Michael and Rachel Weller - September 2017 Update
I know it’s been a long time since I’ve written. Truth: We’ve been arguing about who is going to write this one. Since February, Michael has been officially “only a teacher.” I think that means he has time to write a newsletter. He doesn’t think he has anything to say! So, we argue (silently) instead of write.
We’ve been mostly together since February, a significant life-change for us. A good change. Michael spent the winter and spring months (northern hemisphere – we don’t have those seasons here) “just teaching” at the two EECMY Bible Schools in Gambella. He learned a lot in those months. Neither school is functioning at top quality. Most of the students are not prepared to be studying at the level in which they are studying. He was teaching in English; many of the students cannot understand simple English. He learned that he speaks “difficult English.” He also learned that people do a lot of comparing of the two of us – especially in our ability to communicate. He hasn’t been living in Gambella as much as I have and so hears a lot less Nuer than I do and speaks it less than I do. Africans have no taboo against saying, “She is much better than you are.” Being “just a teacher” has proven to be more difficult than he imagined.
Because the two schools are on opposite sides of town, Michael purchased a bicycle to get between the two. The fifteen-minute one-way ride, two or three times a week, puts him in the community. People see him ride by. He easily stops to pick up some injera (Ethiopian bread) for our lunch; he speaks to the woman making it in Afaan Oromo, which we learned years ago in Dembi Dollo. His shoeshine boys call out to him, “Good morrrrning!” The community knows the “shamagale” (the old man) who rides a bike. The ride is an exhilarating challenge. It’s like a live video game – ride out the gate missing the jutting rocks, avoid sliding on the sand as you turn, decide if you want to ride over the garbage in the middle of the road to avoid the lazing dog or challenge the dog to move. On the asphalt, do you ring your bell to let people in the street know you’re behind them, inviting an angry glare, or guess which way they are going and move to the other side? On the long downhill straight-away, obstacles include roaming goats, potholes, bajaj’s (motorized rickshaw taxis), plastic bottles rolling around the road, white SUVs racing importantly to wherever they are going on whichever side of the road is most convenient. Arriving at the Don McClure Bible School where the Anywaa learn, the sense of victory is invigorating. And the exercise is good for his heart.
Sometimes, when he has no classes scheduled, Michael rides out of town. Last Saturday, he rode out to a spot on the Baro River where an NGO has set up an Eco-Hub where they are growing whatever they can make grow along the river as examples to encourage the surrounding communities to do the same. We enjoy it as a quiet respite away from the hubbub of Gambella town. Michael rode the 17 kms noting the kilometer markers as he went. Along the way, he saw that several women had set up thermos tea shops under shade trees or the eves of small shops. He thought he’d stop at one of them on the way back and get some sweet spiced tea or maybe a coffee. Arriving at the Eco-Hub, he looked for access to the river, but the tall rainy season grass had overgrown the paths. So, he found a spot under a tree and rested for a while.
Michael was thinking about what he was doing in Gambella. He’d given up a job that had given him exposure to important people. He had become a sought-out person for advice on both political and church matters. But since February, his email inbox has gone from 50 to 100 emails each day to … well, lots of junk mail; that’s it. He and Okello Oluch, who recently completed a term as East Gambella Bethel Synod president, joked with each other about how good it is to see each other though they had both seemed to have gone invisible! Michael spent several minutes wondering how being “just a teacher” could be fulfilling to him and meaningful to the community he has come to serve. With no answers in his heart, he got back on his bike and started pedaling home.
He was tired and started looking for those tea shops. But since breakfast time was over and their thermoses were empty, they had all packed up and gone away. The few wispy clouds did little to hide the sun. Feeling more and more tired and in need of something to eat or drink, he coasted down hills and walked his bike up the short rises. Finally, he saw the checkpoint at the edge of town and a small shop. He pushed his bike to the shop, purchased a liter of water, drank it, bought another one, poured half of it on his head and drank the rest. He pushed his bike back out to the street and realized he was more than tired. Next door was a large building, some men milling around outside, others playing pool inside. As he pushed his bike toward them, they asked if he was ok. He just needed to sit down for a while. Maybe he could lie down on the floor inside. He got out his phone, scrolled down to the R’s and punched a name that he thought was mine. I didn’t answer. (The phone was in another room.) He scrolled back to H and gave the phone to one of the young men. “Hassan” he said. The young man called the driver of the synod vehicle, telling him “An old ferengie (foreign/white) man is lying on the floor here. He came in on his bicycle. He needs help.” And then I received a phone call from someone else saying Michael needed help. I called Michael. His weak voice told me he was in trouble. It took some time, but I connected with Hassan and we drove out to where we saw Michael lying on the floor, his face grey, his skin cold and clammy. The young men carried him to the long bed Land Cruiser, laid him on one of the seats and we raced off to the hospital. Sitting across from him with my knees against his side to keep him from falling off, I prayed.
Skipping a lot of details, we arrived in Addis Ababa on the first plane the next day. We got a taxi directly to the Addis Cardiac Hospital, where Michael’s cardiac specialist directed us. He was admitted. I’m writing from his room on what we would call a telemetry ward in the U.S. He’s ok. He did too much exercise under too hot a sun with too little food and water in his system. He’ll be ok. He’s got a lot to think about.
Today, looking into Michael’s eyes as he lay in the hospital bed, I didn’t have much to say. Words about better habits, what could have been, what might have been, what didn’t happen, what should have happened, are meaningless. What did happen, though, reminded me again that the past 33 years have been a blessing and I’d rather keep counting than start new. You’ll have to hear from Michael what it has taught him. Maybe he can think of newsletter material now.
Many of you pray for us. Some of you regularly. Some of you sometimes. Your prayers matter. Because of your prayers, Michael will answer the phone when I call him in the morning. Because of your prayers, he will be at our son’s wedding in December. Because of your prayers, he will figure out what it is that God wants him to do and be while we continue to serve in the country where God brought us 23 years ago.
Read more about the Weller's ministry by clicking HERE.
Outreach is seeking $20,000 for support funds for the Wellers.