Ministering to needs of E. Africans

September 18, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

Among hundreds of snapshots from an adventure-filled summer in Africa, the Reberts' favorite has all five family members standing on the equator.

"We were right in the middle of the world," said Heather Rebert, 8, pointing to the "equator" sign.

The pose was one brief moment in two months dedicated to helping needy residents of Kenya and Tanzania. The family returned home to Westminster nearly empty-handed but full of enthusiasm for the work it had done and the work that missionary friends are continuing.

"We came back light, with only three suitcases and a duffel bag," said Lillie Rebert, 39. "We went over with 10."

Since the homecoming, the three children have returned to school and Lillie and Jerry Rebert have resumed their jobs. Still, the family talks mainly of Africa.

"We accomplished all our goals and then some," said Mr. Rebert, a carpenter when not engaged in mission work.

The accomplishments included construction of a school library and a pulpit and Communion table for a chapel in remote Tanzania, where Mr. Rebert later played guitar and sang during services. He made his own table saw and "improvised" several pieces of furniture for mission families in Tanzania and Kenya.

With the tools he left and the skills he taught, he hopes the missions can continue to build.

While Mr. Rebert led construction crews, his wife, a nurse at the Carroll County Health Department, worked at the mission infirmary.

"Health education and preventive medicine is a big need," she said. "It's a slow, long process."

The Reberts also left books, paper products and medical supplies to help the East Africans cope with overwhelming poverty.

"The average daily wage in Kenya is about $1.50 for someone who works regularly, and a lot of things cost what they cost here," Mr. Rebert said. "Still, these people are not poor in spirit."

Nearly all the family's clothing went to the needy.

"Most of the people we met were lucky to have two sets of clothes," Ms. Rebert said. "A wringer washer was probably the closest thing I saw to 20th century convenience. They basically just do without."

Women must plan the evening meal, usually meatless, early in the day.

"They have to think what they can make with what they have and how long it will take," she said. "Dough is always rising. You get milk right from the cow and eggs right from the chickens."

Those meals depend on the availability of domestic animals. In Kenya, hunting is illegal. Tanzania allows wild game hunting, but few people have guns or transportation to hunting areas.

Every family grows vegetables, although baboons frequently raid the gardens.

"You can throw sticks at them, but they throw them right back at you," said Jill, 12.

The Rebert children never really developed a taste for African cuisine. The girls grimace as they describe elio -- mashed potatoes with corn and unidentified greenery -- and ugali -- dried field corn ground "until it stands up like Play-doh. I ate it, but they all laughed at me," Jill said.

"The people eat to be full, not for pleasure," said her father, who became the village hero when he brought back an 1,800-pound Cape buffalo from a hunting trip in Tanzania.

The villagers depend on the missionaries, whose hunts provide everyone with occasional meat. The Reberts joined a party hunting on the Serengeti plain.

"I had only seen animals on TV," Jill said. "I got to see real ones."

She remembers a "scary" moment when a female elephant and her calf seemed ready to charge the car they were in, which was stuck.

"She got mad at us for the noise we were making spinning our wheels," Jill said.

But the driver was able to extricate the car before the elephant charged.

The family spent a month with John and Pattie Schuit, friends and fellow members of Westminster Bible Church. About an hour's drive from Nairobi, the Schuits run Rift Valley Academy, a boarding school for children of missionaries throughout Africa. The Reberts' daughters attended class with "cultures from all over the world," said their father.

"All the kids wanted to know what was going on in the world," Jill said. "What they really wanted to hear about was World Cup soccer."

When the Reberts traveled south to Majahita Bible School -- five hours from the nearest city in Tanzania, they had a truer taste of life in undeveloped Africa.

"You couldn't call it a village, just a string of thatched huts," Mrs. Rebert said.

"No Giants [grocery stores]," said 5-year-old Leah. "And nothing to do but read."

Ministering to the Tanzanian people filled the days.

"There were constantly Africans at our door asking for advice, medicine or just friendship," Mrs. Rebert said. "They really seemed to trust the missionaries with everything."

The world intrudes into the remotest areas occasionally. Mr. Rebert and a missionary friend were returning from a hunting trip, miles from any villages, when they met a smiling Tanzanian carrying two cases of Coca-Cola on his bicycle.

"We never could find out where he got the soda," Mr. Rebert said.

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