Thursday, June 19, 2014

A cardboard box, a gas cylinder, and a car battery

Dear Maggie,
      The hot, dry season has lasted too long. I can hear the earth groan. This parched and weary land cries out for rain. Farmers cry out for rain, people in the city cry out for rain. I cry out for rain. We look up to the heavens and ask God for rain. Each day we search the skies for clouds. We’ve watched a few form but, day after day, they drift on over us. Soon the rain must fall. We must have rain. (from Chapter 13, Grandma’s Letters from Africa)

I wrote that to my granddaughter during my fourth year in Kenya.

Drought plagued Kenya off and on during our eight years there. Dry seasons lingered too long.

And in 2000, the lack of rain resulted in what the TV news called “The worst disaster ever.” It was the worst drought since the 1940s.

Millions of people were praying for rain to fall on their sun-scorched land.

Electricity was severely rationed all over the country seven days a week.

In September of that year, we had electricity three mornings a week and three evenings a week, and every other Sunday evening. For the most part we had no electricity any afternoon.

The rationing schedule gave us a 28-hour period three or four times a week in which we had only seven hours of electricity, and that’s while we were asleep at night!

It was challenging but we were accustomed to it—by then we’d lived with power rationing for years—and we coped well. We’d been warned “Flexibility” would have to be our middle name if we wanted to work on the mission field. That was for sure!
Thom's car battery!

For example, we took a huge cardboard box a refrigerator had been shipped in, and we cut out the back panel and the bottom. That left us with a perfect insulator (did you know cardboard is one of the best insulators?) which we could easily slip over the fridge when electricity was off for hours on end. 

We also bought a short, squat gas cylinder with a ring on top to cook on when we had no power to use our cooker (stove).
Thom using his computer in our living room.

Around that time, Dr. Thom Votaw made a trip to Kenya and occupied our guest room.  A retired prof from New Mexico State University, he’d been making short trips to Kenya for a couple of years to develop grad courses and a master’s program for missionary teachers overseas.

By then he’d made enough trips to Kenya to be well acquainted with power rationing—but Thom was a scientist! He knew how to outwit those power outages!

Thom's makeshift lamp.
He arrived from the States carrying a car battery, and he rigged it up so he could continue using his computer, electricity or not. What a guy!

He also invented a reading lamp of sorts to use in our guest room when the electric lamp was out of service.

That’s what I call real missionary flexibility!


  1. I love this story of how missionaries overcome adversity. I know one has to have a creative mind and a good skill set to "make do".

    1. You've got that right, Penny! You could write stories of your own flexibility and creativity during your visits to Africa. But you know, it really works, doesn't it? Sometimes it became a fun challenge to figure out some solutions. :)