This story is PART TWO of two, begun in the previous story – “Crime in Old Town.” It is immediately below this story.
Each story is written in the form of a letter from one of the Matthews’ children. There are seven children, (but the baby can’t write yet!).
I write these stories so young readers can learn about missionary life in Africa. The MKs (Missionary Kids) will tell stories about cultural differences (and similarities) such as eating DEAD MICE in the first MK story, or why guard dogs are necessary in Malawi as in BIG BLACK DOGS (the second story). They will also show how they face the same temptations, emotions, and problems that all kids everywhere do. I hope to entertain and inform the children, but mostly I want to quietly teach them truths from the Bible, God’s Word, as it pertains to their everyday lives.
So, here is the next story! (If you are new here, scroll down, or check the list on the side bar to begin the with the FIRST story and meet the kids and their idiosyncrasies in order.)
This is Marshall again. I’m back with the REST of my story. (Sorry it is so long! This part will be shorter. I promise. I hope!)
Last time I told you about catching that boy in Old Town who was stealing Mom’s cell phone? I ran after him a long way… saved him from a bad beating (or worse) by some men… twisted my ankle… and FINALLY caught him… only to discover that it was… Maya (MY-yah).
I also told you about when I was almost seven years old that my parents decided to become missionaries and move us all to Malawi (well, God told them to) and how I was really mad about it?
I stopped that story on the day we arrived in Lilongwe (lee-LONG-way) and I fell asleep on the couch at Pastor B.’s house at the African Bible College (ABC), where he was a professor.
Okay…. Mom woke me up from that nap to eat lunch. By that time I was really hungry, and it smelled very good. Mrs. B (Mom called her Anita) had cooked some chicken, and some rice with a very yummy sauce, and made orange Jell-O with tiny pieces of carrot and celery in it. For desert there were soft and gooey brownies.
I think I ate more than her kids, Amy and Bradley, together!
(By the way, Amy is the same age as Julie, and they became friends right away. This is very unusual for Julie because even now, 8 years later, she is still pretty shy.)
After lunch, Pastor B took Mom and Dad and me to see the house where we would live. Julie stayed to play with Amy and Mrs. B promised to watch the twins who were sleeping. It turns out she had a baby the same age as Melody and June.
We drove out of the beautiful ABC through the iron gates that the gateman opened and closed, and out into the dirty, dusty, country. We drove a little way past some yellowish-green corn fields – oops, I mean maize fields – and turned down a lane that had old rusty car parts lying around. But then the road changed and got prettier with a few plants and flowers and trees.
You couldn’t see any houses – they were all behind huge tall walls that had barbed wire circles on top. They looked like forts! We stopped in front of one with a solid metal gate and Pastor B. tooted the horn.
After a while a door in the gate opened a peek and a dark face looked out. Then it closed and the big gate starting rolling off to one side. And there was our house.
I gotta tell you kids, it looked awful! It was painted an ugly bright turquoise-blue with peach-colored trim. A lot of the paint was coming off. There was no grass or pretty plants inside the wall, just red dirt and dried weeds. The screens on the windows looked old and torn. In the back, was a garage, but the door hung at a crooked angle.
“Oh, my,” said Mom.
“Hmmm,” said Dad. “Needs some work.”
“Yes, well, okay. Let’s go inside,” said Pastor B, getting out the keys.
All my old mad feelings started coming back. I sat hunched in the car till they said I had to come in. When I got to the cement steps, everyone was inside already. I jerked the screen door and one of the hinges broke. “Serves it right!” I thought.
They were all in the “kitchen” and I heard Mom say, “Oh, dear.”
It was pretty awful. Some of the cupboards didn’t have doors. The counter top sagged in one direction. There were dirt and dry leaves blown into one corner because one window and screen was missing. Something wiggled the leaves and I stepped back? Was there a snake in the house???
“It’s a Chop-chop,” Pastor B said, and started kicking the huge, thick spider toward the door. Mom’s eyes were wide and her hand was over her mouth.
Actually, I thought it looked kind of cool, as long as it wasn’t poisonous. I decided to go outside and see what it did. Mom was at the sink, turning the faucet when I went out the door. I heard her say, “There’s no water….”
I watched the spider for a while then decided to look around. The yard was pretty big and went back a long ways from the street. It was dirt, but there was a lot of room to kick around a soccer ball. There was a little house in the back that I was going to go see, but everyone was getting back into the Range Rover, and Dad called me.
