Saturday, 29 June 2013


There is something about Guillaume. Somehow he always makes me feel a bit guilty. He doesn’t say much. Not in meetings. And not otherwise either, at least when I’m around. But 3 out of 5 times after a meeting he comes out just as I am leaving, scrunches up his eyes and looks around, and if he can find me sidles up and says, in French even more primitive than my own: Psteur, blblblblbl vous voir… To which I reply: oh, shit… No, that’s not really what I say, out loud. Inside, maybe. With my mouth I have learned to say, when Guillaume approaches: dans quel but (to what purpose?) I say that, because Psteur, blblblbl vous voir translates: Pastor, I would like to come see you about something.
The first few times, I pulled out my planner and made an appointment with Guillaume. And he came to see me. On his bicycle, all the way from Tokpohoue, where he is elder. Guillaume doesn’t have a motorcycle, like most of the others, because he is pretty well blind from some degenerative eye condition. I am not going to say: fortunately so… But his visual impairment does explain why it is (fortunately) only 3 out of 5 times after a meeting that Guillaume comes out after me. The other 2 times he has also been hovering around by the door, but I have been able to slip by unnoticed.
Like I said, the first few times I actually made an appointment with Guillaume, and he came. On his bicycle. Bumping across the red dirt tracks for about two hours. If he didn’t accidentally take a wrong turn, somewhere along the way. And the subject was invariably money. Money which Guillaume didn’t have, but which Guillaume was looking for. It might be money to stucco the walls of the church at Tokpohoue. Or money for a member of his congregation who had fallen on hard times. Or money for a children’s bible quiz which Guillaume had organized but didn’t have prizes for. But as often as not, money for Guillaume himself.
Now some of you might say: well, is there anything wrong with that? To which I must answer: yes. For the past year-and-a-half we have been impressing upon the leaders of the ERCB that there is no direct access to DVN’s account through us. We can disburse money which has been allocated to specific purposes agreed upon in our accord with the ERCB. But only upon request of the church council (or perhaps the deacons) and within the terms of our partnership agreement. It has been an uphill battle, though not without success. With Guillaume, however, it has been an uphill mud-wrestle. Each time I explained that no, I cannot give you money just because you ask he would bob his head and smile with sudden understanding. And the next time he would be there again with another demand for money on precisely the same terms.
I started feeling sorry for Guillaume. No, actually I started feeling guilty. Imagine: this near-blind man, pedalling his way under a gruelling sun, falling over, getting up, remounting his bicycle, two hours one way, two hours back. And not once to any useful purpose. So one time, having again been cornered, I didn’t take out my planner, but asked: dans quel but? He stepped back, shamefaced, and sputtered. Blblblbl vous voir, he repeated. But I shook my head and held firm. No, I have a very full schedule this week, I said, so if I am to make an appointment with you, I really need to know what it is about. And lo, it was the usual. Then it is better you don’t come, I said. You know the rule. Money only that has been agreed upon with the churches. And only when the churches have discussed it and decided to make a request according to our agreement. And Guillaume would always bob his head, and smile, and stand there, waiting for me to say something.
The expression on Guillaume’s face at a moment like this does it to me every time. The only word I know which somehow comes close is hangdog. You don’t hear that word much nowadays. But to me it evokes the look on a black lab’s face when he is told to stay in the kitchen while the rest of the family is having a great time in full view but in the living room. You know that look. Jowls down, eyes brimming with disillusion, nose to the floor just across the line which marks off what is ours and what is his. Hangdog. That mixture of misery and self-pity, trying to get something but not daring to take it without permission.
Guillaume had that look again today. We had had a long intensive meeting of the consistoire. Yes, it had to do with money. But it had been a good meeting. For three-and-a-half hours the brothers had asked, advised, disagreed, concluded, delegated and reviewed. And it was time to go home. Last agenda item: divers… There was a letter. From Guillaume. The chairman, Théophile, said he had received it just before the meeting, and – although it was addressed to the consistoire – it was actually intended for the Pasteur Missionnaire and through him for DVN-GoWa. So he would read it and pass it directly on to me.
It was a well written letter. Clearly, Guillaume has a capable scribe. A flowery appetizer referring to the goodness of God and our gratitude for His provision, the reminder that things in life are sometime good, but sometimes also difficult. And then came the meat. If the consistoire would please render financial assistance for the following two purposes. First of all, the intended marriage of Guillaume to Brigitte. And in the second place, the construction of a workshop so that Guillaume could better carry out his daily work. Théophile was already folding the letter with a view to passing it on to me. Hold it, I said. Why are you all looking at me? The letter is addressed to you, isn’t it? It was silent for a moment. Yes, it is, sputtered someone. But Guillaume said… And anyway, we don’t have the money
I looked at Guillaume. He had that expression again. Hangdog. And me, I was going to be feeling guilty. Not. No way. Brothers, I said. I have two points to make. This letter, addressed to you, needs to be discussed by you. But not now. The agenda item ‘divers’ is not for any kind of discussion or decision making. Next time. Place it on the agenda then. And do with it, then, what you think best. And secondly, I will not be accepting it on behalf of DVN-GoWa then either. We have just spent hours arguing and agreeing that DVN-GoWa is not a life-line for individual situations, but is here to offer support to the churches. And that’s all I have to say.
It didn’t take long for the brothers to agree. Although there was someone who said: but it is kind of urgent, the first part at least… It turns out that Guillaume is getting married soon. Very soon. Soon as in the day after tomorrow. That’s our Guillaume. Two days before his marriage he discovers he doesn’t have the money. But no worries. Today is Consistoire. And the Pasteur Missionnaire will be there. Surely he will be happy to help out, n’est-ce pas?
I shook Guillaume’s hand as I left the meeting. No attempt this time to slip by unnoticed. Every blessing, Guillaume, I said. For you and on your marriage. He bobbed his head and smiled. And I left him standing there. Looking hangdog.
I hope Brigitte knows how to deal with him without feeling guilty.


  1. :) Love your writing papa, so honest and candid!
    love you!

  2. Hang dog. I know you were thinking of Maya at our house when you described that.
    (I'll start a new line, new paragraph now because I don't like to talk about dogs and people in the same paragraph :-))

  3. Brian Fikkert would be so proud of you! As am I. You are doing your best to help without hurting, and it's beautiful.

  4. A part of you must be so annoyed! Such a persistent man. Maybe he figures the worst you can do is say "no". And maybe the hundredth time he will strike gold. I shake my head, but I do feel bad for you! Sterkte daar mee, Joe!