Monday, October 25, 2010

Temporary Permanence

Our apartment on the second floor

Ten months is not a long time. Depending on what you are doing for those ten months.  Before we decided to move to Mali, Brian and I both thought that ten months was really quite a short time to live somewhere, especially considering we'd already lived overseas for five years.  We considered this move a temporary living situation and told ourselves "We can do anything for ten months."
     But ten months is a long time.  Not in a "this is hard to live here" kind of long time, but in a "life changes a lot in ten months" sort of way.  We've been in Koutiala for two months now, and we are realizing how much impact can and should be made in ten short months.

     We first noticed it in our students. Working with a kindergarten student has to be one of the most rewarding positions in teaching, because not only do kindergartens make huge strides each month, but you can see the cognitive development daily.  Ten months in the life of a kindergartener is the difference between being illiterate and having your world opened up by the ability to read.  It's the difference between not being able to count past ten and being able to do computation problems involving addition and subtraction. The first ten months of school can shape how a child feels about school for the rest of his or her life.
Our seven wonderful students!
    The growth was not just limited to our kindergarten student either.  We've seen progress and development in all of our students and their ability to think critically, express themselves, and be problem solvers.  As we only have seven students, we get to spend a lot of one on one time with each kid, and it is awesome to see the progress that is being made.  It has given us a renewed sense of responsibility in our professions as teachers.  While ten months may not seem like a long time in the grand scheme of life, the events that happen can have lasting and very permanent effects on your life.

Out in the village
   But the realization that ten months can change you a lot really dawned on us in just one short afternoon experience here in Mali.  Shortly after we arrived, we were invited by Brett and Sheri, who work at the hospital here, to go out to a place called "The Pig Farm" with their family to play around in the waters that flow during rainy season.  (Despite the name, there are no pigs there, or a farm for that matter - just some lovely streams and small waterfalls).

At the Pig Farm

The little boy with malaria
    On the way home Sheri wanted to stop by a village to say hi to a friend she had made at the hospital. She assured us that it would only take ten or fifteen minutes.  Two hours later we were still sitting in that small village, surrounded by gawking children, roaming chickens, and goats that were climbing on all the farm equipment.  As it turned out, there just happened to be a sick little boy that had been brought to the village that day to see the local medicine man. Brett took one look at him and knew right away that the boy had malaria and probably had just a few days to live if he wasn't treated immediately.  We learned that this was the family's third child, and their first two had already died of malaria.  After much negotiation and convincing, Brett was able to persuade the father to let him take the little boy and the father to the hospital for a blood transfusion and other treatment.

Typical scene at a Malian housing compound

Silas (Brett & Sheri's youngest) looks a gift chicken in the mouth.
So the villagers tied two live roosters to the top of Brett and Sheri's SUV to say thank you for visiting, all ten of us piled into the car and we started our drive back across the rain decimated roads to the hospital.  The boy and his father were dropped off and a team of doctors were there waiting to treat him.  I asked Sheri about this little boy a few days later and she said he received treatment and was doing great.  Brian and I couldn't help but be amazed at the very permanent effects of such a short, temporary visit to a village - literally the difference between life and death.  Brett and Sheri commented casually that it was clear that God had brought them to the village on that particular day, at that particular time, while at the same time bringing this father and son to the same village seeking help. Two hours of our afternoon; a life changing day for this little boy.

The heart of the matter
The wing of the hospital where Julie has her prenatal check-ups.
    And so it is that we've come to see our ten months in Mali as not a temporary stay, but as a time to make a permanent impact on the lives of the people we serve here... and certainly to be permanently impacted by the people here who have generously opened their homes and lives to us and made us feel so welcome, and to witness the amazing work they do daily. We know the work that the missionaries are doing here in Koutiala, not matter how long each one serves here, and no matter what results they see daily, is reaping very lasting and permanent rewards for God's kingdom, and we feel honored to be able to serve them.  2 Corinthians 4:18 reminds us, "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

Brian and Julie