“Don’t worry, Audrey,” Pastor B was saying. “We’ll hire some workers to start fixing up the place. It won’t be long, maybe a month or six weeks tops. You will be staying with us meanwhile.
Well, we did stay with them at the ABC for almost two months. Sometimes the workers did not show up. Sometimes they made mistakes and had to redo stuff. The windows and screens got fixed, new toilets were put in, most of the cupboards in the kitchen got doors, and the outside was painted a nice tan that matched the red dirt.
I found out that there were a lot of rooms inside – five bedrooms, a big living area, a room for Dad’s office; a long narrow room that Mom said would be used for our pantry. They fixed the screened porch into a “breakfast room,” Mom called it.
The room I picked out for my bedroom got painted purple by mistake. YUCK! It had to be redone. There were three bathrooms…. but when we moved in, there was still no water. We got big bottles of water to drink. Mom was very glad that after two days, the water tank up on a tall tower was hooked up and we could take baths.
By then (after a week of very bad throwing up…ACK!), I remembered to never, never, NEVER drink or even taste any of the water out of the faucets. We were to drink only the water in the bottles or from the big jug purifier on the counter. In the shower I pressed my lips together tightly so none of it would get in. I used bottled water in a glass to brush my teeth.
Ah- oh…. Melody just came in where I am writing this. “No, I am NOT writing the history of the world! I think they want to know how it was when we first moved here…. right kids?”
“Mel, you can leave now. You don’t have to stand and read over my shoulder. Isn’t Mom calling you or something? Okay, okay, I’ll tell them how I first met Maya.”
She’s right. I do describe way too much!
Anyway…. after we moved into the house and got settled, it wasn’t too bad. I hung my Angels Baseball Team posters and cap on the wall, and laid out my small collection of baseballs on one book shelf.
We had to learn to always put down the mosquito net around our bed before we went to sleep at night… absolutely a MUST! During the day, the net was pulled up and tied out of the way. Mosquitoes mostly fly and bite you from when the sun starts to go down at night, till after it comes up in the morning. (The picture is of Julie’s and April’s beds. Mine is way too messy.)
We met a lot of people at our new church – both “ex-pats” (people from other countries) and “nationals” (people from Malawi). I made some friends, but not like Caleb and Jake back home.
Then Mom started helping Mrs. Molenaar, who went to a village out in the bush every Thursday to teach Bible stories to the village kids. Julie and I went too. Mrs. Molenaar took flannel boards and paper figures (with strips of flannel on the back so they would stick), and told stories that way.
A Malawian lady named Mercy, who was a church member too, came with her to translate her stories into Chichewa (Ch’- CHAY- wah) for the kids. There were A LOT OF KIDS!!! Like maybe 250!!!! Mrs. Molenaar divided them into younger kids and older kids. They all sat on grass mats on the ground.
She had a guitar and taught them Sunday School songs in English and in Chichewa. Her daughter, Rhoda – who was my age – played a guitar too. After the lesson, the little kids would get a half sheet of paper with a coloring picture on it. They were given a half a crayon each. They traded with each other if they wanted a different color.
I’m telling you, when I saw that, I wanted to bring all my boxes of crayons and give to them!!
“I’m getting there, Mel.” I can’t believe what a bossy sister I have!
It was there at the village that I first met Mayamiko. (MY-yah-MEE-ko)
After Mrs. Molenaar taught the Bible lesson and songs to the older kids, they all went out to a big flat dirt area and kicked around a ball, like they were playing soccer, but more like keep-away. But – get this – the ball was not like anything I had seen.
It was made up of pieces of paper trash (probably from some of the coloring papers) rolled into a tight ball, then wrapped with pieces of plastic bags, around and around and then tied in knots.
You could kick it, and it would fly or roll, but it did NOT bounce. And after a while it started coming apart and had to be tied up again.
Mayamiko was a tall boy with brown skin, wearing faded, torn shorts and an inside-out blue shirt. No shoes. He had dark, dark, chocolate brown eyes, and flashing white teeth when he grinned, which was often. His hair – like all Malawi kids – girl or boy – was clipped very short.
Right away we became good friends. Don’t ask me why, because he only knew a few English words and I only knew a few words in Chichewa. But boy, could we play soccer, or kick ball, or keep away, or whatever you called it.
