"I used to think, 'All for one and one for all,' is what village life is all about, right? That the villages are populated by the "noble savage" and lead a connected, unified community life," says ITMI's Timothy Keller.
But unfortunately, while this version of village life may be popular in Hollywood and children's tales, it's simply not what Timothy has found after over a decade of ministry in African villages.
"Rural Africa is deeply entrenched in witchcraft, suspicion and fear. Where God is ignored, so is love, charity, and kindness. Mercy and generosity towards the less fortunate are foreign to the indigenous worldview," Timothy observes.
What is life really like in rural villages?
1. "Brain Drain" has left many villages vulnerable.
Anyone who is educated immediately leverages that education to move to the city, leaving the villages with little leadership and collective knowledge.
That means the villages are a vacuum for medical, business, economic, health and spiritual experience, knowledge and information.
In one rural Ugandan village, ITMI's Muhindo Kawede was told a sad tale.
A traveling "preacher" con artist from the city visited the village with fanfare and "sophistication."
He told the village they weren’t flourishing because “you don’t have anybody to pray for you and ask God to bless you. I’m here to fix that...for a price. Give me 6 cows and 10 goats and I will pray a prayer of blessing and this village will be blessed.”
The people gave him the livestock, he prayed for his marks, then headed back to the city with his bounty. The village people didn’t know any different.
After hearing enough of these stories, Kawede was incensed that others would take advantage of the vulnerable in Jesus' name.
He began using his time off between terms at the International School of Missions to travel to remote villages in Uganda and offer the villagers a "Portable Bible School," for free, so they could learn the basics of good theology and live with Biblical wisdom.
ITMI's Muhindo Kawede teaches "Portable Bible School" in a remote village in Uganda on his term break at the International School of Missions.
In the Luvale plains of remote western Zambia, where ITMI's Johan Leach works, the villagers' isolation compounds the problem. The Zambezi River has isolated the people and cut them off from access to basic necessities such as clean water.
Crossing the river with any supplies is a big ordeal, and its not even possible to cross this way during the rainy season.
Doctors, teachers and others with knowledge that could benefit the villagers can't get there because there isn't water for them to drink and they can't pack enough water in.
In 2016, ITMI supporters provided five villages in the Luvale plains with boreholes, giving them access to clean, safe drinking water!
They have lived the same way for so long, they operate like zombies or robots because they lacked hope. When Johan gave them pumpkin seeds, they said, "Thank you. But what are these for?"
They can't conceive of eating it, though most on the plains suffer malnutrition because they've only eaten four things for years and years.
"This is white man food. We aren't allowed to eat it," they told him.
It's Christ that releases them from this mindset. The gospel changes all that and gives them a future where they can flourish in His provision for them. When ITMI digs wells, it is made abundantly clear that it was God who loved, heard and provided water for them.
Then they are introduced to the living water every time, multiple times.
Villagers listen to Johan share the Gospel after receiving access to clean, safe Water.
Johan's goal is to see the entire region west of Chavuma saturated with the Gospel. He is equipping two-man evangelism teams to reach the villages one quadrant at a time.
2. Poverty mindset discourages hard work.
"Life is hard and nothing I do changes that," they believe. There's no evidence proving they can improve their lives, so trying doesn't occur to them.
With our American mindset, it's truly hard to believe that people many not know they could work hard and with God's blessing, things would improve. But this cultural mindset is based on Biblical values, which are not believed, taught or passed on in remote villages.
ITMI's Gerhard le Roux, whose family lives and works in the remote settlement of Onseepkans, South Africa, observed, "We experience on a continuing basis people visiting us and being encouraged by our projects."
They are encouraged because they've seen the le Roux family build and expand Onseepkans Mission from nothing to a flourishing farm through hard work. Their hard work and its results are the proof that can change the poverty mindset.
The Onseepkans Mission garden flourishes, providing food for the le Roux family, a way to bless others and hope that life can improve.
The le Roux children make pottery to sell with their friends.
3. Many are illiterate, and don't have access to written material.
ITMI's Timothy Keller has been regularly visiting several Zambian villages for over a decade. Several years ago, he embarked on a large project to fill a shipping container full of donated Bibles and discipleship materials.
Timothy's container full of discipleship materials to be distributed throughout Africa.
Pastors and leaders hungrily choose discipleship materials from the Keller's container project.
He has seen inspirational growth as he equips village men with quality Christian literature to read, discusses it with them, as well as conferences, seminars and talks.
Two men in particular have grown to a point that they are able to travel with Timothy to other locations to teach others!
Reuben, who Timothy has been discipling for years, is now teaching others.
One of the villages Timothy has been visiting regularly.
Through the Kellers' containers, they were able to equip one woman in a remote village who had a heart to teach children with materials and books so that the kids could learn to read.
Esther was equipped to teach the children in her remote village.
Now the Kellers are turning their efforts to using digital resources to equip villagers with the information they need to grow and flourish.
ITMI's Eugene Kalunga, the Principal and Founder of ITMI's Excellence Christian Academy, in Kabwe, Zambia has been leading the staff and families of his school to go to villages outside Kabwe to teach them to read.
We are "teaching them to read so that they may be able to read the word of God is very important if they have growth in the Christian life," says Eugene.
ITMI's Johan Leach is working on obtaining small recording devices with audio from the Bible for his evangelists to leave with the villages, enabling those who can't read to have access to God's Word.
4. Idle hands...lead to trouble.
There's not much to do in the rural villages. Boredom is partly to blame for the rampant theft, adultery, prostitution, gambling and fighting that is present in many villages.
There's just nothing better to do.
Teaching villagers to read helps expand their world and keep them positively occupied. Providing quality discipleship materials for them to read - though hard to come by - makes a huge impact.
Developing some industry is another way to demonstrate that their lives have meaning and give them hope.
ITMI's Onseepkans Mission has taught locals to garden, helped those who herd goats and is expanding to making pottery and looking to teach others to make it.
When the family first moved to Onseepkans, Gerhard le Roux was instrumental in getting the government to repair a canal that had run dry. The canal brought water from the nearby Orange River and allowed farmers to water their crops. Because it had collapsed, many farmers had stopped farming.
Gerhard le Roux also went with ITMI's Steve Evers and Timothy Keller to some very remote Zambian villages west of the Zambezi River where ITMI dug boreholes and supplied the villagers with seeds to plant and water.
The team taught the villagers how to plant seeds and make sure they thrive.
Gerhard passes along gardening knowledge to isolated villagers in Zambia.
ITMI’s Charl van Wyk raised funds to provide a maize mill for a remote village in Zimbabwe, encouraging locals to grow maize and help those who do.
He has also been involved with providing young men in villages in Zimbabwe with Gospel training through youth camps.
Charl and his co-workers, with sponsorship from ITMI, helped a group of three young men launch a chicken-farming project not long ago, allowing the boys to help their families, generate hope in their community and use some of their profits to support local missionaries!
Charl with some boys from a village in Zimbabwe who attended the youth camp.
Chicken farming operation ITMI helped boys from the Zimbabwe youth camp start.
There are a handful of ITMI partners reaching out to and serving those in rural villages, demonstrating and declaring the Good News. Because often, the most off-the-beaten path places, are the places that need to hear the Good News the most.
They do it with your support.
They're making a big difference. You're making a big difference.
With the voices of many grateful villagers, we thank you!