it was hard to get past the missionary roots, and they answered the call where there was great need – Mozambique in the early 1990s – a country torn apart by years of civil war, a country that still bears the scars and wounds of the conflict. “The first couple of years were pretty tough,” Lagore said, “and it almost ended our marriage.”
Despite uncounted trials with the government, the SAM farm has managed to survive, sitting on 9.5 square kilometers of wooded land, in Manica province. The farm itself employs about 50 people, with workers tending livestock, others building with wood and brick.
“The farm is a holistic mission base, focused on leadership training (of the Mozambique people), and addresses the needs of the people as we encounter them. Spiritually sound, intellectually sound, physically sound. Love your neighbour – you can’t love God and not love your neighbour,” Lagore said. The key work is to develop a person’s potential – help people to help themselves, and go into situations with a view toward a hand up versus a hand out.
Employment on the farm not only provides wages for those who otherwise would have very few opportunities, it also gives hope and encouragement to those who have a tough life in the bush of Mozambique.
Dwight and Lynn asked the people what they needed. The response was: “Health and school.” The work started in earnest – a feeding program for school children and orphans. “We saw that kids were malnourished going to school. We started with milk and an egg, and now it’s a meal of corn, beans, and vegetables for about 300 kids,” Lynn said.
A health class was started, and from this modest beginning, three health posts have been built – health being a major component of the leadership course.
The mission also indirectly cares for about 1,400 orphans through local churches and pastors. Because of the size of the task, there is great need to motivate community leaders to help look after these kids. The women’s ministry reaches about 4,000 people, and focuses on literacy, health and crafts to help they earn additional income for the family.
There is also an agriculture component to the mission. In an effort to empower people to produce better, more diverse and sustainable crops, the current program provides farmers with a cart, a plow and two cows. As of last year, 15 farmers are involved in the program, and another six are on the books for startup this year. The long-term goal is to have the farmer return two animals back into the program, to benefit someone else.
Through Mercy Tech Mission, I was but one piece of the puzzle. The Automotive Training Initiative will help the people in a number of ways. There is immediate need to keep vehicles and equipment functional on the farm. In addition, the people I worked with will be able to fix mechanical systems for others, with a view toward earning income. For some of my students, access to mechanical training is the only chance they get for continued education.
When I was in Mozambique, most mornings were spent teaching theory in the automotive trade. Practical, reality-based sessions took place in the afternoon. It seemed like there was no shortage of mechanical items that required attention.
My students had varying skill levels, ranging from no mechanical experience or knowledge up to 10 years of hands-on maintenance and repair. The equipment they used is a far cry from the high-tech tools and shops we have at home.
Life on the farm kept me isolated from the real situation in Mozambique. The farm has houses built of brick and cement, running water, and electricity. Just outside the gate, though, rural Mozambique takes shape – small mud huts with thatched roofs . . . a communal water pump that doesn’t work (complete with a corrupt community leader who drinks away the maintenance fund), kids with distended bellies, and women with jugs of water or firewood balanced carefully on their heads.
I took a morning off to visit the mission-sponsored school, 16 kilometers from the farm. After bouncing down a red-earth dirt road, the school came into sight. As the minibus pulled into the schoolyard, all heads turned to see who arrived. As I jumped out of the van, all eyes were upon me, as I was the only white person in the group.
Before long, I had 20 small children following me. The kids poked me, tested my muscles with hard shots to the bicep, tried to get the stuff out of my pockets, touched my hair, and were amazed by the leather thing tightly cinched around my waist holding my pants up.
The young ones fought over who got to hold my hand. I felt for this one little guy who seemed to get more than his fair share of punches from the other kids. He was running around in a pair of ski pants, and it was warm – probably mid-20s C. And then, there was the girl that just would not let go of my hand. It was a tough scene to be a part of and not get emotional.
I was also fortunate to experience life in Beira, a coastal city of great con-trasts. There is a beautiful beach, complete with the local fisherman and restaurants. But a few blocks down the road, a once-luxurious hotel now houses squatters, serving as a reminder of the civil war, and of the days when the Portuguese had considerable influence.
I got hooked on this overseas opportunity about a year ago when I heard about Mercy Tech Mission through its founder, Rick Cogbill. He is probably best-known in automotive circles as the author of The Car Side, a humour column published in Canadian Technician magazine.
Our conversations started out general enough, but before long, Cogbill was sharing stories of his time as a missionary-mechanic in Kenya, and of his latest trip to Mozambique. I knew I wanted to be involved. Once I had signed on the dotted line for the trip, I called Ed Hyslip, my longtime friend (and an automotive technician) to see if he wanted to get involved. That’s how Cogbill, Hyslip and I ended up in Mozambique in early August.
In addition to launching a training program, MTM has also started a “mechanic’s shop” building project. Besides the obvious use of the structure, this space will also serve as a training center for mechanics.
I don’t think a person can go on a trip of this nature, and not be changed by the experience. There are many great, life-transforming activities that are happening on and around this mission base, and I was fortunate to be a part of the action. People ask me if I will go back, and the answer is a resounding “Yes!”