“Build Yourself an Ark” – in Niger?

ark1 An ‘Ark Building for Dummies’ manual would have been useful for sure. If you have ever seen the film “Evan Almighty”, you’ll know what I mean. There is no escaping God’s plan once He has blueprinted it for your life. Sometimes you do have to wonder, though, if The Almighty is testing your faithfulness and patience to the cause.

2006 I did a one-year boat-building course in preparation for our overseas mission plans. Lois and I had prayed for a mission outreach that, we believed, would incorporate God’s plan of using my boatbuilding skills. Fiji sprung up which seemed to fit our thoughts but yet when we prayed about it nothing seemed to return positive for the move. Leaning always seemed to be towards Africa. Why not? With its thousands of miles of coastline, boats were used for transporting people and were trading vessels!

God did send us to Africa, but to Niger – a landlocked country, three quarters Sahara Desert and three days drive from the coast! Was God being humorous here or was He testing our faithfulness?

I was eventually assigned to a construction crew to rebuild an aging hospital in Galmi.   No boat building there…but then hope arrived in the mail in the form of a 14’’ kitset yacht. One of the Nigerien surgeon’s sons, Elisha, was very keen to build a boat so we set to. A couple of hours every Saturday saw the completion of our first boat build in Niger, albeit, 14” long!

The next flicker of the flame emerged in Niamey, Niger’s capital. Lois and I had transferred to Sahel Academy, SIM’s school for missionary children. At Sahel, amongst other duties, I was the woodwork teacher. The Niger River was our neighbour so why not build boats as a class project? In NZ you can go to any hardware store, be it MITRE 10, Bunning’s etc. and buy epoxy glues, tape and reasonable construction ply to build a cheapie dinghy. In Niger nothing like this is available, let alone the words ‘marine ply’! Salvation was to buy the materials from the States and have them shipped over in their regular flow of containers (about one every six months). This doesn’t help the here and now though, with a class of eager beaver budding boat builders!

ark2Solution:    The first year we build 4-1 scale models from full size plans leading onto second year students building the full size two-metre dinghies. Phew. Saved my bacon there. So year one saw some fine looking 50cm craft, which we tried out in the swimming pool. Yep. They all floated. Wood is a great material!
Fast forward to year two. The epoxies, ply, tooling had arrived. We hit the ground running. Reality was we had 30 hours of shop time to build two dinghies. It was full on. You would never have come across a more focused class anywhere. They were determined to get these craft finished, coated, oars made and tested before the majority graduated and headed to the States. We had to put in a few extra Saturdays but that wasn’t a problem for these guys and even their parents came and helped. We all learnt an incredible amount about working with ply, safe handling of epoxies, woodworking skills, different personalities, resourcefulness, inventiveness and on launch day – how to row! There were a lot of challenges along the way but a ball of fun was had. The excitement to create a thing of beauty, out of two flat sheets of ply, was something only the eyes of the students could really show.

I would recommend a simple boat project like this for any teacher/student or parent/child combination as it teaches so much about math’s, geometry, hand eye co-ordination and above all, the pleasure one gets on launch day at that first moment of stepping aboard.

Is boat building feasible as an outreach in the desert?  Yes.   Does God produce interesting blue prints? Sure does.  All we need to add is our willingness and faithfulness.  After all, as Christians, we are all in the same boat.

Dave Freeman

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