He beamed with that wonderful signature smile of his

He beamed with that wonderful signature smile of his

There were women with babies on their backs, school children, government officials, those campaigning for next week's election, my friends living with AIDS, the orphanage workers, the employees of the local tourist resort and everyone else -- they were all there, more than a thousand people, fighting the fires on the college land.

I learned of the fire out at the college when

I was helping Fanweli out of the car and my phone rang (yes, I have a little cell phone!). Fanweli had just gotten an ulcer lanced at the local clinic and I was taking him home. He is only bones now, and in addition to all of his other health problemes, it looks like the ulcer is now in his bone too. He so wants to live and I have promised him we we are going to help him, that we won't leave him. He had came home a couple of weeks ago to die, and that is when we heard about him, and when we talked together about trying to live. The "home" that he came home to was hellish though, as the drinking and the fighting go on and on in that household. And so I was taking him out of that place, moving him to the home of one of his uncles who had agreed to take him in so together we could get him going on the long difficult road to getting back to living again. As soon as we hurriedly got Fanweli situated in his uncle's house, we headed for home to let everyone know about the fire.
Thankfully, word had gotten to our students at school well before I ever showed up and two truckloads of students had already traveled to the college. I turned the car around and headed out to the college myself to help finish the fight and to stay on to keep smoldering embers from erupting again into flames (which they did many times in different places). In the tragedy of all of those charred acres of land though I could see the beauty of Africa though. I could see everyone working together to do accomplish something big -- and what an accomplishment it was to succeed in putting out a fire that big! When those whistles blew, people ran -- not to flee from the problem -- but to hit the problem straight on -- running out to the college with buckets and shovels and branches to beat out the flames. I could see this huge battle, all of us against that fire, as we fought together to save the college.

I see so many images of all of those people there fighting against those flames. The most precious image, though, is that of Hashim. He is still very sick, very sick indeed, an yet Hashim was there fighting the fire with everyone else. Four months ago this young man, just like my friend Fanweli, had come home to die. His CD4 tested a 3. A healthy person has a count of 1500 or more. Before Hashim, I had never seen anyone with such a low CD4 ever recover. But Hashim has turned the corner, and he is getting stronger and stronger every day. Perhaps it was because no one told him what a CD4 of 3 really meant! The image just a few months ago of a young man dieing. The image today of Hashim, pine branch in hand, beating and smothering out the flames. Hashim who by all rights should already be dead, there he was fighting to save the college from burning down. When he looked up at me, he beamed with that wonderful signature smile of his. I smiled right back.

There is no denying that we have trials here. AIDS, orphans, accidents, and now fires. But I can't think of any place on earth I'd rather be. I can't think anything more wonderful than to spend my life right here in these villages living with these people. This, I know without any doubt, is right where God wants us to be.

The fires consumed more than 20 acres of young trees on the college land and well over a hundred acres of farms and forests of our neighbors. Fires in other villages have destroyed even more including four 18-wheeler trucks loaded with over 10,000 boards which were caught up in the flames when the winds shifted. We probably face another month, or maybe month and a half, of fires until the rains finally come. This is the driest dry season anyone can remember.