Playing My Part
I start the day with an evaluation for the village chief. He has tingling pain in his legs and I am concerned that it could be due to Diabetes. I use a personal glucometer to check his sugars in Nixon’s living room with the pastor acting as a translator, because my Chichewa is not good enough to explain all the contingencies. I want to go above and beyond assisting and caring for this chief, since he is a leader of other chiefs in the area and his support can make the difference between success or failure for some of the initiatives started here. He attended the agriculture training last month, that’s where I met him, and the way in which he and the lesser chiefs under him advise their people will determine whether or not agricultural initiatives work in the next few months. Normally, goats and cows roam free in dry season, but if the cows eat the ground coverings and if goats wander into the field and eat the young plants, the fledgling group trying to implement minimal till farming and ground watering for year-round crops won’t have much to show for their efforts. Nixon tells me that this chief goes to their church, and I praise God for that. The more Christian leaders we have, the better. Miraii, Nixon’s daughter, comes into the room and he reminds her to clap three times to honor the presence of the chief. This reminds me that I neglected the proper greeting. I apologize, Pepani, ndaiwala, I’m sorry, I forgot, and then I clap too. As a foreigner, it’s not always easy to remember the formalities. People are gracious and hold me to a different set of standards, but I want to support the existing authority structures and not undermine them.
An hour later I am sitting in a seat of honor up front as women from various church choirs sing and dance. Thokozani leads her group of women – they are wearing matching pink dresses which I am sure she made herself, they all have the same weaving in their hair, a process she tells me later took 30 hours. They are perfectly in step, singing and dancing and proclaiming the importance of teaching children values and not following witchcraft. Thoko dances in front of the women, a charismatic, animated conductor who is also the lead singer. I think of her ability to mobilize her community, how she leads from example and sacrificially, a woman who embodies everything from Proverbs 31 and then some, a pastor who pulls a whole community up with her. I praise God for her, for how she uses her strengths to build wholeness for everyone around her. She fits this role, out in front, surrounded by people willing to follow her, people who she inspires to stay in synch and to look beautiful and confident.
A few songs later and it is my turn to step up. This is my role, my part in the metaphorical dance. I am uncoordinated and have faltering Chichewa, but that’s okay because I just have to talk. Thokozani stands with me and helps everyone understand some teachings I bring about keeping kids healthy. I squint in the sun, I shift my feet back and forth, but at least my words are confident and my thinking sharp. Personally, I wish I could wear my wide-brimmed hat or my sunglasses, but I know it is important to make eye contact with these women, a sign of trust. Thank God I applied a second layer of sunscreen just before coming out, but I wonder if it will be enough. I wish I could wear a mask, there’s a thousand women out there and I know that COVID is making its way through communities this winter. But I need these women to trust me, to see my smile and know that I have their best interests in mind as I discuss ways to treat and prevent childhood illnesses. These are difficult, counter-cultural teachings, and I need every advantage I can get. So I play my role, I join this dance in a costume not quite my own. I wear a skirt printed with the Nazarene logo so that I match most of the other women here. Thoko adjusted it for me on the way over to make sure I was wearing it right. This is me but it is also not me. In some ways I put on a performance, I act and speak and look in ways expected of me as a doctor and a foreigner. I follow Thokozani’s lead in this incredibly orchestrated training.
And the women respond. They ask question after question and laugh awkwardly when I call them to difficult actions. How many will actually start using mosquito nets? How many will bring sick children to the clinic rather than just praying for healing? Will any little lives be saved? I do my part and communicate what I know in the most culturally appropriate way I know how. Thokozani tells me later, “It is powerful because they know you are one of us. You are a Christian and a doctor. They need to know these things. They will listen.” As we conclude that day, as she concludes the conference, people tell her that the whole district was suffering before she and her husband took leadership, it was on oxygen, but now it is thriving. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, there is life here, there vibrancy; I see potential to spread that life through communities. And I want to be part of it. Thoko already has ideas for what comes next. There will be a training of 40 pastors next week, then a big national conference in a few months. She wants me to come speak again. Thank goodness my schedule is flexible. I believe in this woman, this leader of women and developer of communities. I have latched my wagon to her dynamism, I have committed my ministry to supporting hers. So I will dance as she asks me, in my own way. I will use my authority as a doctor and a foreigner in ways that propagate her ministry and her impact. In many ways, I am still finding my own role, but at least I have found someone to help me figure out my steps and dress the part as I go.