We’ve got a roof over our heads.
And the kids are all fed.
And the woman I love most of all
Lies close beside me in our bed.
Lord, give me the eyes to see
Exactly what’s it’s worth
And I will be the richest man on earth.”
–Paul Overstreet “Richest Man on Earth”
Paul Overstreet’s “Richest Man on Earth.”
Richest Man On Earth Best of Paul Overstreet
I’ve never really understood the term until recently:
A roof over our heads.
Not everyone has that in Africa.
Poppa Mzee had a roof. But that was about it.
The previous chapter page shows his home in Nyumazi Refugee Camp. A white UN tarp, which served as his roof, flapped in the breeze.
I wondered how wet he’d get in a blowing rain.
He lay on folded cardboard. Bare ground beneath him.
A small bag ofpossessions served as his pillow.
The worst part was how alone his spot looked. It was fifty yards to the next shelter.
I wondered about his story.
How did he get here?
Why was he so alone among 19,000 people?
One must be extremely careful distributing things in the Camps. You can easily cause a mob scene.
People can get hurt. So we discourage giving anything to a select few.
My sister Colleen once caused a near riot in a Liberian orphanage by giving candy to the children.
Projects and giving must be carefully planned.
I couldn’t get Poppa Mzee off my mind as our group walked to a new water well.
We were met by the Camp Chairman, Wilson. He was a tall Dinka man in his forties. This position is filled by a vote of the refugees in the camp. It’s a big position. A tough position.
Kind of like Moses in the wilderness. Listening to folks and their problems day after day.
Chairman Wilson walked with us back toward our vehicle. We passed Poppa Mzee, and I asked the Chairman, “We have a sleeping mat tied on our roof. May I give one to this man?”
He thought a moment. “Do you have two?”
“Yep. Straight from Ten Mile, Louisiana.”
That went over his head but he lowered his voice, “I brought my old daddy with me from South Sudan. He’d love one.”
“We’ll give one mat to Mzee here and you can take the other to your father.”
I won’t describe how Poppa Mzee received his mat. You can see it in the photos. It was a highlight of the day.
Don’t miss these three photos: Poppa Mzee gets his mat.
Poppa sighed as he settled onto his mat. My mind was a thousand miles away.
No, make that eight thousand. I envisioned the ladies at Freedom Baptist Church in Ten Mile, Louisiana, who’d made this mat. They sent a duffel bag of sleeping pads made from Wal-Mart bags.
I thought of Cooter, Dorothy, and all of the women who’d knitted these mats. I’ve been told it takes 700 Wal-Mart bags to make one mat. I wonder how long one mat takes?
I just know it made a difference in Poppa Mzee
As we left, he sat up on one elbow. “Cha lech.”
I stopped. He repeated, “Cha lech.”
Chairman Wilson said, “He’s saying thank you in Dinka.
Cha lech.” Miz Cooter, I’m just passing on this thanks.
Cha lech. Or as you’d say in Ten Mile, “Thank y’all.”
“We can do no great things but we can do small things with great love.”
Warning: Please do not send mats over. It is much simpler and economical to buy mats here or better yet supply the materials for folks to make their own from local materials.
Postscript on Cooter Willis and her late husband, R.L., kept over 400 foster children in the space of three decades. They are rightfully famous in our area for a lifetime of good deeds and open hearts.
Cooter Willis and her late husband, R.L.
We’ve got the plastic knitting needles they would need.
I wonder if Cooter Willis has her passport.
Here I am, Lord.
Poppa Mzee on his bare cardboard mat Nyumazi 1 Camp Adjumani, Uganda