The past couple evenings, our home phone has been ringing at odd hours. We'd given up racing down for the phone and let the answering machine pick up in the night. This morning, I was baking in the kitchen, hands deep in dough, when the phone rang. I quickly rinsed my hands, hit mute on the soundtrack I had playing, and picked up, only to hear that familiar lapse and click that often indicates you've run for the phone only to be the target of a telemarketer. I somewhat impatiently said "Hello" and then I heard a raspy voice over the line. At first, I didn't know who it was but I believed it to be the husband of a dear friend in Zambia who often places the call and then puts her on the line. Today though, a few sentences in, I realized it was my friend, Reuben.
Reuben was calling on behalf of the family of the friend I assumed it was, asking us to please pray with them. They don't speak English confidently so Reuben was calling to explain their situation. Over the past few months, they have been harassed by the original owner of the land that they purchased 7 years ago in Mulenga. They have lived there and built a small home there and have been raising their 5 children on that piece of land since I've known them. In the past few months, the original owner has been demanding more money from them, stating that they had not purchased the land, that they had only paid for a lease/rental of the land. Now, the owner wants the land, and subsequently the small home they've built for themselves on it, back.
At first glance, it's about money and greed. On a deeper level, it's about corruption and the instability and vulnerability of even the hardest working families. This little family has worked hard, paid for a piece of land, slowly built a small home over the years, such as it is...and just faithfully put down roots and done their best to care for their children and one another. And yet, they are vulnerable to the greed and whims of those who would exploit them.
On an even more incredulous level, it's about the love of the Reuben for his neighbours. As we talked and he gave me the news, I asked him if he was well. He sounded hoarse to me and I asked if he had been coughing or sick. He said no, he had been up all night for the past few nights, praying for this family, for the needs of his neighbours around him, for the community based organization of care workers that he is leading and for the procurement of land for them to build a larger school in the community. He has lost his voice on behalf of his community. Oh. Indeed.
I should demand that we all take one night, pull an all nighter and pray with Reuben for these things. What I will ask, is give it more time that you think you can afford. And remember that whatever we offer, is less than a small man with a gigantic faith is pulling off every night, while his days are filled with children looking to be fed, widows looking for sustenance, and families looking for stability. If anyone doesn't have the extra energy or ability to lose sleep, it's this man. And yet.
So please pray with Reuben. For this family to retain their land and for the community council to see the original landowner for his exploitive behaviour. And pray for Reuben. That his health would be good and that he would continue to be such a beautiful example to others in his community.
UPDATE: September 30th - I had a text message today from this family saying that they must go to the council for a decision on October 3rd. Please keep them in your prayers. Everything they have worked for is at risk...their home, their security and their kids' stability in a very vulnerable community. Thank you.
UPDATE: Oct 4th - this morning, this family called and told me that their meeting with the council has been delayed until Oct. 31. They are super thankful for all the people who are praying for them, and they ask that we please continue. They are hopeful that they will be able to keep the house and land that they've worked so hard for. They were very upbeat and it was lovely to hear their voices!