After our brief vacation last weekend, I came home to a difficult week and quickly remembered that life isn’t all about drinking pineapple concentrate and eating Indian pizza and watching Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. As fabulous as all of those things are, we have a very rich life back in Karamoja that includes many good expectations and experiences as well as those of the past week that are, I suppose, to teach us or drive us bats or both.
Part of the diaconal ministry here involves repairing items that people bring to our gate—these items being most often bicycles or grinding mills. Recently, we’ve been getting more and more people coming from greater distances to bring their repairs, even coming further to see us than the distance to the nearest town where there are businesses that can also do this work. Finding this odd, and not wanting to be undercutting local businesses, I started asking around as to why these people came to our gate instead of taking their repairs into town. It seems that our prices are more or less on par with Namalu’s, but people bring their work to us because they know that we will deal honestly with them and provide quality repairs.
This is a gratifying report, but questions constantly linger about whether we are being taken advantage of at times. This week, I had several disagreements with people over price and over work that was to be performed. Part of the problem is that around here, craftiness is, to a certain extent, viewed as a virtue. If I am telling someone he owes me ten thousand shillings and he pulls out a five thousand note and puts on a good show about how this is all he has and flashes his inevitably fetching Karimojong smile, I can be almost completely assured that there is another five thousand note in his other pocket. This is a fact of life when involved in local commerce. The other half of the problem is that there is a language barrier that’s not always completely overcome. There are occasions when a genuine miscommunication has taken place whether it’s over price or what exactly was supposed to be repaired. Thus, I’m often forced to make decisions between being shrewd in business and charitable in my judgement of another person’s motives. Ultimately, we aren’t here running a repair shop, we are here demonstrating and encouraging others in the Christian life.
In addition to the quarrels I had this week over repair work, it was a week of infestation in our fields of local livestock. In most circumstances, this is not a narrow road to walk. Normally, I attempt to capture one of more of these animals to lock up inside our compound and chase the rest from the field (this week, as my shepherding skills are improving, I was able to snare a delegation of nine cows). Inevitably, the owner will come looking for his missing animals and we usually give a stern lecture and threaten to give the animals to the police for a second offense (I’m also improving in my ability to recognize individual animals in order to know if they’ve been a problem before). This week, however, we had incidents involving, respectively, a church member and an employee, and what is usually a fairly simple matter became murky.
In dealing with these animals, I was reminded that every move we make is constantly on public display. Every decision I make has implications not just for how my employees view me, but also how my fellow church members see me, how those in the unbelieving community view the Mission. When I send those nine cows back to the home of our church member, how do I convey the inconvenience he is costing us both in my wasted time and in the crops his animals have eaten? What implications will this conversation have when I see him on Sunday at worship? What will the onlooking employees think if I tell their fellow worker that I’ve given his goat to the police and he can ransom it back from them? Will they see me as firm and equitable or as uncompassionate and hard? Will these decisions burnish or tarnish name of Christ that we proclaim?
I’m constantly taken back to my earlier discussion on the expression of love, but also have to wrestle with the reality that we don’t want, by showing compassion, to promote sin in those around us. In San Diego, I’ve been blessed to have my wordly vocation largely distinguishable from my life and work in the Church. On the mission field, these two callings become grossly entangled in ways that can be immensely beneficial, but also terribly confusing as we try to present authentic Christian lives that cut across the grain of our surrounding culture.
Since you’re all probably dying to know, I accepted a reduced payment from one of the men at the gate. The other, with whom I had disagreed over what work was to be done, I gave a partial refund and told in no uncertain terms that we were not going to do any additional work for him in the future. The owners of the livestock both got off with stern warnings that I am not certain will be heeded—but we are here, after all, to hope all things.