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Turn right at the goat

The journey to and from church for a BMS World Mission worker in Mozambique is rarely dull 

What directions would you give to help someone find your church? Would you mention local landmarks? Would one of those landmarks be a farm animal?

You probably said no to that last question. But Kathy Russell, a lawyer serving with BMS in Mozambique, would say yes! To get to her church, 15km outside of Beira, she catches two chapas. A chapa is a “people carrier van they somehow fit 24 people onto,” Kathy says. When she is dropped off by the second chapa, Kathy looks for the goat.

“I’m told, if you turn right at the goat you will see the church very quickly, and they are actually quite right,” she says.

It was a journey back from another church that proved more eventful for Kathy and put her in a serious dilemma. She was invited by her friend, a deacon called Chico, to speak at a small Baptist mission church. The church was in a very poor village and had a shell of a building. But the worship was vibrant and both Kathy and Chico received a warm welcome.

After the service Kathy was emotionally drained, but she agreed to give some church members a lift home. As she was dropping off the last person, she was surprised to hear, “A baby is being born!” She looked over and there, at the side of the road, a woman was giving birth.

Kathy was asked whether she would take the mother and baby to the hospital. Kathy was immediately in a quandary. She wasn’t sure where she was, but she was the only one with a car and it didn’t look like anyone else would be driving along soon. It was just her and Chico in the car, so there was plenty of space.

But in some areas of Mozambique there can be a culture of blame, and if anything bad happened to either the mother or baby, Kathy might automatically be blamed for it. An upset family member or villager may even go to a witch doctor and try to curse Kathy, which could lead to tension between her and local people or her experiencing some kind of spiritual attack.

Kathy asked Chico what to do and he replied, “It’s up to you.” He agreed to go with her if she did take them. Nervously, Kathy said yes and soon the mother and baby were in her car. The slow drive to the hospital on dirt roads was very bumpy. “I really felt for the mother, because it would not have been comfortable at all,” says Kathy. They eventually arrived safely at the hospital with the mother fine and the baby screaming healthily.

The incident is just one of the challenges Kathy has faced in adapting to a different culture and knowing what is expected of her. “We are all the same,” she says. “We all have the same need for friendship, a need for love, and wanting to please people. But the way we show those feelings in different cultures is very different.”

What may be polite and friendly in Britain, or Australia, where Kathy lived for many years, may not be polite in Mozambique, which she has found difficult.
“Not knowing the culture means that I am always second guessing myself,” she says. “Am I doing something appropriate? Am I saying something that’s appropriate? Am I acting in a way that they perceive as loving, or not?”

But after 18 months of living in Beira, Kathy is learning the language, the customs and making friends. And if you ever visited, she would happily take you to her friendly church. Turning right at the goat, of course.

This article first appeared on the website of BMS World Mission and is used with permission 



BMS World Mission, 30/01/2015
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