Reflection: A Time to Improvise

 

“She placed the child in the basket and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.” Exodus 2:3

“Really nice car,” I complimented. The young man in the driver’s seat smiled.

“I own it,” he echoed with a sense of pride. “I bought it with money generated from my business.”

I was heading to the airport after visiting some of our ministries in Malawi—a small subsaharan country in east Africa. One of our directors arranged my transportation. A young man named Peter—evidently in his early 20’s—picked me up in a shiny, new Toyota hatch back. I was intrigued. With so few jobs in the country—especially for young people—and 62% of the country living in less than $2 a day, curiosity got the best of me.

“What kind of business?”

“I raise chickens and sell them to local restaurants,” he added.

“How’d you get started?”

Keeping his eyes on the road, Peter shared his remarkable story. “One day I visited a small restaurant in the city of Zomba,” he began. “I ordered chicken and chips.”   

Peter chuckled. “Ten minutes later the waiter comes back to me and asks if I wanted a thigh, leg or breast with my chips.” 

A thigh was his request. Ten minutes passed—the waiter returned. “Do you want your chicken fried, baked or charbroiled?” 

Peter, now getting hungry and a little annoyed, replied with a hint of impatience, “Fried is just fine.”  But to his surprise the waiter returned a third time. “Excuse me. One last question. Do want the chips and chicken served together or separately?”  Peter gave the waiter a surprised glance, “Together would be nice.” 

At this point I wasn’t sure how the story connected to my initial question—but being a captive audience listened intently. “So the waiter comes back a fourth time,” concluded Peter, “He tells me they have NO chicken—but he’d be willing to drive 45 minutes to the city of Blantyre and get my chicken.” Peter politely declined, paid for his soda and left the restaurant.

“I decided to do a little research,” continued my new friend as he navigated the bumpy road. “I started asking restaurant owners in Zomba how they acquired their chickens. You believe it? They all drove 45 minutes to Blantyre to make their purchases.” 

So Peter decided to seize the opportunity. One small problem. Having recently graduated from college, he had no money. “I was broke. No job. No prospects,” he recalled. “I only owned the cell phone my father gave me as a graduation gift.”

Peter then made a difficult decision—especially for a twenty year old. “I asked myself, ‘Why do I need a cell phone if I have no job and no money?” His new phone was sold for $30 US dollars and he bought his first 100 chicks. Three years later Peter owns a thriving chicken business in Zomba—making enough to buy a car, support himself, payroll a small staff and run a small non-profit ministry teaching entrepreneurial classes to men coming out of Malawian prisons. “God’s using my story to inspire these young men.”

It intrigues me how people respond to adversity. Many would walk out of that restaurant, utter a few complaints and post a negative review on Yelp. Yet Peter sells his cell phone to seed a business venture.  One person has a horrible dining experience. Another sees opportunity.

One of the reasons I’m drawn to the Bible is it’s filled with people like Peter—people who look at bleak, desperate and hopeless situations and see another path forward. Faith inspires their imagination.

Case in point, Moses’ mother in the book of Exodus. She’s one of the great improvisers of the Old Testament. You may remember her story. Egypt’s top political leader, Pharaoh, issued an edict to murder all the Hebrew male babies. Pharaoh, threatened by a growing population of outsiders in his country, creates a policy of infanticide to thwart any threats to his power.

But Moses’ mother isn’t allowing this dark and hideous situation to negate action. Even as a slave to Egyptian masters, her faith preserves and informs her quest to save her son.

Much like my new friend Peter, Moses’ mother takes inventory of what was happening around her...and conceives a brilliant plan. You see, Pharaoh’s daughter comes to the Nile each day. Pharaoh’s daughter interacts with her helpers, thus revealing her character and personality. Moses’ mother watches—her instincts are informed. So her baby Moses is placed in a woven basket, floated to an appropriate position on the river and Moses’ sister Miriam stands in a strategic position. Nothing is left to chance. A hopeful outcome is imagined—and ultimately achieved. “Pharaoh’s daughter took him as her son and named him Moses, meaning, ‘I drew him out of the water.’  A baby’s life is spared.  The tragic consequences of losing a future leader averted. 

Exodus reminds me that we are not the first people in history to suffer, to be caught in the crosshairs of political upheaval and live in a moment riddled with anxiety and uncertainty.  These stories teach me about courageous people whose faith nurtures improvisation and ignites dreams of redemptive solutions to seemingly intractable and impossible problems. 

Yet...sacrificing a cell phone leads to a thriving chicken business and a spin-off ministry. An ancient mother’s vision and a few sticks woven into a floating basket liberates a community of oppressed people to flourish. It’s the very best of God’s people on display.

This is the kind of holy improvisation needed right now, friends.  Don’t give up. Keep dreaming. Keep scheming of ways to overcome evil with good. Remember Paul’s words: “Let’s not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  Galatians 6:9

Onward in 2021—

Bruce Main

Blog tags: