Back in December, I posted here about our need for a few volunteers to travel to Central Asia in April and May to do some handyman type jobs on a construction project related to our Persian ministry conferences. We received enough applications that I was able to split the group and send a small group ahead of the larger team to do some behind-the-scenes work to make the cosmetic work get done quicker.
Lyle Pennington is a dedicated volunteer who has a big heart for missions. He worked for many years installing telecommunications around the world, and in his retirement has helped us out quite a bit. He has been our driver on several Alberta and Prairie ministry tours and with TWR he’s been to Swaziland, Benin, and a few other places – and now Central Asia.
I couldn’t go to Central Asia with the team this week as planned, so I spoke with Lyle about his 3 weeks there. He shared some of his photos as well. What was your first impression, Lyle?
Lyle: Well, there weren’t any palm trees. I was promised palm trees.
Ray: *throws up hands* I never said there were palm trees. I never said that. *grumbles*
Lyle: *laughs* I’m sticking to my story.
Ray: I asked you to go ahead of the team and fix some of the wiring. The contractor we hired wasn’t able to finish the work. How did that go?
Lyle: Well, after I got there I realized I couldn’t fix the wiring so I rewired the entire building. That meant I didn’t use any of the existing wires the contractor put in. Wherever there was a box or plug I had to replace all that wire and I made all the electrical connections for a drop ceiling.
Because it’s a concrete building, we had a special machine that cut grooves in the wall and then I used a hammer and chisel to hollow out room for the wiring. Originally, the whole building was to have 10 circuit breakers, but in the kitchen alone I had to use 18 breakers. Now when they put the big rice cookers in they won’t blow the breakers. *grin* That’s important.
Ray: I know about working behind-the-scenes and doing the work that nobody sees. Did it bother you that the work you were doing will likely be taken for granted?
Lyle: There was no glamour – just chiseling concrete and putting in wires. I don’t care if the work is seen, there’s nothing glamorous about it. I was sore, had blisters on my hands, but it was done for the Lord and that’s the most important part for me.
Ray: I know you were there to work, but did you have a chance to see the country at all? Did you go to church?
Lyle: I was there over two Sunday mornings so we went to two different churches. When we do a church construction project here we raise money. They do the same. When I visited a rich church, they had just finished a building project. The ladies had saved their extra money for an entire year to buy lace curtains for the windows on the one side of the building.
Made me think, for sure. It’s different there.
Ray: Did you meet any of the local people?Anyone who might attend a Persian ministry conference?
Lyle: Fareba was a woman in her 50s and she made all our meals for us. She told us her testimony. When she was younger, somehow she had found a little cross pendant and wore it on a chain under her burka. Of course, as a Muslim, she knew about Jesus, but one day Jesus showed her a vision of a big cross and what happened on it, and she started following Him. She attended one of TWR’s Persian conferences. Oddo is a 78 year old American who is in Central Asia with Wycliffe Translators. Oddo met Fareba at the conference and after four days asked her to marry him.
I was shocked. That’s not very long to know someone before you decide to marry them. But Fareba said she had been beat and abused by men before she found Christ, so why not get married. It couldn’t be any worse. Now she’s working with Oddo. They seemed happy together.
Ray: What did you learn there?
My pastor asked me that and I didn’t have an answer. I didn’t really see anything new. I’ve worked in a lot of places around the world and saw oppression. I worked in North Africa for a time and one day near where I was living a bus stopped on the side the road. Some people jumped on the bus and pulled off 12 tourists. The tourists were lined up on the side of the road and shot in the street. That was in 1990. I was horrified. I called my wife in Canada and asked if it made the news, because I saw it happen right in front of me. Nobody ever heard about it.
I knew what I would see in Central Asia. I saw oppression, not only from the countries around them, but inside the country itself. I never saw anybody smile. But going reinforced what I already knew. We all have a job in God’s kingdom and it doesn’t matter what it is, but we have to do our best. Every job is an important job. In the scope of the world, no one cares about the wiring I did in that building, but it’s a vital part of God’s kingdom. I saw going as being the body of Christ.