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There is no road, but the road is good

Pastoral Messages | May 22, 2018

A few weeks ago, I was riding in a Land Cruiser through rural Tanzania heading to a Maasai village called Nadaruru. I saw a sign for Nadaruru, and our driver, William, slowed down and turned on his blinker. But there was no obvious place to turn off from the main road. From the back of the car, our host Eli said, “there is no road, but the road is good.”

Elibariki Kisimbo (his nickname is Eli, pronounced Ellie) is the country director for Empower Tanzania (ETI), the organization that hosted our group traveling from St. Paul. Eli and his colleagues helped us come to know the programs of this organization and, more importantly, amazing people. He invited us to introduce ourselves, to dance and pray, to drink countless cups of tea and eat bowls of rice and bananas and goat. Through Eli, we met coworkers and partners in their work, government officials, health workers and chiefs, pastors and mothers.

As we drove that day, we’d been with Eli enough to know he would not lead us astray. So for a bumpy 20 minutes we drove through the savannah of East Africa, around gullies and acacia trees until we stopped at the base of a baobab tree.

Near that baobab tree where we pulled off the “road” sat a rusty well that had been broken for years. The hope is to repair it with the generosity of a lot of people on this side of the world. The broken well was put in by the government, but stopped working about a month later. So women and girls are walking miles to streams or dams collecting water for their families, facing threats not just from people (“not all men are good,” one mother said) but also from crocodiles and elephants and lions. As this well sat broken for years, one woman said, “we feel like everyone has forgotten us.”

We were there to remind them that they were not forgotten. The people of Nadaruru are full of hope for this repaired well, not just to increase health and save lives – but for a reason that both surprised and delighted me. They want to plant flowers in front of the clinic. Empower Tanzania started a clinic in this village, a place for vaccinations and pre-natal care and emergency births that need extra care. They trained birth assistants and health care workers to staff it. And now – the clinic will be handed off, the local government taking charge of this necessary place. And soon, hopefully, there will be flowers, too. After all, we all need beauty.

As we talked with Eli about that well and the flowers, he said something like, “yes, flowers. One of the secondary benefits of water.” Water brings so many benefits. The first, of course, is life. Clean water means that people, especially children, stay alive and are no longer dying from waterborne disease or the threats they face when they fetch it. But it’s even more. Water brings opportunity for girls to go to school, additional income, water to grow food and care for livestock, freedom from abuse, and, of course, flowers.

“There is no road, but the road is good.” While it was simply a beautifully phrased description of our actual travel plans for that day, Eli seemed to also describe the challenges and possibilities of doing long-term and sustainable development work. There’s no clear way, no easy prescription to respond to enormous challenges. And yet, the road is good. We saw, in our time in Tanzania, that the road becomes good as it is made, because of the people committed to journey together and their creativity, faithfulness, partnerships, and deep compassion.

It is true, also, in our lives. As we navigate our own challenges and choices, there is no road, no prescribed way, and there is no easy fix. But, when we daily choose compassion and generosity, faithfulness and justice, the road will be good for us and for others. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he called himself the Way, the Truth and the Life. There might not be a road, but there is a Way that brings life and goodness for everyone, and maybe even flowers.

Sara Olson-Smith, associate pastor

5 Comments on “There is no road, but the road is good”

  • Pamela Long

    May 25, 2018 at 2:52 pm

    Thank you, Sara, for your message. This resonated with me on several levels and I’ve come back to it a few times since it first appeared in my email! I was a delegation member to Kwa- Zulu-Natal province, South Africa, in 2004, and encountered like experiences, which I still find myself “unpacking” 14 years later. We spent a week in Durban and then another week in deep rural areas, primarily visiting women’s (economic) empowerment centers, extended day care centers for child head of household families, and HIV health facilities. In so many ways, there were “no roads” but we did learn from our hosts/sponsors that incrementally and in relationship, positive changes could be made and hope prevailed. We learned more about compassion and faith than we could express. So also, your metaphor also resonates deeply with me. I’ve always wanted a paved and guttered road and so often forget to take it a step at a time, doing my part, and with faith in Christ. I was glad for the reminder.

  • David DeWit

    May 25, 2018 at 11:48 am

    This piece alone made your trip to Tanzania worthwhile. Thanks, Sara!

  • JOAN MORONEY

    May 24, 2018 at 9:43 pm

    This is just memorable Pastor Sara! I found it deeply moving and will not forget this powerful, simple message. Thank you.

  • martin marty

    May 24, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    This report is superb: good use of a metaphor about the road, and an excellent report.
    I’m a faithful reader, but don’t want to clutter your e-mail screen with many responses; I just couldn’t pass up this one.

    Thanks for staying on the good road!

  • John King

    May 24, 2018 at 1:38 pm

    I enjoyed your description of life in rural African villages. My passion is raising funds for clean water well in Zambia through Golf Fore Africa founded by Betsy King, LPGA Hall of Fame Golfer. World Vision does the work on the ground; last year we funded WV with $1.4 million. I have made two trips to Zambia to see it first hand and you are right about the roads and poverty there. My daughter Jennifer Molyneaux and son John went with me in 2017. I wanted them to see how we need to share our wealth for basic water in Zambia. Thanks for your work.

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