He had a good voice and taught me how to sing the songs in his language – there is a lot of repeating when Malawians sing. I think that is because they don’t have printed song books – or overhead screens. One person will call out the words, and the rest will repeat it, clapping and doing little dances around. It was really cool!!
Every Thursday we found each other right away, put our arms around each others’ shoulders, and never left each other till the very last minute, when we walked down the trail, across the bridge over the stream and I got into the Range Rover that Mrs. Molenaar drove.
On other days, a few students from ABC came to the village to teach English classes, and Maya went every time so we could get better at talking.
Then Maya missed a Thursday. I asked some of the other big kids and they just shrugged. One boy got a scared look on his face and shook his head quickly.
Then another Thursday went by and I was worried and sad and really missed him.
When he finally came back, he didn’t run to meet me, or grin that big teeth-showing smile. He seemed to stand taller too.
Right away I noticed his chin was different. It was a little swollen and looked like he had scratched it or cut it on something. When I got closer I saw that it WAS a cut that was healing, and that it was in the shape of a “W”.
When he saw me looking at it, he turned his head away.
“What happened, Maya?” I asked him? He shook his head and looked at the ground.
“C’mon, tell me!” I begged him and tried to softly punch him like we used to do. He took a step back. His arms stayed straight down by his side.
“I cannot come to Bible study and singing again,” he said. “I cannot play games now.” He looked over his shoulder. “I cannot come here again.”
He looked at my eyes a long time – just like when I found him so many years later in Old Town after that chase – his dark, almost black eyes staring into my blue-green ones.
“I am next,” he said. Then he turned and walked away, his back upright and stiff. He never looked back, and I knew he didn’t want me to follow him. I watched him go through the bush and felt a stinging in my eyes.
It was a very sad day for me because he never came back to Mrs. Molenaar’s village ministry again.
I asked her what he meant by “I’m next,” and she shook her head sadly. “It must be that he is in line for some duty in his village, and that he is in training to become a leader in that.”
“Wow!” I cried. “You mean Maya is going to be chief or something?”
She hesitated, then asked if he had any new marks on his body. I told her about the “W” cut on his chin. She took a big deep sad breath and let it out slowly. “Then he is in line to be a village medicine man, and we have lost him.”
Well, that last scene in the village was flashing though my mind in that alley in Old Town after I turned Maya over and saw who it was. I had just tackled my old friend after he stole my Mom’s cell phone and ran away. How did he get there? What had he done? Why had he become a thief??
I helped him up, and then I couldn’t help it – I grabbed him and hugged him real tight. He was so skinny! I said some of our old Chichewa “friend” words to him. I heard him groan. Then I remembered his bruises and cuts and quickly let him lose. For a minute I thought he was going to run again. His muscles got tight and he glanced down at the cell phone.
We both looked at it, frozen in our places. Then he sat down hard on the ground, pulled up his knees, put his dirty hands to his dirty blood-streaked face and began crying. Big huge sobs.
I started crying too, but I didn’t know why. I was fifteen after all. Fifteen and a half. I sat beside him and said nothing. The cell phone was still lying in the dirt, forgotten. After a while Maya sniffed and wiped his face on the bottom of his tank top. It just smeared the red dirt and tears and snot and blood.
He looked at me. I grinned. He grinned back that wonderful white-teeth smile, except one tooth was missing off to the side.
Then the cell phone rang!
We both jumped. For another second, I thought Maya was going to bolt away. If he did, I decided I would let him. I reached for the phone, holding my breath, but he didn’t go.
I looked at him as I swiped the screen. “Hello, Mom,” I said. “I got it. And have I got a story to tell you!”
Actually, it was Dad on the phone and I told him where I was. I told him I wasn’t alone, that I’d caught the thief, but that he was not to bring any police. I would explain when he got there.
Just a few minutes later he and Ngunda came into the alley and trotted over to where Maya and I sat. We got up to meet them. Dad stopped about ten feet away and stared.
“Mr. Matthews,” Maya said softly, and waited.
Dad had only seen Maya twice when he came to the village with Mrs. Molenaar when the twins were sick and Mom couldn’t go. But he knew who he was, my best friend.
Ngunda stood a way off and frowned. He looked like he was ready to give chase if this thief took off again.
