Saturday, July 5, 2008

Making Ends Meet in Burkina

After nearly a week of trying, I was finally able to get through to Pastor Emmanuel in Burkina. Each time we talk, I make arrangements to call him again in about 3 weeks. If we’re unable to connect for one reason or another, the deal is for me to keep calling at the same time on each subsequent day until we succeed. When I finally did succeed this time, Pastor Emmanuel told me that the phones had been out for some time. It’s the rainy season in Burkina, so a storm might have taken down a line or a pole. Of course, it could have been thieves too. A few kilometres of copper wire and a couple of steel poles can provide a quick source of cash for an organized group of ethically challenged entrepreneurs. Don’t laugh! It happens!

Food is becoming expensive in Burkina. The supplies from last year’s meagre harvest are dwindling if not gone for most people, and the new crops are just being planted. Unless you’re a farmer, it’s hard for most of us to imagine the fragility of life tied to the vagaries of weather and soil like this. Pastor Emmanuel’s harvest last year was so pathetic that he and his family ran out of supplies before Christmas. I’ve sent him to Ouaga a couple of times already to get some money from our account at the SIL Centre there so that he could buy food and medicine. It puts us in the red, but we can’t let the man and his family starve.

To his credit, he never complains and probably would never tell us that they’ve run out of food. But I know enough to ask. I asked this time. True to his nature, Pastor Emmanuel said that they still had enough for a little while. I had to press him harder to finally reveal that what they had would barely last two more weeks. The first harvest was still several months away.

I asked how much bags of rice and corn (their staples) cost now. He said that a 50 kg bag of rice (enough to feed his family and potential visitors lunch meals for a month) used to cost 13,000 FCFA (West African francs; 400 FCFA = $1.00). Now it costs 20,000 FCFA ($50). As for corn (the evening meal is made from corn flour), it can’t even be bought by the bag anymore. It’s being sold in smaller units and has comparatively almost doubled in price too.

I told him to go to Ouaga sometime in the next couple of weeks when he got a chance and get some more money from our account. I then sent an e-mail to our finance manager asking him to give Pastor Emmanuel 100,000 FCFA when he came in. That should enable him to buy enough food to last until this year’s harvest starts to come in.

I’m looking forward to the day when people like Pastor Emmanuel and others like him in Burkina can find ways to gain or earn an income that is sufficient to cover their needs. His church is too small and poor to provide much in the way of tithes & offerings. The agriculture and bit of livestock raising that most of them do is such a gamble. The soil is poor, a family can only work so much land by hand, the weather is unpredictable (and certainly uncontrollable), vaccines for animals are expensive, etc, etc. Most families barely manage to scrape by from year to year. Sometimes they don’t even do that.

Right now, I realize that we are God’s provision for Pastor Emmanuel and his family at times like this. So are those of you who contribute funds for them through us. “Before you came along,” Pastor Emmanuel told me one day, “you wouldn’t believe how hard life was for us. We thank God for you and those who support you financially every day. I’d hate to think where we’d be if God hadn’t sent you here.” It's not every day one gets to be part of such a literally life-saving answer to prayer!

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