Article submitted by Brad & Camie Matlack, Field Coordinators in Kenya
Across our path lives an old Muslim man, alone in a very small house, if we can call it that. He is known all over Ngando as “Mzee Moja”, “Old Man/Elder #1.” He build our house in 1964 and still works finding odd construction jobs here and there. I estimate he must be at least in his 70′s but some say he’s close to 100. [Most people his age don't know the year they were born and ballpark their ages by 5 or 10 years. The estimated year usually coincides with a big event, like a flood or drought]. He doesn’t speak a word of English so communicating with him can still be challenging. We care a lot about him and pray for him quite often.
On Saturday he asked me for a favor. It took a while for me to figure out what he wanted. Over a cup of tea, hand gestures and referencing our Kiswahili/English dictionary we finally arrived to the fact that he needed a small loan to cover his rent this month. He hasn’t had any jobs lately.
I have been procrastinating on an outdoor painting project, so I offered to hire him in exchange for the money he needed for rent. I was glad to not paint. He was glad and grateful for the job. “Shukrani Baba,” he said, (trans.) “Very grateful Daddy” [around here, I'm known as Baba Nathan, Baba Abby or Baba Sam, never Brad]. We agreed he would paint on Tuesday.
The project consisted of painting our wooden fence with a mixture of used motor oil and kerosene something a neighbor taught me as a good protection from termites – a messy job – hence my procrastination.
He arrived early and got to work. I was impressed he even brought a string to ensure he would paint a level line across the fence. I left for the office as he was well into the job. All was great until I got a phone call from Camie. When he finished with the fence, “he took it upon himself to paint our entire metal gate with the oil/kerosene mixture! It is a mess! Simba [our white dog] is filthy!” I have no idea what he could have been thinking other than that the gate had a few paint chips peeling off and he must of thought he would cover them up by repainting the whole gate with the oil. He must of assumed it would dry like paint and wanted to do me a favor by “going the extra step.”
Anyhow, he was “finished” and gone by the time I got home. I arrived at my gate and could not believe the mess I found. I was extremely annoyed and frustrated with Mzee. I changed my clothes and with Sam, my youngest son, began to scrub the fence with soap, oven cleaner and water. As I scrubbed I was mumbling under my breath, “How could anyone be so stupid? What was going through his mind? I should have just done this project myself! There is now more paint peeling off the gate than before he began! What was he thinking? I’ll just give him a piece of my mind! Is this just another one of the devil’s schemes to frustrate me? Maybe he did it on purpose. I certainly will never hire Mzee for another job!”
We ended up quite wet and oily. Sam thought it was fun. I needed my buddy to give me perspective. I had a few awkward moments trying to explain myself to neighbors walking by, wondering why the weird white man is washing his gate. “Umm…someone put oil all over my gate?” as I held my hands up in the air. Who knows what the neighbors are saying about us now?
So, about an hour later, Mzee showed up wondering what we were doing? “Ah, Mzee. Fence is good but mafuta mbaya sana mulango! Mimi ni kazi mingi!” I surprised myself since I was able to clearly communicate my problem in decent Kiswahili. Close enough to, “…oil is very bad on gate! I now have a lot of work!” I wanted to give him a piece of my mind but truth took over and God reminded me about his heart, his soul and mind. I just said, “it’s all going to be ok.” When I saw his face I couldn’t help but be reminded of how much God loves Mzee. Somehow I found myself looking at the face of Jesus. Mzee needs Jesus. He needs to know how valuable and precious he is in God’s eyes. “We’re ok Mzee, it’s going to be fine.” He was profusely apologetic, repeatedly saying sorry, “Pole Baba,” with his jolly, old man giggle and smile. I could only smile and giggle back at him.
A few thoughts in summary:
- Even in a very frustrating situation, it would have been so hard-hearted of me to get angry over a pithy thing and risk missing a glimpse of the kingdom. I almost blew it!
- My heart breaks for Mzee. While I’m not able to clearly share the truths of the gospel with him in word, I pray that my deeds would always reflect the love of Christ and somehow point him towards Jesus.
- How is it that when I’m expressing an issue filled with emotion, my Kiswahili becomes so workable? I pray that I may soon be that conversant and confident in casual conversation.
- I thank God for my Sam. He really chilled me out today, somehow making the clean-up fun.
- My fence is painted and termite proof, Mzee’s rent is paid and I have a silly story to laugh about.
- I now definitely need to re-paint my gate. Do I hire Mzee to do the work? Likely.