When we worked in Burkina Faso we quickly noticed that people would repair things that we would have thrown away. They could repair things that we thought irreparable.
I had a little motor scooter and the blinker stopped working. I took it to my mechanic and left it with him while I went off to run an errand. I came back to find that he had removed the blinker unit. But instead of replacing it, he had peeled the outside cover off and he was fiddling with the bi-metal strip inside. It had never dawned on me that one might try to repair the blinker unit. I asked him if he would be able to repair it. “Of course” was his answer. “How long will it last?”, I asked. When he said that it would probably last a few months, I suggested that I might want to buy a new one. At this point I learned some key local vocabulary. “Well,” he replied, “you should have said right off to replace it, but you said to fix it.’
Dayle and Matthew on our Ouagadougou scooter
On another occasion the tie-downs for the battery on a vehicle broke, allowing the battery to slide over into the little fan on the alternator which ate a hole through the battery case, spewing battery acid all over. We got the vehicle back into town and to our mechanic. When we went to pick it up, the bill for the repair was very small. We were surprised because batteries cost at least three times the price in the US. So we asked about the repair. We found out that they had repaired the hole in the side of the battery using an acetylene torch and then refilled the battery with acid! When I asked how that repair would hold up, I was told that it would last the life of the battery. They never seen this repair fail. Our pocketbooks were happy for local ingenuity and the repair never did fail.
When the steering on my car got some looseness in it, I took it to that same mechanic. Again, the repair cost almost nothing. “What did it need?” I asked. “Adjustment,” was the response. Great, I thought. But a few weeks later it was loose again and needed another adjustment. The third time it happened, I asked for more details about the adjustment. The problem was the tie-rod ends which have a ball and socket. They were worn out, so to tighten them they would pound on the outside of the socket to cause it to collapse on the ball and make it tight. I thought, “No wonder I see cars beside the road broken down with one front wheel pointing at a sharp angle.” The pounding weakens the metal and it will eventually fail, liberating the wheel from the control of the steering. It is not a liberation you want. Again, the mechanic was happy to replace the parts instead of “fixing” them, but it cost quite a bit more.
I recently heard Joseph Mfonyam (pronounced MMM-phone-yam) speak. Joseph is from Cameroon. After doing a doctorate in linguistics, he went on to translate the New Testament into the Bafut language.
Joseph and Becky Mfonyam visiting the USA
With his graying hair, slim build and his two-year-old granddaughter in his arms, he cut quite an intriguing figure. What’s underneath is even more fascinating. Joseph was on the vanguard of Africans, instead of Western missionaries, doing Bible translation. That trickle is becoming a flood which is cutting a new channel and permanently changing the course of Bible translation.
But, there is much more. Within this soft-spoken, grandfatherly academic there burns a fire for truth and transformation – a fire lived out in real-life suffering. As the new Bafut translation was read and taught some saw it as a threat to their traditional religious practices. Unexpectedly that included some “Christians” in the church planted 70 years earlier. Without the Scriptures, the church people were drifting back into their former beliefs and practices. Joseph was maligned and slandered. At one point, it got so tense that someone gave the order to have him killed. But “Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word” (Heb 4:13 The Message) Today, not only is Joseph still alive, the Bafut king, who is the keeper of Bafut traditions including religion, has made Joseph his advisor and he admonishes all to read the translation. Church people are rediscovering their true faith. Based on his experiences and struggles, Joseph wrote about traditional beliefs and practices in the church in Cameroon. His books have become part of the curriculum at some seminaries in Cameroon.
God moved Joseph from being hated and slandered to a place of respect. “Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame” (Psalm 25:3 ESV)
You can read Joseph’s testimony in his own words here.
In January 1977, we were traveling to Neuchatel, Switzerland to study French. We had been put in contact with a colleague, Mack, who was in that same town but whom we had never met. We were landing in Geneva. Mac wrote us that we should take the train from Geneva to Neuchatel and call him when we got there.
Dayle and Ed, 1977, Switzerland
So, when we got off the train in Neuchatel we made our way to the main hall of the train station, found a pay phone and called Mac. He said that he would be there in a few minutes. So we sat in the main hall of the station along with 2-3 dozen other people and waited. After a while, a man walked right up to us and said, “Hi, I’m Mack.” After saying hi we asked him how he knew us among all the people at the station. His reply – “You were the only ones who looked American” – left us puzzled. We objected that we did not “look American”. Mac just smiled.
About six months later we were walking to classes though the main plaza in Neuchatel and we saw two people who were obviously Americans. It was only at that moment that I realized how distinctive we had been that day in the train station. Dayle can tell you how she can tell Americans from others. For me, I can’t explain it, but it is as obvious as the nose on my face.
It is yet another example that a person inside his or her own culture is often blind to it.