Cover Story

The other venue

"The other venue" Continued...

Issue: "Africa: The new frontier," July 16, 2005

"Never got a new sanctuary," Mr. Beall, then the Damascus pastor, said as we scampered up a rise and could see where elephants had paraded through the property. "See how much more we got." How much more includes:

•An elementary school now with 300 students and five teachers, all men, who receive $120-$150 per month from Sons of Thunder.

•Continued offering of a three-year course-in Bible study and improved farming techniques-that is already changing surrounding villages spiritually and physically.

•An orphanage to which motherless children close to death are brought; one named Hope was born two months prematurely and weighed less than two pounds when she arrived. She survived, as have 34 others in the home, with the oldest not yet 4 years old.

•Teams of volunteers who pay for the opportunity to come for two weeks to three months and help with Sunday worship and daily activities.

•Two- and three-bedroom homes for teachers and students that cost $7,000-$8,000 to build.

•The church services.

•The love of America that such activities generate. As Pastor (that's his first name) Hanguzu said, "America is a good place. I know that because I have seen friends come from there to assist us."

Other Africans also freely spoke of what the work means to them. Anderson Mwiikisa, 85, who teaches Bible classes, said of Mr. Jones, "If it weren't for him, these children would be in the grave. . . . I think, 'If he can come from America to help us, I can do this.' I will keep preaching until they put dirt on my gray hair."

In the agricultural/Bible program, each family receives for three years 25 acres (with a water source, oxen, and a plow) of the 10,000-acre spread. The men study the Bible from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. three days a week and farm at other times; classes are called off during peak planting and harvesting times.

Mr. Jones shows them how to prepare the soil, substitute new crops for the traditional maize (which, given fertilizer costs and the need for a lot of water, is a losing proposition), and plant the right seeds at the right time. Mr. Beall says, "Everything we do has to be what they can replicate with oxen and plow." The farming students sell part of their crop to Sons of Thunder to pay for the oxen and plow that they take back to their villages after the third year, along with their new biblical and agricultural knowledge.

The program has a dozen graduates so far, and more dropouts than that: Mr. Jones says, "Some think it's too tough. . . . Some misbehave and show no genuine repentance." Nor has it been easy for the pioneering Americans. Mr. Jones almost died in 1998 when someone shot at him with an assault rifle, and highly poisonous puff adders like to lie on warm walking paths. But this is the frontier.

At dinnertime one night late last month, two wooden tables went together lengthwise so that eight people could sit on a side, with one other at each end. The next night a third wooden table came out to accommodate more folks. Community, a buzzword at many suburban churches, is by necessity a reality here. No television. No internet. A lot of singing after dinner.

But there's also solitude. Mr. Beall walked out to a dam away from the house and said, "I like to come out here early in the morning. It's so quiet."

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