The current holy grail of organizations working to better people’s lives in Africa is sustainability. It is easy to understand why. When we lived in semi-arid Burkina Faso, there were many wells in rural villages that had worked when installed but then broke down and were never repaired. So there had been clean water for a while, but no more. The provision of clean water and its attendant health benefits was not sustained. I talked to a Kenyan economist who was in an economic development project that lasted several years and cost 10 million dollars. He told me that a decade after the end of the project nothing at all remained.
On the other hand, the growth of the church in Africa is a wonderful example of sustainability. Most congregations in Africa are self-sustaining. They grow and progress through their own resources and energies. In fact, Dayle and I are working to tap into that dynamism for Bible translation.
July 16 was the 80th anniversary of the death of C.T. Studd. His go-to-the-farthest-and-hardest approach shows in my favorite quote from him, ” Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.” He trekked into what was then the Belgium Congo seeking the geographic center of Africa. It cost him. One doctor described him as a ‘museum of diseases’. But he kept going.
When I started working in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2001, learned that I would have reason to travel to Ibambi where Studd is buried. I couldn’t wait.
I got there as the catastrophic but little-known civil war in Congo was winding down. What Studd had started continued to grow after his death. By 1970, the area where he worked, like almost all in Congo, was overwhelmingly Christian. You will have to look a while to find a resident of Ibambi who does not claim Studd’s faith.
A local person walked me to the well-kept plot of about 20 graves including Studd’s, some fellow missionaries’, and early converts’. It was the best-kept plot in town. Talk about lasting impact! This man, probably forgotten or never known by many Christians today, buried in a forgotten place out of the sight of the world, has his grave tenderly cared for by some of the poorest, and most abused people on earth because more than 70 years after his death they still have fond respect for him and his colleagues.
I wish that it was okay to be envious, because that is sustained impact to die for – literally.
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