Feature

A Light in This Dark Place

Jerry Busselman, DVM, as told to Karen Busselman

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Animal health is not a matter of convenience in Africa; it is a matter of life and death. The villagers’ few cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs are a key source of food and income. Yet the animals carry large amounts of internal and external parasites, such as ticks, fleas, and intestinal worms. Providing a simple inoculation makes them parasite-free for six months, enough time for the animals to grow significantly and thereby greatly bless the farmers and their families. So that is what our short-term veterinary team was prepared to do: inoculate as many animals as we could over the course of three days.

Seven members of Christ Community Church (CCC) left Omaha in August 2010 for a 10-day “off-the-grid” adventure in the third poorest country in the world and a place where veterinary care is unavailable. None of us knew quite what to expect. Would there be chutes to confine the horned cattle for our safety—or would we have to go at it “cowboy style” with ropes and brute strength? Had we brought enough medicine for the unknown number of animals we would be treating? Would the weather cooperate? How would our health hold up? A great sense of adventure came from knowing we would see and do things few Westerners ever experience. Peace came from knowing God is the same everywhere.

A Burden to Share

When personnel from Compassion and Mercy Associates began to investigate the possibility of bringing a team to this country in West Africa, they had a question for Dan, a medical doctor: “Do you know a pastor in the area who has the relational clout with nearby farmers to be the point man for this short-term team?” Dan immediately thought of Pastor George.

About two years earlier, Pastor George had been burdened to share Christ in a remote area that had long been guarded from the gospel by tribal leaders from the dominant religion. Pastor George moved his family and began a Bible study with the lone Jesus follower in the area. It often takes many years for Christian workers to see any response toward the gospel in such regions, but just two years after that humble beginning, 130 local Christians belong to George’s church.

When we arrived in this village, the first person we met was Pastor George. He had worked hard to spread the news of our coming to farmers near and far. Our arrival was an important event in this community. We were introduced to the mayor and the village tribal chief and were greeted warmly. At the end of the first day, the mayor ceremoniously awarded us a chicken: a feathered, live, held-upside-down-by-the-legs hen!

The second day was the most grueling. We worked seven hours—at least half of that time in the rain—without even stopping to eat. Exhausted, we agreed we needed to stop for the day, but the animals kept coming. Pastor George explained that some of the villagers had traveled for two days with their livestock; for us to stop then would mean those weary families would be left waiting, so we pressed on to finish the inoculations.

Yet the work was still not done. At the end of each day, after darkness fell, our team would start the generator so Pastor George could use the JESUS film to share the gospel. Hundreds heard about Jesus for the first time.

Hospitality for Everyone

The local people were never so busy that they neglected greeting one another warmly and thoroughly. If a friend arrived while we were working, everyone stopped to greet him. To look the newcomer in the eye, the villagers would let go of the animal they were holding, freeing it to run or dangerously swing its horns. This happened every time a new person approached. As the team leader, I wanted to get the inoculations done efficiently, and the repeated interruptions became frustrating. But when I saw the joy in the peoples’ eyes, I couldn’t help but smile too.

The most touching moment came after we had inoculated Pastor George’s pigs. The animals were in the slop hole of all slop holes, a thick sludge of excrement, mud, and who knows what else. We struggled with every step to break the suction on our boots as we caught and “shot” each pig. When we finished, our boots were plastered with feces and mud. We were taken aback when several of the villagers knelt at our feet and washed the muck off with just their hands and water. We tried to stop them, but they would not quit until our boots were clean. No, we’re here to serve you, we thought, and here you are, washing our feet.

His Prayer, My Prayer

The villagers are not the only ones affected by George’s faith. He changed my entire perspective through a simple yet profound prayer. George lives with his wife and five children in a small mud hut that is no better than the rest of the villagers’ homes, and he farms just like everyone else to provide food for his family. Yet I will never forget his repeated, heartfelt prayer: “Lord, make me light in this very dark place.” Not, “Lord, please help us get a bigger, better hut . . . or more food . . . or new clothing.” But “make me light in this dark place.” George understands that God keeps His promise to provide for his family’s needs and gratefully receives his daily bread and shelter in order to be a vessel of light.

The darkness in this African country is very real. Sometimes strange things transpire when the gospel is presented. Once, snakes came out in the crowd. Another night, a child had a seizure. All the pastors ran over to the boy, held him tightly and prayed the Name of Jesus over him. Whether the need is medical or spiritual, the local Christians start praying the Name of Jesus. That’s all they have. If it’s going to get done, Jesus has to show up. That’s just as true in the United States, but it seems that we often don’t go to Him first.

George’s example profoundly changed how I approach my life right here in Omaha. I’m trying to make his daily prayer my own: “Lord, make me light in this dark place today.”

We inoculated 5,600 animals before the supply of medicine ran out. And now, because George brought us there, he has been elevated to “rock star” status among the villagers. They credit him with how well their livestock is doing, and he is finding more openness to his presence and ministry and we hope, in time, to his God. That is what the whole trip was about.

Photos by jordangreen.com

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