By Mike, CBF field personnel
The islands in the country where we serve are developing at different rates. Some are very developed and in certain places you might find more advanced technologies than those to which you might be accustomed. Other areas have missed the tides of modernization, and people live as they did hundreds of years ago. Hidden behind the title of developing country is the reality that, for some, development is merely crawling.
On my first visit to one of the islands where we now work, a pastor shared the story of a boy who went to the big island for college. On their island, most of the adults never completed primary school. In this boy were the hopes of a village. He was helped onto the boat and upon arriving to the big island, he was to take a train to another city. But he did not arrive. A day later, he was found at the train station. He was confused as to how to board the train.
Many of us have grown up around technology and public transportation. It is hard to understand how someone could not know how to walk through a sliding door, use a hands-free faucet, or operate a remote control. Yet, in many villages on this island, people still believe building bridges and tall buildings require human sacrifices. Some still believe that electronics run on human blood. After all, they protest, that is exactly what oozes out of a battery when you cut it open.
As part of our work with churches on this island, we have partnered with a Christian university to help provide solar lighting to congregations that do not have access to electricity. Our children and our student team lead the children through games, songs, and Bible dramas. Meanwhile, another group is installing the solar panels, lighting, and switches all the while teaching the interested onlookers about the system and maintenance needs.
After a very full day of ministry and driving on broken or nonexistent roads, we leave and where there was once darkness, now there is light. The work is done, right? Right? Well, just like that boy headed to college who was stopped in his tracks by not knowing how to board a train, we have found that something as simple as providing lighting to a church may not be so simple after all. A short while after our first installation nearly three years ago, we were told that the lights were no longer working. Upon inspection, someone had simply unscrewed the lightbulbs to turn them off rather than using the switch.
This was no small feat as it involved climbing a bamboo pole to then scale the rafters to unscrew the bulbs one by one. This and other feats of misingenuity can be very frustrating. But it is our modern, industrialized, technocentrism that is the source of that frustration. We wrongly expect people to know how to use technology and we need to step back and reorient our expectations and our approach. A few years ago, we took one of the neighborhood kids to the mall with us. She had never stepped foot on an escalator. We hopped on and she stood there at the bottom until when half way up we looked back and realized this was something new to her. So, we awkwardly ran down the escalator and grabbed her hand to guide her on. And, for the rest of the trip, we made sure that she was the first to get on.
Just as we take a step back to realize that the mundane for us is new, exciting, strange, or possibly even terrifying for those we serve, I hope that those of you in the pews, workplaces, and schools back home, stop to consider that person fumbling with their phone or incorrectly entering your drive-thru order might need a little grace, a little understanding, and perhaps a lot of patience. It may very well be their first phone or their first day on the job. Or in our case, the first time they use a light switch.
Mike serves alongside his wife, Brooke, as Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel in Southeast Asia. You can support their ministry here.