“Go get the Rover,” Dad said to him.
Well, we took Maya home with us. Mom recognized him right away and I could tell she wanted to “mother” him and make him “all better.” How was that going to work out, I wondered.
April was afraid of him at first – after all he looked a little scary. Dirty and bloody with torn clothes and no shoes. She saw me chasing after him too. But when she realized we all accepted him (except Ngunda) and Maya flashed her his great grin, she got over her fear.
Our housekeeper, Asala, jumped when she saw him come into the house, her eyes wide in fear or anger, staring at his chin. But when Maya bowed his head at her in respect, she eased up, and went to get some of my clean clothes for him as Mom suggested.
After Maya washed and ate a ton of the leftover rice casserole Mom had made the night before. And after he met Julie again, and Melody and June, and Gus who right away grabbed his hand and sat down beside him on the couch… and after he let Deek come up to him and gently put a finger on a cleaned-up-but –still-nasty-looking cut on his knee, Maya told his story.
He spoke pretty good street English and we could tell that he had been out of the village and in town for a while.
He put his finger on the W scar on his chin and looked at me. “If you do not know, when I left you and Mrs. Molenaar and the Bible study, I was to become one day the medicine man of our village.
“Is that like a doctor?” asked Gus.
“Shhhh!” June said.
Maya shook his head. “No, not THAT kind of medicine. In our village, there is a chief who looks after the people and tries to make things good for them. There is also a medicine man who is just as strong as the chief in the eyes of the people. Maybe he is even stronger than the chief when they disagree on something.”
“How can he be stronger than the chief?” interrupted Gus again.
“August,” said Mom, “Let’s let Maya tell his story.” Gus frowned at the use of his full name and sat back with his arms crossed. Soon he was leaning forward and “into” the story again.
“That is because village medicine men use “bad” medicine. We… they…. are trained to know about plants and tree bark that can make people feel better…. or make them feel worse, even die. The village people are afraid of medicine men. And those men like that, and sometimes do evil things, like burn down a hut, or a maize field, or kidnap a child and take him away, to keep the people afraid of them.”
“Wow! That’s awful!” It was Julie who said that. She was biting her lower lip, and Mom put her hand on Julie’s arm to remind her to stop.
I noticed that Deek had toddled over to sit on Melody’s lap on the floor and she was rocking him. His eyes were drooping, and his stuffed bunny fell out of his hand.
April, the avid reader in our family was staring at Maya wide eyed, as if he was telling the most interesting story ever. I guess he was.
Maya went on, “I remembered the stories that Mrs. Molenaar told us from the Bible, about how good Jesus was… how he healed people and never hurt them. As I was learning about the plants and tree bark I thought about these stories. I wanted to make people well, like Jesus did, not make them sick… or die.
“The old medicine man I was learning from tried to make me do bad tricks on the people when they didn’t pay him enough for his “good” medicine. I had to do it, but I didn’t want to.” Maya hung his head when he remembered.
“I saw an old woman crying when all she had was burned up. I tried to help her get more food, but the medicine man found out and whipped me.
Asala, our housekeeper was looking around the doorway to the kitchen and listening. She was nodding her head like she knew what he was talking about.
“Well,” said Maya sitting up straight, “One night when I was supposed to put some poisonous beans into a family’s water pot because the father had been arguing with the medicine man, I went to the river instead and sat down. I looked at the beans in my hand. I looked up at all the stars in the sky. I didn’t know what to do.
“Why didn’t you ask God what to do?” said our little April.
Maya grinned. “That is exactly what I did, Miss April. I said to Jesus who was somewhere up there in heaven – like Mrs. Molenaar told us – that I did not want to hurt people. I wanted to be good like Him. I was sorry for the tricks I had played on the villagers to please the medicine man. I asked Him to forgive me and be my friend, my forever friend. I said I wanted to obey the words in His book, the Bible.”
“And I asked him to show me what to do, even if it meant the medicine man would….. kill me.”
“What happened?” June wanted to know. Was she thinking how her own life had changed after she was sorry for being so mean last Christmas and knew that Jesus had forgiven her?
Maya leaned forward. “Nothing. I was sure Jesus had heard me – Mrs. Molenaar said He always did when we asked Him to forgive us. But He hadn’t told me what to do.
