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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Thirsty Africa

By Kristel Ortiz
Sept. 7, 2014

Pastor Fidele squats by the water source for Tindjonte, his village in the far north of Togo, West Africa. It is a hole dug deep in the cracked, dusty bottom of a shriveled riverbed. The water that oozes reluctantly up from the bottom is putrid. The bugs, reptiles and animals that access it freely do not seem to mind. Neither do the small children dipping it carefully out of the hole and into their barrels.

The youngest inhabitants of Tindjonte — and countless other villages across Togo — bear the burden of traveling long distances two or three times a day to haul home whatever water they can find. The majority live in mud houses marked with crosses of ash they believe will protect them from a roaming, bloodthirsty monster — a man born of a donkey.

“We walk many miles to drink with cows,” Pastor Fidele says matter-of-factly.

Fidele and his wife, Elisabeth, are a stunning couple. Both are tall and smooth-skinned with chiseled faces. Together they are pouring themselves out for the people in their community while sharing their difficult lives. But they believe for better.

They long for a time when believers are not plagued by dehydration and waterborne illnesses. Nor do they want them to become so desperate for water that they agree to convert to Islam — the only way they will be allowed to drink from local mosques’ wells.

They are praying — waiting — for help to come.

Life Borne of Death

A tragic accident claimed the life of Harold Limp in 2009. But far from his home in Nebraska, his death bore life in Ghana, Togo’s neighbor to the west.

Harold’s wife, who survived the accident, asked that all donations be directed to Africa Oasis Project — AGWM’s response to Africa’s urgent need for safe and easily accessible water. As a result, two wells were drilled in dying villages similar to Tindjonte.

Missionary Mark Alexander’s voice is thick with emotion as he tell Harold’s story.

“I told the villagers that a couple in America cared about them,” he recalls. “Because of Harold’s death we were able to bring them fresh water. And 2,000 years ago, another Man died so they could have living water.”

Mark and his wife, Vickie, have ministered in Africa since 1992 and in Togo with AOP since 2008. They say they are privileged to be a part of water projects across West Africa.

Cinkassé Celebration

Bony cows drift across the arid church lawn in the village of Cinkassé. A pig darts between their hooves, and somewhere in the distance a confused rooster heralds either a morning long gone or a morning soon to be.

Throbbing drumbeats inside Customs AG disguise the sound of Mark’s Speed the Light Land Cruiser rumbling into the church lawn, but the rig is soon discovered.

Mark and his Togolese colleague, Laté Lawson, have come to put the finishing touches on the pump of a new well in the church lawn. Pastor Lenli Gountante can hardly contain his excitement as Laté carefully explains care and maintenance of the pump.

As the first streams of fresh water burst out of the spout, the crowd erupts into cheers, clapping and dancing. The animated drumming inside the church becomes even wilder as Mark, Laté and Pastor Gountante lead the congregation in a prayer of thanksgiving and dedicate the well, which was funded entirely by BGMC giving from the Georgia District of the U.S. AG.

“This well has been brought to you by children,” Mark informs the congregation. “Churches in Georgia are teaching their children to give to missions, and those children have saved their money and given you this well.”

He then presents large black water buckets featuring Buddy Barrel to every man, woman and child. The congregation bursts into spontaneous song, and many weep as they harmoniously sing, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Coming Alongside

The well in Cinkassé, like many others AOP has drilled, is the first fresh water available to the church and surrounding community. It will serve hundreds of people, greatly reducing their exposure to danger and disease. And just as it serves many people, many others are required to make it possible.

“How closely we work with local churches is what makes us different from other nongovernmental organizations,” Mark says. He goes on to explain AOP’s commitment to partner with African churches to provide water solutions based on a solid foundation of best practices.

“We all work together,” says Vickie. “BGMC, Speed the Light, churches, individuals, businesses and more partner together to fund these projects. We all need each other.”

Mark and Vickie say the Togo AG is a very strong Fellowship, and their main role is to come alongside it in supporting roles. They are seeking to encourage the Fellowship to assume more ownership of water projects under Laté’s direction.

And Laté is more than up to the challenge. He describes himself as having been born “like any African” — fatherless in a village. His is a miraculous story of grace, talent, determination and destiny.

