When You Grow Up

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The young man who asked me the question was celebrating his sixth birthday and making some choices that would seriously impact his life.

I thought for a moment, relishing the taste of a very good birthday cake.

“A fireman,” I answered.

He considered, and then pronounced his blessings on my choice. We laughed, and he took me outside to break a piñata. That was long ago, but his question still echoes. Especially when I’m looking through old photos.

Like this one. A man. A very thoughtful man, studying his Sabbath School lesson somewhere in the Mozambique bush. A man who knows exactly who he wants to be, if he ever grows up.

Garry is a Northwestern Giver, capital G. A man who has always lived outside himself, determined to Give without being noticed. Living for others, even if sometimes the Giving requires neglecting himself. Like a man with telephoto glasses who sees distant needs clearly.

My wife and I spent a year with Garry during a month in Mozambique, Africa. Our assignment was to create a video record of Garry’s team drilling a water well beside a reed church. However, with Garry, even the simplest tasks expand into cyclones of possibility.

“What if ... ?” Garry would ask, and then off we would go on a tangent that promised another opportunity to Give.

We camped beside the church, our REI tents standing firm against the desert wind but useless against the desert scorpions. We bought firewood from the local supplier. We used toilets that were like all the village toilets, except that ours had waist-high reed walls. Every passing taxi cloaked us with a new layer of dust.

The drill rig, designed and built by Garry (“They need wells, and no one else is going to drill them!”) was up to its axles in the red clay beside the church. We were ready to transform village life by bringing The Water of Life five kilometers closer to the village.

A couple of the church men joined the drilling crew, while the church women spread out reed mats and moved in as if this was a camp meeting for the gals. They made fun of our cooking and required us to taste theirs. If someone offers you a kakana nut, decline politely.

Two days later Garry added another well to his list of Mozambique successes. We wrapped the video, celebrated with the village, pulled out the trucks, hugged our new friends and drove off ahead of the dust.

Then Garry showed us his map of Mozambique, covered with hundreds of small red marks up and down the country.

“I think we could do maybe a thousand or so wells,” Garry said, “and then there’s an old school up north that could use a farm. Maybe we could … .”

July 12, 2018 / Just Like Jesus
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