“So I got up with the beans still in my hand. I looked back to the medicine man’s hut where I lived too. Then I looked down the path to the family’s hut where I was supposed to poison them.
“One way, I would get praised by my “teacher” and maybe even get some reward, but I would become a killer. The other way and I would have to run away from my village forever. The medicine man would probably send men after me to punish me or kill me. I would have to beg or…… steal…. to live.” Here, he looked at Mom and bowed his head.
“What did you do?” asked Gus impatiently. Of course we all knew – except maybe for him – because Maya was NOT an important medicine man. He was a thief.
“I couldn’t decide,” he said. “I was pulled one way and the other. If I did this ONE thing, maybe I would never have to do it again. And I could help my village with all the good medicine I knew about. How could I help them if I was not there? I could become a GOOD medicine man! It was just this ONE time……”
I’m telling you, kids, our room was silent right then and no one moved a hair.
“Well, I just called out His name. ‘Jesus! Help me!'”
“Then I heard a rustling sound in the leaves to my left in the direction where the family’s water pot would be. I looked down, and with the starlight I could see a deadly black mamba snake, not this far away.” He measured about four feet between his hands.
“I threw the beans at the snake and took off running in the opposite way. I ran and ran and ran. I ran through the bush and even through the river which was not very high then. I ran and ran till I came to the road to Lilongwe. I found a pile of old tires and hid behind them to rest.
“Before it got to be daytime, I started walking fast. It would seem strange to see someone running along the road – everyone else walks. I walked all day and I thought about what I had done. Did Jesus bring that snake to show me not to go that way? Or did it just come by itself. Had I been foolish? Or could I trust Him?
I started looking around; thinking every man I saw was going to tell the medicine man where I was. I found a place to hide until it got dark. I was so hungry. ”
“Me too,” said Gus. “I’m hungry too!” Everyone laughed at that and took a breath. We didn’t know we had been holding them.
“What did you do then?” asked Dad. “Did you pray again?”
Maya hung his head. “No,” he said softly. “I didn’t ask Jesus what to do. I was so afraid of the medicine man. I forgot the lessons Mrs. Molenaar taught about God supplying our needs if we would ask Him. I didn’t see how that could happen. I didn’t trust Him.
Maya took a deep breath. “So I became a thief. At first I took only food that I ate right then. I got chased away, but never got caught. I slept in alleys. Then I took some clothes I saw drying on the rocks by the river. Not a lot! Only what I needed. Right then, I didn’t think I was SO bad.
“Stealing is stealing,” said June. “Even if you NEED it. God would have given you something to wear, I know it!”
“That is the truth, Miss June. But after that, it got easier and easier to take things. I started stealing bigger things and selling them for kwacha (Malawi money). Sometimes I went alone. Sometimes, like today, another boy and I did it together and shared what we got.”
Here, he looked right at Mom. “Mrs. Matthews, I am so, so sorry! I was not hungry. I didn’t take your cell phone so I could eat. I just saw it sticking out and took it. Jesus will never forgive me now! I should be in Maula Prison. I do not blame you if you take me there… or… even back to the village. It would be the same thing for me.”
Mom looked over to Dad and he nodded. He stood up and said, “C’mon Maya.”
“WHAT??” I cried. Was Dad going to take my friend, my long-lost friend, to prison or back to the medicine man? “No, Dad. NO!”
Maya got up, looking scared. “Just so,” he said, his shoulders slumping.
But dad took Maya only as far as his office. He left the door open so we could see. He talked quietly to my friend for a while, although we couldn’t hear the words. Maya nodded. Then nodded again, and covered his face with his hands. Then both he and Dad knelt down beside a chair.
Dad put his arm over Maya’s thin shoulders and then looked up to heaven and prayed.
I’m telling you, we ALL prayed right then. And when Dad and Maya were done and came out, we all could see his bright, happy, shining face. Forgiveness will do that to you!
And that’s my story! It got long again, I know. I promised, but… you didn’t want to have a Part THREE, did you???
Hey! Melody just came in and hugged me. I guess that means I’m forgiven too, even though I had to take a lot of her scolding along the way.
Maybe April will write to you next. I don’t know what she will say…. all she knows are books, books…. and more books!
See ya! Marshall
“Come, my young friends and listen to me. And I will teach you to honor the Lord.” ~~~ Psalm 34:11 Good News Bible