I was recently walking between the tables of Setswana food, CDs of local music, and traditional crafts of the outdoor marketplace at the Main Mall in Gaborone. Hearing my name I turned to see my friend, Kagiso (“Peace”), waving me down. We both suspended our errands and headed to a local meat pie shop to catch up over lunch.
Kagiso has been deeply involved in local church leadership for years, and we came around to the topic of financial support for churches. Because we’re exciting conversationalists like that. Over our feast of chicken peri-peri lunch pies he mentioned that it’s been interesting to see financial support for churches declining in recent years (except for in the local ‘prosperity gospel’ churches who preach that tithing is actually a financial investment with guaranteed exponential returns; that’s a different topic, though). We both agreed that it’s understandably difficult to want to tithe money into an organization where a lot of the costs are related to administration, which is less than thrilling. At the same time, the work being done by many churches that we had both been involved in were having very significant positive impacts on their communities, as well as communities around the world. It’s just not always easy to see the direct line from the financial support of individuals, to the results which they are supporting through the church structures.
Before meeting up with Kagiso I had been waiting to hear from a contact of mine, and when my phone rang I excused myself to let him know that I would be on my way shortly. However, when I picked up it was an unexpected caller.
“Dumela Nathan, this is Walter* from First Offenders Prison. I’ve been released.”
This wasn’t iterated in the menacing tone accompanying such calls as seen on television. Walter was someone we had known for the past three years, who had faithfully joined us for our weekly fellowship sessions in prison. He had taken a quiet role in helping to lead the group from inside, and had been a pleasure to get to know over the years. Selfishly, for Taryn and I whenever someone like Walter was released there was a part of ourselves that was sorry to see them go.
“I just wanted to call to say thank you. Do you remember the work that Taryn did for me for my case?”
A few weeks prior, Walter had walked across the prison yard with a sheaf of handwritten papers. He had first been taken into custody in northern Botswana, and his court proceedings had been conducted in Sekgalagadi, a language with which he was not familiar. Everything was related to him through a translator, and as things progressed he found himself sentenced to prison, despite the fact that he had not yet been given a judgment. For over a year he was in prison, not understanding all of what had been said in court, questioning whether the translations had been accurate, and trying to figure out how long he would be locked up, having simply been sentenced without explanation. For a few years he had been trying to sort out the legal mess surrounding his case.
As Walter had handed over the sheaf of papers, he had asked that we try to type them out, and format them in a way which made them legally admissible to the courts. As the administrator for our office work, Taryn had taken them and spent time doing just that. She typed them, arranged the documentation in a way which corresponded with other such paperwork she had seen, and had them back to him within the week. It’s been a regular occurrence in our time in Botswana, and has become a part of Taryn’s office routine during certain weeks.
Walter continued, “The paperwork that Taryn did for me finally helped the courts to see the mistakes that had been made. Please thank Taryn for me, and let her know that I’m free, I’m now starting to serve in my community, and I’m doing well.”
As it turned out that he had not be found guilty for all of the elements of the crime, Walter had served longer than he was supposed to have for his sentence. While not usually particularly glamorous, the administrative work that’s done in church and mission organizations is meaningful and important, building God’s kingdom at home and abroad. In Walter’s case, it was the difference between an unjust sentence and freedom.
The moral of the story is: avoid obligations in favor of meat pies.
*Not his real name