Perseverance

I still have a lot of heroes that I want to talk about, and today I want to tell you about two.  I can’t recall a lot of details about them because I only met them once for an afternoon about 48 years ago. But the fact that I do still recall the experience says something about the influence they had on me.

I’ve been rummaging through my “Africa Mementoes” for a picture of them, and finally remembered that, on that day in Zambia, I felt like I was in the presence of saints, and so taking a picture seemed somehow inappropriate. I do have a picture of their front yard and the wreckage of an old two-engine plane they had dragged in from the bush and set in cement like some sort of memorial.

The plane, they reckoned, was one of several that had been part of a challenge in the 1920s to fly from Cape Town to Cairo. This particular plane obviously didn’t make it, and there was no sign of the pilots, since by the time the wreck was discovered, nearly 30 years had passed.

Tony and I were short-term missionaries in Zambia from 1973-75.  We signed up and were sent from our affluent middle-class American families to ‘deepest darkest Africa”……. Well, not really. Our families weren’t that affluent and Zambia wasn’t all that dark, but these two old ladies stood out like beacons of light.

While living in Luanshya, Zambia, we made friends with a British guy named Keith.  Again, no last name comes to mind, but I’m sure he had one. How I wish I’d written more details, maybe even kept a journal…….. but alas,  the foolishness of youth. Keith was an engineer working on some sort of government project.  He came to our little church and we hit it off right away.

As it turns out, Keith was a pilot as well, serving as a volunteer with the Flying Doctors.  One Saturday he dropped by and said, “The doctor I was taking up has been taken sick himself, so would you two like to tag along for the ride?  I’ll be taking supplies and the all-important newspaper up to “the ladies”.

Of course we couldn’t resist.  Up we went, and within minutes were out of touch with all evidence of humanity, flying low over the African Savanna.

The way to get to “The Ladies” as they were known, was to fly north until you reached the Kabompo River, which marked the border between Zambia and the Republic of Congo, called Zaire at that time. Upon seeing the river, Keith turned east and started following it. “Wanna see some hippos?” he yelled over the engine noise, then immediately put the plane into a dive, leveling off just above the water. Sure enough we could see plenty of hippos, an occasional crocodile, and the frequent islands rising up from the middle of the river. Every time, Keith seemed to be surprised to see them and pulled the plane up sharply while Tony and I were clawing the padding out of our seats.

Skimming along over the water, looking at hippo tonsils, Keith suddenly sat up straighter and with the dignified voice of a pilot, announced, “Here we are”. We could see nothing different in the landscape, except for a crowd of ant-sized people running and shouting. With a quick “fly by” to make sure there was nothing on the airstrip, we banked back around and set down in what looked like a very small clearing, chopped out of the jungle. We learned later that the people, knowing we were coming, had given the area an extra cleaning, insuring there were no debris, animals, fires or children.

Rolling to a stop, we were surrounded by hundreds of people, happily shouting, dancing and singing.  We untangled ourselves, unloaded boxes and bags and followed the surge to the edge of the river where stood two outstanding double story brick homes.  They looked like something you’d see in Mother England.

We approached with our troupe to the nearest mansion and there, on the porch, struggling to stand out of their wicker chairs, were two of the most wizened and sweet ladies you’d ever meet.  They were the missionaries.

Ushered into the cool interior they showed us a table literally ‘groaning with food’ and as we gawked, they grabbed the newspapers from us. We sat and talked, laughed, prayed, sang and ate. Then we ate some more.

Too soon, but with an eye on the sky, it was time to repeat the plane trip home. The waiting villagers, who had been sitting in the dirt outside, jumped to attention and escorted us to the plane, again dancing and singing, reaching from all sides to stroke our arms and seemingly marvel at our whiteness.

What we learned in the having of the tea, was that these ‘girls’ had given their lives to this tiny tribe.  Long ago both husbands (the doctors) had died, but still the girls, who must have been in their 80’s by then, carried on, each living in their own house, ministering to the tribe and all their medical and spiritual needs.  They had no complaint whatsoever, especially if someone (like the Flying Doctors) dropped in with a newspaper and supplies now and then. They laughed that they hadn’t been back to England in 17 or 18 years; they’d lost count and really, “Why would you have any need to go?”

They mentioned having occasional trouble with ‘rascals’ who would boat over from the Congo side of the river with the intent of pillaging, but they always found that the villagers were way too protective of their treasure, so they slept well.

What selfless heroes.  Nameless except to the village that loved them and the God who gave them all their satisfaction. For these ladies, life was not a challenge, but a delight. In a way, they echoed the words of the Apostle Paul, in Philippians 4:11, “…I have learned to be content with whatever I have.”

I’m sure these “heroes of the faith” have gone on to be with the Lord by now. I’d love to know the rest of their stories but I guess I’ll have to wait until I see them in Heaven. But one thing I can be pretty sure of is that the village where they lived is still a better place because of them, and generations from now, if the Lord tarries, there will be men and women whose lives were changed because these two ladies poured out their lives there. I’d be willing to bet they’ll have some nice ‘mansions’ up there too!

Next week I’ve got a more documented story about another ‘hero’ missionary. As you may have picked up, I can go on and on about this.

Stay tuned, Marsha

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