Laté obtained extensive education in agricultural business, entrepreneurship and engineering. He and his wife, Minen, run their own nongovernmental organization, a pineapple juice factory and a seasonal teak business. In 2010, Minen, who worked previously for the European Union, started a literacy program for village women using the Bible as a textbook. The couple also wrote a book on biblical principles regarding marriage and money that they distributed to village leaders.

“They needed to stop viewing their wives as slaves or breeders,” Laté says.

The Lawsons are passionate about discipleship and work with many young people. They have provided college educations (and in some cases, housing) for seven village youth.

Laté has worked with AOP for six years. During that time he and Mark have developed an exemplary partnership and camaraderie.

“I am honored, pleased and proud to work with Laté and Minen,” Mark states. “We work side by side, day in and day out, and we learn together and from each other.”

Laté, who is many years Mark’s junior, agrees. “In Africa we say that when an old man dies, you lose a library,” he says. “Mark is like a library.”

Drilling With a Mission

“Our strategy is to place wells beside churches,” says Vickie. “We’re not opposed to putting wells in other places, but we want there to be a connection with evangelism and discipleship.”

This method of placement has had wonderful results.

In the Islamic village of Kadjale, Temple of Peace AG endured frequent persecution and vandalism — until Mark and his team provided a well in the churchyard. Village authorities then issued orders that no one was to disturb the church again. Many of the religious extremists who tormented the believers moved away, and the congregation mushroomed to the point that a second church was planted.

Kadjale’s well serves more than 600 people daily. The bush has now consumed the trail that led to their previous water source — a deep, treacherous hole into which village women lowered themselves to stand on layered boards and pass water up to one another.

In the village of Aouda, Temple of Faith AG used the runoff from its well to create a massive garden. The plot of land serves as a true desert oasis that feeds numerous families. The well itself serves more than 5,000 people during the dry season. Water there is so abundant it flows even when no one is pumping the well, which replaced a previous water source contaminated by typhoid.

In Waria, the route to the previous water source required village women to pass through a major black market intersection, making the daily treks for water even more a matter of life and death. The pastor in the village was so concerned for his wife’s safety that he began fetching the water himself, prompting other men to ridicule him for “becoming a wife.”

Undeterred, the pastor continued his selfless and exemplary daily treks until the Alexanders and their team placed a well in Waria. The first few pumps of water from the well’s spout were spattered with flakes of gold from deep in the ground. Though the flakes quickly dissipated, the pure water that continues to flow is of far greater value to Waria’s residents.

Guarded by the Spirit

Mark and Vickie are looking for ways to increase their reach to help meet Africa’s enormous water needs, and they view their role with AOP as that of liaisons.

“There are so many people who care and are involved. It provides real accountability for us,” states Mark.

“And despite economic challenges, people still want to help and are so generous,” Vickie adds. “We appreciate it so much.”

In the course of their work with AOP, the Alexanders have faced their share of obstacles — financially, physically and logistically.

“Once we hired a new drilling company to help us on a project,” Mark recalls. “They showed up, started the work, and then disappeared. Try as we might, we could not reach them. They had already been paid. I felt absolutely sick.”

After trying everything in his power to remedy the situation, Mark received word that the company’s new drilling rig had toppled off a mountainside. Immediately afterward, the company owners asked Laté to come so they could give him a payment toward what they had stolen.

“The owners believed they were being punished for cheating God’s people,” Mark says. “Thankfully the driver of the truck was uninjured.” The crumpled truck now lies abandoned in the shadow of a dreary-looking mosque.

Other obstacles the Alexanders face are spiritual.

“The spirit world is very out in the open here,” Vickie shares. “People are very honest about it. Even successful, well-educated West Africans will wear fetishes on their ankles or wrists.”

 “We face things here in Africa that those in America do not,” Laté adds. “No one can succeed in church work here without the Holy Spirit. It would not be a good idea to try.”

And the Holy Spirit has never failed God’s people. Against all odds He continues to weave His wonderful web of partnership, protection and provision, enabling Mark, Vickie, Laté and others involved with AOP to quench the thirst of the body as He quenches the thirst of the soul.

Kristel Ortiz is a staff writer with AGWM.


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